Two things on one's mind as the clock is ticking in both Lebanon (no government yet, even with a "strong" president), and in Syria (where the Assad regime appears to be winning the war):
1 - The current stalemate in the formation of a new government is proof certain that all the claims by the Christians (Tayyar and Lebanese Forces primarily) that a "strong" President will solve all of Lebanon's outstanding, chronic, profound, constitutive, and structural problems are patently false. You can put any Hollywood superhero in Baabda, and he will not be able to put a government together because someone, anyone, in the miserable "consensus" republic can obstruct and disable the process; the structure of the Lebanese State is such that you have to have everyone's approval before you make one step forward. Even the unborn government has to have "unity" and undemocratically put together friend and foe, loyalist and opposition, around the same table, itself a recipe for endless obstructions and shady deal-makings.
Keep in mind that prior to the 1989 Taef Agreement, the President (a Christian, as it is today) had more powers, yet he still could not act without the agreement of the Sunni Prime Minister or the Shiite Speaker of Parliament, and that is why we had a war from the early 1970s through 1990; arguably, that war continues to date for more or less the same reasons. The sectarian structure of the State, and the tribal mindset of politics in Lebanese society at large, makes it impossible for any senior State official to act according to the powers granted to him. Anyone can obstruct by sending their thugs or their militias to the street, or calling their fellow sect members to desert the army, and so on. In other words, no matter how many texts or laws you write and amend, most political entities in the country will not refrain from violating them, not conforming to them, using the threat of violence, or even using violence itself to bring the State to a halt (remember May 2008?). This has been our history since at least the 1960s and to this date, before and after Taef.
The "strong" Christian president can at best use his strength to obstruct, just as much as the Shiite Speaker is obstructing today, and just as much as the Sunni Prime Minister used to obstruct back in the 1970s (remember Karami and Hoss...?). When we had "weak" Christian presidents under the Syrian occupation, he was deprived of his ability to obstruct, nothing more.
2 - As the Syrian war seems to be at a turning point, and as Hezbollah's attention appears to be turning back to its favored pastime of harassing Israel on behalf of the Iranian theocracy (threats and cross-border exchanges are on the rise of late), the questions that many Lebanese are asking themselves are the following:
- What will "strong" President Aoun do if Hezbollah engages Israel in some attack across the border?
- What will "strong" President Aoun do if Hezbollah DOES NOT consult with him before launching such an attack?
- What will "strong" President Aoun do if Hezbollah DOES consult with him on launching such an attack? Will he acquiesce and violate his country's laws and risk an all-out destruction - yet again - of his country? Will he object/reject/oppose Hezbollah and violate his 2006 Memorandum of Understanding with the Iranian proxy militia and risk the precarious equilibrium in which this tormented country has been living for half a century?
- Is the "strong", yet older and apparently more sedate, President Aoun still the volatile, highly principled, zero-sum military bargainer kind of guy? Or will he, now that he has "arrived", be more prone to temper down his principles because he has learned from the past, or because he is unwilling to take risks, or worse yet because he has become indifferent?
- What will "strong" President Aoun do if Israel itself attacks Lebanon first for whatever reasons, including perhaps to deliberately destabilize Lebanon and drive a wedge in the semblance of unity between Lebanon's sects? Will Aoun put the US-equipped Lebanese Army together with Hezbollah in the same trenches, thus rendering official Lebanon, and not just Hezbollah's locations, infrastructure and supply lines, a formal target (i.e. ministries, official buildings, the Baabda palace itself)?
Whatever the answers Aoun may have in his mind to these questions, the risks to him, his legacy, his presidency, his country, are enormous and existential. For now, the President is speaking from both sides of his mouth: He dispenses promises to the two halves of the country that are in essence contradictory.
If a "strong" Christian president is unable to bring stability to a republic that has been decaying for 50 years between a chronic Muslim rejection of the National Pact status quo on one hand, and Israeli aggression on the other hand, then is there any substance to the promises by the Christian leadership (both political and religious) to its people that the 96-year old Greater Lebanon that was forcibly glued together from incompatible parties in the 1920s can actually survive and prosper? The alternative being to admit defeat and the failure of the expanded-borders Christian homeland fairy tale that, not coincidentally, was born at about the same time that the Zionists launched their own Jewish homeland fabrication.