Foreign meddling and domestic inaction push Lebanon to the brink of crisis

In need of leadership: Lebanese schoolchildren begin the new academic year three weeks late as a result of the summer-long conflict (Manoocher Deghati/IRIN)


Lebanon is once again on the brink of a crisis caused by foreign meddling and domestic inaction. The White House is accusing Hizbullah, Iran and Syria of seeking the illegitimate overthrow of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government, parroting a theme long championed by a very recent visitor to Washington, Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt. The simplistic charge dovetails with much of the current US approach to the Middle East, but it also lends credence to the theory that the Bush administration’s Lebanon policy is so flimsy as to be alterable by the last person who gained an audience with the president or one of his top advisers. Things are just as worrisome in Beirut, where Siniora’s government and its allies have done a dismal job of making their case that Lebanon has no need for a national unity government at this juncture.

Few pieces of real estate on Earth are subject to the gambits and gambles of more outside parties than Lebanon. The players include Iran and Syria, to be sure, but America and Israel are also pulling a variety of levers in their attempts to shape this country’s future to their own benefit. Coupled with the roles being played by France and Saudi Arabia, all of this attention from outside the country is pulling Lebanon apart as more powerful actors seek to further their own regional agendas.

What has been missing is a Lebanese agenda, carefully conceived and clearly articulated, that might start to build a truly national constituency. Apart from hollow slogans like “a fair and just state,” Hizbullah has yet to outline a vision for the next stage, other than its own desire for more seats in Cabinet. Likewise, the March 14 Forces’ approach to a host of pressing problems, including a new electoral law, has been vague at best and non-existent at worse. In such a climate, what are Lebanese citizens supposed to think about their country’s political class? To whom can they turn for intelligent leadership?

As this newspaper has noted in the past, Lebanon’s birth as an independent nation-state was attended by the tumult of World War II. The political figures who established the state made their share of errors, but at least they had clear ideas of what they wanted Lebanon to be and how much they were willing to compromise in order to accommodate the desires of others. The same cannot be said of today’s politicians, who keep their constituents in the dark and try to impose their views on their opponents without even bothering to define what they are.

This editorial was first published by Lebanon’s The Daily Star and is reprinted with permission.

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