If you went to, or read about, any anti-war marches or protests over the last two years, you know that one of their cornerstones has always been their stance against the occupation of land by foreign powers. Various groups have spoke passionately about the need to remove foreign troops from any number of nations. But during the anti-war protests, and for even longer, there’s been an occupied country that hasn’t been receiving much attention. That country is Lebanon.
The Syrian government has always seen Lebanon as a province. The modern-day borders were a French creation. Before the French mandate, the Syrian or Lebanese identity didn’t truly exist. The Lebanese Civil War began in 1975 when the government that had balanced the varying religious and ethnic groups (Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Christian and Druze) fell apart in a Yugoslavia-like religious war. Israel later invaded Lebanon in 1980 to counter PLO raids that had been based in Southern Lebanon. Syria countered with an invasion of its own that was soundly defeated by the Israelis. Israel kept trying to sign peace treaties with various Christian leaders but many of these leaders were either assassinated or had to renege on the deal, usually with Syrian pressure.
The United States and France stepped in, providing troops to help stabilize the situation. The Israelis did pull out of Southern Lebanon in 1985, shortly after the PLO left for Tunisia, and Syria pulled back its troops from Beirut. It wasn’t until Oct. 23, 1983, when a car bomb stormed the U.S. Marine barracks and killed 17 people that the United States and France withdrew. Hezbollah, the ‘Party of God,’ took credit for this action. The Shiite terrorist organization was founded to fight against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and later became a valuable Syrian ally. When the United States pulled out after the bombing, the Syrians moved right back in and have been occupying the country ever since.
If Syria had been serious in bringing stability to the nation, then it would have left in the mid-1990s after the storming of the last Christian Phalangist stronghold in Beirut and when Lebanon began to prosper again. Instead, it stuck around for the sole purpose of gluing the former province back to Syria. Before the signing of a ‘peace treaty’ between the nations, the former defense minister of Syria, Mustafa Tlas, spoke on May 9, 1991 about his belief that the two nations could be reunited ‘soon, or at least in our generation.’ The Syrian government is not without its sense of irony; it lambastes the so-called Israeli ‘occupation’ on numerous occasions even though it continues to occupy Lebanon.
The south of Lebanon is home to Hezbollah and receives financing from the Syrian and, some believe, Iranian governments and is used as a proxy to fight Israel, which it hopes to replace with a theocratic Palestinian state.
With Lebanon thrust upon the world stage, it has become yet another theater in the continuing battle for democracy in the Middle East; another democracy there, along with Iraq, provides two bulwarks for the continuing spread of democracy into the rest of the region. The United States as well as the European Union need to step up to the plate and ensure that Syria complies with its promises to withdraw from Lebanon. And there is still the threat of Hezbollah in the South; a democratic Lebanon is in neither its, nor its master’s, Syria’s, best interest and must be watched closely. In some ways, this is a double-boon to the war on terrorism: not only would another democratic state be created but a terrorist organization would also be removed from its stronghold. Syria must show that it’s not a hypocrite in regards to Lebanon; it claims it entered Lebanon for Lebanon’s interest, and now Syria must maintain that mission statement by not only leaving but also taking its proxy with it and not unleashing it on a blossoming democracy.
The world has forgotten about a crime of occupation that occurred in the late 1980s when Syria swallowed its neighbor, similar to what Iraq did to Kuwait. The United States might have forgotten but it has to both show it hasn’t faltered on its principles and ensure that Syria follows through on their commitment to help the new Lebanese democracy grow.
Lebanon won’t require troops or substantial financial contributions, but it is nearly as important as the democracy that is blooming in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we can not fail to see it through.
Loren S. Casuto is a fourth-year political science major. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Filed Under: Opinion