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Standing up to Syria

THERE ARE occasions when symbolic gestures in the realm of diplomacy are worth making, and the UN Security Council resolution that Washington and Paris sponsored Thursday to denounce Syria's flagrant manipulation of Lebanese politics was one of those worthwhile gestures.

The catalyst for the resolution, which passed 9-0 with six abstentions, was Syria's pressure on Lebanese politicians to alter the country's constitution so the current president, Emile Lahoud, a puppet of Damascus, could serve for another three years.

Had the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad not intervened, the single six-year presidential term mandated by Lebanon's Constitution would have expired in November and there would have been a presidential election. Like Lahoud, the new president would have been a Christian, in accordance with Lebanon's traditional formula for distributing top political posts among that nation's disparate religious and ethnic communities. And because Syria exercises a colonial domination over Lebanon that dares not speak its name, any elected successor to Lahoud would also have been obedient to Damascus.

Assad and his cronies evidently feared, however, that a new elected president might not be quite as compliant with their wishes as Lahoud has been. So the Syrian bosses made a mockery of Lebanese independence.

According to the Lebanese paper The Daily Star, they have coerced more than the required 86 of 128 members of Parliament, including lawmakers known to oppose Lahoud, into supporting the constitutional amendment to grant him three more years as president. The Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, was persuaded to drop his opposition to the amendment after he had a brief meeting with Syria's intelligence chief in Lebanon. This manner of enforcing Syria's writ in Lebanon is part of a pattern that was denounced in a revelatory statement Wednesday by the Maronite Archbishops' Council, headed by the Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir.

The leaders of that Christian Church said: "Syria gives orders, appoints leaders, organizes parliamentary and other elections, brings in whoever it wants and drops whoever it wants and interferes in all aspects of life: in the administration, the judiciary, the economy, and particularly politics."

This persisting violation of Lebanese sovereignty is enforced by 20,000 Syrian soldiers and untold numbers of security agents. For the past 15 years, Syria's de facto kidnapping of Lebanon has been passed over in silence by too many other countries. The first step to ending this geopolitical abuse is to join the spirit of the French and American resolution and call openly for Syria to withdraw from Lebanon. 

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