Friday, March 04, 2005

The Cedar Express

Lebanon's growing democracy movement offers the Western left the opportunity to become relevant in the War on Terror -- a war that might be more accurately described as a War on Tyranny. Tyranny endures when free people do nothing to stop it; and it prospers when they cut deals with tyrants. Strategic collusion with autocrats had its place in the context of Cold War realpolitik -- but doing so in the Global War on Terror undermines the free world's main line of defense against terrorists, by giving oxygen to the tyrannical regimes that support them.

In Lebanon, tyranny's resilience is being tested. The Democrats' intransigence and incertitude with the War on Terror and European power plays that cynically triangulate the US against despotic regimes mar today's liberals. But there's an opportunity before them called Lebanon, where liberals can become progressives again. It's as though a ship built of cedar has arrived to the Left's dormant shore. Liberals can revitalize their progressive credentials by boarding the Cedar Express and embarking to help expel tyranny from Lebanon, and build a safer Middle East.

President Bush can take some of the credit for the Cedar Revolution, evidenced by Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt's recent statement in the LA Times: "It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq." Jumblatt is no Bush lover. He has a contentious history with the US and Israel -- his admission carries significant weight.

President Bush can't take all the credit for the Cedar Revolution, however. Many Lebanese are looking at Ukraine's Orange Revolution and hoping for a similar transfer of political power. Orange Ukrainians looked towards Europe and Brussels as their economic and political lodestone, rather than Moscow or Washington. The United States isn't the only haven of democracy that oppressed masses look towards; the EU has its own democratic underpinnings, though under increasing duress by a growing statist socialist polity.

Europe's soft-power could be leveraged in concert with American hard power. Lebanon might be the testing ground for a new transatlantic, bipartisan alliance against tyranny. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with France's Foreign Minister Michel Barnie, denouncing Syria's occupation of Lebanon, demanding a pullout. France is brandishing its own hard power by deploying its replenishment ship, the Var, to the eastern Mediterranean -- providing facilities for 200 commandoes to the Lebanese region. Where there is Western division concerning Iraq, Lebanon could be where consensus builds democracy.

Lebanon's political realities on the ground are complex. Religious strife and constitutional sectarianism will make a cogent democracy very challenging in Lebanon, perhaps more so than Iraq. If a democratic Lebanon emerges, it will have been an international effort.

If liberals reclaim progressivism by embracing democratic activism in Lebanon, the result will be a stronger front against tyranny -- because in the end, that's what we're all fighting. And liberals would have more traction when arguing their differences with the Bush administration for promoting liberty. For example, the Bush administration has gotten cozy with the dictatorship of Islom Karimov in Uzbekistan. Certainly, there's a strategic reality to the relationship required to defeat the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan; but Karimov's murderous, tyrannical regime is gaining strength from American support, at the expense of Uzbek liberty. Liberals who actively support and promote democracy in Lebanon (and hopefully, Iraq too) could claim a higher moral ground than they currently occupy as mere Bush naysayers.

Senator Hillary Clinton, ever the shrewd presidential hopeful, has been polishing her pro-democracy stand against Syria. Say what you want about Senator Clinton, but she's not stupid. Her growing hawkishness is pragmatic -- she's demonstrating that there's something liberals can learn from neoconservatives, and apply it to liberalism. She's moving on.

Beyond Senator Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, the signals coming from the left regarding Lebanon are faint, inconsistent and infrequent. In his speech demanding President Bush commit to a timetable for withdrawing US troops from Iraq, Senator Kennedy made a plea from the soapbox of fear -- fear of Vietnam, fear of quagmire, fear of casualties, fear of ruffling European feathers. His proposition that we can pull out on a set time table only puts disengagement with the Middle East on the calendar. Senator Clinton at least said that Senator Kennedy is wrong. But other democratic centers seem devoid of the subject of liberation in Lebanon, much less Iraq. Where's the lively discussion at the DNC, the Democratic Underground or the Daily Kos about fostering democracy in Lebanon, much less in the Middle East? Even Saudi Arabia is withdrawing its support for Syria in Lebanon -- but liberal voices are faint.

The fate of Lebanon's freedom should be at the top of the liberal agenda. Supporting a peaceful pullout of Syrian forces is a start -- but it needs to be more than words. Tyranny responds to the threat of force, preferring negotiation to exploit weakness; President Bush has all but proven that. Liberals need to own that fact, and move on. It's time for liberals to take their place in the sun, if they can extract themselves from self-defeat. It's time that they projected their power to the hopes and freedom of mankind. Lebanon's emerging democracy is a unique opportunity for all free people to make a difference, and make the world a safer place. The Cedar Express awaits.