February 04, 2007

The Beirut Branch of the Mossad

BEIRUT – Hezbollah has killed more Americans than any terrorist organization in the world after Al Qaeda. In 1983 a suicide-bomber drove a truck into a U.S. Marine barracks south of Beirut and killed 241 Americans with a single gigantic blast.


President Ronald Reagan then withdrew American forces from Lebanon which had been sent as a peacekeeping force during the civil war. The U.S. won’t likely ever return. Hezbollah has calmed down, somewhat, and no longer poses a serious threat – military, terrorist, or otherwise – to the United States.

More Lebanese than you probably think want Americans to return, even so. Not the majority, to be sure, but a sizeable minority, perhaps no smaller than the those who wish to be ruled once more by the Syrians, or by the Iranians. You will meet these people if you go to Beirut, and you will meet lots of them.

One prominent Lebanese who wants to see the U.S. come back is Toni Nissi. He heads up the Lebanese Committee for UNSCR 1559, an NGO which advises and lobbies the Lebanese government and the international community for the disarmament of illegal militias in Lebanon as required by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559. Hezbollah, of course, is at the top of that list.

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has ramped up his criticism of Toni and his NGO lately by bullying journalists into putting him on a blacklist and by denouncing him on television as “the Beirut branch of the Mossad.” Pay Nasrallah’s slander no mind. He also, hysterically, says Lebanon’s Sunni Prime Minister Fouad Seniora is a “Zionist hand” for slowly, with baby steps, moving toward Hezbollah’s disarmament.

If there were an appetite in the United States for more military action in the Middle East, Iran and Syria would be far more likely candidates than little Lebanon. The worst of Lebanon’s problems would largely disappear with the Syrian and Iranian regimes anyway if it comes down to that. An adventure in Lebanon would require effort more productively spent somewhere else.

Lebanon’s pro-American interventionists are worth listening to, even so. They have their reasons for wanting the superpower back in. Seeking foreign patronage is an old habit in that country. Many say it’s Lebanon curse, and they’re probably right. Either way it is, for good or for ill, typically Lebanese. Every major religious group in Lebanon – Christians, Sunni Muslims, and Shia Muslims – are a minority. All have, or recently had, foreign sponsors. Those who don’t play along suffer relative to the others.

I met Toni Nissi in his office in Beirut. No Israeli flag hung on the walls, nor did portraits of Ariel Sharon or even George W. Bush. My American colleague Noah Pollak from Azure magazine joined us.

Toni Nissi.jpg
Toni Nissi

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) deployed to South Lebanon after a cease-fire was hammered out at the end of last summer’s war. But the deployment, much to Toni’s consternation, was under Chapter 6 instead of Chapter 7.

“What, exactly, is the difference between Chapter 6 and Chapter 7?” I said.

“The difference,” Toni said, “is that under Chapter 6 everything is related to the Lebanese government. So if the international community wants to act they have to have the permission of the Lebanese government. They have to wait for the Lebanese government to order them. Under Chapter 7 they act alone like what happened in Kosovo. They see what’s better for the country and they act alone. It is just referred to the United Nations, not to the Lebanese government. We know very well the Lebanese government is unable to implement any resolution, 1559, 1680, 1701. They are unable to do it for two reasons. First because of the internal conflict. Second of all, they don’t want it to be implemented.”

“Well, some of them do and some of them don’t,” I said.

“Most of them don’t,” Toni said. “If you transfer all these resolutions under Chapter 7 this means clearly that the international community will come to Lebanon and will not leave until Lebanon is transformed into a democracy. Saudi Arabia will fear it because you will never be able to ask King Abdullah to bring democracy to Saudi Arabia. Syria doesn’t want it to be implemented because we have the same border and they don’t want democracy inside Syria.”

“Of course,” I said.

“Iran because they have other plans,” he said. “They want an Islamic revolution under the umbrella of Iran. Also you have people here like Saad Hariri.” Saad Hariri is the head of the Future Movement and son of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the most popular recent leader of Sunni Muslims in Lebanon who was assassinated two years ago with a Syrian car bomb. “He has millions of dollars, or maybe billions of dollars. He doesn’t want the United Nations to tell him how to transform Lebanon into a democracy. He wants to lead it himself. Plus, the influence from the other Arabs. Whenever Lebanon is democratic, whenever Lebanon has no army other than the Lebanese army, the Christians will ask again Are we Arabs? No, we are not. We want some kind of federation. We want to live in peace with our own identity and we don’t want to be Arabs anymore.”

Christians make up around 35-40 percent of Lebanon’s population, and they are divided into two major sects: Orthodox and Maronite Catholics, with the Maronites as the larger of the two. Most Orthodox self-identify as Arabs while most Maronites do not.

When I first met Maronites who insisted they aren’t Arabs I thought I had bumped into Lebanon’s right-wing reactionaries. I urge you to resist this interpretation yourself. They were branded this way during Lebanon’s civil war by leftist sympathizers of Yasser Arafat’s terrorist state-within-a-state in West Beirut. The crude stigma has been slow to die. For one thing the Maronites are probably the most liberal group as a whole in the entire country – many look to France for their ideas. All people, in any case, have the right of political and cultural self-identification.

The Lebanese writer Louis-Noel Harfouche (notice the French name) explained it this way on this blog Ecce Libano: “I don’t believe that being born in the Middle East makes one ipso facto an Arab. In fact, just as the English language is NOT the province of Britons alone, so is Arabic NOT the province of Arabs alone. Just like English, the Arabic language spread through conquest and colonialism. And so, today, to call an Iraqi Kurd, or a Chaldaean, or an Assyrian an Arab, or to call an Egyptian Copt an Arab, or to call a Lebanese Maronite or Druze or Melkite or Jew an Arab (all on account of their wielding of the Arabic language in one form or another), would be tantamount to cultural suppression and historical erasure. It would be as if I were to refer to Native Americans using labels that would have resonance only with European settlers and their modern American descendants (namely Spaniards, French, Portuguese, Dutch, and British). This sort of inaccuracy is akin to me referring to Irishmen or Scotsmen as “Englishmen” (on account of their use of their conqueror’s language).”

Lebanese have never resolved whether their country is Arab or not. They settled on a compromise at the founding of the republic in 1943 that described Lebanon as a sovereign country with “an Arab face,” whatever that means.

“Hezbollah is now attacking you personally, by name,” I said to Toni.

“Yeah,” he said. “This started a long time ago. Now he’s attacking me personally even on TV.

“So he feels threatened by you,” I said.

“Of course,” he said. “Well, not by me as a person. If they felt threatened by me as a person they could kill me. It’s easy. It’s very easy, you know. They are afraid of who I represent in Lebanon – the international lobby, the guys in the States, people everywhere in Lebanon – they are afraid of what we are doing. But they think by pushing me to leave or maybe killing me, I don’t know the plans but, by eliminating a person having the power of the Diaspora Lebanese who is also very well connected with the international community and who can go on TV…I’ve been fives times on TV here and no one is able to put me on the screen anymore.” He laughed darkly. “Because of the influence of Hezbollah.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “You mean Hezbollah is pressuring TV channels here to not talk to you?”

“Yes, of course,” he said. “Of course.”

“And they are complying?” I said.

“They call any reporter and tell him if you make an interview with Toni we’re going to kill you,” he said.

That’s real smashing of dissent. Imagine George W. Bush threatening to kill Wolf Blitzer if he put Ralph Nader on CNN.

“Why do you think,” Noah said, “an international force under the auspices of a UN resolution are going to deal with Hezbollah any more firmly?”

Noah Pollak Mt Lebanon.jpg
Azure Magazine Assistant Editor Noah Pollak

“I’m going to tell you why,” Toni said. “Hezbollah is very good in the media, but it’s not a real militia inside Lebanon. Hezbollah has big missiles, maybe 20,000 to 30,000. They have maybe 5,000 fighters…not soldiers because the training of Hezbollah…it’s not training to make a civil war. It’s training just to go blow himself with the Israelis or maybe go make some missions inside Israel. So Hezbollah is not a real army. I believe Hezbollah is not strong as much as we think or as much as the international population thinks.”

Border Poster.jpg
A billboard near the Israeli border memorializes a Hezbollah suicide bomber

“Why?” Toni continued. “Because we lived the war. We saw the militias inside Lebanon. The strongest militia in Lebanon was the [Christian] Lebanese Forces. And even the Lebanese Forces during the war they weren’t able to resist any international force. The Syrians, they came. They bombed East Beirut. They bombed it for half and hour,” he said and laughed, “and all the resistance collapsed. Hezbollah is not as powerful as they think. And let me tell you one thing. In one day in 1986, one night, the Syrians, Hezbollah, and all their allies in Lebanon fired 60,000 missiles at East Beirut. In one night. So Hezbollah with their 20,000 missiles now, that is nothing."

“Their military power in Lebanon, though,” Noah said, “is through their Kalashnikov rifles.”

“Exactly,” I said. “I mean, really, their missiles didn’t do very much damage in Israel. And if they did the same amount of damage to Lebanon, well, you would be sort-of okay.”

“Yeah,” Toni said and laughed.

“It’s the guys in the streets with the Kalashnikovs that you need to worry about,” I said.

heil hezbollah 008.jpg
A Hezbollah military parade

“Of course,” Toni said. “The problem is the system in Lebanon. Whenever the Lebanese government will not go to the international community and say this is a militia, this is terror, we want to get rid of this terror, we will not get rid of it. Even the Lebanese army hasn’t been trained or given any weapons since 1990. You know? We don’t have any army inside Lebanon to get rid of Hezbollah. We need an international force to come and…it’s easy to do it.”

“But the Israelis have a hard time doing it,” I said. “And they’re good at what they do.”

“Israel had their mission just to destroy Hezbollah in the South, and that’s it,” Toni said. “Israel was here in 1982. And they had their allies among the Lebanese Christians. And they couldn’t transform even this alliance into a peace agreement between Lebanon and Israel. How can they pay the bill for destroying Hezbollah when they don’t have any supporters inside Lebanon? They will not do it. They can never do it. If the government were able to sign a peace agreement with Israel maybe the Israelis could come and destroy the Hezbollah. Israel has done very well for their country with only 152 dead people. So what Olmert did is very good for Israel, but it’s not good for Lebanese.”

Dahiyeh Rubble 2.JPG
Destruction in Hezbollah’s suburb south of Beirut

“Whenever people talk about international forces,” Noah said, “I always think about the history of international forces in different regions. You had even here in Lebanon in 1983 – Hezbollah wanted to get the French and the US Marines out. They just did a couple of suicide bombings and everyone packed up and left."

“Yeah,” Toni said.

“And you had from 2000 to 2006,” Noah said, “in the interim period after Israel withdrew there was a small international force inside Lebanon and this force did nothing. And in fact at one point even collaborated with Hezbollah.”

“Yeah,” Toni said. “I know it.”

“So it seems to me,” Noah said, “that it’s all well and good to talk about bringing in an international force, but I think what people who want this really have to prove is that this international force is somehow going to be different from previous efforts. Hezbollah is not going to give up the weapons without a fight. So this international force is going to have to aggressively engage them.”

“It will be war,” I said.

“They’re going to have a start a war in South Lebanon,” Noah said.

Victory Photo.JPG
Destruction in downtown Bint Jbail, Hezbollah’s capital in South Lebanon

“Yeah,” Toni said.

“And which countries are going to give troops to this cause?” Noah said. “I mean, are the French going to do this?”

“We are an international lobby,” Toni said. “So we discuss everything with these governments all the time. And I know very well that the Americans are not here now because 1701 wasn’t under Chapter 7. The Americans were saying okay, if this is not going to be under Chapter 7 we will veto it, but the pressure from the Arabs, from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, made it under Chapter six and a half.”

Toni stopped and thought for a minute.

“Do you know what happened to the Americans in Iraq?” he said. “The lies of the people who were leading the Americans to come to Iraq, like [Achmed] Chalabi, they told the Americans the community was ready. Whenever you come here the federation is going to happen in one second. But what happened is the Iraqi people are still before the French Revolution. They are uncivilized and they are not ready to have a country. It is different in Lebanon. The leaders are stupid, the leaders are not ready, but the people in Lebanon, they are ready. That’s the difference between here and Iraq.”

“The Lebanese people and the Iraqi people have one big thing in common,” Noah said, “which is that Iran is able and willing to do everything it can to prevent any sort of sovereign nation from developing. If an American force were to come to Lebanon under Chapter 7 to disarm Hezbollah, the Iranians could at that point turn Iraq into an even bigger mess than it already is. Because the Iranians can control violence in Iraq.”

“There’s another problem, too,” I said, “with having the Americans come here. There are a lot of people in Lebanon who are not with Hezbollah and who also don’t trust the United States. They think that the reason America wants Syria out of Lebanon is so that America can come into Lebanon. That Syria is in the way. And so if American soldiers come here it’s going to confirm what they believe, that America is taking over Lebanon.”

“They don’t trust the Americans, yes,” Toni said. “But they don’t believe that the American soldiers are coming here. Most Lebanese believe and know that in 1990 the United States handed the Syrians Lebanon on a plate of silver.”

Toni is referring here to Secretary of State James Baker who traded a green-light for Syrian domination of Lebanon in exchange for Syrian “help” in ousting Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. Most Americans have no idea this even happened, but Lebanese have never forgotten it. Hezbollah’s Christian allies in Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement in particular bang on this point again and again.

Aoun in Gemmayze.jpg
Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun

“They don’t trust the Americans because of what America did at that time,” Toni continued. “So they don’t believe that the Americans will come to Lebanon and die for Lebanese. They believe that the Americans got the Syrians out for the benefit of Israel. But it’s our duty as the people who know how things have changed from 1990 up until now to tell them the truth.”

Some Lebanese distrust the United States for what they see as too much involvement in Lebanon’s internal affairs. What gets lost in all the yelling about it is that Lebanon’s more moderate anti-Americans don’t think the U.S. intervenes often or deeply enough, that every crisis could be solved if the superpower wished it and made the effort, that the lack of effort means Lebanon’s instability must therefore be in the American interest. No Hezbollah supporter thinks this way, but many Christians and Sunnis do.

“If you go to most Lebanese Christians in Lebanon,” Toni said, “and ask him if he wants the Americans to come here and protect him he will say yes. And you know? There are Lebanese who want the Americans or the French to come and to rule Lebanon for 40 years.” He laughed. “You know why? Because we believe that kicking the asses of the French people in 1943 was wrong. They believe we need to be governed again from an outsider. I believe the American problem in Lebanon is that they don’t have a Christian partnership.”

Hallowed Be Thy Name.jpg
Lebanese Christians mark territory in East Beirut

“In order to make an American intervention in Lebanon work,” I said, “we need to have Christian partners and Muslim partners.”

“No,” Toni said. “You need to have a partner.”

“Look,” I said. “Lebanon has this history – and you know what I’m talking about – of different sects having different foreign patrons coming into Lebanon and working for them.”

“Yeah,” Toni said.

“So if the United States comes in and helps only Christians…” I said.

“No,” Toni said, “they would not be coming to help only Christians…”

“Then all the Muslims,” I said, “Shia and Sunni, will oppose it.”

“I know that,” Toni said.

“It’s just like with the Shia now,” I said. “They have their foreign patrons, Syria and Iran.”

“Only a part of the Shia,” Toni said.

“Right,” I said. “Not even all the Shia.”

“And they have Michel Aoun,” he said and laughed.

“If the US ever intervenes here they have to do it for Lebanon as a whole,” I said.

church and mosque beirut 2005.jpg
Churches and mosques are sometimes built right next to each other in the Beirut city center

“Of course,” Toni said.

“Or at least for the majority,” I said. “And I don’t think that’s going to happen today.”

“Possibly not,” Toni said. “But let me explain to you a little bit. Of course the Americans will not come here just to protect the Christians. But if the Americans or the international community comes to Lebanon and said we want to transform you into a democracy – like what happened in Kosovo and what happened in East Timor – this means that you are helping everybody. And the Christians are the only partner that is not supported by anybody. So the Americans would come here to protect the Lebanese government. We want the Americans to come for that.”

Toni is right that the Christians of Lebanon don’t have a real foreign patron right now. The U.S. and France provide diplomatic support to the Lebanese government, but that is mostly going to and through Fouad Seniora, the Sunni Prime Minister. None of the Christian parties have serious connections to the American government. Lebanon’s Christian president Emile Lahoud is a remnant of the Syrian occupation. He was chosen by, and is still loyal to, the Assad regime in Damascus. The Christian “street,” his supposed constituency, almost unanimously thinks he is a traitor.

“They said the Lebanese government is an ally,” Toni said, “and they sent millions of dollars to the Lebanese government because the Lebanese government would know what to do with it. Do you know what they do with it? They steal it! And if they don’t steal it, if they want to do anything with the South they have to pass it through Nabih Berri.”

nabih berri.jpg
Nabih Berri is the Speaker of Parliament and the boss of Amal, a secular Shia party precariously aligned with Hezbollah. He is arguably the most financially corrupt politician in Lebanon.

“Who could the money be delivered to where it wouldn’t get stolen?” Noah said.

“You can deliver money to NGOs,” Toni said. “There are 6,000 NGOs inside Lebanon who work for Lebanon. Do you know that USAID in Lebanon has never delivered any money to any NGO other than those in the South?”

“Probably because the Shia are more poor,” Noah said.

“No,” Toni said. “Because they want to integrate the Shia community. The Americans think that if they integrate the Shia they can teach them that democracy is good, that if they make them financially supported…”

“Why do you think hundreds of millions of dollars flow to the Palestinians?” Noah said. “Same reason.”

“It all gets stolen,” I said.

“They think that by spending hundreds of millions of dollars that they’re going to liberalize the Palestinians,” Toni said.

“There is something to this, though,” I said. “What they’re trying to do is compete with Hamas. Foreigners think they can go in and do the good things Hamas does and undercut the support for Hamas. That’s the idea.”

“Yeah, but it’s a stupid idea,” Toni said.

“Is it?” I said. “Hezbollah does the same thing here. Right? They build all these hospitals and they help people with building houses. Many people like Hezbollah because of that.”

“It’s patronage,” Noah said. “It’s buying people nice things to get their loyalty. But the problem is the Palestinians are never going to be loyal to the United Nations. You’re handing them a hospital or a school and asking for nothing in return, and no one is going to respect you for that.”

“Certainly that is the case in Palestine,” I said. “But what are you going to do when you have a terrorist army that builds hospitals and gets support for building hospitals? You have to find a way to peel these people off.”

“Yeah,” Toni said.

“And that’s why they do it,” I said.

“What has [Palestinian Fatah leader Mahmoud] Abbas delivered for that?” Toni said.

“Nothing,” I said.

“Yeah, so,” Toni said and laughed. “Whenever you pay money you have to get something in return. What Abbas wants to do is to bring back all of the Palestinians from 1948 – which means infiltrating inside Israel 8 million Palestinians – and destroy Israel from inside. And you are giving money to him? The international community deals with Eastern issues very stupidly. Why? Because they don’t know the Eastern mind. Do you know why Israel is winning? Because they know the Eastern mind and they know the Western mind.”

“They know both,” I said. “They are both.”

“Yeah,” Toni said. “I have been a refugee outside Lebanon. This is why I know a little bit about the international community’s mind. The international community is stupid in dealing with us. You know? They don’t understand us and we don’t understand them. So whenever you want to deliver money to somebody you have to ask him: how many of those Shia has gotten money from USAID and went on any TV and said I am liberal. I don’t want the house of Hezbollah?”

“I know Shia,” I said, “who grew up in South Lebanon who don’t like Hezbollah.”

“All of them hate Hezbollah,” Toni said.

“No, they don’t,” I said. “Not all of them. If you talk to these people they say Yeah, I love Hezbollah.”

“Because if they don’t say it,” Toni said, “the person who is next to them is going to tell Hezbollah.”

“Noah and I went downtown and talked to some of these people,” I said. “They don’t have to be there.”

Two Hezbollah Supporting Kids2.jpg

“Of course they have to,” Toni said. “If you only get 300 dollars a month of course you have to be there. They are buying you.”

Toni is overstating the case. Plenty of Hezbollah supporters have drank the Kool-Aid, so to speak, and are genuine supporters. But there is something to what he is saying.

Last month Lebanese Shia Nisrin Yaghi wrote a piece in Beirut’s Daily Star where she made a similar point about her own community. “I believe that most Shiites have fallen victims to the Stockholm Syndrome. The population is not being held at gunpoint, but rather a financial and educational blackmail that has taken place for the past 15 years. The people have grown accustomed to being fully dependent on their party for economic survival…”

“Let me explain to you Hezbollah,” Toni said. “Hezbollah gets around 400 million dollars a year from Iran. They pay every house in the dahiyeh. And every house in the South. Whenever I give you money I have the power to lead you. Once Nabih Berri and Rafik Hariri tried to make a huge project to rebuild the dahiyeh. They wanted to transform the dahiyeh into a new downtown for the Shia. You know who forbid the Shia, who destroyed the project?”

“Hezbollah,” I said.

“Hezbollah,” Toni said. “Then if you want to give money to the Shia you have to transform them into liberal people who will support the Lebanese government when something like this happens. The Americans are giving money to the Shia to get them into the Lebanese community and they are asking nothing in return. This is stupid. There are people who can get them to return, it is us, but you are not supporting us. We can bring them here.”

“How?” I said.

“You cannot bring them here,” he said. “We can.”

“How?” I said. “What would you do?”

“I know their language,” he said. “It’s easy.”

“So, okay, you pretend I’m one of those people,” I said. “What are you going to say to me?”

“Believe me, “ Toni said. “They don’t like Hezbollah. But they don’t believe in Lebanon. You know what Nasrallah says all the time on the TV? They want to make us the dust boys again.”

I believe Toni means “shoe shine boys,” a common phrase in Hassan Nasrallah’s polemical speeches. There are some rich and middle class Lebanese Shia, of course. But many, if not most, are poor. They shine shoes, clean houses, and wash the cars of rich Christians and Sunnis. Hezbollah does not make them rich, but Hezbollah does give them pride.

Hezbollah Logo.jpg
Hezbollah is the only political party in Lebanon with a gun on their flag

“And they forbid the Lebanese government from doing anything for them,” Toni said. “The problem must first be solved by disarming Hezbollah. Second, whenever you disarm Hezbollah then the Lebanese government and the NGOs of Lebanon are the only people who are able to integrate the Shia into the Lebanese community. But as long as somebody has guns and forbids me and you and everybody from doing anything for those people, it’s not a wise idea to give them money. You have to give money to the other camp, to disarm Hezbollah, and then these people can be integrated.”

He may be right. Aid to Shia Lebanon would certainly be better spent if Hezbollah were first cleared out of the way. But that would mean war would come to Lebanon first, a war that hardly anyone wants.

“Most of the Shia do not love Hezbollah,” Toni continued. “But whenever they go out of their borders they say For you, Nasrallah. Why? Fear. And money. That’s it. Take the fear away, and take the money of Hezbollah, and everybody can be integrated into the Lebanese community. Hundreds of millions of dollars you’ve been spending here, for what?”

I didn’t know what to tell him.

“You know what the prime minister told me one day?” he said.

“Fouad Seniora?” I said.

“Yeah,” Toni said. “After this war we want to bring Nabih Berri away from the camp of Hezbollah. So give him money. 40 million dollars. This is stupid. You can never bring Nabih Berri, you will never been able to bring anyone from that camp. You know why? Because there is blood on their necks. If you look at the Lebanese map, the geopolitical map, you see that everybody who is in control used to be a militia man or militia leader.”

“Hariri wasn’t,” I said. “But yeah, most were.”

“He was the guy who was delivering goods to militias,” Toni said and laughed. “How can they build a country? The Cedar Revolution has to destroy all of these.”

“A lot of them know it, too,” I said. “But do you really want to get rid of all of them? Walid Jumblatt is a good guy now.”

walid jumblatt memri.jpg
Walid Jumblatt, Druze chief, Member of Parliament, and head of the Progressive Socialist Party

“He may be the only one,” Toni said. “I have met him several times, tens of times, and I believe that, yes, I know he is saying the truth. Yesterday I saw Nasrallah. I used to think this guy’s the wise one. I used to think that, during the Lebanese civil war and after. I said he’s the leader of their community. But he’s using those guys like in a chess game. I heard him yesterday. I heard his speech. Wow. What a loser! You know? He lies and he believes his lies. Believe me, Nasrallah doesn’t know what to do tomorrow.”

“I do believe you,” I said.

“I thought that he has a plan,” Toni said. “He has nothing. What’s he going to do just so he can tell his people I did something?”

“He’s in a tough spot,” Noah said. “He really is.”

“He can’t go any further without provoking a serious backlash,” I said. “And he knows it. If he tries to seize the airport something will happen.”

Smashing Cars Beirut.jpg
Violence did break out all over Lebanon on the day Hezbollah blockaded the road to the airport

“Yeah,” Toni said.

“I’m pretty sure,” I said. “You think so?”

“Yeah,” Toni said.

“Something ugly,” I said.

Post-script: If you like what I write, please click the Pay Pal button and help make it happen. I have to eat and pay bills, and your donations are the only thing that makes my work possible. I would do this for free if I could, but we don’t live in a Star Trek money-free universe yet.

If you would like to donate money for travel expenses and you don't want to use Pay Pal, you can send a check or money order to:

Michael Totten
P.O. Box 312
Portland, OR 97207-0312

Many thanks in advance.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 4, 2007 10:21 PM

Great coverage and insight, as usual. It's always good to know that even in places that least expect it, there's still those who appreciate America.

Posted by: John Norris Brown at February 4, 2007 11:18 PM

Another great read!
My only problem with interviews like this one with Tony Nissi, and the one you did with Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini are that I get a sneaking suspicion that these guys are really representing a very small minority. I mean how much chance do they have of gaining enough popular support to change things in Lebanon?

More and more I feel great sorrow that Lebanon is being held hostage to internal bickering and external powerplays. Its seems to me that out of all the countries in the middle east, the Lebanese have the most potential to create a strong, progressive society that could be a cultural and economic bridge between the east and the west, but they just aren't being given the chance.

I'm going to say something now that will probably be attacked left right and center. Perhaps democracy is not what Lebanon needs right now. Perhaps they need a strong totalitarian regime under a charismatic and benevolent dicator to take control unify and stabilize the country. I'm thinking along the lines of the ancient Roman concept of Dictatorship (at least in theory) ie. one that is dedicated to the priciple of restoring order and then to reinstate democracy.

I know that this kind of thinking will be unpopular, but i can't help noticing that in the Middle East, the stable regimes seem to be the most autocratic. Now if a leader was to arise and make use of their power toward a good cause - ie. educating a generation towards the benefits of democracy - perhaps this would do the job.

Posted by: jonorose at February 5, 2007 01:14 AM

Once again great job bringing in news that you can't find anywhere else.

The international community (read US) going in to disarm hezballah sounds to me like a horrible solution that's guaranteed to lead to a civil war.

I just can't seem to trust this Toni character. I'll need to research more on the NGO he represents.

Posted by: NM at February 5, 2007 01:57 AM

While monitoring the world thought some comments were in order.

Lebanon: A tale of Men or Mice?

Many good points made in this report. Toni Nissi is absolutely right. Why is the West giving money to all of these terrorists who spend all of their time planning to kill them? President Carter rewarded Egypt with two billion dollars a year for signing a peace treaty with Israel and what did America get in return? Jordan is an economic basket case of sand and phosphates. Yemen is a drug dealers paradise. My grandkids will be in Afghanistan. Doesn't the picture of Iraq remind us of the sheik with the bloody dagger in his hand? It was James Baker who urged Reagan to get out of Lebanon after Hizbollah murdered our young men who were there to help the Lebanese. It was partly his fault that the Marines were not allowed to have ammunition in their M16 weapons the night of Hizbollah's suicide truck attack. (Are your reading this Hizbollah? America knows exactly what you did)

Are the Lebanese Arabs? No they aren't. They are Mediterranean Levantines who have forgotten their heritage of speaking Syriac. The five imperialist languages of the world are English, Spanish, Russian, French, and Arabic. There are five ethnic Muslim groups if we leave out the Caucasians: Arab, Maghreb, Turk, Indonesian, and Pushtan (Hindi-Pakistani).

Tony Nissis is right that it would be easy to take on Hizbollah, but why should America bother to help the Lebanon if the Lebanese government themselves can't show any backbone to secure and lead their own people?

Back to monitoring the world.

Posted by: James Just at February 5, 2007 03:18 AM

But Tony Nissis does look like a young Grover Cleveland and he's smiling so doesn't that make him a tool of the US and Israel?

Posted by: Pat Patterson at February 5, 2007 04:03 AM

for those who sincerely admire James Baker and all the good that he's done for the world and for America, you can see his ugly punnim on the cover of the latest issue of the Israeli bi-monthly Nativ. The lead story of this issue is Baker's pro-fascist diplomacy. By the way, I don't say this as a "leftist." If you come down to it, "left" and "right" don't mean much anymore. The whole notion of a political spectrum is ridiculous. Baker has the democratic right to prefer barbarism. So does Condi. That's why Jimbo supported Assad in 1990-91 and why Condi supports Hamas today.

I sympathize with Toni Nissi. But to get any help from the US govt for building up a peaceful, democratic, civilized Lebanon, he's going to have to figure out how to work around the State Dept.

Posted by: Eliyahu at February 5, 2007 04:23 AM

great post mike!

Posted by: Furica at February 5, 2007 05:07 AM

As usual, a fascinating piece:

The issue of many Maronites not seeing themselves as 'Arabs' does touch a real raw nerve in the Arab world.

It is when you when you hear the argument trotted out that the Maronite community are 'racists', with the Phalangists having modelled themselves on European fascists in the 1930s etc etc

Interestingly I believe a lot of Egyptians Copts similarly see themselves as Egyptians first and Arabs a distant second, as the Coptic language has been around for thousands of years and is what the inhabitants of Egypt spoke pre the Islamic invasions of the 7th century.

Posted by: Dirk at February 5, 2007 05:40 AM

BTW, ignoring his commentary on 'terrorism', Robert Fisk's piece this weekend claimed that the FPM seemed to draw its support from the poorest sections of the Christian community.

Is that accurate? An alliance of the Muslim and Christian 'have nots' in Lebanon?

See http://news.independent.co.uk/world/fisk/article2211576.ece

Posted by: Dirk at February 5, 2007 05:44 AM

Damn, your interviews are informative! No answers here, and Toni sounds a bit half-baked, but you introduce nuances and perspectives I have not seen discussed elsewhere. I wish the US had people in power who paid attention to this stuff. Condi would be more appropriate as a hostess at an upscale DC restaurant than as SoS, as someone recently put it.

This has been, btw, my impression of Nasrallah for awhile now -- he is flying seat of the pants, and is out of his depth. Maybe he just needs a little more rope...

Posted by: Pam at February 5, 2007 06:52 AM

Ever since last Israel/Lebanon war I was closely following various Lebanese sources.

I found two main trends.

One, those who hate Israel and want its destruction.

Another, more like Toni, want Israel or other power to come in and get rid of Hezbollah.

I understand first one much better than the other. Not because I want Israel's destruction but because these people react in normal way as would anyone of us while having an enemy.

The other one is more disturbing. For me it means that Hezbollah objectors do not want to take care of it themselves but rather have someone else do dirty job for them. I do not think they will have much of the success unless they will change and will go on offensive.

Does Nasrallah have anything to fear at this point? Hardly.

Posted by: leo at February 5, 2007 07:04 AM

I read this interview and I cringe,
I am on March 14th side, but when I read that there are people whoi are still debating whether chrictians, druze etc, are aArab or not it makes me lose any hope,, or people talking of confederacy in a country that can hardly be spotted on a map.... what can I say?
The funny thing is that Nissi himself says that the Iraqis are not ready to have a "coubtry" but wants to live along with his fellow christians "seperate" from other Lebanese... some country and some citizenship Mr. Nissi.
Just for you to know MJT, the "Arab" principle was created by christian thinkers who promoted the idea and nurtured it, it was sort of a guarantee for all non-Muslims to live in this part of the middle east in camaradery with the majority which was Moslem, so it is not meant to "threaten" any sect, quite the opposite, but anyway, how does that debate help our cause, I ask Mr. Nissi?
I am happy Noah did not let his claim that it would be "easy to disarm Hizbullah bu UN forces if they interfere under the Chapter 7" just pass by. We know more from previous experience. As a matter of fact, if it were under Chapter 7, Hizb would have had an excuse to claim that the UN forces are an occupation, and start bombing them, once that happens, we know the troops will pack and leave as they did before.
Anyway, I pray that Mr Nissi and his Ilk would not be the majority, or influential in March 14, they would do us harm rather than good.

Posted by: Abu Takla at February 5, 2007 07:27 AM

I've met Coptic Christians from Egypt who claimed they were not Arabs, for what it's worth.

There is something to the argument that, just because one speaks Arabic, doesn't make one an Arab.

I've never met an Israeli of Sephardic-Middle Eastern ancestry who claimed he/she was an Arab, or even an "Arab-Jew."

But as Abu-Takla pointed out, it is true that Christian Arabs in Syria and Lebanon were some of the first and most forceful Arab nationalist, and for the reasons A-T illustrated.

Posted by: Zak at February 5, 2007 08:03 AM

“What has [Palestinian Fatah leader Mahmoud] Abbas delivered for that?” Toni said.
“Nothing,” I said.
“Yeah, so,” Toni said and laughed. “Whenever you pay money you have to get something in return.

LOL. This is Bribery 101. Our govt. is so incompetent at bribing people, they need to be told this?

The fact that we've been incompetently bribing enemies like Abbas for years (and the fact that we continue to throw good money after bad) is proof that our foreign policy is a mess.

Part of the responsibility for the mess we call our foreign policy has to rest on the shoulders of 'realists' among the Democrats (Brzezinski and his followers) and also the Repubicans (ie. Henry Kissinger, and the justifiably-hated James Baker).

These malign gargoyles still exert undue influence over our government. Until we can put them and their ideas out to pasture, we can't really expect our govt. to make any intelligent changes in our policies towards Iran, Syria or Saudi Arabia.

However, pressuring Syria and Iran would produce better results than having the US be directly involved in the delicate situation in Lebanon.

Posted by: mary at February 5, 2007 09:01 AM

James said

"There are five ethnic Muslim groups if we leave out the Caucasians: Arab, Maghreb, Turk, Indonesian, and Pushtan (Hindi-Pakistani)."

That makes no sense at all. Where are the Persians, the Malays, and the Africans? (in fact West and East Africans should be separate to begin with) Not to mention that the Pashtun are less than 5% of all Muslims in South Asia.

Posted by: Andy at February 5, 2007 09:59 AM

"There are five ethnic Muslim groups if we leave out the Caucasians: Arab, Maghreb, Turk, Indonesian, and Pushtan"

There are 150 million Indian Muslims, so maybe a sixth category?

VS Naipaul observed that non-Arab Muslims have a hard time reconciling their pre-Islamic cultue with Islam and so usually suppress the latter in favor of the former.

An example is Pakistanis who fabricate fake Arab ancestories to downplay their Indian roots.

Posted by: Jimmy at February 5, 2007 10:19 AM

My only problem with interviews like this one with Tony Nissi, and the one you did with Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini are that I get a sneaking suspicion that these guys are really representing a very small minority.

Everyone is a minority in Lebanon, including Hezbollah.

Perhaps democracy is not what Lebanon needs right now.

Well, they had a break from democracy under the Syrians. Didn't help much.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 5, 2007 10:20 AM

What a fascinating piece.

Thank you!

So much of the nuance is lost in the sensational and event-driven "mainstream media," and it's also disturbing to comprehend the degree to which propaganda has colored our opinions.

For example, how many would like us to believe the Maronites are fascists, racists, far right wing, etc? I hear that all the time - yet - as you say, they are some of the most liberal and open-minded people in the Middle East.

Much of this simply has to do with Israel bashing and antiAmericanism, but as you say, some is PLO/leftist propaganda from the days of the civil war. Of course they're linked but the young people can't see that, they don't remember the Lebanese Civil War, the "glory days" of the PLO, and take for granted what they're told.

In any case I find it strange that so many so-called progressives support the ideas of rightwing theocracies or other totalitarian philosophies, and applaud the theories of people like Baker, Buchanan, et.al., who would sell would-be democratic Lebanon down the river along with Israel in order to support a bunch of dictators and appease an Ahmadijenad.

So, thank you once again for providing insight and nuance.

PS, a final thought on the "Arab" issue: I suspect this has nothing to do with racism, but rather is a statement that culturally and politically, there's a desire to turn toward the West and toward modernity.

Among the Copts and in fact many other Egyptians, there's identification with Pharaonic Egypt. That's not racism, it's a matter of cultural identity, I think.

Posted by: Sophia at February 5, 2007 10:21 AM

Abu Takla: The funny thing is that Nissi himself says that the Iraqis are not ready to have a "country" but wants to live along with his fellow christians "seperate" from other Lebanese... some country and some citizenship Mr. Nissi.

Federalism wouldn't separate Lebanese any more than they already are. Federalism just means the Shia regions run their own affairs, the Christian regions run their own affairs, etc. It already works this way for the most part anyway. Nassan Nasrallah can't tell Chrisians or Sunnis what to do, and vice versa.

The United States, Switzerland, Spain, the United Kingdom, Belgium...these are all examples of succesful federal countries. Belgium, you'll note, is also a very small country. Belgians don't even speak the same language. (They are split between Dutch and French.) It's not that big of a deal when it's done right.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 5, 2007 10:27 AM

For the record, though, I do think it would be better for Lebanon to be a more centralized state. It is very small, and its total decentalization is a huge part of the problem right now.

Just saying the idea of federalism isn't crazy per se. Lots of countries do it, and it can work.

What would be truly crazy is trying to divide Lebanon into separate countries like the former Yugoslavia.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 5, 2007 11:04 AM

Dirk, speaking of Nazi-fascist influence on parties in the Middle East, the Ba`ath Socialist party [now ruling Syria, formerly ruling Iraq] was modeled on German National Socialism [Nazism]. So was the Syrian National Socialist [or Social-National] Party. The ruling faction in Egypt, now led by Mubarak, was at first called the Free Officers [led by Nasser and Sadat]. They were definitely pro-Nazi and tried to help Rommel conquer Egypt. Sadat did some time for that treason. Nasser told a pro-Nazi German editor in 1964 that he and most Arabs had been pro-Nazi during WW2.

Posted by: Eliyahu at February 5, 2007 11:10 AM

A nice piece of racist, elitist drivel. You truly live in moomoo land. "The Iraqis are not civilized"?? And I suppose the child murdering American and Israeli soldiers are?

Posted by: Joe at February 5, 2007 11:11 AM

The only solution is to sever the life support from Iran. Without the Iranian funds Hezbollah won't be able to finance the carrot side of their equation. The Shia will be forced to either truly commit to Hezbollah and fight (for fight Hezbollah will have to do) or they will have to go elsewhere for their sustanance, an elsewhere that will require publicly disavowing Hezbollah.

This may still lead to war, for Hezbollah minus Iranian funding will be a caged and hungry animal. Even if the top leadership decided to go "legal" I doubt they could control all the various factions. Look at Hamas and Fatah - they can't control their own people to establish a cease fire. But fighting Hezbollah with half their people demoralized by lack of funding, with the general Shia street angry at them for stopping the handouts, and with critical funding unavailble, is a much better prospect then fighting them now.

Currently we are making economic warfare with Iran. They can't provide funding for their terrorist wings, buy off the local populace, and pursue WMD indefinately. Their oil infrastructure gets a year older, their reserves smaller, and Saudi Arabia is keeping OPEC production high. Best case scenario they go Sauran and are so worried about external affairs, that they don't see the trouble at home, and we get a new revolution there. Worst case we have to go in.

Posted by: Brendan at February 5, 2007 11:13 AM

Btw, that "Hezbollah" blast at the Marine barracks in 83? You must not have heard that it was Mossad. That the Israelis knew about it and kept mum. Do some proper research for a change.

Posted by: Joe at February 5, 2007 11:15 AM

I wonder to what extent Lebanon (or Iraq, for that matter) is like a super-saturated solution.

You know, if you dissolve something in a liquid, there is a limit to how much you can put in -- then it starts precipitating out. The solution is saturated. But under some conditions, you CAN get a lot more in: you have a super-saturated solution. And then, with some little bump, suddenly all the extra precipitates out all at once.

So I wonder, might some little thing (who knows what) abruptly cause the majority of Lebanese to decide "We've had all of this nonsense we are going to put up with!" And give all of the current politicians, "leaders," and even militias the boot. That's certainly the impression I get from your articles: of patience running out. I just hope, for the sake of all Lebanese, that it happens sooner rather than later.

Posted by: wj at February 5, 2007 11:17 AM

Joe -

That statement is identified on the net as a claim - and I don't see any sourcing for support. Furthermore we don't always reveal what we know. Here's a hypothetical:

Mossad had fairly good inteligence that an attack was probable, but not the exact details. To inform the US would require burning their source. Their source was positioned in such a way that he could save 10's of thousands of Israeli civilians. In such a situation it would be completely logical and morally justifiable for the state of Israel to look after their own interests instead of the US's. The US would do the same - and probably has.

So while actionable knowledge of the attack before hand doesn't seem proven - that knowledge would not ipso facto impune Mossad. Unless they actually carried out the attack - the moral culpability lies with those who did, always. Furthermore reluctance to share intelligence is often entirely justified by nation's own interests.

Finally - I know - I shouldn't feed the trolls.


Posted by: Brendan at February 5, 2007 11:24 AM

Joe is banned for trolling.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 5, 2007 11:29 AM


I had the sense as you did about the size of constituents of Nissi and Husseini, particularly since both of them implied (if not suggested) to channel aid through them. In fact, some of Nissi's comments about the situation in Lebanon just don't compute.

As to the benevolent dictator, it's rather a contradiction in terms: even if he starts like one, he won't stay benevolent for long; and once that happens, he won't go away.

Posted by: fp at February 5, 2007 11:34 AM

Dirk, speaking of Nazi-fascist influence on parties in the Middle East, the Ba`ath Socialist party [now ruling Syria, formerly ruling Iraq] was modeled on German National Socialism [Nazism].

Indeed, I'm not saying the Phalangists are fascists, whether they were or were not influenced by Spanish or Italian fascists 70 years ago is not relevant today.

Instead, it's a cheap insult that can be thrown about. If you are running out of arguments, calling someone a fascist will usually do!

Posted by: Dirk at February 5, 2007 11:38 AM

Yes, Toni represents a small minority. But he is a part of the larger majority if you split Lebanon into March 14 and March 8 halves.

Then again, there's a new movement called March 11. Nothing in particular happened on March 11, 2005, (unlike March 8 and 14), which is partly the point.

March 11, you could say, are the quiet centrists who tired of the bullshit all around. They are a minority, too.

No matter your point of view in Lebanon, the majority disagree with you. It has always been this way. I once wrote, in passing, that there are more opinions than people in Lebanon. A Lebanese reader took it upon herself to say I finally understood Lebanon.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 5, 2007 11:41 AM

Well, you don't need more than Baker's involvement in the 2000 election to know what he's all about.

He's lock, stock and barrel owned by the Saudis, and he kissed the asses of all the ME dictators, including Saddam and Hafez el-Assad.

On my blog of links I posted an article documenting the fact that Baker manipulated the ISG and inserted the "link" between Iraq and the Israeli/Arab conflict in the report without any of the experts' knowledge.

Posted by: fp at February 5, 2007 11:42 AM

Palestinians are being violently driven out of Iraq for supporting Saddam Hussein. I doubt that's the link Baker had in mind, though.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 5, 2007 11:47 AM

For good reason. They also danced in the streets after 9/11. Looks like nobody wants them.

History demonstrates that for all their defence of the Palestinian people, the root reason for the Palestinian condition (including the refugees) is their being used by arab states as a weapon against Israel. Prior to 1967 there was no Palestine -- only arab land. Had they cared for the palestinians, they could have give them the land and invested in their development. But they preferred to keep them in appalling conditions so that they seeth against Israel. That's why we reached the situation today. This is the history which the west either does not, or prefers not to know.

But no, that's not the link. I was referring to the preposterous claim that solving the P/A conflict is a pre-condition to solving Iraq, which Baker inserted in the report without discussing it with the experts before the ISG.

Posted by: fp at February 5, 2007 11:55 AM

fp, I know what you meant.

Neither Palestinians nor Israelis are popular in Iraq, nor are the Sunni/Shia and Baathist/US conflicts related to them in any way. I'd love to see the Palestinian/Israeli conflict resolved, but I doubt it would have any measurable effect in Iraq.

Baker's cramming it in there was, most likely, known to be silly even by him.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 5, 2007 12:01 PM

Well, everything the arab states and the west since 1948 till now has had either the intentional effect of dismantling Israel or the unintended effect of preventing a resolution. So why expect a resolution now?

In fact, what we are witnessing is the merging of the two factors, with the west, particularly its ludicrous left, making sure that it won't get solved.

Posted by: fp at February 5, 2007 12:09 PM

Incidentally, show me one arab country with decent leadership.

Today the same is true even of Israel. But at least Israel was lucky to have good leadership until recently. The palestinians never did. Whoever is decent on their side was either killed or is silent to prevent same fate.

The lack of leadership is one of the major reasons for the state of the ME.

Posted by: fp at February 5, 2007 12:15 PM

My mother-in-law was Lebanese Roman Orthodox from a very old town in the mountains above Beirut. I have lived with Lebanese inlaws and friends for over 40 years, and spent the summer of 1963 in Lebanon. At that time, when it was still quiet, local people all said that everything is OK, nobody's going to rock the boat. Foreign expats almost all said that this is going to blow, the Muslims are asking for a new census, they are not going tolerate a Christian majority government forever.
Lebanon, as it currently exists, was never a country. It is a collection of city-states and tribal areas; there are something like 17 recognized ethnic communities, not to mention refugees from the Turkish era like Armenians and Assyrians (including my father-in-law). The coastal trading cities in the central area and north are traditionally Sunni, the southern coastal area are traditionally Shi'ia, the southern mountains Druze, the central and northern mountains Christian, either Maronite or Orthodox. Ever since the Crusades, the French established connections with the Christian communities, particularly the Catholics, and of course found them easier to work with. By 1860 this was so blatant (and resented) that there was a civil war with massacres of Christians by Druse that was still fresh in the memory of my mother-in-law's home town, who had been worried about a 100-yr anniversary replay.
Lebanon has never been any kind of coherent society; and most of it has lived in isolated ethnic communities forever, who were often able to stay under the radar of whatever empire nominally dominated the area. Syria has always considered Lebanon to be part of "Greater Syria", and was often the regional authority over the area. I have heard resentment on the part of Lebanese-Americans who believe that we could have done more for Lebanon and that Kissinger handed them over to Syria on a platter. Add Palestineans who see Lebanon only as a base, and care nothing about it as as such, and you're got a lot of no answers. The idea that they need a colonial power to come in and clean up the mess is not uncommon, particularly among Christians. Many expat Christians would go back if it were safe. The endemic corruption, both political and economic, does not help either. But to think that they could become a unified country on their own is far from reality.

Posted by: Linden Malki at February 5, 2007 12:17 PM


That is true not only of Lebanon, but of practically all the ME countries. Certainly is true of what is referred to as Palestine.

The notion of states was imposed by the colonial powers (including USSR) and to this day the native populations have not exactly bought into it. Hence the trend to autocratic/dictatorial regimes -- an effective way to hold together something called a state.

Posted by: fp at February 5, 2007 12:26 PM

A nice piece of racist, elitist drivel. You truly live in moomoo land.

LOL. A true Leftist intellectual pipes in. Blame the JOo00ooS!!1! for everything.

Thanks, Michael. Another enlightening piece.

Posted by: Carlos at February 5, 2007 01:33 PM

Just as all civilized Palestinians have long since departed for countries that enforce a rule of law, so will all civilized Lebanese be forced before long to leave. Demographics forces the issue, and demographics cannot be denied.

I recomment Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or the UK. Not France, Germany or the EU, because they cannot defend themselves from the demographic tsunami that will engulf them before the three quarters mark of this century.

The other countries I mentioned will be defended by the US military at all costs.

Posted by: Maurice at February 5, 2007 01:46 PM


In other words, go somewhere in the English speaking world - i.e. the anglosphere.


Posted by: Brendan at February 5, 2007 02:07 PM

someone noticed that the Persians were left out of the group of ethnic Muslims and I stand corrected.

That Six Muslim groups are different from each other in certain ways is due to the facts that they derived from culturally separate linguistic groups, lived in specific geographical areas, have the same racial ancestry- those from the Maghreb are different from East African Muslims due to race, and language. Above the Sahel and Sahara it is Taureg and Arabic, in East Africa the language spoken is Arabic and Kaswahili.

Racially the Indonesians and Philipinos are Malay, so if you want to use the words Malay Muslims instead of Indonesians you are more correct.

Historically the Turkish conversion to Islam in the 10th century rejuvenated the Arab push into Syria from their Arabian bases because the Arab conquerors were running out of steam from being spread to thin and far. Same went for Egypt and the Maghreb. It was African converts to Islam that conquered Africa and Spain and not any original Arab tribe from the Arabian hinterland in particular. We see the same pattern repeated throughout history.

One of the methods of defining differences in Muslim groups besides, language, race, and geography is political system. To define a political system we look at every nation's self proclaimed constitution. Every Arab constitution we checked states that Islam must be the religion, A Muslim must be the head of state, and Arabic is the official language. Lebanon's constitution is ambiguous. What unites Muslims throughout the world is Sharia - so we could say that-besides other things, that Lebanon has always been and always will be a battle over the imposition of Sharia.

Posted by: James Just at February 5, 2007 02:51 PM

Well, I don't think much of Michael's politics -- or the politics of his commenters -- but I have to hand it to him for actually going to the scene, doing real reporting, and giving all of us what seems like a pretty accurate transcript of what he was told, so we can make up our own minds.

Anyway, it seemed sort of transparent from this transcript that Nissi was trying to use Michael as part of his effort to get military and financial support for his (Christian) side. This was like listening to a salesman go to work. All the sides seem to think they can't win without a foreign patron, and if they can get "their" foreign patron to conquer Lebanon and eliminate their enemies, then they win. But every foreign power comes in as the patron of a specific ethnic group.

The issue isn't just whether the U.S. or some other military can defeat e.g. Hezbollah. It's who you get to police the country for you afterwards. The same situation as Iraq -- there is no party of the "Iraqi nation" aside from the ethnic groups, so once a foreign country gets involved it is forced to pick an ethnic side and support that side in what is effectively a civil war. If you believe in democracy, I suppose you pick the majority ethnic group. But in both Lebanon and Iraq, that is the Shi'ites, who have deep ties to Iran. And so it is that in Iraq we appear to have ended up the de facto military allies of the pro-Iranian Shi'ites.

Now, I think Iran is a potential U.S. ally that we should build bridges to. But I suspect Michael and the other commenters do not agree.

Posted by: MQ at February 5, 2007 03:47 PM

MQ: I think Iran is a potential U.S. ally that we should build bridges to. But I suspect Michael and the other commenters do not agree.

I would definitely agree if Iran had a different government. But this government is seriously hostile, and I don't think there's much we can do to make them into an ally right now.

We might be able to get them to be slightly less hostile, but we would have to give them something big to get even that far. And I'm not talking about economic incentives here, or anything else that reasonable people in the West would have no trouble giving them.

Iran's goals, and ours, have no meaningful overlap that I am aware of.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 5, 2007 03:56 PM

Oh, and Iran's opposition to Sunni extremists doesn't cut it for me. Who in the West is seriously interested in taking sides in a sectarian Sunni-Shia war? It isn't our fight, and the extremists on both sides of that fight (including Iran) are our enemies.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 5, 2007 03:59 PM


Exceot for UK, of course, unless you count sharia as law.


Perhaps with mullah-free Iran, devoid of genocidal holocaust deniers who are preparing the way for the Mahdi. Otherwise, it would be the most stupid of suicidals. But then, the west is an expert in that.

Posted by: fp at February 5, 2007 04:00 PM

It would seem that there is a certain amount of interest about which segments of the Lebanese population thinks what, I'm curious about the demographics of people in Lebanon who actually believe that Jews kill Christians to make matzoth.

A Lebanese poet on Teleliban TV on January 30/07 (as shown on MEMRI)


Quite the comment about East not understanding West. What kind of perceptions about Lebanaon is one to have if this kind of garbage makes prime time?

Posted by: ankhfkhonsu at February 5, 2007 04:00 PM

I'm curious about the demographics of people in Lebanon who actually believe that Jews kill Christians to make matzoth.

I've heard plenty of crazy talk in Lebanon, but I never heard a single person say they believe anything that ridiculous. I'm sure some idiots think it's true, but it for sure isn't mainstream.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 5, 2007 04:11 PM

Just curious, what do the Lebanese have to say about this memritv video by a Lebanese poet?


Posted by: James Just at February 5, 2007 04:13 PM

Neocon ideas also make it to prime time in Lebanon. So does just about every other point of view in the universe.

It doesn't mean all that much, really, that any given point of view is shared by lots of people. Every point of view, as I said above, is a minority point of view. There is no sectarian or ideological majority in that country, and there never has been.

Sometimes the majority agrees on key issues (that Syria should leave and never come back, for example), but that's about as far as it goes. The anti-Syrian majority is tremendously fractious on just about everything else.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 5, 2007 04:15 PM


Titally agree on the Shiite-Sunni conflict.

Unfortunately, any involvement in the ME has the unintentional (or sometimes intentional) effect of taking sides.

I just saw some pundit on TV warning that confronting Iran can cause them to inflame the ME, and Chrac is willing to live with a nuclear Iran. It may seem a cliche, but the current western attitudes towards Iran are an almost identical copy of that towards the Nazis. And equally identical will be the consequences. Peace AT ALL COST is a losing proposition.

Posted by: fp at February 5, 2007 04:22 PM

Here's a sensible assessment of Iran's policy:


An ally indeed.

Posted by: fp at February 5, 2007 05:17 PM

Are there NeoLibs as well as NeoCons?

Posted by: Ron Snyder at February 5, 2007 05:30 PM

Here's a different perspective on the ME:


Posted by: fp at February 5, 2007 05:33 PM


Nissi or Husseini don't appear on Lebanese TV, but "intellectuals" do.


You just said that nobody in Lebanon expressed such nonsense, right?

Posted by: fp at February 5, 2007 06:08 PM

"Palestinians are being violently driven out of Iraq for supporting Saddam Hussein."

You mean because Saddam helped those Palestinians refugees.

I hope this news about Palestinians being driven our violently does not reach Jordan where there are over a million Iraqi refugees.

Posted by: Alawna at February 5, 2007 06:24 PM

Unless you meant the demonstrations in Gazza and Jordan in support of Saddam(which occured in other countries as well).
Those refugees kept a low profile throughtout their lives in Iraq.

Posted by: Alawna at February 5, 2007 06:36 PM

fp: You just said that nobody in Lebanon expressed such nonsense, right?

I said I've never run into it personally, not that nobody thinks it. Seriously, don't make too much out of it. Those sorts of ideas exist in Lebanon but are less common there than in any other Arab country by far.

If you want to hear truly batshit opinions from the Arab street, brace yourself and go to Cairo.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 5, 2007 06:36 PM


I don't know if Iraqis are primarily angry at Palestinians in Iraq or at their brethren in the West Bank and Gaza. I really have no idea. All I know is that Palestinians are hated in Iraq and are treated very badly there, as they are almost everywhere else.

Good point about Iraqi refugees in Jordan, where there are huge numbers of Palestinians. I hadn't thought of the possible friction that may result from the tension between the two groups.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 5, 2007 06:39 PM

To say something on the Arab matter:

People say that Maronites who claim not to be Arab are "racist" because they constantly add racialist speech into the way in which they articulate their Phoenicianism or their Lebanism or whatever non-Arab identity they talk about. You often hear Maronites say they "hate" Arabs, that they want to expell them from Lebanon (and not just Palesitnians). The fact that they connect "Arab" with being uncivilized or backward in and of itself is quite offensive to many self identified Arabs. Conversely, the Maronites look at the Arabo-Christian/Muslim view of their pre-Islamic identity as derrisive and supremacist (which in many expressions it clearly is). There are racist Maronites, and quite a few of them were represented by the Maronite militias (whose leaders are still in parliament and are major public figures), particularly those who engaged in the massare of Palestinians, Muslims, and Christians who wouldn't go along with them (Armenians and Orthodox or Communists for instance). Obviously, the Lebanese are not racially different, but they often talk of one another as if they were. You find racism in this way among all sects, often in closed quarters. My Orthodox Christian relatives absolutely hate Maronites, no two ways about it. They think they're arrogant and have a monopoly on what people think of when they think of "Lebanese Christians" and how they control most power in the country (which is to an extent true). I would say they're pretty racist towards them. They don't like Catholics generally; they think they're just an extension of Maronites. I'm positive you could find Sunnis who think this way about Shiites. All you need is a little alcohol and a setting where most folks are not of that sect. It's pathetic. All Orthodox aren't like that, of course, and all Maronites aren't either. There are more opinions on identity than there are identities to chose from. But those who have chosen theirs are quite set in them usually.And guess what, the Lebanese think of themselves are more "civilized" than all other Arabs, but guess who dupes them all the time? The other Arabs. And whose regressing into the middle ages every couple of decades? The Lebanese. It isn't smart to buy into this Lebanese are civilized compared to other Middle Easterners; they aren't. They in the same place as all the others. Their hatred and sectarianism is dangerous because of the money that concentrated in the country and because they have all the modern pretenses of a 21st century country, along with its weapons and its methods of massacre. If the other Arabs are in the stone age, the Lebanese are in the nuclear age, relatively speaking. I love the Lebanese, but there is nothing more civilized about them than the Iraqis, egyptians or Saudis.

I have met only two Egyptian Copts that identified as Arab, and they were both rather old. All the people my age who are Copt (and fresh off the boat, as I'm in the States) are pretty anti-Arab in their identification (they're Egyptians first). There are facebook groups dedicated to it. It's very popular among young people in the region to identify by sect or religion, especially from the areas that are more violent. I don't meet too many Syrian Christians who have the identity crisis that Lebanese Catholics tend to have. They think it's bullshit for the most part, which it really is. In Algeria, younger people (that think about politics) are more consious of being Arab or Berber these days; Palestinians, while not debating whether Christians are Arabs or not, are having more and more sectarian problems as Hamas rises. Our societies are falling apart at the seems, especially the seems made of different threads. After I went to a christening this weekend, I was talking to a (Lebanese) Orthodox friend about Lebanon. I asked him what he wanted to happen, he said "for the Catholics and Shiites to shut the fuck up so the people who actually know how to run the country can do something".

Arabism is not the cause of these problems, but all of the identifiers used are together a major part of it, as well is political inequality (decided by religion or ethnicity). I say let Lebanon have a civil war and be rebuilt. I could personally care less if Muslims or Maronites control the country. There will be another civil war any way. War, peace/prosperity, war, and so on. That seems to be how Lebanon opperates. The country, its leaders, and to an extent its people have not proven otherwise.

Posted by: Nouri Lumendifi at February 5, 2007 06:41 PM

Ron Snyder: Are there NeoLibs as well as NeoCons?

Sure. Walid Jumblatt can be fairly described as a neoconservative (he's a "socialist" in favor of the Bush doctrine), and the Hariris (senior and junior) can be fairly described as Arab-style neoliberals.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 5, 2007 06:42 PM

Oh, I know enough about the arab street, not to mention the media. I did not imply that Lebanon is rampant with such nonsense.

But if this is shown on TV, there must be some notion that viewers will accept it. What is disturbing is that this is said by a supposedly intellectual, not Nasrallah, from whom I would expect it.

At one point Barbara Walters interviewed the younger generation of saudis -- doctors, lawyers, engineers -- and they spewed the same crap.

That means that even a modern -- usually western -- education does not dislocate the indoctrination they get from their childhood.

Which is why I do not believe that the conflict can be resolved. The arab states are now prisoners of decades of wile indoctrination and it's impossible to just turn around and say forget all that -- peace with the jews.

Posted by: fp at February 5, 2007 06:49 PM

I would venture a wild guess that the attitude towards palestiniana jas to do with the reign on the PLO in Lebanon.

Posted by: fp at February 5, 2007 06:52 PM

Good guess but it is not only the PLO. There are other militant groups in the refugee camps nowadays.
PLO under Arafat is the reason of Pals expelled from Kuwait then being expelled from Iraq. The PLO also ignited black september in Jordan in the 70s.

Posted by: Alawna at February 5, 2007 07:09 PM

fp, all media in Lebanon have a specific and narrow target audience in mind. There is no national TV channel that everyone watches. We don't have a national channel in the US either, but Lebanese media is far more varied and niche-oriented. So whatever you dig about from this or that channel or newspaper says little about Lebanon per se and everything about the intended target audience. Only when you take it all together can you get an accurate picture.

The crap on (Hezbollah) Al Manar is the exact opposite of what you'll see on (Sunni) Future TV, for instance. You get neoliberalism (and Hariri worship) from Future and fascism from Al Manar. That's Lebanon.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 5, 2007 07:25 PM

I understand. But then, who was that particular crap targetted at?

I know everything there is to know about the PLO adventures in the arab countries (I lived in Israel 1961-78 and am a political scientist). In a sense, the arab states brought this on themselves. Had they resettled the approx. 700,000 refugees or given them the land allocated to them by the UN, they would have avoided their PLO experiences. But they cared more about destroying Israel then about the palestinians, and it's been biting their ass. Indeed, the refugees were actually generated by arab leaders who demanded they get out even though some wanted to stay.

I find it utterly hypocritical for the arab states to keep demanding that the US solve the conflict (by pushing Israel to concessions) which is almost entirely their responsibility.

Posted by: fp at February 5, 2007 07:38 PM

It would be nice if someone could micro-lend Hezballah out of existence. I doubt it will happen, but the shia wouldn't be so poor if they spent their time at work rather than hitting things with sticks, throwing rocks and burning tires.

Is there something signifigant about the stick attacks? It seems like people from Pakistan to the west bank spend way to much time hitting things (cars, burning flags, effigies sp?) with sticks.

Posted by: mikek at February 5, 2007 08:41 PM

Fp, that Steyn article is fascinating.

The claim is that Iran is fomenting civil war in Iraq by arming both Shiite AND Sunni militias.

So Bush got it right when he said they were evil. Who knew?

Posted by: Josh Scholar at February 5, 2007 09:04 PM

But they cared more about destroying Israel then about the palestinians, and it's been biting their ass.

THEIR ass!? It's had big honking choppers sunk into Israel's ass more than anyone's. I feel no sympathy for the Arab Muslim nations (and fp, I know neither do you). I rather hope it rips a big hunk out of their respective asses, except Israel and the US will somehow be made to pay.

I don't think it's so much hypocritical of them to demand the West force Israel to its knees to fix their Frankenstinian monster as it is strategic and well-thought-out. And utterly typical: The Arab Muslim nations bear no blame for anything, ever, under any circumstances, and therefore need take no responsibility, and as long as the nincompoop West -- including neocons like Baker and Condeee, not just liberals -- blithely accept this delusion, they never will have to shoulder responsibility. The Arabs spun a mythology and the West swallowed it; the Israelis just buckled down and lived and worked and progressed and the only myth they offered was IDF and Mossad invincibility. Once the Arabs punched holes in that, Israel looks too much like the West to be fascinating.

I think it is time to start ruthlessly puncturing the Arab mythology. Most Americans have not got clue #1 about how piss-poor and precarious individual life is in the Arab nations.

Re: Pals in Iraq --

It was my impression that Saddam had coddled the Pals in the face of mounting problems for native Iraqis -- sent money to Gaza, richly supported suicide bombers' families, froze rents for Pals and would not let them be evicted when times got tough, gave them easy access to better education and jobs -- and within weeks of his capture, the Iraqis started throwing them out of their apartments, jobs, etc. They were seen as arrogant, violent leeches.

Posted by: Pam at February 5, 2007 09:40 PM

What shines through in many of these interviews is the extent to which the ambitious Lebanese factions - even the little ones - are eager for foreign patrons to "help them reshape Lebanon." We are seeing some well-rehearsed sales pitches here.

Foreign patronage is a pervasive element of Lebanon's political culture, and the deep corruption that it engenders is Lebanon's worst plague. After all, every foreign backer comes with its own set of interests and its own set of enemies, and in order to "make the sale" in such a competitive marketplace, a faction tends to align itself with those interests and against those enemies.

These interviews are valuable. It's always important to hear from different sides, and Michael's commentary, identifying known exagerations and fallacies, helps to balance the salesmanship.

So, Michael, thanks.

Posted by: Zvi at February 5, 2007 10:05 PM

"Palestinians are being violently driven out of Iraq for supporting Saddam Hussein"

same thing happened to them in Kuwait after the war ended between Iraq and Kuwait...they were all forced out of Kuwait. Kuwait's sheik Sabah was so good to the Palestinians for decades. Palestinians enjoyed the best privileges compare to other minority groups and see how they paid back. No one likes Palestinians in the Middle East and everyone pretend that their cause is their cause..crazy world...I know, i Have lived among them.

Posted by: Frieda at February 5, 2007 11:19 PM

No they were not all forced out of Kuwait. Many fled before the war ended and some before it started like us. I was born and raised there and still have most of my family members in Kuwait.
There are still about 50.000 and many are going back from Jordan. You know you lived among them.

Posted by: Alawna at February 6, 2007 03:33 AM

mq, you write that the Shiites are the "majority ethnic group" in Lebanon or some such. I do not believe that that is true. It is a dangerous notion too, since some would argue that if they are the "majority," then they have a "democratic" right to oppress and harass everybody else.

MJT, could you please straighten out mq as to which group, if any, is the majority in Lebanon?

Posted by: Eliyahu at February 6, 2007 06:32 AM

Zvi, let's bear in mind that we too here in Israel have a lot of foreign patronage going on. There are more than a few politicians, journalists, academics, who are on some foreign payroll or other. It's notorious that Yossi Beilin is on the EU payroll. So when Beilin worked to get Israel out of Lebanon, he was working on the EU's account. This is a very big problem for us and we ought to be doing something about it.

Posted by: Eliyahu at February 6, 2007 06:36 AM

The whole part about how to disarm Hizballah is just mental masturbation. The only way to disarm Hizballah is to cut its ressources. They get their support from money and weapons. They get money and weapons from Iran through Syria. If you want to cut the head of the snake you have to remove Iran and Syria from the equation.

Everytime the Lebanese feel threatened, they start thinking about federalism. They need to be reassured about their future. With Hizballah being armed all the lebanese feel threatened. They live at the mercy of Hassan Nasrallah. They need to have more faith in the country and they will forget about federalism.

I'll finish by saying that it can not be repeated enough that the source of most if not all problems in Lebanon is Syria. And the situation will not get any better before the regime changes there.

Posted by: John at February 6, 2007 06:56 AM

Apparently hizbo has planted some explosive devices on the border with Israel in the last day or two:


Something up?

Posted by: ankhfkhonsu at February 6, 2007 07:30 AM

the problem is the Palestinians are never going to be loyal to the United Nations. You’re handing them a hospital or a school and asking for nothing in return, and no one is going to respect you for that.”

“Certainly that is the case in Palestine,” I said. “But what are you going to do when you have a terrorist army that builds hospitals and gets support for building hospitals? You have to find a way to peel these people off.”

“Yeah,” Toni said.

“And that’s why they do it,” I said.

“What has [Palestinian Fatah leader Mahmoud] Abbas delivered for that?” Toni said.

“Nothing,” I said.

I advocated nothing for the Palestinians over two years ago. Yes, the U.S. and the international community get nothing for their efforts. However, the bureaucracies balk at this approach because their careers benefit from this sustained but ultimately useless effort. The MSM supports this because bowing to the powers-that-be is their new rule, justified under the policy of "protecting our people."

That is why political direction is needed. But that can only happen if the electorate chooses informed politicians. And that can only happen if informed members of the electorate step forward to run for office! If politicians wait until they are elected to become informed, they will only drink from the poisoned chalices supplied by the bureaucrats and MSM.

Posted by: Solomon2 at February 6, 2007 08:38 AM

In the ME being nice or giving anything is represented as weakeness. That's why all this giving by the arab states and the west is responded to by the palestinians the way it does.

Add to this the cult of death that is islamism and what you got is the current reality.

Hezbollah and Hamas are pretty explicit about it: we will win because you value life and we value death.

The more israelis and the west talk about peace, the more they invite abuse. That's exactly what happened with the nazis, and the consequences will be the same.

Posted by: fp at February 6, 2007 11:20 AM

Eliyahu: MJT, could you please straighten out mq as to which group, if any, is the majority in Lebanon?

There is no majority in Lebanon. Shia are about 30-35 percent according to the most recent population studies.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 6, 2007 11:21 AM

"What government [a nation] can bear depends not on the state of science, however exalted, in a select band of enlightened men, but on the condition of the general mind." --Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 1817. (*) ME 15:114

"Every nation has a right to govern itself internally under what forms it pleases, and to change these forms at its own will; and externally to transact business with other nations through whatever organ it chooses, whether that be a King, Convention, Assembly, Committee, President, or whatever it be. The only thing essential is, the will of the nation." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Pinckney, 1792. ME 9:7

Democracy seems a wonderful option, but as Jefferson knew centuries ago... its neither the only option, nor a guarantee of any sort. For any democracy to be more than an occasional purple finger and ballot box, the People of the Nation (the only people, according to Jefferson that have any right to define their government) must agree and be able to cooperate. It doesn't matter how many forces, how many guns, how many soliders, militias or Green Zones there are. If the People do not have democracy in their hearts, there will be no democracy in their government.

Until Lebanon, Iraq etc. gain some sort of cohesion, any central government that isn't totalitarian in nature seems likely to fail.

(And the totalitarian will exist only as long as it can hold power over the people)

Posted by: Ratatosk, Squirrel of Discord at February 6, 2007 12:05 PM

For any democracy to be more than an occasional purple finger and ballot box, the People of the Nation (the only people, according to Jefferson that have any right to define their government) must agree and be able to cooperate.

For any democracy to work, the People of the Nation must be reasonably free from outside interference - yet another reason why we should deal with Syria and Iran, and leave Lebanon alone.

The supporters of democracy in Lebanon didn't want a civil war, but they were willing to risk it when Hezbollah tried to escalate the conflict. Their willingness to fight back is probably the only reason why Hezbollah isn't in charge right now. That's the kind of support for democracy that Jefferson would understand.

Posted by: mary at February 6, 2007 12:56 PM

For any democracy to work, the People of the Nation must be reasonably free from outside interference - yet another reason why we should deal with Syria and Iran, and leave Lebanon alone.

Well, America did pretty well and we fended off lots of outside influence. Of course, in a perfect world, the people of a Nation would be free of outside influence, or at least maintain some sort of cohesive ability among its constituents. In situations like Iraq and Lebanon, its not simply outside influence... there are some, but not all Shia (in both nations) that want Iran involved. There are some, but not all Sunni who appreciate outside jihadists from Al Queda and some, but not all from Sunni, Shia and the Kurds that appreciate US involvement.

In Lebanon, as Micheal aptly described, we see the same situation. Until the people of a nation (or at least the vast majority) can agree that they, and they alone can and must govern themselves, then it seems unlikely that they will have a successful government. Democracy exists by the Will of the people. Without a national will, democracy seems doomed to fail.

The supporters of democracy in Lebanon didn't want a civil war, but they were willing to risk it when Hezbollah tried to escalate the conflict. Their willingness to fight back is probably the only reason why Hezbollah isn't in charge right now. That's the kind of support for democracy that Jefferson would understand.

I'm not sure what this has to do with my point. I think the March 14th group were absolutly within their rights and handled themselves admirably. They made the correct 'first steps' and they did it themselves, as citizens... not through some external intervention... in the face of the Syrians. However, they were unable to complete the necessary step of uniting the Nation (or at least the vast majority). As long as any nation continues along the lines of complete ethnic/religious/cultural separation, then it seems unlikely that they will be cohesive enough to wield their combined Will to manage the nation.

Many pundits are pointing to nations in Europe and even here, where Islamic/Hispanic immigrants are forming their own culture, instead of joining the national culture. In settled nations, it can be a problem... in nations like Lebanon and Iraq, where these separate cultures have all been around for centuries (and have all hated/fought each other)... the problems seem far more serious. There must be some cohesion within the nation to support a democracy.

Consider the point Jefferson made when writing to Lafayette:

"A full measure of liberty is not now perhaps to be expected by your nation," Jefferson wrote, about the democracy movement within France, "nor am I confident they are prepared to preserve it. More than a generation will be requisite, under the administration of reasonable laws favoring the progress of knowledge in the general mass of the people, and their habituation to an independent security of person and property, before they will be capable of estimating the value of freedom, and the necessity of a sacred adherence to the principles on which it rests for preservation."

"Instead of that liberty which takes root and growth in the progress of reason, if recovered by mere force or accident, it becomes, with an unprepared people, a tyranny still, of the many, the few, or the one."

Revolution and self rule had been stirring in the minds and hearts of Colonists for a century before 1776. It wasn't a brief liberation or a sudden heroic revelation... the people had to accept first, then the society, then the revolution could happen... Of the People, For the People and By the People (as it were).

The March 14th group did an awesome job of throwing off the yoke of Syria... but they have yet to succeed in placing the metaphoric reins to that yoke squarely in the hands of each citizen. Only when citizens realize their own responsibility can they cast out external influence and begin to govern themselves. Gifts of democracy didn't work in France, isn't working in Iraq... and Lebanon I think, may be struggling to determine its future course. If its people decide on democracy, then they may have a chance at decent government. If they decide to wait for help, or expect it to be done for them (as Mr. Nissi seems to) then I think that they will continue to falter.

But what the hell do I know? I'm just a squirrel.

Ratatosk, Squirrel of Discord
Muncher of the ChaoAcorn
Chatterer of the Words of Eris
POEE of the Great Googlie Mooglie Cabal

Posted by: Ratatosk, Squirrel of Discord at February 6, 2007 02:10 PM

Is succinctness possible -- this is not exactly a medium for long speeches.

If extensive evidence/arguments are necessary, perhaps links to sources can be offered.

Just a thought.

Posted by: fp at February 6, 2007 03:50 PM

I have seen arguments that the Shi'ites are in fact the majority in Lebanon. The truth is that no one really knows whether this is true or not. Lebanon has not run a national census for many years precisely because the question of ethnic balance is such political dynamite. But Shi'ites are certainly a plurality, the largest single ethno-religious community in the country.

I would argue that Iran has a common interest with us in creating a stable middle east. Iran has not invaded other nations for many centuries, assisted us during our invasion of Afghanistan, and several times recently signaled its willingness to negotiate on matters of mutual interest. It is a country with fairly well developed democratic institutions and multiple centers of power; peaceful openings to such countries can change dynamtics quickly. But I have found certain sections of the blogsphere have a completely closed mind on these points.

Posted by: MQ at February 6, 2007 04:15 PM

MQ: But Shi'ites are certainly a plurality, the largest single ethno-religious community in the country.

Not according to the most recent study, they aren't. And my own observations (not scientific) makes me nearly certain they are not the largest sect. Look at a map. Where do all these Shia live? The Christian and Sunni areas are far more densely packed with people. This is especially obvious when you're there in person.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 6, 2007 04:41 PM


Perhaps under a different regime what you say about Iran might be true. But with the current regime the claim is obviously absurd. It's either ignorance of reality or denial or both.

Their strategy is not as myopic as the west's and they are shrewd enough to avoid conquests or war because they kenow they would lose; their economy and technology is in shambles.

They rely on creating instability by proxies and on the weakness and stupidity of the west. Much safer bet.

Posted by: fp at February 6, 2007 05:44 PM
Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Pajamas Media BlogRoll Member


"I'm flattered such an excellent writer links to my stuff"
Johann Hari
Author of God Save the Queen?

Andrew Sullivan
Author of Virtually Normal

"Brisk, bracing, sharp and thoughtful"
James Lileks
Author of The Gallery of Regrettable Food

"A hard-headed liberal who thinks and writes superbly"
Roger L. Simon
Author of Director's Cut

"Lively, vivid, and smart"
James Howard Kunstler
Author of The Geography of Nowhere

Contact Me

Send email to michaeltotten001 at gmail dot com

News Feeds


Link to Michael J. Totten with the logo button


Tip Jar


Terror and Liberalism
Paul Berman, The American Prospect

The Men Who Would Be Orwell
Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer

Looking the World in the Eye
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

In the Eigth Circle of Thieves
E.L. Doctorow, The Nation

Against Rationalization
Christopher Hitchens, The Nation

The Wall
Yossi Klein Halevi, The New Republic

Jihad Versus McWorld
Benjamin Barber, The Atlantic Monthly

The Sunshine Warrior
Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine

Power and Weakness
Robert Kagan, Policy Review

The Coming Anarchy
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

England Your England
George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn