Thursday, June 19, 2008

No method to Aoun's destructiveness

No method to Aoun's destructiveness
By Michael Young
Daily Star staff
Thursday, June 19, 2008

There is a scene in the film "Apocalypse Now" where two characters, Captain Willard and Colonel Kurtz, are talking. Kurtz rules over a mad, mini-kingdom in the heart of the jungle and the US Army wants him assassinated. That's what Willard has come to do. Kurtz asks: "Are my methods unsound?" Willard responds: "I don't see any method at all, sir."

Much the same thing can be said about Michel Aoun's strategy in the aftermath of Michel Sleiman's election as president last month. That is unless the sum total of Aoun's method is to block the emergence of a new government as revenge for not having been elected himself - in other words to undermine the Doha Accord. And while the general is at it, he seems impatient to undermine the Taif Accord as well, whose death was, not coincidentally, announced a few days ago on Aoun's OTV channel by Wiam Wahhab, one of Syria's megaphones in Lebanon. When he's cornered, Aoun resorts to attacks against Sunni prerogatives to rally the Christians, and it was Wahhab's message the general was channeling on Tuesday when he declared: "It is unacceptable that the executive branch also be granted supervisory authority [over the public administration]; all the inspection agencies are under [Prime Minister Fouad Siniora]."

However, this time the Christians are almost certain not to bite. Aoun's method has been to pick a fight with all those who threaten his standing among his coreligionists. The general fears, quite legitimately, that Sleiman will pick up many of those Christians who voted for Aoun's candidates in 2005. Aoun's impetuous plan, however, may well bring about the very outcome that he is most trying to avert.

By going after Michel Sleiman, but more specifically by trying to curtail his ability to select ministers, Aoun has not only made an enemy of the president, he has done so at a moment when Sleiman is most popular and embodies much-wanted stability in the mind of people. Aoun has also proven to the Christians that he is indifferent to the prerogatives of the president, unless the president happens to be Michel Aoun. In continuing to impede the formation of the government, Aoun is also preventing the implementation of a state project, which was allegedly his project until Sleiman was selected in his place. For many Christians, as well as most Lebanese, this is objectionable. Aoun's reputation will continue to wane if he remains the main obstacle to post-Doha normalization.

When Aoun implied in his weekly press conference that the formation of a new government would not take place until one month before parliamentary elections, you could almost hear the Lebanese groan. Yet the general, to our advantage, rarely hears the sounds of his own ruin.

Then there is the preparation for the parliamentary elections, where Aoun's absence of method has been particularly conspicuous. If Sleiman is Aoun's worst nightmare, if the president turns into a major electoral player next year, then you would assume Aoun has a strategy to guard against this. Traditionally, this situation has led to alliances between Christian leaders who felt collectively vulnerable when facing a strong president. However, Aoun has burned his bridges with potential allies.

By opposing the appointment of Elias Murr as defense minister, for example, Aoun has made his dispute with Michel Murr personal. Since Michel Murr is the kingmaker in the Metn region, this is downright foolish. Murr will ally himself with the Armenians, most probably with Amin Gemayel, and is likely to include Sleiman's choices on his list. But one thing he may not want to do is leave slots open for the Aounists, which means they could be eliminated electorally from Metn.

Similarly, Aoun has no advantage in cutting himself off completely from the Lebanese Forces, who are also wary of Sleiman's influence. But that is precisely what he has done by allowing OTV to recently broadcast a program on the killing of Tony Franjieh, an operation in which Samir Geagea was involved. The aim was transparent: to keep alive the animosity between Geagea and Suleiman Franjieh in the North. However, by so doing, Aoun crossed a red line in his relationship with the Lebanese Forces and now stands accused by Christians of unnecessarily dividing the community by reopening old war files better kept shut.

In all probability Aoun will not be able to again win the large bloc he now has in Parliament. In the Christian heartland of Jbeil, Kisirwan, and Metn, he will at best win a handful of seats. Only in Baabda might Aoun have a decisive advantage, thanks to Hizbullah's electoral weight, but even there it is uncertain how the vast majority of voters, who are Christians, will vote. If Sleiman plays his cards right, if he can position himself as the patron of a state project and grand conciliator, Aoun's amorphous base of support might dissolve as quickly as it materialized in 2005.

Sleiman's best stratagem is to allow Aoun to hang himself. Rather than enter into a collision with Aoun, at least for now, which would mean a collision with Hizbullah and Amal, who are quietly backing Aoun, the president should restate the principles of the Doha Accord, continue in his endeavor to provide a constructive alternative to the vacuum that Aoun offers, and build up his networks in the Christian community. The decision to host an inter-communal dialogue in Baabda was a smart idea, since success is guaranteed in such platitudinous forums. It also bolsters Sleiman's image as a national leader, whereas Aoun is looking pettier by the day.

The real question is what to do with Aoun's parliamentarians. It may be time for Michel Murr and Sleiman to begin breaking apart Aoun's bloc. Murr has considerable sway over most of the Metn parliamentarians, who know they need to be on good terms with him in order to be re-elected. Sleiman has already won over Walid Khoury in Jbeil. In Kisirwan most of the Aoun parliamentarians are unsure about their future, meaning they are more predisposed to advances from the president, particularly if Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir blesses such moves.

Rarely has a politician been as adept at transforming his victories into defeats as Michel Aoun. Rarely has a man in a position of responsibility been as incompetent in reading the mood around him. The problem with Aoun's political self-immolation is that it is taking too much of everyone's time. The general is drifting off into a sea of inconsequence from where, very soon, most people may hope he never returns.

1 comment:

shunkleash said...

The last time I checked Sleiman was not elected by anyone. He was appointed/annointed contrary to the constitution and literally at the point of a gun. The will of the people is not being expressed in him. In any event wait for the erstwhile loyal opposition to come out and play the "illegitimate" card when it suits them.

Aoun's influence is waning badly, all you need to do is count his latest "friends" -->franjieh, pakradouni etc. The best way to describe his continued obstructionism is "death pangs", he is finihsed and he knows it.

The fat lady is warming ra mi fa so la ti do