Don't wobble, Mr. President

Posted: Mar 12, 2005 12:00 AM

Common wisdom has it that until Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah launched Tuesday's pro-Syrian demonstration in Beirut, his terror organization had been more or less on the fence regarding its position on Syria's occupation of Lebanon. This view is belied, however, by a speech Nasrallah broadcast on Hizbullah's Al-Manar television on February 17.

In the speech, which was documented by the Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Nasrallah warned against the pro-democracy, anti-Syrian opposition. Nasrallah claimed that the opposition, like UN Security Council Resolution 1559 calling for a withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon and the disarming of Hizbullah, had been launched as part of an Israeli-American political war against Hizbullah.

He argued that the political war was "more important and dangerous" than a shooting war, because if it were successful the international community would label Hizbullah as a terrorist organization. If this were to happen, Nasrallah continued, it "would necessarily mean a world war against the resistance [i.e., Hizbullah], which they will call a war against international terrorism. [That will mean] the sources of [our] funding will dry up and the sources of moral, political and material support will be destroyed by exerting pressure on the countries defending the resistance one way or another, and exerting pressure on Lebanon, Iran and Syria, but mainly on Lebanon, to classify it as a country supporting terrorism."

So, far from sitting on the fence, Hizbullah had perceived the danger inherent in the pro-democracy movement in Lebanon, and had broadcast its opposition to it, from the start. Tuesday's rally, where Nasrallah led hundreds of thousands of Lebanese in chanting "Death to Israel" and "Death to America" while applauding Syria for its domination of their country, was the result of this perceived threat.

The mass demonstration told us a great deal about Hizbullah, as well as about what must be done if Lebanon is to have a chance of ever being free of foreign domination. Firstly, the demonstration should put to rest the notion that Hizbullah is at heart a local Lebanese political force. If Hizbullah were interested in simply dominating Lebanese politics, then its best bet would have been to hop onto the anti-Syrian bandwagon. In no danger of being viewed as an American or Israeli stooge, Hizbullah could have easily won the hearts and minds of Lebanese. The fact that Hizbullah is willing to endanger its local popularity in order to protect Lebanon's unpopular overlord in Damascus shows that while it may have local political attributes and aspirations, Hizbullah's position as a key member of the Iran-Syria alliance is central to its identity. At least as presently constituted under Nasrallah's charismatic leadership, Hizbullah has no chance of being transformed into a local movement.

Secondly, the fact that Hizbullah was able to mass so many protesters to rally in support of continuing Syria's tyranny is very much a consequence of the fact that Hizbullah is the only political faction in Lebanon that has its own military force and controls its own territory. That Hizbullah has unique means of persuasion which its political opponents lack means that it will be impossible to have free or fair elections in Lebanon for as long as Hizbullah remains armed.

Thirdly, if the calls for jihad in Beirut on Tuesday were jarring to Western ears, they should at least have made clear one thing about Lebanon's current status in the war on terror. Today, under Syrian occupation, with Iranian Revolutionary Guard units operating openly in the Bekaa Valley and along the border with Israel, and with Hizbullah occupying the south, Lebanon is a firmly entrenched member of the terror camp. It will be physically impossible to move Lebanon into the antiterror camp for as long as Hizbullah remains armed and Syrian and Iranian forces retain their presence in the country.

Finally, Hizbullah on Tuesday effectively put Bashar Assad into its debt. In holding the rally, particularly given opposition reports that Hizbullah ordered its members to show up with their families and that Syria brought in hundreds of busloads of Syrians to participate in the rally, Nasrallah stuck his neck out for Bashar, and Bashar knows it.

Until now, Syria acted as a brake on Hizbullah, preventing it from attacking northern Israel or launching its arsenal of 14,000 rockets and missiles at Israel. Today, Damascus will no doubt be much less disposed to pushing its weight around with Nasrallah. The fact that young Assad now owes Nasrallah, coupled with the fact that Syria, Iran and Hizbullah are deeply enmeshed both together and separately in fueling the Palestinian terror war against Israel, means that Israel today faces a different situation on its northern border than it faced a month ago.

Sadly, while Hizbullah's true colors were unfurled on Tuesday, the initial reaction of both Lebanon and the international community to this terror rally suggested that it is possible to prosper from such actions. Thursday, Syrian-backed Lebanese President Emil Lahoud reinstated Syrian-supported Prime Minister Omar Karameh to office just a week and a half after the opposition forced him to resign. And UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said Wednesday that the UN should recognize Hizbullah. In his words, "Even Hizbullah [is] talking about non-interference by outsiders... which is not entirely at odds with the Security Council resolution, that there should be withdrawal of Syrian troops."

For its part, after dropping a proposal to have Hizbullah placed on the EU's list of terror organizations, the European Parliament on Thursday slapped the organization with a wet noodle ? meekly resolving that "if clear evidence exists of terrorist activities by Hizbullah, the [European] Council should take all necessary steps to curtail them."

Most disturbingly, Thursday's New York Times reported that the Bush administration is about to follow both the UN and France's lead in accepting Hizbullah as a legitimate political force in Lebanon. According to the report, which sources in Washington claim was leaked by the State Department, "the Bush administration is grudgingly going along with efforts by France and the United Nations to steer the party into the Lebanese political mainstream."

If has any basis in the truth, it would indicate that the White House is allowing its Lebanon policy to be taken over by the UN, Europe and the State Department in much the same fashion as its policy toward the Palestinians was hijacked two years ago.

In June 2002, President George W. Bush bucked conventional wisdom and called for the Palestinian Authority to be transformed from a terror-engendering, corrupt tyranny into a terror-combating, economically transparent democracy. He stated that American support for Palestinian statehood was conditioned on the Palestinians first reforming.

Less than six months later, however, Bush enabled his policy to be turned on its head by the EU, the UN, the State Department, Jordan and Egypt (with the full support of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and then-foreign minister Shimon Peres), and mutated into the Quartet's road map. Rather than making statehood contingent on reforms, under the road map Palestinian statehood became the centerpiece of American policy and Palestinian antiterror and democratic reform was held hostage to increasingly shrill and counterporoductive demands for Israeli concessions.

And so today, rather than force PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to destroy terror groups, the road map regime legitimizes him as he demands that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah's Aksa Martyrs Brigades be accepted as political parties and recruits them into his security services.

Rather than forcing the PA to open Palestinian society to market forces that would enable an independent middle class to flourish and grow, the road map regime has showered the PA with hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid and has promised it over a billion more as the corrupt Palestinian leadership is given international legitimacy to retain and expand its control over all aspects of the Palestinian economy.

And rather than force the PA to stop using its militias to terrorize and intimidate all democratic ? yet unarmed ? forces into silence, the road map regime has ignored such voices in Palestinian society and has said nothing as Mahmoud Abbas has signed the execution orders of dozens of Palestinians accused of working with Israel against terrorists.

As it has joined the accomodationist camp in its treatment of the PA, the Bush administration has ignored the fact that Hizbullah, like Syria and Iran, sees all areas transferred to the PA's security control as bases of operation for the forces of global jihad. Rather than accept the plain fact that Israel's presence in the West Bank and Gaza ? both military and civilian ? is the only obstacle preventing these areas from becoming terror bases, the Bush administration, under the influence of the same voices calling for acceptance of Hizbullah in Lebanon, has accepted as truth the red herring that Israeli communities in the West Bank and Gaza are somehow antithetical to peace and security.

This week saw Pakistan admit that the father of its nuclear program, A.Q. Khan, sold nuclear centrifuges to Iran. It saw thousands of Pakistani women demonstrating against tribal rapes. It saw thousands of Kuwaiti women demonstrating for the right to vote. And it saw Bush nominate John Bolton, one of the strongest voices for moral clarity and firm action against terrorists and their state sponsors in the world, as US ambassador to the UN. All of these events are indicators of the power of presidential resolve to change the world for the better while successfully routing terrorists and the regimes that sponsor them.

Yet all of this will mean little if, when tested on the frontlines of the battle between the forces of terror and the forces of democracy in the PA and Lebanon, the Bush administration allows the European obstructionists and their terror allies to take the lead.

Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.