by Austin Bay
March 15, 2005
For the moment, the struggle in Lebanon remains a battle of
crowds and cameras -- and it's a battle pro-democracy demonstrators are
But Western diplomats and their new allies in Free Iraq know a
bloodless democratic victory is no certainty. Syria and Iran fear democracy
and peace, and their Lebanese stalking horse, Hezbollah, has guns and loyal
Beirut's demonstrations and counter-demonstrations serve as
genuine tests of local political strength and measure the competing
factions' ability to sway a global audience. Hezbollah produces 500,000
robed pro-Syrian protesters. The democrats respond with 800,000 well-heeled
placard carriers. Even if the crowd estimates are exaggerated (Lebanon has a
population of right at 4 million), the jammed boulevards and squares are
dramatic visual and vocal statements.
The pro-democracy demonstrators have the edge in numbers and
media sizzle -- they dominate the camera war. Virtually every news magazine
and Web site features a raven-haired Levantine beauty demanding democracy
and a Syrian military pull-out. The pro-Syrian marches seem pitifully
dated -- angry, mustachioed men, assault rifles, chants of "Death to
America." Hezbollah's and Syria's media advisers don't realize that the
Palestinian and Iraqi elections finally exposed the "myth of the Arab
Street" as utter fascist pulp. After the Iraqi elections the chest-pounding
thug act doesn't scare people anymore. We know the real Arab street would
rather head for the Honda dealership.
The March 15 anti-U.S. demonstration at the American embassy in
Beirut -- a desperate attempt by Syria to paint the United States as the
occupier -- completely flopped. Everyone knows Syria has 14,000 troops in
Lebanon. Everyone knows Damascus claims Lebanon as part of Greater Syria. A
passel of folks know Syrian strategists also see their Lebanese occupation
as a bargaining chip with Israel -- i.e., the Israelis pull back from the
Golan Heights and Syria leaves Lebanon.
But what if massed tanks replace mass rallies or gunfire
I don't think massed tanks are likely. U.S. and Iraqi forces on
Syria's eastern border and Turkey's bitter dislike for Syria's Assad regime
remind Damascus that overt military action invites overt military response.
Deterring Iranian meddling is the more complex trick. Saddled
with a failed, repugnant revolution and disenchantment at home, Iran's
theocrat dictators buy time with terror. Seeding regional turmoil and war
via Lebanon's Hezbollah gives Iran leverage in Lebanon, Palestine and Syria.
To lose Hezbollah reveals the mullahs' increasing weakness.
For this reason, gunfire between armed factions remains a very
real possibility -- Iran and Syria benefit if the democratic surge is
blunted and Lebanon spirals into factional war.
StrategyPage.com speculates that France is "indulging in
stealthy peacekeeping" by stationing a navy supply ship off the Lebanese
coast. The ship can support special operations forces (commandos) and is
ostensibly there to evacuate French citizens if a shooting war erupts.
However, the ship also serves as a reminder that if "stealth" doesn't deter
violence, international forces could react.
That means the democrats' international supporters must have
contingency plans to stop a bloodbath and ensure security -- a tough
thought, but the plans exist. Operation Bluebat, the so-called "not war but
like war" U.S. Lebanon intervention of 1958, has been critiqued for decades.
It was hasty and poorly coordinated. To be successful, a Bluebat 2005 must
swiftly place strong forces in crucial areas to reinforce Lebanese Army
peacekeeping efforts. Special operations troops must be in contact with all
factions. Iranian and Syrian intelligence nodes must be quickly eliminated.
Risky? Of course -- it's last resort. Better to deflate
Hezbollah with diplomacy. The United States is pursuing a political strategy
designed to drive a wedge between Hezbollah and its supporters in Damascus
and Tehran. The United States argues that Lebanese Shias in Hezbollah have
the chance to become Lebanese patriots instead of serve as Syrian puppets.
The Lebanese Shias have relied on Shiite Iran for support, but a "Shia
political alternative" now competes with theo-fascist Tehran: democratic
Arab Shias in Iraq.
Iran and Syria only offer tyranny and war. The United States is
betting Lebanon's Shias appreciate the Iraqi Shias' electoral boon and the
economic benefits of peace. Iraq's "new Shia model" is another payoff in the
War on Terror.