Moving Toward Democracy
A year ago this month, a car bomb killed the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafic Hariri. An ongoing U.N. investigation has implicated the Syrian government in the murder. The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, may have played a personal role. Several additional high-profile bombings have occurred in the last several months.
Enough is enough: Syria's actions in Lebanon have proven that it has no desire to play by the rules of civilized nations. Now, the United States and its partners need to ramp up the pressure on Damascus. We need to push Syria away from its homegrown brand of Arab fascism and toward democracy, peace, and an authentic end to its interference with Lebanon's affairs. We should start by increasing and expanding our funding for prodemocracy groups in Lebanon and Syria. In the coming Congress, I plan to support legislation that will do just that.
During my travels in Lebanon last year, I visit the late prime minister's grave and met with many of the political opposition leaders who rallied to end the overt Syrian occupation of Lebanon. These leaders have the support of the Lebanese people and at least some Syrians. Now, they need assistance from the international community.
Those who favor Syrian democracy have a difficult task. Since it invaded Lebanon in 1976, the government in Damascus has earned a place for itself on the roll call of the world's most dangerous regimes. The Assad regime funds terrorists, supports groups seeking to undermine the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, seeks weapons of mass destruction, and maintains a domestic police state based on the same fascist Baath ideology that animated Saddam Hussein's regime. Along with its ally in Iran, Syria funds Hezbollah bases in Southern Lebanon that the terrorist group uses to launch rocket attacks against Israel. Syria has also allowed Al Qaeda fighters to enter Iraq through its territory.
Despite the withdrawal of its regular military forces last year, Syrian intelligence agencies remain deeply involved with Lebanon's government, banks, and commercial enterprises. Prime Minister Hariri worked hard to end this interference in his nation's affairs. Like many others, he paid for these efforts with his life.
To honor his memory and restore full Lebanese sovereignty, the U.S. has to broaden its efforts in Syria. Since 2003, we have maintained a tough set of sanctions and restrictions on Syria that have helped isolate the nation. Increased funding for pro-democracy groups isn't enough by itself, however, and sanctions work best when they involve more than one country. To begin with, we need to redouble our efforts to force Syrian cooperation with U.N. investigators and bring Hariri's murderers to justice. And if Syria fails to respond and won't comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions, we need to press our allies to also place tough sanctions on Damascus.
Our allies in Europe have a stake in this effort, and the Bush administration should look for ways to strengthen our partnership with them. The European Union remains Syria's largest trade partner, sends foreign aid to Syria, and has yet to label Hezbollah a terrorist group. The Assad regime interprets this sort of half-hearted diplomacy as a sign of weakness: It's unlikely to modify its behavior as a result.
In the long term, I am convinced that the Syrian and Lebanese population will move their own nations toward democracy if given the chance. Without strong international backing, it may take decades for real change to happen. With support from the international community, however, we can compel Syria to disentangle itself from Lebanon's affairs, move toward democracy, and eventually take its rightful place in the community of nations.