Lebanon’s liberation was brought about by many

In a statement made following a visit this week with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir in Bkirki, U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman pointed to two main factors as having led to the withdrawal of Syria’s military and intelligence personnel from Lebanon.

The ambassador cited the first factor as international determination as expressed in UN Security Council Resolution 1559, and said the second was the determination of a united Lebanese, who turned out en masse for a huge March 14 demonstration exactly a month after the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

Feltman’s statement comes on the heels of an informal debate through the media between Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, freshly returned from exile in Paris, and Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt over the liberation of Lebanon from Syrian hegemony.

Both officials agree on the major, even substantial, role played by the international community in the Syrian pullout. However, they disagree on Lebanon’s role.

Aoun has not denied that Hariri’s February 14 assassination was an unexpected incentive expediting the Syrian withdrawal. But in interviews with Aoun before his return to Lebanon, it sounded as if the former army commander was claiming he had played the largest role in the liberation process, considering he was ousted in October 1990 for refusing to approve the Taif Accord as it set no timetable for a Syrian withdrawal.

Ahead of Aoun’s expected return, Jumblatt highlighted the role Hariri’s assassination played in jump-starting the pullout, which would never have taken place so quickly without such a catalyst.

Lebanese officials and commanders seem to forget the country’s recovery of its sovereignty after 30 years of Syrian occupation has been achieved through the contributions of many.

Just as several officials established the 1943 independence, more than one local team had a major contribution in 2005.

No one can deny Aoun’s efforts to press the U.S. to pass the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, which levels a series of demands on the Syrian capital. In fact, Aoun’s efforts resulted in his prosecution in absentia before the Lebanese judiciary in a case that has not been permanently closed.

Furthermore, no one can neglect the stand of Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, who included a Syrian pullout on his agenda and in his sermons, and who created the Qornet Shehwan Gathering for this purpose after the Israeli withdrawal in 2000.

Qornet Shehwan contributed to the national cause by expanding the Christian opposition’s base and demanding that Syria fulfill its commitment to Taif by withdrawing.

As a result, Aoun, Sfeir and Qornet Shehwan were all accused of treason.

Jumblatt, in turn, was also – and still is – a major player, his contribution being mounting demands for  withdrawal that shook the foundations of Syria’s presence.

Jumblatt consolidated his position when, as Druze leader, he forged a united front with the Christian opposition against Syrian plans to extend President Emile Lahoud’s term.

This objection, once seconded by Hariri, motivated the international community to issue thinly veiled threats to Damascus regarding the extension.

The confrontation with Syrian President Bashar Assad and the “humiliating” meeting with Hariri, when the latter was told not to stand in his way, led to the endorsement of UN Resolution 1559.

Consequently, unity between the Christian opposition, Jumblatt’s Druze opposition and Hariri’s Sunni opposition shook the foundations of Syria’s domination of Lebanon.

The late Hafez Assad – and, after his death, Bashar – always refused to withdraw from Lebanon when objection to its hegemony was only expressed by a sectarian minority.

Developments following the extension of Lahoud’s term have invalidated this theory.

Meanwhile, one cannot ignore the role of Syria in turning the international community against itself.

Bashar Assad first provoked the United States by refusing to control the Syrian-Iraqi border, saying he objected to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, and thereby opening the door to further pressure.

Assad also made a huge mistake when he provoked France by continuing to wield influence in Lebanon in a manner that French President Jacques Chirac viewed as an obstacle to Lebanon’s economic resurgence.

Assad also failed to fulfill personal commitments to Chirac by not ensuring Lebanon’s implementation of commitments made at the 2002 “Paris II” donors’ conference – particularly as Chirac had personally put his own reputation on the line by helping Lebanon through the conference.

Most glaringly, however, Lahoud’s mandate was extended against the Lebanese people’s will, reflecting Syria’s insistence on managing Lebanon’s internal affairs.

The international response to Damascus was shown in the reconciliation between the U.S. and France after their strained ties following the invasion of Iraq. This reconciliation led to the issuing of Resolution 1559.

Consequently, through his bungling of relations with the U.S. and France, Assad too has contributed to the creation of a UN resolution that ultimately terminated his own military’s presence in Lebanon.