Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati answered questions on
Twitter on Sunday afternoon, one day after Russia and China vetoed a U.N.
Security Council resolution on Syria - a step that seems virtually guaranteed
to plunge Lebanon's eastern neighbor into further violence. So what did the
premier want to talk about? Spoiled spuds.
"I realize that some of you are being
kept busy with a story on expired potato chips which clearly changes the usual
focus of the discussion," Mikati wrote. "Let me reassure you that instructions
have been given to investigate expired potato chips story, perform related Lab
Mikati was referring to a
dastardly plot to alter the expiration date of 35 tons of potato chips at a
warehouse owned by his brother-in-law. Whatever the facts of the case, it is something
less than the great struggles against dictatorship seizing the rest of the
Middle East. It also says volumes about the issue Mikati doesn't want to talk about: The slow-motion collapse of President
Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Mikati's line is that Lebanon will "disassociate" itself
from events in Syria, remaining neutral in order to avoid the blowback from the
incipient civil war. But all the major political actors in Beirut are doing
precisely the opposite -- even those within Mikati's own government. Lebanese
Ambassador to the U.N. Nawaf Salam, for example, was talking with U.S.
Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice on the floor of the Security Council just
before the key vote on Syria. Salam reports to Lebanon's Foreign Ministry,
which is run by a representative of the Amal party, a close ally of Hezbollah. It's
difficult to see how inserting himself into the proceedings serves the purpose
of "disassociating" Lebanon from events to the east.
The examples are piling up. As Hezbollah stages
raids on towns in search of Syrian dissidents, arms smugglers carry weapons across
the border to Syrian militiamen. Hassan Nasrallah promises to
stand by Assad to the end, and Sunni leader Saad Hariri says
that "change is imminent" in Damascus.
Violence is also piling up. Eight Lebanese have reportedly
been killed in Syrian incursions across the border since the uprising began,
and the Lebanese Army is
now using helicopters in the north to search for "terrorist groups" at the
request of the Syrian regime. And twice in the past three months, Lebanese
parliamentarians have gotten
into fistfights on
There is little point in criticizing Lebanon's prime minister,
who is picking from a series of bad options, of being disingenuous. But from
the rise of Gamal Abdel Nasser to the civil war, Lebanon has a sad history of
being destabilized by regional forces beyond its control. If Syria is poised to
become 1980s Lebanon on steroids, as my colleague Marc Lynch writes,
Beirut will get pulled down into the tragedy sooner or later.
JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images