Friday, October 26, 2007

On Choosing a Lebanese President

Any "consensus" candidate is sure to be a weak president. The reason is simply that if he wants to pursue some policy or make some decision that a party to the consensus disagrees with, he'll be accused of violating his legitimacy. A "temporary" president - one who takes office with the understanding that his exercise of Constitutional authority is limited until it can be exercised by the "permanent" president - is subject to the same constraints, only worse.

That is why I believe best course of action for Lebanese who want a strong president is to ignore calls for consensus completely and stick to the Constitution and its spirit as much as possible. It is a very American belief, so I don't know if it translates into the Lebanese reality.

The ultimate test is if all of Lebanon's dissident ethno-sectarian groups are willing to abandon their leader and follow the Government instead in case of some disagreement. The only other possible sources of legitimacy are the Constitution or force of arms - civil war.

No one in Lebanon wants to see civil war resume, so as long as the legitimacy of the government is considered dicey, conflict is being put off as long as possible by accomodating ethno-sectarian leaders like Hassan Nasrallah.

But Nasrallah doesn't represent Lebanese as much as Syria and Iran, who see the Shia as a paid tool of their policy of proxy war against the West and Israel. They are rearming and fortifying Hezbollah now to improve their tool for future use in war. When that war comes, it will be at the call of Syria and Iran, not the Lebanese will once more die by the thousands. And everybody, even the Hezbollah rank and file, knows this.

No one wants civil war, but clearly some parties are maneuvering for it. The only constraint is then establishing some sort of pretext, some way to say that "the other guy started it first, and the government isn't strong enough to deal with the problem." A weak president, then, favors such conditions, or better yet, creates the condition that the unarmed ethno-sectarian groups will surrender without a blow being struck at all.

Don't give in. Elect a president without qualifications, either "consensus" or "temporary", and prepare to live with the results: an exercise of power that will diminish all of Lebanon's ethno-sectarian leaders, not just those of Hezbollah, in exchange for eventually freeing the Shia and their captive allies from foreign domination, with the support of the U.N. and the West. It must be a pretty scary thought to Lebanon's ethno-sectarian leaders, as they will be exposed to government authority in a way they haven't in over a generation. But are Lebanon's leaders prepared to ask themselves, "Won't the consequences of not electing a real president be worse?"

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