BEIRUT -- The process of disintegration in Lebanon that began in 1975 has accelerated, and today one wonders if there is anything left worth salvaging. The last straw came in September, when Lebanon failed to elect a new president. Syria was the ''voter'' with a veto. Its chosen candidate, whose name surfaced at the last minute thanks to American mediation in Damascus, was met by overwhelming Christian opposition. Either elect Syria's candidate or chaos will prevail, the United States warned. It was against this background that Gen. Michel Aoun emerged at the head of a constitutionally appointed Cabinet to avoid a constitutional vacuum. Had he accepted the latest of Syria's designs in Lebanon, he would have been hailed as Lebanon's greatest Arab hero. But Aoun's ambition is neither to earn Syrian praise for his defense of Lebanon's Arabism as defined by Syria nor to build his own militia and thrive on an endless manipulation of internal contradictions. He owes what he has to the Lebanese army, which despite its fragmentation continues to embody national unity: 30 percent of Aoun's forces in the Christian areas are Muslim, and the units stationed in Syrian-controlled areas do not take part in the fighting. Aoun started by putting his own house in order, clashing with a Christian militia, the Lebanese Forces, last February. This resulted in closure of illegal ports controlled by the Lebanese Forces. But as Aoun sought to adopt a similar measure and close illegal ports controlled by Moslem militias, he found himself venturing into enemy territory. To extend state authority to these areas was tantamount to declaring war not only against pro-Syrian militias but also against their patron, Syria, the real military power on the ground. There was never a dearth of pretexts to justify Syrian abuses in Lebanon. This time it was the ports. The biggest irony of all is that, of all parties, Syria's Alawite regime appoints itself champion of reforms in Lebanon and links implementation of reforms to its withdrawal. This ''civilizing mission'' becomes all the more grotesque when it is performed at gunpoint. Needless to say, the system ought to be reformed. All Lebanese groups agree. But are these reforms likely to end the war or merely give Syria an indefinite mandate to stay in Lebanon? By launching a war of liberation Aoun brought a qualitative change to Lebanon's aimless wars. No war of liberation springs from national consensus, but from the will of one segment of the population to resist on behalf of an overpowered minority. For the first time, confrontation in Lebanon has a well-defined focus. It is not a Palestinian-Syrian-Israeli war for Lebanon, but a war by Lebanese for their own liberation. No foreign troops are called upon either to alter the balance or to separate warring factions on behalf of regional powers. Aoun's message is to help Lebanon recover its sovereignty by political and diplomatic means in the name of ideals cherished by Western democracies. He calls upon the international community to abide by U.N. resolutions to rid Lebanon of foreign occupation. What is really difficult to accept, let alone tolerate, is that when everything around Lebanon is changing, Lebanon alone is asked to freeze its destiny until Israelis and Palestinians live in peace next to a stable Jordan and a happy Syria. But Lebanon cannot wait. How many more rounds of artillery must fall in overcrowded urban areas for Lebanon to qualify for serious help? Lebanon can at least be placed on the waiting list, after having been unlisted for so manyyears. Now is an opportune time for all those intruders who have repeatedly deplored their luck at being trapped in the "Lebanese quagmire" to leave Lebanon. When the Arab-Israeli conflict has turned into a popular uprising in the occupied territories and when the Gulf war has been brought to an end, is it not time to ask who stands to benefit from unimpeded Syrian meddling in Lebanon? If the Soviet Union has disengaged from a costly war in Afghanistan, why can't Syria emulate the Soviet precedent? Washington is better advised and so is Moscow if President Assad is invited to a small-scale perestroika in Lebanon before he is forced into doing a more costly one within Syria itself. Even in power politics taboos can be broken. The writer teaches political science at the American University of Beirut.