Sen. John Kerry has an important editorial on what the US should do to support democracy in Lebanon. In fact, if you only read the first page and a half, it would be a brilliant editorial on Lebanon. Kerry is absolutely right on the first part — the US government should do everything in its power to assure Lebanese sovereignty against the predations of Syrian groups like Hizballah. Our current #1 recipient of foreign aid, Egypt, continues to be autocratic and authoritarian. Lebanon needs the money — the central government needs to be able to do what Hizballah has been doing and needs to be able to undercut Hizballah in every way. If they need a few billion in the bank to do so, we should be more than willing to oblige since a peaceful and democratic Lebanon is in our national interest. The only way to win the war on terrorism is to undercut authoritarianism, and not just in Iraq.
Kerry, alas, gets it wrong in regards to Syria. Negotiations with the Assad regime are pointless, unless those negotiations are about very small carrots and very big sticks. The Assad regime was unquestionably behind the assassination of Rafik Hariri and is acting in concert with Iran to destabilize the entire region. They have no interest in a democratic Lebanon because a democratic Lebanon would be a threat to their authoritarian regime. Democratization in the Middle East presents a kind of security dilemma for authoritarian regimes. If a country like Iraq or Lebanon becomes democratic, it increases the desire of their citizens to have the same freedoms, which could lead to revolution. The reason why Iran is so desirous of a devastated Iraq is because if Iraqi Shi’ites gain democratic power, it will swell the ranks of the pro-democracy movement in Iran and potentially cause the overthrow of the theocracy that holds power there.
We should do all we can to help the Lebanese, but we should not delude ourselves into thinking that the Syrians have any interest in supporting Lebanese democracy. Syria is allied with Iran, and there’s nothing we can offer that would pry them away at this point. The Iranian-Syrian axis is one of the biggest foreign policy problems we have, and while Senator Kerry is absolutely right that we should do all we can to support democracy in Lebanon, he’s naïve to think that Syria will be of any help to us at all in achieving that goal.