Hezb'allah names new Lebanese prime minister
A handpicked candidate for prime minister by Hezb'allah will likely win parliamentary approval today. Thus ends the independence of the Lebanese state.
Even the New York Times sees the writing on the wall with their headline, "Hezbollah Chooses Lebanon's Next Prime Minister:"
A prime minister chosen by Hezbollah and its allies won enough support on Monday to form Lebanon's government, unleashing angry protests, realigning politics and culminating the generation-long ascent of the Shiite Muslim movement from shadowy militant group to the country's pre-eminent political and military force.
Hezbollah's success served as a stark measure of the shifting constellation of power in this part of the Middle East, where the influence of the United States and its Arab allies - Egypt and Saudi Arabia - is seen by politicians and diplomats as receding, while Iran and Syria have become more assertive.
American diplomats tried to forestall the triumph of Hezbollah's candidate, Najib Miqati. Although the final votes will be cast Tuesday, Mr. Miqati won the decisive vote from a politician who said he had to deal "with the reality on the ground."
The government that Mr. Miqati, a billionaire and former prime minister, forms may in the end look much like past cabinets in this small Mediterranean country. Indeed, Mr. Miqati struck a conciliatory tone, calling himself a consensus candidate.
Mr. Miqati is hardly a "consensus" candidate. His "Glory Movement" party has precisely 2 seats in the parliament. In contrast, fallen PM Saad Hariri's Future party has 71 seats. He was also seen as a "consensus" choice when he assumed the prime minister's post in the immediate aftermath of the Syrian withdrawal in the spring of 2005. The problem was the same back then; suspected of having divided loyalties. He was chosen by Syria's Assad to fill the post of interim prime minister. It would have been impossible to choose a candidate who did not meet with the Syrian president's approval at the time.
Daniel Larison points out Miqati's placement on Hariri's list of allied candidates in the 2009 elections which, I suppose, ties him to the former PM in Larison's eyes. Miqati was running for office from a district in Tripoli - a Suinni stronghold dominated by the Future party and, at the time, was the site of unrest as clashes between Sunnis and Shias were taking place. It was political expediency that forced Miqati to run as an Hariri ally and not any kind of ideological affinity for Hariri's politics. This is not unknown in Lebanese politics, of course. But trying to put lipstick on a pig by saying that Miqati ran on Hariri's list and inferring that this is somehow acceptable to the bulk of Sunnis or that he is not a danger to an independent Lebanon is too much of a stretch. He will do Hezb'allah's bidding - especially as it relates to the Special Tribunal Lebanon (STL).
The STL, a UN sponsored tribunal looking into the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri (as well as the dozen or so other political murders in Lebanon since that date), was the cause of the fall of Hariri's government in the first place. Their secret indictments, handed down last week, almost certainly name prominent Hezb'allah members as the guilty parties in carrying out the crime. Hezb'allah demanded that Hariri denounce the STL and make a statement to the effect that it is a US-Israeli plot to tarnish the squeaky clean reputation of the terrorist group/political party. Hariri refused, the Hez withdrew their cabinet ministers, and have now named the next prime minister.
Miqati's first order of business will be to cut the cord between Lebanon and the STL. That would be a minimum demand from Hezb'allah for their support. Those indictments carry no weight now, and there will be no trials of the accused in Lebanon or elsewhere.
There are some observers who see Iran ascendant in Lebanon - perhaps even able to exert some kind of control over the tiny country. That may be true to some extent with regard to Lebanon's relations with Israel, Iran, and Syria. But it is a little more complicated than Iran telling Miqati, or even Hezb'allah General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah what to do.
Nasrallah has his own agenda in Lebanon that at times, will work at cross purposes with his paymasters in Iran. It may even be true that Supreme Leader Khamenie would have preferred to see Hezb'allah remain in the background and not take such a prominent role in forming a government. It was reported that Khamenei was angry at Nasrallah for instigating the 2006 war with Israel, knowing full well that the militia could not go toe to toe with the IDF for any length of time. There was much grumbling by the Iranian people and leadership when they were forced to resupply Hezb'allah following the end of hostilities. Clearly, Nasrallah is far from being Iran's puppet, although there are several areas where their vital interests intersect - most especially as those interests relate to Israel and its destruction.
It is Syrian president Bashar Assad who now holds the whip hand in Lebanon; not so much because he controls Nasrallah but because he has outsized influence on many prominent individuals in Nasrallah's March 8 movement. Death threats and cash payoffs by Syria to key factions in Lebanon has cemented loyalty to Assad's regime and means that the Syrian president has virtual control of much of the Lebanese parliament - at least enough to affect votes as they relate to Syria and their considerable economic interests in Lebanon.
What killed the Cedar Revolution? In the end, a lack of courage was March 14th's downfall. It's not really a criticism in that standing up to Syria, Iran, and Hezb'allah was more than likely to get you and your family killed. Few possess such otherworldly physical courage and to deride the Lebanese democrats for their failure in this regard isn't fair unless you place yourself in their shoes and ask yourself how you would act.
But it would have taken more than courage to wrest Hezb'allah's guns from their possession, or risk civil war in order to stand up to Hezb'allah and their political blackmail. At bottom, it came down to the same formula for power it always does; those with the guns and the demonstrated ability to use them usually win out in the end.