Lebanon in a nutshell Posted by: McQ
on Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Go read the Jon Lee Anderson article in The New Yorker about the situation in Lebanon. It is a long but excellent piece that gives one a fascinating look and a better understanding of some of the dynamics at work in that benighted state.
To me, however, these were the money quotes:
I met a Western diplomat in Beirut. He told me that, while both Hezbollah and Israel had miscalculated, Hezbollah, at this point, had the advantage. “The casualties inflicted by Israel’s air campaign play right into Hezbollah’s hands. Hezbollah certainly thinks it’s winning. Even if it loses popularity among Druze, Sunnis, and Christians, its popularity remains high among Shiites, and for Hezbollah that’s all that really counts.”
Pointing to his head, he said, “In the end, the battle is between the ears. If, as a result of this, the Lebanese people get sick of Hezbollah, and if they turn on it and disarm it, that would be great.” A less favorable scenario was for the fighting to end inconclusively, with Hezbollah allowed to return to its former status. Still, he said, that might at least “show the Lebanese that there are serious consequences for supporting Hezbollah.”
The diplomat said that if anyone had benefitted from the confrontation, it was the government in Tehran. “Iran’s role in this has been huge,” he said. “I don’t know what role, if any, it had in the abductions, but I think it does encourage Hezbollah’s fighting on the border, and its arms shipments have been impressive. Without any cost to Iran, Lebanon is getting devastated, Israel is taking hits, and the Iranians are getting distraction from the nuclear issue. They must be very happy right now.”
I think Iran is happy right now. I think Hezbollah does think it is winning and I agree that how the Lebanese react "between the ears" as it concerns Hezbollah after this thing is over is how we'll know if any movement toward peace is really possible. Don't miss Anderson's meeting with Nayla Mouawad, Lebanon’s Minister of Social Affairs. She puts the politics of the situation in perspective and partially explains why Lebanon found itself in the situation it was in when Hezbollah chose to attack Israel:
When I asked about Hezbollah, Mouawad chose her words very carefully. “We thought we needed Hezbollah to be a part of the government, and we gave it ministries to give it confidence to join in the nation-building. We thought that we could not implement a settlement by force, but through national dialogue.”
And Hezbollah returned the favor by exploiting the invitation and endangering the sovereignty and government of Lebanon. The question is will enough Lebanese come to that same conclusion after this ends, or will they focus their wrath on Israel instead and leave Hezbollah in a materially weaker but politically stronger posture?
Mouawad said that she wanted a ceasefire, but that afterward the Lebanese Army should assume control of the entire country. She was worried about it, though. “Divisions still exist in this country,” she said. “If a comprehensive settlement is not implemented, we are going to have problems. There will be people counting their losses—and the losses are tremendous—and looking for someone to blame.” She added, “Lebanon is paying the price for Syrian and Iranian interests.”
This is the second bit of understanding which the people of Lebanon need to absorb. Hezbollah doesn't exist as it does without the overt help of Syria and Iran. And, as I've stated before, Iran and Syria will continue to attack Israel and endanger Lebanon to the last drop of Hezbollah blood.
I sincerely hope Mouawad is right and afterward the Lebanese Army could assume control of the entire country, to include the Bekka valley and the south. But I also honestly wonder if they will be able to do so. The one advantage such a thing would give Israel, is there would be no excuse any longer for Lebanese claims that it didn't know what was going on with Hezbollah.
Of course, such control would also mean Lebanon would be responsible for ensuring Iran and Syria didn't resupply Hezbollah as well. After all they are responsible to implement a UN resolution which requires Hezbollah be disarmed.
As with most countries, Lebanon is a nation defined by its history. This history includes massive wars over territory, resources, and, perhaps most importantly, religion. The current demographics of Lebanon are a reflection of this fact and I think a reminder that the modern nation state known as Lebanon is really little more than another Yugoslavia. From at least the First Crusade, the populations of Lebanon, Israel (Palestine), and, to a lesser extent, Syria and southern Turkey have been incredibly diverse and have included certain segments prone to violence and civil war. Putting large amounts of religiously (and, in some cases, racially) dissimilar peoples together in a small space and then putting a banner over it and calling it a nation is a recipe for civil war (again, see Yugoslavia). I don’t know that a traditional, Western style democracy will ever succeed here. The very little stability that Lebanon has experienced in its past came about as a result of heavy handed, non-democratic governance (Crusader kingdoms, Muslim dynasties, French colonialists, etc.).
I feel sorry for the Lebanese people. They are stuck with what appears to me to be a no-win situation. They can:
A)accept never-ending civil war between Druze, Sunnis, Shiites, Maronite Christians, Greek Orthodox Christians, and non-religiously aligned socialists by continuing on the path of democracy
B)accept a government of autocrats keeping the peace by means of force (see USSR in Yugoslavia)
C)flee the country and migrate elsewhere (it worked for Danny Thomas and Samir Banout)
It’s unfortunate, but I just don’t see any other options for the Lebanese.
Putting large amounts of religiously (and, in some cases, racially) dissimilar peoples together in a small space and then putting a banner over it and calling it a nation is a recipe for civil war (again, see Yugoslavia). I don’t know that a traditional, Western style democracy will ever succeed here. The very little stability that Lebanon has experienced in its past came about as a result of heavy handed, non-democratic governance (Crusader kingdoms, Muslim dynasties, French colonialists, etc.).
David, I don’t necessarily know that Iraq is a similar case study. Lebanon has so many different factions/races/religions as to be much more similar to Yugoslavia than Iraq. From what I can tell, Iraq’s history shows it to be a generally homogenous collection of Sunni Muslims with some spillover of Shiites from the east (Persia/Iran). Iraq, as a rule, tends to be more politically oriented, than religiously oriented when it comes down to it. Yes, there are the Kurds and the Swamp Arabs, but from what I gather they represent more of an external migratory group than an ethnically "Iraqi" group. There are more clearly dominant subgroups of Iraqis than you will find in Lebanon.
I guess we can break it down (crudely) as follows:
Iraqi subgroups: Sunni Muslims (over 70% majority), Shiite Muslims, Kurds, Swamp Arabs. Clearly a dominant majority group can be defined and addressed.
Lebanese subgroups: Maronite (and other loosely "Catholic") Christians (potential 50% majority), Shiite Muslims (potential 50% majority), Druze, Greek Orthodox Christians, non-religiously identifying Socialists (primarily Baathists). In this situation we have no defined majority population with which we can deal. Two separate groups make claims to majority status and the assorted minorities make and break alliances with both to survive.
Certainly the situation in Iraq is not ideal and the lack of an absolutely homogenous population doesn’t help (although outside of pre-20th century Japan and Iceland, that’s hard to find). I can potentially see some long-term success in Iraq as regards the establishment of a democratic (though not necessarily traditional Western democracy) government. I cannot see this happening in Lebanon. There are just too many belligerent power groups who do not have any motivation to work together in a parliamentary democracy. Should one particular Lebanese subgroup rise to clear majority status, then, perhaps, democracy can be done. Until the power shifts noticeably in one direction or the other, it’s going to be ongoing civil war.
Correction noted, McQ. I was using the figures of 75% Arab population (with 60% Shia and 40% Sunni) with 20% Kurds (almost all Sunni), and 5% other (Swamp Arabs, Turkmen, Roma, etc.).
I took the 40% Sunni of the Arab population (30% overall population) and added it to the 20% Kurd population to come up with a Sunni majority, but my figures may not be accurate and I may be overestimating the Kurdish percentages of overall population. Higher maths were never my calling.