Monday, May 26, 2008

Suleiman’s balancing act

If anyone still doubted that general Suleiman would not possess the necessary political skills to run this country, they’d be reassured by his inaugural speech yesterday. A first hint appeared right at the start of his speech: he called for a minute of silence to remember all the martyrs, but continued speaking after only 20 seconds. Military precision has made way for political flexibility.

More seriously, his speech was a careful mix of all the necessary ingredients to keep everybody happy. When speaking about the resistance, e.g., he was (deliberately?) speaking in the past tense: the Resistance played an important role; it did accomplish many things in the defense of Lebanon.

But he didn’t go overboard in praising the Resistance. And how could he? It would be equal to admitting that the Lebanese army he headed for so many years was not doing its job of protecting its citizens. Compare Suleiman to Lahoud and the difference is clear: Lahoud never had a problem with the army’s subservience to Hezbollah’s arms.

By doing so and by stressing the past tense when speaking about the Resistance, Suleiman seemed to make it clear that the resistance’s role lies in the past. From now on, it’s time to formulate a national defense strategy that would incorporate Hezbollah’s arms.

At the same time, Suleiman was clever enough to recognize the importance of the continuing occupation of the Shebaa farms (and the Kfarshouba farms? - is there a renewed focus on the the last group of farms, now with the Syrian-Israeli peace talks possibly leading to placing the Shebaa farms under UN control?) in order to please March 8.

A similar balancing act could be seen when talking about Syria. He stated that diplomatic relationships should be established as well as demarcated borders, but he was careful to only speak of Lebanese held in Israeli prisons and thus avoiding the thorny issue of Lebanese in Syrian jails.

Also, he was clear in stating that the UN Tribunal will be fully supported by his government. Sure enough, the March 8 politicians were not applauding while their March 14 colleagues almost gave Suleiman a standing ovation at this point during his speech.

Another point of interest was his support for the Lebanese Diaspora, saying that they should have a right to nationality. It’s unclear what this entails exactly, but it could be seen as support for giving the Lebanese abroad voting rights.

Suleiman’s political litheness shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, he was the army commander who ignored president Lahoud’s direct orders to prevent a (back then) anti-government demonstration and who prevented the removal of the first Tent City by March 14 supporters. If anything, the Lebanese should take comfort in the fact that having a political able person as the president is a soothing thought.