May 17, 2008

Lebanon's Future

by Michael J. Totten

Lebanon will not become the next Gaza.

Commenters both inside and outside the country compared Hezbollah's invasion of West Beirut last week to the Hamas takeover of Gaza last year, which is perhaps understandable: that's what it looked like. If Lebanon's mainstream Sunni-dominated party--Saad Hariri's Future Movement--has a militia that is able and willing to fight, it didn't make much of an appearance. Hezbollah seized the western half of the city in a walk. Most journalists focused on this portion of the conflict because West Beirut is where almost every journalist in Lebanon lives and where almost every hotel for visiting journalists is located.

Far less attention has been paid to Hezbollah's military and strategic failure in the Chouf mountains southeast of Beirut where Lebanon's Druze community lives. Hezbollah picked a major fight there and lost. After three days of pitched battles, its gunmen were unable to conquer a single village--even when they brought out mortars and heavy artillery.

The Druze are among the fiercest of warriors, and everyone in Lebanon knows it. They are well-known in Israel, too, where they often serve in elite units of the Israel Defense Forces and suffer lower-than-average casualty rates in battles with Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups. Most of Israel's Sunni Arabs abstain from military service, but Druze Arabs are as loyal to the Israeli state, and are as willing and able to fight for it, as their Lebanese counterparts are in their own country. There's a reason two of the Middle East's religious minorities--Maronite Christians and Druze--live in Lebanon's mountains in significant numbers: attempts to invade and subjugate them are ill-advised, very likely to fail, and therefore rarely attempted by even large armies.

It's debatable whether or not Lebanon's Sunnis are organized and well-armed or not. Certainly they are not compared to Hezbollah. No one in Lebanon is. But Druze chief Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party proved they have no shortage of weapons, and they fought off Hezbollah's invasion even though he told them not to. A tiny percentage of Druze are partially loyal to Talal Arslan, Hezbollah's only Druze ally, but they defected in large numbers when Hezbollah launched its attack. They fought on the same side as the rest of their community. Political alliances have their limits, and Arslan's people and Hezbollah discovered theirs. It is now almost safe to say that Hezbollah has no friends at all in the mountains overlooking the dahiyeh, their “capital” and command and control center in the suburbs south of Beirut.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 17, 2008 12:26 AM
Comments

very interesting article. i am from lebanon and i really loved your articles and the pictures!
keep up the great work and one day the world will see the beauty of lebanon!
peace !

Posted by: hanikhoury Author Profile Page at May 17, 2008 4:56 AM

I wonder how long Hezbollah can keep their grasp on Lebanon. They can only engage in a limited number of atrocities before they get plowed under. I doubt they have sufficient quality of troops to keep from committing an Abu Ghraib level of failure. The key is to get that failure recorded, out of the country, and published.

If you are in Lebanon and have computer skills, you might consider putting up a wireless network to monitor and subvert Hezbollah. Contact me through my web site and we'll put something together.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at May 17, 2008 11:04 AM

A lot in Lebanon have access to the internet in addition to cell phones. Already some are reporting events as it happen and some videos are uploaded to youtube! The issue is who is dispersing that information after confirming it. Verifying atrocities is very critical.

Reaching a status quo "front line between fighting factions" is not good for Hizbullah.

Keep in mind that Beirut was taken over by the PLO, then the Syrians, then the Israelis "1982 invasion" and again by the Syrians but nobody could control it!

Lebanon is almost segregated now and no one faction can control the others. If no agreement in Doha will materialize, fighting will break and front lines will be established. My information from Lebanon is that each group is getting ready to fight "weapons, military planning, establishing snipering locations but again it is just to protect their areas and I doubt that any group will try to attack other areas except that Hizbullah with its SSNP allies will try to control the SSNP areas in the North of Lebanon (Halba and surrounding villages).

Posted by: GK Author Profile Page at May 17, 2008 12:32 PM

Positively a refreshing read. Not because it paints and views with rose-colored glasses - even to the contrary - rather, because it reports and describes with proportion and vitality in a manner that eschews the facile ideological and reactionary and emotive tendencies that are so prevalent, that in fact are ubiquitous. It reminds of Martha Gellhorn's dictum when it comes to more genuine and guileless forms of reportage:

"Serious, careful, honest journalism is essential, not because it is a guiding light but because it is a form of honorable behavior, involving the reporter and the reader."

Posted by: Michael_B Author Profile Page at May 17, 2008 2:06 PM

I intended that comment for the prior post, the one titled "The Real Iraq," but it's not inapt here either.

Posted by: Michael_B Author Profile Page at May 17, 2008 3:51 PM

I do not know guys. I am very much put off by recent Halba events. If one side is as thuggish as the other why even care?

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at May 18, 2008 8:58 PM

This is a reasonable point of view.

On the other hand, while Hizballah can't physically occupy every inch of Lebanon with soldiers, I'm less sure that it couldn't have liquidated the entire Lebanese political elite if it had chose to, then thrown out the constitution and pronounced an Islamic republic. I'm not sure that physical obstacles to doing that would have manifested. That they chose not to is, I think, a choice of strategy. Probably they're afraid of what would come down the road after that. Rightly so, in my opinion.
It also seems that Hizbullah's leaders are not currently working their plans along the kind of systematic Stalinistic brutality required to implement that. I think that, historically, they appear to have enough of a military and demographic edge to work with in establishing themselves as despots. Perhaps it relates to the desire of Syria to suck up to the US, and Iran's desire to mollify the Persian Gulf.

I'm sure I'll be called a naive liberal, here, but I'm just making the point that I see more aggressive and grandiose plans as having been quite hatchable. Would Walid Jumblatt have stepped in to save Beirut? And who had the ultimately greater capacity to mobilize and escalate?

Perhaps such things are being held in reserve for, say, a US bombing of Tehran.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 19, 2008 1:01 PM

I do not know guys. I am very much put off by recent Halba events. If one side is as thuggish as the other why even care?

I think this is a simplistic view of things. Human conflicts rarely divide along the comfortable ethical lines that we have been trained to expect by the morality plays of our culture. There is generally good and bad on all sides, and you should probably be guided by other considerations. Otherwise the first time that an atrocity occurs on the side you prefer, you will be demoralized as your good-guys perceptions are shattered. And atrocities can occur on all sides.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at May 19, 2008 4:19 PM

Between the lines: is Hez's cover of being a national protection force wearing thin? The decrepitude of its areas of Beirut, and its disregard for the niceties of constitutional and legal government, leave it more and more exposed as a pure Syrian cat's paw.

Posted by: Brian H Author Profile Page at May 19, 2008 7:49 PM

"There is generally good and bad on all sides, and you should probably be guided by other considerations."

Like WWII, f'rinstance.

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at May 20, 2008 12:19 AM

Gary wrote:

Like WWII, f'rinstance.

Exactly. And like the American civil war as well.

Posted by: Michael Smith Author Profile Page at May 20, 2008 5:03 AM

And atrocities can occur on all sides.

Yes, and the fact that one side in the conflict celebrates the atrocities it commits while the other side punishes its errant soldiers is meaningless.

Posted by: Michael Smith Author Profile Page at May 20, 2008 5:07 AM

DPU: "Otherwise the first time that an atrocity occurs on the side you prefer, you will be demoralized as your good-guys perceptions are shattered."

Perhaps I should clarify my point a bit.
I am not as put off by the act of atrocity as by the fact that FM/LF establishment decided to sit that one out instead of taking action against criminals or at least condemning those murders loudest and in strongest terms. Their silence and inaction are telling.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at May 20, 2008 8:44 AM

I am not as put off by the act of atrocity as by the fact that FM/LF establishment decided to sit that one out instead of taking action against criminals or at least condemning those murders loudest and in strongest terms. Their silence and inaction are telling.

That's a fair point. Thanks for elaborating.

Gary: Like WWII, f'rinstance.

Michael: Exactly. And like the American civil war as well.

Is it your opinion that the Allies and the Union never committed atrocities or made morally questionable leadership decisions?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at May 20, 2008 9:14 AM

If you check out the future movement forum, most of their members are pleading for Al-Queda to come in and help them.

And taking that awful Halba massacre into account, I can now say fuck them.

Posted by: Joe Rushty Author Profile Page at May 20, 2008 9:54 AM

The NOW Lebanon news linked indicates maybe a desire for some Arab peace keepers.

I think this is still premature for (mostly Sunni?) Arabs in the Middle East, because I don't think most dictator armies are at all good.
Not for peacekeeping nor real battle against military -- altho fully able to terrorize and control non-militia civilians.

Funny / hypocritical how glasnost & dpu now talk about atrocities on all sides; while I fully agree with these realities, they are both usually full of "since American forces are not perfect, they're terrible" innuendo. Whenever I try to compare the US military in action vs. the enemy, I'm pretty proud to be American.

When I compare Abu Ghraib 2003 vs 2001, it's pretty clear to me that MOST torture (99%?) was eliminated there by the US, for instance.
Thus, support for OIF does mean support for some 1% torture, but no more than opposition to OIF means support for 100% of Saddam's level of torture.

The anti-American bias is usually based on a failure to compare the alternatives.

In Lebanon, I suspect the non-Hezbollah folk are waiting for a (Saudi funded?) deux ex Sunni-machina, which doesn't seem likely to me.

At least, not until Iraqi Sunnis get fully trained by the US and feel prepared to "help" out; not this year.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at May 20, 2008 10:37 AM

...they are both usually full of “since American forces are not perfect, they're terrible” innuendo.

Bullshit, and very probably indicative of the nonsense parading around in your head.

I'd invite a single citation that backs up this nonsense. Or you might have a look here, for example:
It probably helps that the US military is probably the best trained and one of the most humane fighting forces in history. That said, as I've mentioned here before, it is extremely difficult for democratic nations to fight these kinds of wars. Other more brutal and less humanitarian societies have done so and won, but democratic nations need to restrain themselves simply because of the humanist philosophy underlying their cultures.
Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at May 20, 2008 11:36 AM

"Is it your opinion that the Allies and the Union never committed atrocities or made morally questionable leadership decisions?"

It is my opinion that it was a moral imperative for the Allies to defeat the unspeakable evil of the Nazis and the Japanese warlords, which is why they pursued the policy of "unconditional surrender", or to put it another way, regime change. It is also my opinion that hundreds of millions of people have led safer and more prosperous lives because of the Allied war effort. We have now been able to take for granted the past 60 years that Japan and Germany are stable, peaceful and responsible members of the world community - just imagine if that were not the case.

YMMV.

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at May 21, 2008 12:02 AM

Here we go again. The assumption being made here, falsely in my honest opinion, is that Hizb'Allah wants to occupy and control Lebanon.

I thinkm and have always said here, that Hizb'Allah seeks more equity in the governance of Lebanon, nothing more.

This was proved by the recent deal brokered in Qatar where the Sunni led sectarian government has agreed to a power sharing/unity government, has given Hizb'Allah and the opposition a veto in governmental matters, and has set up to have a new electoral system set into place.

This new electoral system, the basis of the Hizb'Allah drive, will give more equal representation to all groups of Lebanon. It still falls short of abandoning the grossly unfair sectarian allotments of governmental positions of power based on religion, but it is a start.

Synopsis. Hizb'Allah is the major winner in this situation and kind of makes those of you carping about Shi'ite conspiracy theories look a bit foolish!

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at May 21, 2008 8:54 AM

It is my opinion that it was a moral imperative for the Allies to defeat the unspeakable evil of the Nazis and the Japanese warlords, which is why they pursued the policy of “unconditional surrender”, or to put it another way, regime change.

A nice tap dance, but that did not answer the question. I'll rephrase - is it your opinion that allied troops committed no atrocities, and that the allied leadership made no decisions of questionable morality? Yes or no?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at May 21, 2008 9:41 AM

Marc: "This new electoral system, the basis of the Hizb'Allah drive, will give more equal representation to all groups of Lebanon. It still falls short of abandoning the grossly unfair sectarian allotments of governmental positions of power based on religion, but it is a start."

No, it is not a start. It is just feel-good exercise. As long as the bold part exists in any form there will be no progress no matter how much we will try to convince ourselves otherwise. It will still lead to the same outcome. It will only take longer to get there (may be not even that).

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at May 21, 2008 10:00 AM

test

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at May 21, 2008 10:37 AM

Marc: The assumption being made here, falsely in my honest opinion, is that Hizb'Allah wants to occupy and control Lebanon.

Who do you think is making that assumption? Not me. I'm debunking it. I have never believed Hezbollah wants to rule all of Lebanon. First of all, it's impossible. Second, it isn't necessary. Hezbollah is about maximizing Shia power in Lebanon, and always has been. Their wars with Israel are a means to that end, and an excuse to carry guns which they implicitly and explicitly point at their countrymen.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 21, 2008 12:59 PM

Hizb'Allah is the major winner in this situation and kind of makes those of you carping about Shi'ite conspiracy theories look a bit foolish!

And those silly people carping about Hezbollah shooting at mothers, children and other random civilians in a selfish grab for power through intimidation look "foolish" in your eyes too, I'm sure.

Marc, are you doing a parody of a clueless propagandist or are you being serious?

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at May 21, 2008 6:26 PM

"Marc, are you doing a parody of a clueless propagandist or are you being serious?"

He is a seriously clueless propagandist.

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at May 21, 2008 10:51 PM

"is it your opinion that allied troops committed no atrocities, and that the allied leadership made no decisions of questionable morality? Yes or no?"

No, counselor. What's your point?

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at May 21, 2008 10:54 PM

No, counselor. What's your point?

Then we're in agreement, and I have no idea what your first objection was all about.

He is a seriously clueless propagandist.

Try to up your game a little, Gary. Name-calling is pretty weak.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at May 22, 2008 9:56 AM

BS yourself, DPU -- innuendo is in the ears/ mind of the listener.

[Time for Tom Leher: "when correctly viewed,
everything is lewd!"]

If you don't understand my feelings about your presumed innuendo, it's your own tone-deafness.

Like your silly
"is it your opinion that allied troops committed no atrocities, and that the allied leadership made no decisions of questionable morality? Yes or no?”

This clearly implies no moral difference, based on atrocities, between the US and the enemy. If you don't see this, you're fooling yourself. (Implies, not says.)

The honest way to judge morality is to compare two real moralities in practice, and argue about why one is morally better than the other.

The dishonest, but all too usual Leftist ploy, is to judge a real morality (like the US or Israel), against a non-existing Platonic "ideal" morality. Then the imperfect real US can easily be criticised from a comfy moral superiority. (Same with real capitalism vs. unreal communism/ socialism)

And it seems you spend a lot of time criticizing the imperfect but good -- I don't recall much in the way of your suggesting what Israel should be doing about Hezbollah, nor what the US should be doing in Iraq.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at May 22, 2008 10:16 AM

BS yourself, DPU — innuendo is in the ears/ mind of the listener.

So if I were to imagine, for example, that you sounded like a child abuser that I should be free to say so without providing a reason for saying so?

Interesting world you live in. It explains, however, some of your bizarre reasoning, like heatedly objecting when I defend the side in Lebanon that you favor.

The dishonest, but typical right-wing ploy, is to manufacture flawed arguments in your head based on the imagined reasonings of supposed foes, present straw man debates, and when challenged to back up your absurd fantasies to fall back on "I imagine it in my head to it must be fact."

Pitiful.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at May 22, 2008 11:10 AM

This clearly implies no moral difference, based on atrocities, between the US and the enemy.

More idiocy. My original comment said that basing ones political support of whether atrocities were committed by one side or the other in a conflict was flawed, as atrocities occur on all sides. I said nothing about overall morality differences of the sides involved.

Pay attention now - YOU MADE THAT PART UP.

And then you defended that straw man argument by saying that because you imagined that I thought that, it must be so.

It's hard to take you seriously when you're just making up shit, Tom. And unless you're prepared to actually discuss what's being written rather than what you imagine is being thought, then you're a waste of everyone's time.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at May 22, 2008 11:19 AM

Interesting when people who know sweet F/A about Lebanon, not to mention Arabic and the Middle East, are forced to resort to calling names and calling people propagandists when they have zero experience themselves.

Anyway, they have proved themselves useless so no need to address them any further.

Michael,

You say Hizb'Allah's sole raison d entre is empowering Shi'ites in Lebanon. That seems to me to willfully ignorant of Lebanese history.

It wasnt controling Lebanon or empowering Shi'ites that caused Hizb'Allah to be formed, it was opposition and resistance to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon that caused it to be formed, along with protecting Shi'ite communities from the roaving bands of genocidal maniacs, many of whom now hold favoured status in Washington DC these days.

I think only a sectarian bigot would argue that the Shi'ites of Lebanon, the majority ethnic/religious group in the country, have proper and equitable representation. The question is just HOW one goes about fixing the issue, not IF it should be fixed.

As long as the majority group in Lebanon are sidelined and kept from a fair share of power the country will teeter on the edge of the abyss on a regular basis, with or without Hizb'Allah.

It could be worse, imagine the Amal thugs having the numbers, training and arms that Hizb'Allah does.

Hizb'Allah is a SYMPTOM of the issue, not the issue themselves. Erase Hizb'Allah from the map and another group would pop up to fight for the rights of the Shi'a for a fair share of the power in Lebanon.

You, Michael, have put the cart before the horse.

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at May 27, 2008 1:07 PM
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