A Rock and a Hard Place: The Seduction that Threatens Lebanon…Again!
By Sami Karam
Maybe it’s the same impulse that makes one speak before they think? Like a woman having her way with a man and toying with him like a puppet, then leaving without a honeymoon. Maybe it’s seduction in its purest and most shattering form. What makes a man give up logic, and even change reality, to suit ambition? And what makes a man do this not once, but TWICE!
When General Aoun went to Tunisia in 1989 to gain Syro-Arab support for his presidential ambitions, he was seduced into thinking that it would be his if he defeated his other main Christian rival, Samir Geagea and the Lebanese Forces. This was the Arab plot that would lead us to the Teaf pit hole. His supporters past and present would like to think that he was a man against all militias. That he was a man who wanted to lift the heavy social burden militias may have been inflicting on the population. Many were seduced by the seduced. Yet today we see in General Aoun and his FPM, a group that is allied with the last remaining militia, who is extracting a heavy socio-economic burden on the people of Lebanon through their camps in downtown Beirut and their paralysis of parliament.
On March 14 2005, on the heels of Lebanon’s greatest defining moment in its modern history, General Aoun was set to return after 15 years of exile, to the joys of those seduced 15 years ago. Yet many reports surfaced of secret meetings with Syrian officials, Lebanese allies of current president Emile Lahoud, and more publicized meetings with those who now form the current March 14 alliance. On the other Christian track, Samir Geagea was still in prison and his release was met with solid resistance by Syria’s Lebanese allies, and silence by those who opposed Syria after the death of Rafiq Hariri. Some asked the question, why was the General able to return so quickly before parliamentary elections and Samir Geagea’s release was still in limbo? The answer came after parliamentary elections were concluded and the “tsunami” (as Walid Jumblat predicted) had hit the Lebanese parliament.
Aoun won 22 seats in parliamentary elections through popular Christian support and the support of parties who are historically and presently allied to the regime in Damascus. He refused to take part in a government of national unity, which is ironically; a demand that to this day cripples a nation. The Future Movement and it’s allies now had one option left; to give Geagea a get out of jail card and regain some Christian momentum in their March 14 Alliance. If it were not for the success of Aoun, Geagea may still be in jail to this day. The reality is his comeback was orchestrated with Syrian approval, as they still had heavy influence in the Justice Ministry. As will be discussed later, the Syrian track was attractive to Aoun and his ambitions to become President.
In the coming months the FPM would sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Hizbullah, strengthen ties with pro-Damascus forces, participate in the Hizbullah-led camps that have been erected in downtown Beirut; effectively crippling the tourism driven economy. In addition to this Aoun and his party would give Hizbullah political cover to the June 2006 devastating war with Israel; and be the prime beneficiaries of two political assassinations, by way of bi-election victory in the Metn through Hizbullah sponsored Shiite votes, and a similar demographic forecast to fill the seat of Antoine Ghanem.
Aoun had gone to great lengths, staying the course of the Opposition’s agenda and giving it Christian cover. He was prepared to lose some of his Christian base (as was evident in the Metn bi-election) to shore up his standing in the March 8 Alliance, and become their candidate for the Lebanese Presidency. His supporters argue that if all he wanted was the presidency then he would have allied with March 14.
When one looks closely at his possible reasoning, it is not difficult to see why Aoun may have chosen this path, as he could have just as easily waited out until after the 2005 parliamentary elections. American anxiousness to cool down a heated Iraq, Iranian ambitions for nuclear weapons, Democratic Congress and House victories in the U.S.A 06 elections, and Aoun’s personal ego-shattering experience with American willingness to trade-off Lebanon in settling regional problems. The General figured he would be the compromise candidate of the U.S once they had abandoned March 14 and the Hariri Tribunal in exchange for a stable Iraq and Iranian compromise on their nuclear ambitions. He has backed the horse to come from behind, and if he gets the win, it would surely be noted as a grand maneuver in real-politick.
In all his reasoning, Aoun miscalculated the local and regional players. It has come to light that there are ideologues residing in the Whitehouse that up to this point, deserve more credit than they are receiving on the Lebanese track. Yet his most agonizing reality is that even Aoun’s own allies do not want him to ascend to the presidency. It was a slap in the face remark from Hassan Nasrallah to call for popular presidential elections (knowing full well this would never happen), thinking that it would please Aoun, only to have Hizbullah officials state that he is their candidate, but “not the only candidate.”
Stuck between a rock and a hard place, his reasoning has not manifested and his allies have abandoned his campaign. MP Ibrahim Kenaan of the FPM speaking with Naharnet declared “we could reach agreement and that would be great, and if we did not achieve an agreement lets go to parliament, and we might win or lose at parliament.” This was a drastic change in FPM policy. Knowing he can not become the next president, Aoun has shifted his attitude of being the only truly representative Christian candidate, to finding a compromise and consensus candidate that is not elected by a simple majority. Aoun knows perfectly well that if it comes to a simple majority vote, March 14 will not waste time in electing a president that will work against the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah axis. With the March 14 majority demanding their candidate occupy the Presidency, Aoun has no other choice but to confront them with consensus. If against his will, he succumbs to the pressures of Bkirki and goes to parliament to vote for a March 14 candidate, he may very well find out that the Syrians this time will not allow him to leave into exile, but exit in a coffin.
The main criticism General Aoun makes of his Lebanese adversaries is that they collaborated in the Syrian occupation whilst he was speaking out against it in exile. He is now discovering the ease of speaking from afar and the hard lesson of breathing without oxygen when the Syrian axe is hanging over his head.
As the October 13th anniversary is remembered, the intelligentsia that once feverously supported the General not only abandoned him but are exposing his motives. There are many who felt deeply betrayed by his political turnabout. “Why?” they ask. Why give up 15 years of resistance for the sake of personal ambition for the presidency? Their answer lies in the history pages of 18yrs ago and the removal of emotion from their analysis. He sought the presidency then, and went to war with his own sect to get it. The Syrians knew Aoun would be manipulated in 2005 because he was manipulated in 1989. Those who supported him; thinking he was a statesman guided by principle and nationalistic ideals need to rethink. He was and is a politician, scheming to gain his place, like all politicians. His supporters past and present were unfortunately, seduced by the seduced.
The problem with bending reality to suite your ambitions is that eventually reality comes to light. Often an individual gets married thinking he is the man going on a honeymoon to claim the prize he has waited for his entire life. And when he arrives, warms up the bed and darkens the room the light of reality wakes him to the painful fact that he is no longer the man, but the woman.