April 28, 2005

LEBANON UPDATE: Michael Young is reporting from Beirut:

BEIRUT — It was enlightening, though not surprising, that in the days leading up to the Syrian Army’s pullout from Lebanon, which was completed on Tuesday, a peculiar activity took place. Syrian soldiers removed statues and other effigies of the late Syrian President Hafez Assad and his son Bassel, who was killed in a car crash, fearing the Lebanese would vandalize them and show what a sham the long-vaunted “brotherly relations” between Lebanon and Syria really were.

The Syrian withdrawal, which was imposed by a combination of international pressure and domestic Lebanese protests, ends a 29-year-old military presence. During that time, particularly after the war ended in 1990, Syria ran Lebanon like a protectorate, and was the final decision-maker on everything of consequence in the country, including who would be president, prime minister and Parliament speaker, who would be appointed where in the public administration, even who could be invited to political talk shows — and much else both high and low.

At the same time, Syria extorted vast sums of money from the Lebanese economy, usually in collaboration with local politicians. According to a report written by a Lebanese businessman for a presentation before the French Senate in 2003, Syria may have extracted through illicit activities alone as much as $41 million from Lebanon between 1991 and 2001. While the figures cannot be confirmed, they square with many other estimates circulating in recent years.

Read the whole thing. And don’t miss the Spirit of America Lebanonblog, where Michael Totten is continuously updating from the scene.