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11/23/2007
COUNTDOWN TO CHAOS

As the clock ticks toward midnight, the factions in Lebanon, unable to agree on a consensus candidate for president, have resigned themselves to the fact that they are about ready to enter unknown territory.

A constitutional vacuum is about to open up – if, as he has promised, soon-to-be-ex-president Emil Lahoud resigns as planned. What does it mean in practical terms? No one knows which is why pronouncements like this from Lahoud are not helpful:

Premier Fouad Saniora on Friday rejected a controversial measure by outgoing President Emile Lahoud ordering the army to enforce law and order after claiming that “risks of a state of emergency” prevail over the nation.

A three-article statement signed by Lahoud said: “The risks of a state of emergency prevail over all the territories of the Republic of Lebanon as of Nov. 24.

“The army is assigned the task of maintaining security and all military forces would be placed at the army’s service,” the statement added.

It said that once a “legitimate government is formed” the army command would coordinate its moves with it.

However, a statement issued by Saniora’s press office said the presidential measure is “not factual and not based on constitutional or legal authorities.”

It recalled that, constitutionally, only the government has the authority to declare a state of emergency, subject to revision by parliament in eight days.

The Saniora statement said Lahoud wants to allude that the nation is facing serious threats “at a time security prevails because the army maintains the nation’s security and protects the people’s safety.”

The statement concluded by stressing that the government is both “legal and constitutional.”

Lahoud has maintained for almost a year now that because 6 opposition ministers resigned from the cabinet, subsequent decisions taken by the Siniora government have been illegal and that the government itself is not legitimate.

It is unclear whether Lahoud’s statement is meant to urge the army to carry out a coup although by asking the military to “maintain security” until a “legitimate government is formed” while all but declaring a state of emergency, it is hard to interpret his statement otherwise.

In fact, Abu Kais at From Beirut to the Beltway writes that even if Siniora insists on maintaining his position, the cabinet no longer controls the military:

Although Lahoud did not directly call for state of emergency (post corrected), he handed over all security matters to the Lebanese army, meaning the cabinet would no longer have power over it. AFP quoted an official in the Siniora government as saying Lahoud’s statement “is not valid and is unconstitutional…It is as if the statement was never issued.”

One more unknown in a sea of unknowables.

Meanwhile, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri has rescheduled the presidential vote for November 30. As the majority bends over backward to accommodate the opposition by not taking advantage of the constitutional option open to it and electing a president by simple parliamentary majority, some have taken the government to task for this inaction:

Now that the “opposition”, including Nabih Berri, has adopted Aoun’s “initiative”, March 14 finds itself, yet again, outmaneuvered. After living in the Berri-esque illusion that Bkirki’s list will be respected, March 14 rediscovered the dishonesty of its opponents. Over the past month, the “opposition” successfully managed to prevent the parliament’s majority from electing a president through distraction and deceit. Hours before the constitutional deadline expires, the Syrian-puppet president is preparing to announce measures designed to prevent the Siniora cabinet from assuming power. Lahoud is armed with Hizbullah’s blessing and the complicity of Michel Aoun. March 14 is counting on assurances given by Berri that the “opposition” will not escalate the situation if a president in not elected through a majority vote.

March 14’s Fares Soueid said the movement is waiting for Lahoud’s announcement before taking such a step. Sadly, March 14 deputies came to parliament today and consented to a postponement, forfeiting their constitutional right to holding such a session. Considering that Berri couldn’t hold his end of the French-sponsored bargain, it seems strange to this blogger that so much faith is still being placed in his promises, and in reaching agreement with him.

It should be clear that Lahoud is not bound by any arrangement Berri may have made with the majority. It should also be clear that Hizbullah and Aoun have been using Berri to buy time and keep March 14 from convening its deputies. One wonders if March 14’s current strategy, which is sadly being pushed by Jumblatt and Hariri, will cost them the country.

The feeling is widespread among March 14th supporters that their leaders have not taken advantage of the legal mechanism open to them and simply elected a president by majority vote. The feeling seems to be “Let Hizbullah do their damndest and to hell with Michel Aoun.”

I can understand their frustration but speaking as an outsider and a supporter of the government I sympathize with the majority’s plight. They have been well and truly trapped ever since the opposition ministers walked out of the government almost exactly a year ago. The government of Lebanon – any government – was dependent on the cooperation of Hizbullah both for legitimacy and to get anything done. Once that cooperation was withdrawn (with the realization that Nasrallah has no intention of granting it again unless he gets to call the shots) everything that has happened between then and now could have been foreseen.

The assassinations, the war with Israel, the constant, unyielding pressure on the government to compromise is being cheered on in Damascus if not planned and carried out on President Bashar Assad’s orders. Only Syria benefits from the chaos that threatens the peace in Lebanon. Despite the United Nations moving forward with the Hariri Tribunal – almost certain to implicate Syrian officials in the political violence that has taken place in Lebanon – they are moving glacially. And if the government changes hands, peacefully or otherwise, the chances of that Tribunal getting any cooperation from Lebanon vanishes. In that case, it is very difficult to see how the Tribunal will be able to do its job properly – something devoutly wished by Assad and his henchmen who UN prosecutors are convinced are involved in the assassination of the ex-prime minister.

There are precious few options left for the majority. It seems clear that by next week’s deadline, they will either have resigned themselves to the prospect of civil strife by electing a president themselves or will continue to dither, hoping lightening will strike and the opposition presents a candidate who would be acceptable to them.

The latter prospect is not in the cards which is why it is more than likely that eventually and reluctantly, the elected majority government of Lebanon will take the fateful step of thrusting aside opposition objections and, being constitutionally empowered to do so, will elect a president by simple majority vote. What this action will precipitate is anyone’s guess. Anything from violence in the streets to the opposition setting up their own president and cabinet and calling it the “legitimate” government of Lebanon is possible.

A “sea of unknowables” indeed.

UPDATE

Street celebrations are underway as Emil Lahoud leaves office. What is his legacy?

Emile Lahoud packed the sack and evacuated the hilltop Baabda Republican Palace at midnight Friday, leaving behind a record of two Syrian-sponsored constitutional amendments that placed him in office … and kept him there for nine years.

A cheerful crowd took to the streets of Beirut’s Tarik Jedideh district to celebrate the end of Lahoud’s term in office chanting “Lahoud out.”

Lahoud, 71, also has a long list of leftovers: Four military aides behind bars, 12 unsettled political crimes, a split nation struggling to avoid renewed civil strife and a vacant presidential office waiting for the election of a new head of state who can patch up a people that cannot agree even on one answer to a simple question: Who is the enemy?

Sounds more like an indictment.

Speaking of indictments, when will justice be served?

In 1998, Syrian President Hafez Assad sponsored a constitutional amendment that allowed Army Commander Lahoud to run for Lebanon’s top post.

The Syrian-controlled parliament responded, not only by adopting the Assad-inspired constitutional amendment, but also by unanimously electing his chosen candidate to Lebanon’s top post.

Blessed by “the father”, Lahoud enjoyed another constitutional amendment inspired by the late Syrian President’s son-heir Bashar Assad in 2004 that kept him in office for three years more.

Shortly after Lahoud received the second Assad Blessing, Communications Minister Marwan Hamadeh survived a car-bomb attack on Oct. 1, 2004 and the list of serial killings rolled:

Ex-Premier Rafik Hariri, Minister of Economy Basel Fleihan, columnist Samir Qassir, former leader of the Communist Party George Hawi, TV journalist May Chidiac, Defense Minister Elias Murr, MP Jibran Tueni, Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, MP Walid Eido and MP Antoine Ghanem.

The Assassination of ex-MP Elias Hobeika in 2002 also remains a mystery.

No coincidence, all the victims were prominent opponents Lahoud, or both Lahoud and Syria’s dominance over Lebanon.

I have said it many times but it bears repeating; the similarity between the Syrian regime and a Mafia crime family are striking. Both use intimidation and murder to achieve their ends. Both set up “protection rackets” to soak their victims. Both are made up of a small, vicious cadres of lieutenants who are loyal to a crime boss.

Read the whole article by Mohammed Salam, one of Naharnet’s most insightful writers.

UPDATE: 11/24

Gateway Pundit has a good round up and some telling photos of Lebanese celebrating the end of Lahoud’s presidency.

By: Rick Moran at 6:15 pm
4 Responses to “COUNTDOWN TO CHAOS”
  1. 1
    Unpartisan.com Political News and Blog Aggregator Trackbacked With:
    12:53 am 

    Political tumult intensifies in Lebanon

    ...

    Lebanon’s political tumult intensified as President Emile Lahoud said the country is in a “state of …

  2. 2
    Right Voices » Blog Archive » Saturday Morning Thoughts Pinged With:
    8:42 am 

    [...] Lebanon faces another crisis as Pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud left office Friday, with no replacement. Rick calls it “COUNTDOWN TO CHAOS” While Redstate summarizes it this way: the President of Lebanon’s out, the Prime Minister doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the way he left and the Iranian regime, Syrian regime, and fellow terrorist group Hezbollah don’t recognize the legitimacy of the Prime Minister’s disapproval. Meanwhile, the Lebanese military would very much not like to be involved, please – and while both sides aren’t reaching for their guns, the situation is not what you’d call relaxed. On the bright side, the French still* have their priorities straight on this…. …which should mean that the quote-unquote “international community” might actually refrain this time from peeing in the soup because they like the flavor better that way. Hey, every little bit helps. Bookmark to: Tags: Lebanon, , Emile, , Lahoud, , , Sarkozy, , Chirac, , France, , Pelosi, , Reid, , Liberals, , Bring, The, Troops, Home, , , Conspiracy, Theories, Iraq, Political, Scandals, Valerie, Plame, Disclosure, George, W., Bush, Scott, McClellan, Valerie, Plame, Wilson [...]

  3. 3
    daveinboca Said:
    10:04 am 

    Re your comment on a Lebanese Mafia analogy. After Tony Franjieh, wife and infant child were murdered in the late seventies, Phyllis Oakley told me that Tony’s family had stayed with her and hubby Bob in Maine the previous summer. They had all gone to see The Godfather and Tony left the theater shaking…. “That movie is about my family and my country.” His one-year old toddler was killed by tying a grenade to his bib and pulling the pin.

    Great country.

  4. 4
    Chip Said:
    1:27 pm 

    Lahoud is just one of the “living and breathing” reasons in the world which keeps the nutroots self-indulgent lamentations in perspective every time they throw out the fallacious “Bush crime family” smear.

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