Calling the Seniora government “Western-backed” began the week the six ministers resigned from the Lebanese Prime Minister’s government. The label was used by western media outlets, particularly the BBC and CNN International, whereby the latter used it one too many times. Beginning last week with Hassan Nasrallah’s video speech in Downtown, other March 8 political leaders have begun to refer to the Seniora government as Western-backed or pro-Western. Today, The Daily Star has decided to adopt the label.
However, how accurate is the label and is such a label relevant at all to the profound political complications that have stagnated this country? I find the relevance to be highly ambiguous. Firstly, the only reason why I would understand such a label being used on Seniora is because he is considered to be a moderate Sunni by the United States, Europe, and Israel. The fact that Israeli newspapers like the Haaretz often refer to the Lebanese statesman with much admiration to say the least, is testimony to this reality. However, although Seniora is a moderate Sunni, this moderate identity is constructed not on Western parameters but rather on Lebanese prerogatives.
Seniora is exclusively focused on a Lebanese agenda that is certainly not being dictated by Washington, D.C.. Although some might argue that the fact that Parliamentary Majority Leader Saad Hariri is warmly snuggled with members of Congress and the Bush Administration, I do not believe that Seniora is taking orders from Hariri. Seniora since July has proven himself to be very capable of leading Lebanon his way. Walid Jumblatt is not particularly trusted by members of Congress and Samir Geagea retains a civil war profile the United States is not particularly comfortable with, so the only person in the government who truly falls within the U.S. sphere of influence is Hariri. However, Hariri and Seniora are more mutually exclusive than most people might think. To create a loose link between the two when it comes to policy shaping and management is not an assumption that is particularly accurate.
The second reason why I would understand why the label is being over-used is because Seniora’s regime represents the anti-thesis of Nasrallah’s agenda. Given that Nasrallah is clearly anti-American, pro-Iranian, pro-Syrian, and anti-Israeli, one might be tempted to justify that Seniora’s stance therefore must be the exact opposite: pro-American, anti-Iranian, anti-Syrian, and pro-Israeli. This is certainly the logic the March 8 leaders have used. But, such an assumption reeks of logical fallacies, the most obvious one being that Seniora has his own principles and policies that are exclusive of those of March 8. The Lebanese Prime Minister has followed the same train of thought since he entered office and before March 8 firmly consolidated itself. Therefore, in my opinion, I don’t find that argument to hold much water.
What are the problems with such a label? Well, firstly and most importantly, the term “Western-backed” places Seniora’s government in the context of broader Middle Eastern politics. All moderate Sunni regimes in the region are backed by the United States. To infer that the United States has as much control over Seniora as she does over the other regimes is an easy link to forge. However, Seniora is not King Faisal and is certainly not King Abdallah either, nor is he a Mahmoud Abbas or is he a Nuri al-Maliki. Therefore the label is clearly a misnomer and inaccurately places Seniora in a broader Middle Eastern context he is not a party of.
The term is also highly provocative and entices those who are anti-American but not necessarily anti-Seniora to side with the anti-American forces in Lebanon: March 8. The label therefore does more harm than good for the Prime Minister.
Even more importantly, is the fact that the label does not address the true causes of the current confrontation between the two political poles in Lebanon today. The fact that the government is more pro-Western than the March 8 opposition has nothing to do with the problems between the two. The tensions between the two are much deeper and the interjection of a pro-Western label not only fails to address this reality but also unnecessaringly complicates matters, particularly now that the March 8 leaders have chosen to adopt this label that was exported from the West. Labels create realities and when unrealistic or incomplete labels attempt to forge a new order, we lose sight of the distinction between what is relevant and what is not. Western-backed or not, the fact that certain newspapers in this country and many of its political figures have chosen to adopt the term from the United States is not only ironic and hypocritical in the part of the March 8 leaders, but is unnecessary and journalistically stale in the part of the media outlets.