May 09, 2008
Get your Kicks / On Beirut / Sects' Dissects
An open thread for discussion of Lebanon at the crossroads . . . again. And who'd have guessed Nasrallah would provide the fireworks for Israel's 60th anniversary? Followup full posts from our expert team are welcome and encouraged, with removing the horrid tasteless lyrics allusion-pun above from its lead position as added incentive.
TrackBack URL for this entry:
I'm in Beirut now, so if anyone wants to take a look at my blog, ahlan w sahlan.
Posted by: sean at May 9, 2008 08:36 AM
In lieu of an actual post, I'm going to point to this document from a year an a half ago by Amal Saad Ghorayeb for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Hizbullah's objectives in Lebanon's (then) political struggle.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at May 9, 2008 09:35 AM
I am not a Shi'ite, but I think it is clear that the current system of representation in Lebanon relays on a very outdated demographic picture of Lebanon.
I do not agree with the idea that the government should be split up into sectarian fiefdoms, but if you are going to do that at least make sure it accurately mirrors the realities in Lebanon.
We are argue all day about HOW Hizb'Allah is going about it, but it is VERY clear that the Shi'ites are massively under represented in Lebanon and that must change.
Posted by: Abu Sinan at May 9, 2008 10:36 AM
Also, I should point out this highly-accurate simulation of Lebanese politics.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at May 9, 2008 11:12 AM
Sadly bou sinan must change in Lebanon means upending established power blocs. And in Leb Land, that means gunmen in the streets....
Posted by: The Lounsbury at May 9, 2008 03:10 PM
Sure Abu Sinan, the system must be changed.
But don't be fooled for a second that HA is doing what it is doing today because it wants to change the system.
Posted by: M. at May 9, 2008 03:16 PM
Whether you like HA or not, whether you believe they really are a resistance movement or not, anyone with half a brain should be able to understand that shutting down its communication network equates to making its leadership Hamas-like sitting ducks for Israeli F16s.
You might get hundreds of different views about intentions/causes, etc., and those views may vary according to whether you're pro or against [pick your favorite Lebanese faction]. At the end of the day, the only possible objective comments revolve around the stupidity of epic proportions of whoever so deeply misread the balance of forces in Lebanon and thought the HA leadership would sit around doing nothing while a potential death sentence is being signed against them.
That's for you too Sean.
Mate, you sound like the anti-HA people who immediately get a knee-jerk reaction with people who defend HA by saying "anyone with half a brain." i.e. ad hominem absurdum.
We can rationalize why and what and how things have become what they are, but at the end of the day only one thing counts: that the current situation has opened pandora's box. Discussing intentions is completely absurd, since all that ever matters is the outcome. And as for the communication network, well, that is now the least of anyone's concern. Or as you would put it, "anyone with half a brain."
Posted by: M. at May 9, 2008 08:12 PM
isn't winning control of Lebanon kind of a consolation prize? Sure, it's a beautiful country, but really, would any sane person want to *run* Lebanon? That sounds like babysitting your suicide-bomber neighbour...
Posted by: dawud at May 10, 2008 03:29 PM
You haven't seen the share of government revenues you can pocket...
Posted by: Frandroid Atreides at May 11, 2008 10:09 PM
Nir Rosen & Flynt Leverett have some intelligent comments on Lebanon
Rosen, who is currently in Beirut and accompanied Shi'a Amal fighters as they battled on the streets, described Hezbollah fighters acting "hand in hand" with the army on the commercial strip of Hamra Street in West Beirut. Most of the targets captured by Hezbollah and their allies were subsequently turned over to the army. "They are not trying to change the demographic balance in Beirut, it is to make a show of force to let rival militias know [Hezbollah] could have a real political coup," said Rosen. "Hezbollah's main concern is to keep weapons; it doesn't have much interest in running things in Lebanon." . . .
"Lebanon, in the post Hariri period, is not in any really meaningful sense a democracy. It is a political order rooted in the distribution of political assets along sectarian lines, and the patterns of distribution are way out of whack with demographic reality, particularly with regard to the Shi'a," said Flynt Leverett, once a senior specialist on the Middle East for the Bush administration's National Security Council.
"[It was a mistake] to latch on to this so-called March 14th coalition -- Cedar Revolution -- in Lebanon and to decide to use it as a fulcrum for trying to leverage various U.S. policy objectives," said Leverett. "What we have done here is basically what we did in the 1980s. We picked a group of Western-oriented Lebanese political actors whom we liked because they kind of looked like us and talked like us," he said. "We decided to array them against people who have real street cred; the results then were disastrous, and I think the results now are proving to be very bad." . .
Posted by: dawud at May 16, 2008 09:43 PM
"[It was a mistake] to latch on to this so-called March 14th coalition -- Cedar Revolution -- in Lebanon and to decide to use it as a fulcrum for trying to leverage various U.S. policy objectives," said Leverett. "What we have done here is basically what we did in the 1980s. We picked a group of Western-oriented Lebanese political actors whom we liked because they kind of looked like us and talked like us," he said. "We decided to array them against people who have real street cred; the results then were disastrous, and I think the results now are proving to be very bad."
I think the US overplayed its hand, rather, considering how weak the M14 was on the ground. They couldn't (or can't) do what they wanted to do with only the proxies presently at their disposal, and while juggling Iraq and Iran and Israel at the same time -- they needed to either set lower goals or bring in more power (which would be difficult). But there's absolutely nothing odd in Washington allying with M14 in the first place, since that was the option that presented itself, and since what they were after was to marginalize Syria and cut the claws of Hizbullah. Given that, who else was there to support? In any case, I don't think the looks-like-us factor had much to do with it on decision-maker levels; perhaps in the media cheerleading clique.
Posted by: alle at May 17, 2008 02:33 AM
Someone explain to me why Lebanon hasn't broken in half. Hizbollah even has its own separate telecommunications network. I don't get this country...
Klaus, even the lebanese don't get their own country, regardless of what they may say to the contrary :)
Posted by: M. at May 17, 2008 11:20 PM
So why does it hold together, considering how little trust there is between the various ethnicities and factions? Is this another case of "competing versions of nationalism"? Are the Sunnis and/or Druze so invested in the idea of hegemony over the rest of Lebanon that they can't cut the cords to the south? Or is it that the civil war was never really about sectarianism, but only about warlords competing for power? Stupid questions, I'm sure.
klaus -- Would seceding from Lebanon make any practical difference? One state failure exposed to Syrian-Israeli rivalries, whose borders no one respects, and where every sect does as it pleases, or two? As for actual reasons:
First, ideology/nationalism/whatever to call it. Often cynically, of course, with groups trying to come off as The True Lebanese, to counter any suspicion of them being disloyal or in thrall to foreigners, which of course they all are anyway. And with a large chunk of the country having at least some lingering nostalgia for pan-Arabism, Greater Syrian nationalism, or actual Lebanese nationalism, secession into even-smaller statelets is not the first option one turns to.
Second, Syria. Preventing a breakdown in Lebanon, or even worse, it breaking apart, was one of the primary reasons for Hafez intervening in 1976. First part didn't work, much thanks to Israel invading in 1978, but he did very resolutely put down the dreams of Maronite ultras for a "Little Lebanon", which seemed set to become the Israeli equivalent of Puerto Rico. I'm sure Bashar and all his allies are ready to do so again. (And then there's the trouble of getting international and Arab approval for altering recognized colonial borders.)
Third, all sects are too scattered to be able to secede neatly. The Shi'a are in the south, but also in Beirut and the Beqaa valley. Even if we imagine a southern region breaking out, it would be left with a lot of Sunni Palestinians and Lebanese Christians on Shia-dominated territory; majorities would not be much more clear-cut than in Lebanon today. I suppose the Druze of the Chouf could perhaps cut off their outliers and proclaim the United Republic of Jumblatistan, but the viability of a bombed-out mountain fortress with a few 10 k inhabitants, surrounded by Lebanon on all sides is, well, open to doubt.
Fourth, even as it is now, Lebanon is too small and helpless to avoid being sucked into regional rivalries. Cutting it in half would not make the odds any better.
Fifth, are there really any groups large, cohesive and motivated enough to lead a secession attempt? Perhaps Hizbullah, but they don't want to. Even IF such a group emerged, all others would oppose it for one reason or another, not the least being persistent prompting from Damascus. That's basically what happened with Maronite autonomy-separatist-ish tendencies during the civil war.
Posted by: alle at May 18, 2008 08:56 AM
Will try to give a more complete answer soon, but the best way I've found of understanding things is to follow the money. Whether it be Taef's impact on the end of the war, or recent upheavals.
Posted by: M. at May 18, 2008 08:06 PM