His credentials are dubious.
Lebanon’s new Christian Reform and Change Party president Michel Aoun is both a friend to Hezbollah and a card-toting member of the March 8 coalition, which is closely aligned with both Iran and the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
There is no denying that the Lebanese people, who had been unable to agree on a head of state since May 2014, were in dire need of a new president.
But choosing Aoun for the job will prove to have been a serious mistake for the Land of the Cedars.
When then-Lebanese President Michel Suleiman’s six-year term expired two years ago, the rival March 14 and March 8 coalitions competed to have their two candidates named as successor, and a compromise coalition government under Prime Minister Tammam Salam took charge as a caretaker government.
Since that time, the nation that for decades had been known as the Switzerland of the Middle East began to stagnate in a political limbo that stalled the economy and severely eroded Beirut’s international credibility.
So after a lot of partisan horse-swapping and political wheeling-and-dealing (the parliament convened 37 times without reaching an agreement), the notoriously temperamental Aoun, a former military general, stepped forward as a conciliation candidate who would appease the interests of both the Christian communities and the extremist, pro-Syrian, pro-Hezbollah factions.
The 81-year-old Aoun is now Lebanon’s 17th president, and his thirst for power has been an open secret since the 1990s.
And he never minded changing horses in midstream in order to reach his goal.
Over the years, his political loyalties have oscillated from being a minion of Saddam Hussein to being a crony of Al-Assad, and despite his Christian affiliations, he has always maintained a close relationship with Hezbollah, the extremist Shi’ite Muslim militant group that both the United States and the European Union consider a terrorist organization.
In order to win the presidency, Aoun crawled even farther into bed with Hezbollah (which is heavily financed by Iran), betraying his own people to obtain the power he so desperately sought.
Aoun’s compulsive prioritization on his own personal interests over those of the Lebanese people and his hypocrisy of affiliations has long been documented.
Once a self-proclaimed moderate who stood with the Lebanese people in demanding the withdrawal of the Syrian Army that invaded the country in October 1990, he quickly decided to turn tail and run when the Syrian forces reached Beirut.
Aoun ended up taking political asylum in Paris, where he lived a life of ease for 10 years on the French dole.
He did not return to Lebanon until all Syrian forces were withdrawn, whereupon he made it clear that he intended to become the country’s next president.
And then the political maneuvering and promise-making began, with Aoun unabashedly changing sides and kissing up to Syria and Hezbollah, conveniently turning a blind eye as huge arsenals of missiles and arm shipments kept arriving from Tehran.
Aoun’s duplicity included a rapprochement with his long-time enemy former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri (whose father, Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was assassinated last decade by Syrian messengers and Hezbollah agents), who finally acquiesced and gave the former army commander his endorsement and blessing in exchange for a laundry list of political promises.
What does all this mean for the regional geopolitical map?
To begin with, Lebanon will become a puppet of Iran in its fight with Saudi Arabia to control the Middle East, thus further annihilating the possibility of a truly independent Lebanese state.
Inevitably, Riyadh will respond, either through a tightening of commercial and economic ties with Lebanon or through the increased sponsorship of anti-government fighters, spurring sectarian tensions.
But perhaps the worst consequence of Aoun’s presidency will be the de facto legitimation of Hezbollah, which has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Lebanese and other civilians.
And once you legitimize a terrorist group, you have crossed a line into the shadowy world of ungovernability and regional chaos.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]