I do not believe that Lebanese President Michel Suleiman was irritated by the reception received by Michel Aoun in Syria even though Suleiman spoke to Arab ministers in Berlin only recently about the importance of Arab states and Lebanon cooperating through the Lebanese presidency.
The reception that Aoun received in Damascus − where he was given a copy of the Quran and where attributes and titles that provoke laughter were bestowed upon him − is not the only important matter here; this is merely part of the bigger picture.
Even if it is impossible for him to say so, the Lebanese president is beginning to realize that the Syrians and their allies in Lebanon are trying to marginalize the momentum that has been built up around the Lebanese presidency over the recent period and to minimize the importance of Baabda and its influence.
The way that the Syrian President received Chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces [Jean Kahwaji] and the issuing of a statement were salient matters, as the Lebanese military commander suddenly jumped onto the political scene through the gates of Damascus. This is not even something that Suleiman did, in such a provoking manner, when he headed the Lebanese army.
Therefore, the way that Aoun was received in Damascus is not important. What is more important however is the content, as we are seeing a clear alliance now between Syria and Nabih Berri, and it appears that the chief of the Lebanese military has also joined it, as well as Aoun and Hezbollah, even if the nature of the relationship between Hezbollah and Syria is ambiguous today.
This alliance is simply the encircling of the Republic’s president, the constricting of his role and the deduction of the international momentum that he acquired as a consensus president. When the international centers of power feel that the president’s role within Lebanon is being marginalized, his visits would be standard protocol only.
Syria has gone beyond the pressure of the necessity of electing a consensus president and the formality of opening embassies for the sake of France breaking Syria’s international isolation. Therefore, Syria cheered for Suleiman, as his picture with the Syrian president portrayed the message that Syria had facilitated matters.
However the plan has changed today as Damascus does not want France anymore; its eyes are now firmly on Barack Obama and this is something that does not require communication with the Lebanese president, as Suleiman’s picture was merely one to hang up in the Elysees.
Accordingly, it is not in the interest of Damascus to see the Lebanese president gaining international respect and keeping a reasonable distance [from Syria] despite some of Suleiman’s statements that were made to appease Syria and fend off its evil. Consequently, Damascus seeks to cling to Lebanon through allies and militias, not through centers of legitimate authority.
Syria’s goal is to control official centers by helping allies reach these positions, not through alliances with people who are already in these positions. The current Lebanese military commander came after a man who was a candidate [tipped to become army chief] after Suleiman and was removed by way of assassination. This is important to remember.
Therefore, one must state that it is crucial now to pay attention to protecting the Lebanese president politically and with regards to security, as all indicators show that an alliance is forming in Lebanon in order to marginalize the role of the Lebanese president.
Either Michel Aoun will become the new Emile Lahoud or the center of power will be devoid of its value and will be encircled by alliances, making the president’s role secondary. The latter, regrettably, is in the nature of Lebanon, and it means the targeting of the Lebanese president if need be.