WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON, Saad al-Hariri's Mostaqbal party agreed to a constitutional amendment that would allow Lebanese Armed Forces Commander Michel Suleiman to be elected president. Up until now, Hariri and his March 14 allies (the date of the 2005 Cedar Revolution) had resisted Suleiman's candidacy; Lebanese democrats are generally loath to have military men serve as President of the Republic, especially after the last nine years of former commander Emile Lahoud's presidency. But more importantly, Suleiman is Damascus's number one choice to fill the now vacant spot.
So why have Hariri and his colleagues, including Druze chieftain Walid Jumblatt and leader of the Christian Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea, made an about face? It is because of Annapolis. They feared Washington was going to cut a deal with Syria over Lebanon, so they made their own bargain to protect themselves since it is now obvious Washington will not. Thus, the wages of peace processing.
In October, Hariri visited Washington where he met with the president and every major administration figure along with dozens of legislators on both sides of the aisle. "There is a killing machine in Syria," Hariri told a roomful of journalists. "We came to Washington to say, 'If you are going to do something about it, let us know. If you are not going to do anything about it, let us know. But no matter what, we're not going to give in."
Hariri and the rest apparently did give in. March 14 figures are being picked off one by one, and their Washington ally, the world's lone superpower, has done nothing to check the violence. Jumblatt came to town a few weeks after Hariri and half-jokingly remarked that the way to break the two-and-a-half-year siege of Lebanon is to send car bombs to Damascus. If that sounds extreme, consider that Israel bombed what has been described as a Syrian nuclear site, and for all of Damascus's bluster, they do not dare confront Israel except through terrorist proxies. In other words, this is an easily deterrable enemy.
But the United States did nothing about Bashar al-Asad, except complain about Syrian interference in Lebanon--American bluster that served only to illuminate Washington's unwillingness to back up its semi-tough talk with action. From the Lebanese perspective, the last straw was inviting Syria to Annapolis, as they read this as a preface to an American deal with Damascus. Or, as Jumblatt said, "We have entered the U.S.-Syrian bargaining market." Given the Lebanese experience in the '90s, when the first Bush administration contracted Lebanese affairs out to Hafez al-Asad, their concern is entirely rational.
What the Lebanese have failed to grasp, however, is that there is no deal with Syria. Rather, the problem is simply the profoundly personal investment America's top diplomat has in forging a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has recused herself from every other issue in the region, including Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. As for Syria and Lebanon, she contracted this out to France, whose new president Nicolas Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner butchered the affair, with some assistance from Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, who has looked to placate Syria since the Hariri murder. Secretary Rice says nice things about Lebanese democracy, but the fact is that nothing matters to her half as much as the peace process. This myopia is what led Rice to make room for Syria in her three-ring circus on the Chesapeake Bay. Since Israeli-Palestinian comity warrants all of the time and prestige of the Secretary of State, and since Damascus's friends in Hamas can make things very tough for peace processing, they must be rewarded for their blackmail and invited to Annapolis.
Consciously or not, Rice signaled where America's real priorities lie--not with protecting a fledgling democracy in Beirut from the terrorist state next door, but in trying to reward a society that breeds terrorism within its own state.
And yet despite her desire to etch her name in history, and her obscene comparisons between Mahmoud Abbas and Martin Luther King, Jr., it is important to keep in mind that Rice is just the latest in a long line of "peace processers." It is a racket that includes American policymakers, legislators, and even analysts and journalists, many of whom seem to derive their self-esteem, if not their salaries, from flogging this dead horse. Meanwhile, they forget the dangers of peace-processing. In talking to your enemies, you can lose your friends.
One source explains that the State Department is happy with developments in Lebanon; in Foggy Bottom it represents a "compromise." In Beirut, though, it means a continuation of the Syrian-backed military and security apparatus that has killed Lebanese politicians, journalists, and civil society figures with impunity. It means, as well, a betrayal of the Lebanese men and women who peacefully resisted a terrorist regime and its local allies, who risked their lives over the last two plus years on behalf of a national dream of tolerance and co-existence.
What will happen next in Lebanon? The Suleiman bargain will almost certainly snowball. As the next government is formed, the concern will be whether or not Hezbollah and other Syrian assets will be given a veto to derail the tribunal meant to hand down indictments in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. U.N. Investigator Serge Brammertz has just released his tepid final report, naming no names. So far only a fraction of the money necessary to conduct the tribunal has been raised, a fund to which another lukewarm March 14 ally, Saudi Arabia, has contributed nothing.
It seems that in the end, Bashar al-Asad and his family will pay no price for their murderous campaign against a U.S. ally. That is to say, insofar as the White House's post-9/11 freedom agenda was meant to counter violence and extremism, it is Osama bin Laden's vision of the Middle East that has won the day in Lebanon--not freedom, sovereignty and independence, but terror and death.
Lee Smith is a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute.