U.S. Policy Toward Lebanon
by Daniel Pipes
Chairman GILMAN: Mr. Pipes, we welcome you to our committee. Again, please either summarize your statement or you may give it in full. thank you.
Mr. PIPES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am grateful to you and Members of the Committee for this opportunity to discuss Lebanon.
I would like to focus on the dimension of this subject that I know best, namely the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. I shall say something about its background, current situation, and future prospects, then conclude with recommendations for U.S. policy.
With the collapse of the Soviet bloc, Lebanon has acquired the distinction of being the only satellite State anywhere on the globe. It is a State with all the trappings of sovereignty—a flag, an independence day, a constitution, membership in the United Nations—but very little of its substance. Therefore, I am troubled to hear that State Department representatives speak about the Government of Lebanon as though it were a fully functioning sovereign body when, in fact, it is something like Bulgaria was in the Soviet bloc. It is a shadow of a State rather than the State itself.
The President of Syria, Mr. Hafiz al-Assad, disposes of many levers of power over Lebanon. Today, an estimated 40,000 Syrian troops enforce his will in the country. In addition, a large number of Syrian political and intelligence agencies maintain a formidable presence throughout Lebanon.
So subservient is the Lebanese Government to Damascene wishes that Lebanese politicians routinely visit the Syrian capital before making any major decision. Speaking candidly at one time, President Ilyas al-Hirawi confessed his shame that so many Lebanese traveled to Damascus to discuss their differences: "We now disagree on the appointment of a doorman and we go to Damascus to submit the problem to the brothers there."
Lebanese officials openly acknowledge that Damascus makes all their decisions in the peace process with Israel. Now, what is curious about this occupation is that it is illegal by the Syrian Government's own light. For Damascus has on three occasions concurred with decisions made by other bodies that Syrian troops should withdraw from Lebanon.
It first agreed to this in October, 1976, as part of the Riyadh-Cairo accords. In September, 1982, it signed on to the Fez Declaration which committed it to start negotiations to withdraw its troops. Finally, as has been mentioned a number of times this morning, in October 1989, the Taif Accord obligated the Syrian Government to redeploy and ultimately withdraw its troops. None of these accords have been fulfilled.
The current situation reminds me of a very famous statement by Tacitus, the Roman historian. In judging the Roman conquest and occupation of Britain, he said of the Romans, "They made a desert and called it peace." We see something similar to that in Lebanon. The Syrians have conquered Lebanon, and they have made a desert of it. It is quiet. There is not the same sort of terrorism as once existed, but it is replaced by the quiet of the desert.
The record of the last 15 years suggests to me several conclusions: First, that Syrian promises to leave Lebanon have no value and should not be sought again. Second, even were the uniformed troops to withdraw, Assad will still have enough assets in Lebanon to exert considerable control over the country. Third, the Assad Government seeks to occupy Lebanon permanently.
Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of the Lebanese population—and not just the Christians among them—rejects the Syrian occupation. Survey research conducted some years ago suggests that a mere 3 percent of the population of Sunni Muslims favor union with Syria. Anecdotal evidence confirms this.
That Lebanese opinions so overwhelmingly reject the occupation is not surprising, but what is perhaps more surprising is that so much of the outside world, including our own executive branch, has acquiesced to the Syrian takeover. To the best of my knowledge, the White House and State Department have never condemned the occupation, preferring to see this instead as an issue to be raised in the context of the Arab-Israeli negotiations.
In contrast, this Congress is one of the very few governmental bodies in the world to condemn the occupation. You voted unanimously in July, 1993, to consider, "the Government of Syria in violation of the Taif agreement". A second, similar resolution was passed by the House in June 1995.
Now, as a government, we face a basic choice: whether to accept or to contest the Syrian domination of Lebanon.
We can work with the occupation, which means recognizing the Government of Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri as a real government, accepting the August, 1996, elections as legitimate and acquiescing in general to the rules established by the Syrian regime. Such a policy has the advantage of winning favor in Damascus and perhaps encouraging the rulers in that city to participate in the peace process. But it disheartens natural allies of the United States in Lebanon and abroad, and it signals to the world that, while a blatant invasion such as Saddam Hussein's into Kuwait is not acceptable, a subtle one such as Assad's into Lebanon is indeed acceptable.
The other alternative is to ignore the Government of Lebanon, to denounce the occupation and to pay little attention to all the pseudo-structures in Beirut. This has the advantage of sticking with our friends and our principles.
It, of course, raises dangers as well. But to my mind there really is no choice. The U.S. Government must stand in solidarity with the oppressed against the oppressors.
Just as we supported Estonians and Czechs through their decades of Soviet domination, even when the prospect of their independence seemed impossibly remote, so we must stand by the Lebanese people in their hour of need. Nor is this only a matter of principle. Baltic leaders, for example, all agree on the importance of the U.S. Government refusing to accept Soviet occupation. One day, I am convinced, Lebanese patriots will similarly thank us for standing with their people even as they face the seemingly invincible might of the Syrian sword.
Accordingly, I urge you to do all within your power to condemn and repulse the Syrian occupiers. Toward this end, Congress can take several steps.
First, you can use your bully pulpit by sending a direct message to the tyrants in Damascus. I particularly commend to you Representative Elliott Engel's amendment to H.R. 1986 concerning sanctions against Syria, which passed by a vote of 410 to 15 on June 10th. The Assad regime takes close note of such resolutions.
Second, you can pressure the executive branch to show some spine as, in fact, you are doing today. In 1994, for example, you took a lead position on a critical role in assuring that functionaries in the U.S. bureaucracy did not take Syria off the terrorism and narcotics lists.
Third, you can close the "national interest" loopholes that permit the executive branch to waive regulations, and which it seems to do disproportionately for Damascus. In testimony before the House Subcommittee on Crime earlier this month, it came out that, in 1996, Syria has received $226 million in U.S. exports, of which $81 million was in controlled commodities. This must not continue.
Finally, I urge you to turn away from Friends of Lebanon appeals for money and appropriate no funds for that country, on the assumption that any funds that do go there will ultimately end up in Mr. Assad's pocket.
Chairman GILMAN: Thank you, Mr. Pipes.
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