Journalist Anthony Shadid discusses Qatar talks

After rival Lebanese leaders reached a deal at Qatar talks, protestors aligned with the various opposition parties begin to dismantle a protest camp that began in December 2006 in the heart of downtown Beirut, 21 May 2008. (Matthew Cassel)

As negotiations in Doha, Qatar take place between Lebanon’s political leaders in an effort to reach a settlement to the current internal conflict, Ola Hajar spoke with veteran journalist Anthony Shadid. Shadid spoke about the impact of US-driven policies in the Middle East within the context of the “war on terror” and their specific impact on Lebanon, and he also commented on the US position towards Hizballah’s role in Lebanese politics.

As an internationally renowned and award winning journalist Anthony Shadid, of Lebanese origin, a reporter for The Washignton Post, reported during the 2006 Israeli attack on Lebanon and the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. Shadid won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting and is the author of Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War which outlines the human impact to the US war in Iraq.

Ola Hajar: Can comment on the current situation in Lebanon and the political negotiations taking place in Qatar?

Anthony Shadid: Lebanon’s current crisis connects not only to the war in 2006 but also dates back to the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Political turmoil in Lebanon is always complicated, as the turmoil or the national crisis is so heavily linked to powers outside the country including Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the US and France.

Concerning the current negotiations taking place in Doha, Qatar, it’s possible that all the parties involved will arrive at a temporary agreement, however for a more lasting agreement it’s critical to have an international consensus, meaning a deal between the US on one side, then Iran and Syria on the other. A major or long-term deal involving these powers doesn’t seem to be possible at this point.

OH: Concerning the current negotiations in Qatar and also how people in Lebanon are feeling about these negotiations, are you optimistic for the future after these negotiations?

AS: I have to say that there is a feeling of pessimism concerning the current negotiations, a feeling that the conflict wont be seriously resolved anytime soon. A serious political struggle is taking place in Lebanon between the opposition and forces that are aligned to the government. Also a sectarian struggle is playing out, as the Shi’ite community in Lebanon struggles to have a more equitable share in power. Also this struggle in Lebanon is taking place within a region that has become absolutely wreaked by policies from the US administration throughout the past eight years. Lebanon in a sense is a victim to US policy in the Middle East.

In Lebanon, often conversations take place that talk about the “Iraqization” of Lebanon. In Iraq, covering the realities in that country for a few years, people would often talk after the US invasion about the “Lebanonization” of Iraq. Now in Lebanon we are seeing identities becoming more sectarian, a process that is very negative, a process that is propelled by policies imposed by the US on the region.

OH: Today in the Lebanese daily Al Akhbar, Nizar Aboud wrote an article that quoted a US diplomat from New York stating that the negotiations in Doha wont lead to any solution regarding the Lebanese conflict because currently the US government isn’t concerned with pushing a long-term solution in Lebanon, playing the conflict while waiting for an opportunity to hit Iran. Commentary from this article also explains that the recent events in Lebanon were a trap set by the Lebanese government and the US government in order to alter the perception towards Hizballah in Lebanon, from a resistance movement to a bad militia. Can you comment on this article?

AS: It’s an interesting point. On the first point it’s very possible, although truly knowing US policy on Lebanon isn’t possible, as clearly the US doesn’t want to see a Lebanese government in which Hizballah takes part. Hizballah with its allies having veto power over the government isn’t something that the US would like to see in Lebanon. Does the US prefer to have Lebanon remain in this situation, in a stalemate, without Hizballah having a major share in power? It’s very possible and actually likely.

On the US and Iran, clearly there isn’t an international consensus on Lebanon, as future US policy towards Iran is unclear: will there be a war, will there be a negotiated settlement? This is an open question. As long as this open question exists, as long as the conflict between the US and Iran in the Middle East region continues, a conflict often played out by proxy wars, including one which is taking place in Lebanon, a resolution to the crisis in Lebanon won’t happen.

Negotiations on Lebanon in Qatar might lead to a truce, however a more lasting settlement and more permanent settlement isn’t possible as long as a broader regional conflict continues, as long as the future between Iran and the US is unclear.

OH: Now does this mean that the US isn’t interested in a resolution to the current conflict in Lebanon?

AS: It’s clear that the US doesn’t want to see Hizballah taking its share of power in Lebanon today, as the US is following its own interests in the region not the interests of the people in Lebanon. It’s not possible to disenfranchise Lebanon’s Shi’ite community and have a stable situation, as this is the single largest group in the country. This is critical to understand.

US interest in Lebanon is defined by keeping Hizballah on the fringes of the government, on the fringes of the political system and not taking a direct or equitable share in power.

Ola Hajar grew up in Beirut, is currently a graduate student at HEC Montreal in international affairs and is a member of Tadamon! Montreal.