Today, Lebanon’s March 14th movement cast itself into an abyss of moral depravity that the bloc’s supporters — myself included — never thought possible. The exchange this morning of bodies for terrorists between Israel and Hezbollah presented March 14′s leaders with what should have been an easy choice: applaud the return to Lebanon of a grotesque child-murderer; say nothing; or denounce him and Hezbollah’s freelance deal-making, which made his return possible.
Two of March 14th’s leaders — Fouad Siniora, the Sunni prime minister of Lebanon, and Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon’s Druze, both of whom are embraced as American allies — have answered that question not just by acquiescing to the return of Samir Kuntar, whose sadistic butchery of an Israeli family in 1979 is infamous, but by celebrating his arrival as a great victory for all of Lebanon. The prospect his return was greeted by Siniora with the following statement:
The success of Hizbullah in the negotiations led by a third party is a national success for the party and for the struggle of the Lebanese because it secured national goals which Israel always refused to respect.
Jumblatt promised that a delegation from his party would welcome and congratulate Kuntar, and called his return a “national occasion.” The Lebanese government, including the March 14 bloc, staged a red-carpet welcoming celebration for Kuntar and his four Hezbollah compatriots at the Beirut airport. The government has declared today a “national holiday,” and awaiting the return of these killers at the airport were the Lebanese President, Prime Minister, Speaker of Parliament, cabinet, the Iranian ambassador, and the heads of all the branches of the Lebanese security services.
All of this is not just disgraceful, but should trigger nothing less than a crisis in U.S.-Lebanon relations. If being a safe haven for child-murderers is something the Lebanese prime minister considers a “national goal,” the United States should reevaluate its support for Lebanon’s government, which both rhetorically and symbolically has made itself an ally of Hezbollah in defining Lebanon as a state which exults in terrorism against Israel. Such a crisis in relations will not happen, of course, and it is perversely ironic that on the same day the Lebanese government was popping corks with Hezbollah, the Bush administration announced an increase of over $32 million in aid to the Lebanese army.
Various excuses for this behavior will no doubt be proffered: the March 14 bloc does not want to give Hezbollah any advantage in attracting domestic support; March 14 does not want to allow Hezbollah a propaganda victory at the expense of the government, which seeks to reduce Hezbollah’s efficacy as an armed militia in Lebanon; etc. But March 14 has always faced these dilemmas, and will continue to do so in the future.
If Siniora and Jumblatt wish to bring Lebanon into alliance with the western world, their leadership in both style and substance must refuse to celebrate terrorists or join Hezbollah in rejoicing over the slaughter of Jews. March 14 has not just betrayed its western allies and supporters; it has betrayed its own mission in Lebanon. How can March 14 rail against the presence of Hezbollah if it simultaneously praises Hezbollah’s terrorism? Lebanon will never be able to repudiate Hezbollah by becoming more like Hezbollah.
For those of us who have been ardent supporters of March 14 and who have placed great hopes in the bloc’s promise to transform Lebanon, today’s events come as terrible and disappointing news. So disappointing, in fact, that I suspect many March 14 adherents will reevaluate their support of Lebanon’s putative reformers until they decide whether they wish to lead their country toward peace and democracy, or toward a dark future of terrorism and death-worship. Unquestionably, there are hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who share these sentiments. I hope their views will one day prevail.