A Lebano-Syrian duet

2083355258_61278b80d7 "Syria and Lebanon have agreed to start diplomatic ties and exchange ambassadors for the first time since independence about 60 years ago, a Syrian presidential adviser said on Wednesday. The decision was taken during a meeting in Damascus between President Bashar Assad and his visiting Lebanese counterpart Michel Sleiman, said presidential counselor for politics Buthaina Shaaban.

"The two presidents decided to establish diplomatic ties at the level of ambassadors, in line with the treaty of the United Nations and international law," the statement by Shaaban said.

Presidents Assad and Sleiman "instructed their Foreign ministries to take the necessary measures in this regard to conform with the laws of the two countries," the statement added."  Daily Star


Lebanon was carved out of the side of the Syrian mandate given to France after World War I.

It was created for reasons satisfactory to the French.  These motives were probably a mixture of various interests. One of them was certainly a French desire to create a homeland for the Christian population (specifically the Maronites I think) of that part of the Levant.  The French often exhibit a complex national character made up in part of; worldly realism (some might call it cynicism) bordering on weltschmerz, sentimental attachment to hopeless causes and old friends (the US for example) who do not really value the friendship,  relentless creativity while clinging to things like artisanal production of wine and cheese in tiny quantities…  It should not be surprising that I like them.

The creation of Lebanon was one of their "little projects."  Syria itself had never really existed before the League of Nations Mandate.  It had always been a geographical expression under various governmental dispensations.  Nevertheless, it became a "thing" under French rule and the French chose to detach coastal Syria to make Lebanon.  This offended the sentiments of Arab nationalists and Muslim activists alike.  The creation of a state for the Christian minority was clearly not something that either of these groups would welcome.  To make matters worse, The French decided to include the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon in their creation.  They seem to have done this in search of that elusive "beast," ECONOMIC VIABILITY.  The problem in doing so was that the valley had a large Muslim population.  This was large enough that when combined with the other Muslims in the "country," eventual emergence of Muslim majorities became inevitable.  Palestinian flight into Lebanon in the 40s made the process occur even more rapidly than it would have otherwise.

Syria never accepted French action in severing Lebanon from the mandate.  The fact that Syria itself existed  because of European "meddling" was of no importance to the Syrians.

As a result of the arbitrariness of French action, successive Syrian governments have chosen not to accept Lebanon’s existence as a separate country.  This the first time that Syria has acted as though it actually accepts the idea of Lebanon.  This is the first time.

Supposedly, there will be embassies in the two capitals.  There will be public diplomatic recognition.  The border will be demarcated.

Perhaps the next American administration will eventually become reconciled to this development.  After that, the next American administration will perhaps come to accept the peace that Bashar Assad wants to make with Israel.

Perhaps.  pl


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14 Responses to A Lebano-Syrian duet

  1. Curious says:

    The natural grouping and alliances that seems to emerge:
    – Lebanon + Syria/Iran
    – Syria + Iran
    – Turkey + Syria + Iran
    – Iraq + Syria (by way of huge Israel refugees, baathism history)
    – Palestine + Hezbollah (Lebanon/Iran)
    – Russia (?) (Syria+Iran)
    So, it seems the Arab status quo/pro western vs. the rest are emerging again. Israel will be largely irrelevant to trend.
    (Lebanon)Syria-Turkey-Iraq-Iran will definitely coming closer together. They have so much in common and all they lack is strong leadership and political willingness to stick together. The recent US isolation and Bush failure definitely help. They have increased diplomatic interaction.
    It will be interesting if Russia gives blessing to Syria-Turkey-Iran axis. Syria-Iran relationship has withstood enormous Israel-western pressure. So they will stick together, along with Hezbollah/Lebanon. Add Turkey into the mix, they will be formidable, specially with Russian blessing.
    It’s all up to Russia now. They are at the cusp of controlling entire central asia and balkan-caucasus. It will take a giant diplomat/stateman and a military genius to fix Bush damage and counter this natural tendency.
    I would say. Well done Russia. You win. In the next 5 yrs, the rest is execution and tactic. They’ve won the strategy.
    Ukraine will be their next big challenge to finally regain control to mediterranean.

  2. praxis says:

    Indeed, Syria accepting a Lebanese Ambassador in Damascus is a first. However, what do you make of the second part of the statement that says that both countries have directed their ministries to take the measures to conform with the laws of both countries?

  3. Patrick Lang says:

    I do believe that means a recognition of the sovereignty of both political entities. pl

  4. Syria/Lebanon are rapidly dropping from 2nd Tier nations for producing diplomatic troubles to 3rd or 4th. Reasons quite simple. No one really cares since neither have oil or resources, just history. Neither can compete with neighbors that are truly nation-states and probably will not exist this time next century. Too bad. Just both nations poorly led and managed to blow it. As always time will tell. Syrian losing its key nuke site was the demarcation of the denouement. But hey good wines and cheese in the Levant also.

  5. Will says:

    Hafez Assad had phrased it “one country w/ two goverments.” So this is definitely a quantum step.
    Junior Assad started the move away from Lebanon when he realized it was an alternate power center for his officers- Ghazi Kenan, Abdul Khaddam and others who skimmed profits and were bribed by Hariri Pere. He eventually withdrew his forces and has never looked back.
    They disparage the tall blue-eyed London trained ophthalmologist in the Israeli press as the eye doctor that can’t see, but Bashar and his wife is very popular in Syria as well as Turkey from what I read in Professor Landis’ blog syriacomment.

  6. My policy of ignoring these problems is working. Things just get better and better while I refuse to get excited.
    There are many other areas of life and the world where I plan to implement my new policy. Just refuse to follow it in the news and maybe it will go away. However this means I would have to quit reading SST and I would miss this crowd too much.

  7. Cieran says:

    My policy of ignoring these problems is working. Things just get better and better while I refuse to get excited.
    Your policy may be working even better than you realize. Nassim Nicholas Taleb (author of “The Black Swan”) has just deduced that it’s safe for you to travel to Lebanon:
    At the top of the second page of this interesting interview, you’ll find that Taleb encourages us not to watch the news, and to consider travel to Beirut.
    So your plan is working! And you’re in mighty good company, too!

  8. Will says:

    debka.com reports that the Druze weathervane, W. Jumblatt, has been flipped.
    The erstwhile vistitor along with JaJa to W’s Oval office has signed a defense co-operation agreement w/ the muqawamma or Resistance a.k.a. Hizballah.

  9. mo says:

    Assad is trying to improve Syria’s standing and knew he would get nowhere without some resolution to the Lebanon file.
    However, a pair of embassies and demarcation of borders can be illusory.
    It is vital to know that in many respects, Assad Seniors quote of one nation two governments has, apart from any sinister aspects that may be attributed to it, a ring of truth about it. There are very very few in Lebanon, esp. the Muslim communities, who can claim to have no familial link to Syria.
    Therefore the relationship is never going to be one based on a purely diplomatic level anyway.
    Furthermore, the Arabist section of Lebanese society that already sees the borders between Arab states as a Western conceit will see this is as just further proof of the divide and conquer strategy.
    However, those same Arabists may see this agreement as a necessary evil because on the one hand it provides some succour to the Pro-Western parties and on the other protects Lebanon not from the Syrian people but from those in the regime that damaged the country quite severly in the 90’s (ironically, with the help and encouragement of those very same Pro-western parties).
    But how important this agreement turns out to be will depend entirely on the one unknown, which is how strong is Assad in Syria.
    At first it was believed that he would be nothing more than a puppet for the ministers and generals his father had in place. He came in promising much and delivered very little, which is expected if you are in a democracy and have to pass laws through a parliament that has opponents in it, but when you are effectively a dictator, its reflects a weakness.
    When those ministers and generals began suddenly retiring or shooting thmeselves, he seemed to be gaining control. But recent rumours and assasinations in what is usually a very tightly controlled nation could point to a schism.
    If the Syrian “Moukhabarat” take back the upper hand, there is very little to stop them doing what they want to do in Lebanon (and they would not need to actually have soldiers back in there)
    Joumblatts flipping is so vigourous and frequent that it has been put forward as a new form of energy to save us from oil dependency….
    On a serious note though, after Jumblatt asked Nasrallah to “salute” Beirut, it was very interesting that in last nights speech Nasrallah did just that. Considering the language he used about Jumbaltt in the speech he held on the eve of the Beirut action. it seems he has flipped enough to be forgiven.

  10. bstr says:

    Dear Col. I have always been a big fan, but never more than when reading this line “in search of that elusive “beast,” ECONOMIC VIABILITY.” In it you have nutshelled a beauty. Chris Hedges in his book on Atheism tells us that sin will always be with us. Certainly, your identification of EV as a beast gives us political justification to Hedges’ conclusion.

  11. Patrick Lang says:

    “It’s nice to be nice to the nice.” Frank Burns, MD (and philosopher)
    Seriously, maybe. In government servitude I grew weary of the talk of ECONOMIC VIABILITY as a “reason” and necessary conditon for the creation and continued existence of particular states. This idea is another example of the vapid nonsense foisted on the unsuspecting by political scientists in all their manifestations.
    Countries come into being and are maintained by patriots and/or nationalists for reasons connected to an innate human desire to be a part of a group that shelters and protects both “morally” and physically.
    Look at history with an objective eye and that will be clear. pl

  12. david says:

    Actually, I believe that Syria (Mouallem, I think) warned recently that diplomatic recognition would have legal implications some Lebanese would find unfavorable. Not being a Syrian or Lebanese jurist, I am unsure of the exact implications, but one can imagine the possibilities with respect to those whose livelihoods depend on a relatively open border. I will see what I can find out, and report back.
    If I am right, we would have yet another triumph of Syrian cunning. Although for me, this wisdom is simply the product of the extremely reactionary and conservative nature of the Syrian regime. But if slow and steady does indeed win the race, then perhaps it is intelligence, after all.
    I don’t think Jumblatt has ever completely severed his ties to certain elements in the Syrian regime. Feudal lords, whatever their acrobatic talents, just don’t do that. Practically speaking, HA will now tolerate him, as they tolerate others for whom I imagine they have not-so-secret contempt.

  13. I never heard of Mr. Taleb before this – he sounds like my kind of thinker. He didn’t just deduce that it’s safe to go to Lebanon – he thinks like that, and so do I.
    (I have plane tickets to fly to Beirut 9/28/08)
    My thinking is – if they start bombing before I go, I don’t go. If they start bombing while I’m there, I sit tight until it’s safe to leave.
    Since I am living with metastatic breast cancer, I figure my odds of dying in some extremely rare war event while visiting Lebanon for 2 weeks are quite low. I’ve already suffered one rather rare event (or a series of them – the original cancer, pretty common, and the recurrence, somewhat uncommon given the profile of the earlier disease). It’s possible I might suffer another but I just highly doubt it.
    Anyway, the odds are so low that I don’t feel like staying home in California and envying all the people who DO go to Lebanon all the time (10 flights a day from Dubai to Beirut and my cousin can’t get a seat on one of them).
    In general I like Taleb’s attitude and think he’s on the right track. He defines what I sense is wrong with a great deal of experts and so-called smart people. They parrot all kinds of received ideas without knowing it. I am sure I do, too…
    BTW Lloyd Grove, the author, put this comment in:
    “the Lebanese civil war, an unexpected anomaly after 3,000 years of relative calm.” He must not know his Lebanese history. In fact everybody was expecting that war before it happened, and most Lebanese remember a whole list of wars and tribal conflicts going back to the mid-19th century. Calm is relative to what?? The trouble with Lebanon is that it OUGHT to be calmer than it is.

  14. I have to keep reading SST so that I learn about such interesting characters as Nessim Taleb.
    Maybe I can refuse to get my news from any other source than SST? Except then I’d only get grinchy reports about Obama, and I enjoy reading kind things about him and his family. Have you seen today’s photos of his family trip to the USS Arizona? Lovely.

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