PARIS, OCT. 13 -- The collapse of Gen. Michel Aoun's mutiny against Lebanese President Elias Hrawi was foreshadowed by the erosion of support for his cause in France, the traditional ally of the Lebanese Christian community that Aoun claimed to represent, and the rise of Syria as a key partner in the U.S.-led coalition arrayed against Iraq's Saddam Hussein.
When he launched a rebellion last year from his Christian enclave declaring that his goal was to regain sovereignty for Lebanon, Aoun aroused strong emotional support not only among his followers at home but from France and the Vatican. Those two foreign allies initially discerned nobility in his struggle to liberate Lebanon from the grasp of Syria and its mostly Moslem proxies.
But in the shifting sands of Lebanese political alliances, Aoun found himself caught up in the same sort of foreign manipulation he criticized in others. After Israel, he and his breakaway Lebanese army turned to Iraq for weapons, which had also been funneling arms to his Christian rivals, the Lebanese Forces led by Samir Geagea.
Aoun's refusal to accept the Taif peace agreement, which was reached a year ago among Lebanese Christian and Moslem legislators meeting in Saudi Arabia and which could have led to a Syrian withdrawal, led to disillusionment with him even in his own camp. Aoun said he rejected the accord, which called for a new power-sharing formula in Lebanon, because it did not provide guarantees for a full Syrian withdrawal.
When Aoun's troops trained their firepower on Geagea's rival Christian forces after months of deadly artillery battles with Syria, the French lost interest in his cause. The French government abandoned him, setting the stage for an eventual accommodation with Syria.
When the United States and France successfully recruited Syria to send troops to the anti-Iraq military effort in the gulf, Syrian President Hafez Assad exploited the move for something more than to seek revenge against his longtime Baathist party nemesis, Saddam. Assad also perceived an opportunity to obtain much greater maneuvering room in his continuing quest to be the dominating power over Lebanon.
Aoun's search for new allies led him to seek common ground in the south with Hezbollah, the pro-Iranian Shiite fundamentalist group, further antagonizing Damascus. Syria, confident that any military action would be greeted with little or no foreign condemnation because of the strategic role it is now playing against Iraq, apparently decided to move in to crush Aoun once and for all.
"Aoun had to keep moving, like a man cycling on a high wire," said Ghassan Salameh, a Lebanese scholar who teaches at the University of Paris. "When he remained quiet, he lost steam with his own supporters. When he tried to build alliances and destabilize certain areas under Syrian control, he did things that Damascus ultimately found unacceptable."