Indyk doesn't blame the Obama administration for "losing" Lebanon. It was not, after all, America's to win or lose. It is Lebanon's tragic destiny to be sacrificed in the hopes of achieving larger goals -- which themselves seem never to be attained. I asked Indyk what he would do if he were in the Obama administration. He said he couldn't think of anything, but would call if something occurred to him. I didn't hear back. Even Schenker said simply, "It's gotten to a very bad point." The Arab media is rife with rumors that Hariri will disown the tribunal, thus undermining the legitimacy of its findings, or that he will hold fast, provoking Hezbollah to bring down the government, in which it holds a strong minority position. Other accounts suggest the possibility of renewed civil war. Obama must, at a minimum, publicly state that he will hold Syria accountable for any bid to topple the Lebanese government, whether by the Syrians or their proxies in Hezbollah.
An entity as frail as Lebanon requires both attention and delicacy from outsiders. The delicacy part is harder. Washington and Paris, in a rare moment of entente in 2005, pushed for the establishment of the Hariri tribunal. At the time, with overwhelming signs of Syrian complicity in the murder and the spontaneous outpouring of anguished public feeling in Lebanon, the tribunal seemed like a moral imperative. Perhaps, though, it was a mistake. The goal then was to punish Syria; but Syria, after a season in the wilderness, is back in charge. The hope now is to deal a blow to Hezbollah's reputation with the first round of indictments. That may happen; but it's also possible that the indictments will give Hezbollah a means to establish domination of the Lebanese government. In that case, the tribunal will weaken the sovereignty it was intended to fortify.
The case of Lebanon vindicates no grand theory of statecraft. If anything, Lebanon just illustrates how hard it is for outsiders to fortify fragile states and how easy it is to do harm. It is a reminder, in case one needed it, that problems don't get solved in the Middle East; they just linger on, growing more interesting and complex and intractable. Poor, helpless Lebanon. The one time I was there, in 2008, I got pulled into a Shiite wedding in Beirut. The women were spilling out of their tight dresses. I thought: This is Shiism in Lebanon? What a great country! If there are any grounds for hope at all, perhaps they arise from Lebanon's endlessly tested genius for life, and for survival.