May 10, 2008

Lebanonís Third Civil War

by Michael J. Totten

The third civil war has begun in Lebanon.

The first war was a short one. Sunni Arab Nationalists in thrall to Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser wanted to attach Lebanon to the United Arab Republic – a brief union of Egypt and Syria. An even larger bloc of Maronite Christians resisted. A nation cannot hold itself together when a large percentage of its population – roughly a third – wish to be annexed by foreign powers.

The second war was a long one. This time, Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization formed a state-within-a-state in West Beirut and South Lebanon and used it as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against Israel. Again, Lebanon’s Christians resisted, as did Lebanon’s Shias. The second civil war was actually a series of wars that were merely triggered by that first fatal schism.

The third civil war resembles both the first and the second. With Iranian money and weapons, Hezbollah has built its own state-within-a-state in South Lebanon and South Beirut which is used as a base to wage war against Israel. Hezbollah also wishes to violently yank Lebanon from its current pro-Western alignment into the Syrian-Iranian axis. Roughly one-fourth of the population supports this agenda. No country on earth can withstand that kind of geopolitical tectonic pressure. For more than a year members of Hezbollah have tried unsuccessfully to topple the elected government with a minimal use of force, but their patience is at an end and they have turned to war.

My old liberal Sunni neighborhood of Hamra near the American University of Beirut – the best in the Middle East – is now occupied by the private army of a foreign police state. Masked gunmen take up positions in a neighborhood of five star hotels, restaurants, and cafes (including a Starbucks) where students like to hang out while reading books by authors like Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. They burned down Prime Minister Fouad Seniora’s Future Movement headquarters building. They stormed the offices of TV and radio stations and threatened to dynamite the buildings if the reporters refused to stop broadcasting. They seized the property of Saad Hariri – son of the assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – and they control all the exits. Member of Parliament Ammar Houry’s house is now occupied. Al Arabiya says they attacked the Ottoman-era Grand Serail, the current prime minister’s office.

Hezbollah used automatic weapons, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and sniper rifles to seize all, if not most, of West Beirut. The only weapons its gunmen haven’t deployed are its Katyusha rockets, which are useless in urban warfare, and car bombs, which aren’t.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 10, 2008 2:01 PM
Comments

Hezbollah have pulled out of West Beirut.

Posted by: Microraptor Author Profile Page at May 10, 2008 3:05 PM

Can't be a civil war if only one side is capable of fighting.

This government really should resign and start a new round of elections.

THey make a decision to sack the head of the airport and to dismantle hezbollah's network and both those decision have now been over turned by hezbollah.

If they are unwilling, or more likely incapable, of confronting hezbollah, they should step aside.

On a related note, how come Iran's guys seem to be far better fighters than our guys?

Posted by: Joe Rushty Author Profile Page at May 10, 2008 5:17 PM

Mike,

There's a (minor) error in this, if you want to correct it:

"Hezbollah used automatic weapons, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and sniper rifles to seize all, if not most , of West Beirut.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at May 10, 2008 5:28 PM

Good and accurate analysis!

To answer Joe's question, there are many reasons.
1. When Syria occupied Lebanon, they banged on the heads of Sunni (who are Harriri supporter now) and kept them under tremendous pressure because the Syrians are afraid of the uprising of the Sunni in Syria.
2. When Harriri started having problems with Lahoud, the Sunni came to him and asked him for weapons. He refused and told them I don't give you weapons, I give you education, health service, but not weapons!
3. The government thought they can "rely" on the Army to keep law and order (big mistake), but the Army just watched the chaos!!!

Posted by: GK Author Profile Page at May 10, 2008 5:33 PM

In answer to Joe's question, here's a quote from The Guardian newspaper 10/05/2008

".....An air of defeat hung over the Sunni areas. "The Shia have won," said one young man, in Tareeq Jedida area on the Sunni side of Corniche al-Mazra'a "They [the Sunnis] pay me $100 to fight, the Shia are fighting for their beliefs, and man, they have been fighting for 25 years, we can't match them." "

Interesting that someone was paying this man money to fight when the FM supposedly don't have any militia., isn't it?

Posted by: Microraptor Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 3:19 AM

Microraptor: Interesting that someone was paying this man money to fight when the FM supposedly don't have any militia., isn't it?

The FM sure doesn't have much if they're paying some random barely trained guy 100 dollars to stave off an invasion.

Clearly "the Sunnis" have a few people with guns, but from what I can see, calling them a "militia" is giving them a bit too much (actually way too much) credit. They are awfully pathetic, can't fight, can't hold territory, have no training or experience, etc. Do they have ranks? Uniforms? Training facilities? Do they have anything that a real miltia would be expected to have? I'm not seeing it.

But yeah, there are a few guys with guns. Otherwise there wouldn't be any fighting. I just think you and I have a different idea of what "militia" means.

Hezbollah obviously has a real one. No one else in the country has anything even remotely like it. To say "FM has a militia that simply does not exist. It makes no sense to me to use the same word to describe the Future Movement and Hezbollah. They are too different.

If you want to use "miltia" for Future Movement, and "army" for Hezbollah, fine. Just please draw some kind of distinction with the language you use, or you'll get an argument from me as well as from others.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 6:53 AM

It looks like the Progressive Socialist Party has a bit more muscle than Future Movement. They're firing mortars at Hezbollah.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 7:14 AM

I wasn't sure what I thought about this issue for a while. I did enough reading, and I remembered the missing pieces.

I mean, you've got your pet theory, which is that everything will be fine in Lebanon if "Hizballah is destroyed" - leaving a nice big blank space about how that should be done, who should do it, or what would happen to the Lebanese in the process - but I personally doubt it.

I can agree with you that Hizballah is not a positive force in Lebanon, but your analysis doesn't pay much attention - any attention - to the fact that, like in Iraq, Shia are the largest demographic bloc in Lebanon, and they were, from what I've read, the serfs of the process for 100 years. And they still are.

Hizballah is right that the political system in Lebanon makes no sense. Quota systems are bad to begin with, but a quota system that automatically makes a Christian the president of the country and a Sunni the Prime Minister, and allots blocs in parliament on these quotas in a manner that undercounts Shias and overcounts Maronite Christians, is, in fact the real problem here. That doesn't make Hizballah blameless. It just means that you won't be able to 'solve' Hizballah until someone builds bridges to the Lebanese Shia: and you can't do that under the current political system.

So, Hizballah may be thugs, but they happen to be thugs on the right side of certain internal Lebanese political issues, as far as I can tell.

Your man Tony Badran, as far as I can tell, really does a serious disservice to his readers and yours by going way out of his way to totally obfuscate the actual issues and problems being discussed by Lebanese actors, and making this into a cheesy morality play. He reminds me of a Lebanese Ahmad Chalabi. I have seen no reason to believe otherwise.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 10:54 AM

I should also add that this might be a stage in a slow deterioration. Or it may not. But it's a little early to call it a civil war just yet. It took several hundred thousand deaths in Iraq before anyone was willing to use that label. What have we had here, fifteen? Fifteen deaths is not a war.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 10:56 AM

I mean, in all your four thousand columns on Lebanon, Mike, have you ever done an article in depth on how messed up is Lebanon's political system?

And if you were trying to 'fix' Iraq with a 'democratic parliament' that alloted half the seats to kurds, 25 percent to sunnis, and 25 percent to shia muslims - how well would that have gone, exactly? I mean, it's crazy. And not really democratic at all: it's minority rule. It's like giving black people three-fifths of a vote.

Lebanon will really never be at peace until the system is fixed. But that doesn't sell papers. Too wonky.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_Lebanon

The "Parliament of Lebanon" seat allocation says most of what needs to be said here.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 11:38 AM

Glasnost,

I agree that the system in Lebanon is effed up, but giving Hezbollah even more power right now is retarded. Use your brain. Hassan Nasrallah is the closest thing Lebanon has to a dictator. You think he's going to lay down his guns if he gets more seats in Parliament? Please.

Fidel Castro had some legitimate complaints about Cuba's Batista regime. So what? Everybody has grievances, including me. The bastards shot up my neighborhood and are allies with fascists who murdered one of my friends with a car bomb.

Your pet "electoral reform" cause will lead to Lebanon being ruled by masked men with AK-47s if implemented today. Get your priorities straight. That can wait.

You and naive people like you are why I can't call myself a liberal any more. Some tin pot fascist assholes come up with a grievance and you want to help. No. There are reasonable Shias in Lebanon who support electoral reform and oppose Hezbollah, and it doesn't even occur to you to support them instead.

First Hezbollah. Then reform. In that order only.

they were, from what I've read, the serfs of the process for 100 years.

Yes.

And they still are.

Oh, give me a break. Look at what they have just done. If the Republican Party pulled a stunt like that in Washington DC you would rightly call them fascists, not serfs.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 1:03 PM

This is my plan for how to get rid of Hizbolla. First let me just say that I do believe in the right of every oppressed people to resist oppression. This oppression does not have to come from a foreign occupying power either, it can well be an internal force too.

However, it is one thing to rationalise the the need for a resistance and it is another thing to say that this resistance has to be organised outside state apparatus and dominated by one political party.

Anyway, back to may plan:

1- Saniora government can not and should not go back now on its daring moves and realise that Hizbolla have now given it a pretext to play outside the existing rules of engagment, and hence should immediately send Commandor in Chief to retirement (his term is over this month anyway and he has accrued many holiday days so can leave immediately).
2- A pro-government Maronite with balls should be appointed instead.

3- The government then orders the army to fight all military groups including Hizbolla and restore order.

4- The government ask for immediate military and logistical support from allied nations and the UNIFIL and can do this through the Security Council.

5- Call for all reserves to turn out and declare a state of emergency.

The fall out will be that some Shia and pro-opposition officers will refuse to obey orders from the new commandor in chief. But this should be an accepted price to be paid. The important thing is that the internationally recognised armed forces are those under government control. Those will then benefit from immediate NATO countries air and navy support and will carry out the job on the ground.

This will quickly put lots of pressure on Hizbolla and force it to sit down with the government and agree on subtle disarment (integrating their core units into government military apparatus).

This is the only way I see the country can emerge from this crisis with a real solution. It does not involve sending foreign troops, it does not include different communities building alternative militias, and put Hizbolla in its place.

Posted by: Hitchhiker71 Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 1:34 PM

whew! glasnost! let's take a look at that...

there is a democratically elected government that controls part of Lebanon. it is an imperfect system, but far preferrable to the other option, which has been civil war. the other portion of the country is controlled by a strongman whose sole raison d'etre is to act as a proxie for two other countries to wage armed conflict against yet another country.

in addition to waging war against a another country from it's host country, normally something only a host country should be doing, the strongman seeks to destroy the democractic principles of the host country. while it most certainly does wish to rule, it has about as much use for democracy and it's institutions as it's two foreign sponsors have.

let me send you a news bulletin, they have absolutely no interest in participating in a democratic process under the current system or any other system. their only aim is power. for you to argue otherwise is an amazing and alarming display of naivete.

i will make no assumptions here, but the only people i ever hear talk this utter nonsense are people who hate george bush and/or israel so badly that they are willing to forgive anyone of any sin so long as their actions are bad for those two.

Posted by: bubarooni Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 3:03 PM

bubarooni: they have absolutely no interest in participating in a democratic process under the current system or any other system. their only aim is power.

Absolutely. This should be as obvious by now as a baseball bat to the face. If Glasnost's own neighborhood ever gets shot up by terrorists, maybe then he will begin to understand.

"Electoral reform." Give me a frigging break. Why would masked men with guns who can and do seize half a capital in two days and encounter virtually no resistance give a flying fuck about voting regulations are parliament seat distribution? They are more powerful than the entire government already.

There will be a lot more war in Lebanon, thanks to Hezbollah, the Baath Party, and the Islamic Republic. No one should be the slightest bit surprised when it comes.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 3:25 PM

I too remember reading books by authors like Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus.
And I remember in the same year learning how to effectively fire an M14 from 200, 300, and 500 yards from the prone, sitting, kneeling and standing positions including the use of the sling (loop and hasty).
An able and truly intelligent man or woman ought to have mastered these things as a teenager.

Word of the day - effete.

Posted by: Stephen_M Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 4:15 PM

MJT: "It looks like the Progressive Socialist Party has a bit more muscle than Future Movement. They're firing mortars at Hezbollah."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7394853.stm

Looks like Hezbollah's army have battered Jumblatt's militia (which he claimed until recently did not exist)

Posted by: Microraptor Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 4:37 PM

What is your point, Microraptor, by pointing out that Hezbollah doesn't own every gun in Lebanon? Are we supposed to think less of Walid Jumblatt because he isn't a 100 percent unarmed cowering victim? Lebanon isn't Britain where self-defense is a criminal offense.

If I were Jumblatt's advisor, I would tell him it's time to build a real army and dig in for real war. He is a fool if he does not. The government cannot defend itself or the country, and it's this way or Gaza.

I'm sorry it has come to this, but it has. The Lebanese parties that you like to rag on so much are going to build real militias now instead of relying on what are basically security guards.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 4:56 PM

"It's like giving black people three-fifths of a vote."

When did that ever happen? NOT in the US.

The blacks either had no vote or one vote: No one ever had 3/5 of a vote!

The three-fifths concept had to do with figuring out how many people were in a congressional district -- i.e., the census count (thereby affecting the number of seats in Congress a given state might have). It was agreed (as a compromise between one and zero) at the founding of the US Republic to give states with (large, but non-voting) slave populations only 3/5 credit for each slave, meaning that -- although they didn't get full credit for their entire populace -- they did at least receive partial credit. Thus, the big slave states (e.g., NC) were under-represented in Congress by a factor of [total population] minus (total slave population * 2/5).

Posted by: gunjam Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 6:01 PM

"Are we supposed to think less of Walid Jumblatt because he isn't a 100 percent unarmed cowering victim?"

Nah, I think less of him for massacring Christians.

But the huge cache of weapons being surrendered along with the men surrendering them lays bare the claim that there is only one militia in Lebanon.

Posted by: Joe Rushty Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 6:01 PM

If I were king (or, at least President of the US), I would send a Tomahawk missile onto Nasrallah's head the next time he began to rant in public.

The timidity of the US with regard to clowns like Chavez, Nasrallah, the Hamas gang-leaders, the clown in charge of Sudan, and the clown in charge of Iran, is truly remarkable.

With four or five Tomahawks, these clowns could all be removed.

The US needs to clear the decks of these trouble-makers, so it can begin to work in earnest with Japan, India, Korea, and Taiwan to plan for the next BIG ONE against China.

Additionally, I would send Marines for six-week clean-up deployments (with VERY loose rules of engagement) to Zimbabwe, Darfur, and, possibly, Lebanon. Those deployments could be repeated, as required.

Okay: /End political wet dream!

Posted by: gunjam Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 6:11 PM

A certain foreign power bombed Shia suburbs in Beirut -- I've seen the pictures, it was a mess -- and their government stood with their arms folded: "...it's not our job to defend 'those' people".

If that was you and your neighbours and family, you wouldn't take to the streets?

It's not that Hezbollah are not goons, but isn't the lesson of Iraq that success in the Middle East requires building bridges with everyone who has a legitimate grievance or stake in the process, even the goons? Besides which, Geagea and some of the Christian Right are goons of equal measure, whose apparent lack of militancy has simply stemmed from the fact that they benefit from the status quo.

Furthermore, both Syria and Iran -- not to mention the old colonial power, France -- have legitimate interests and connections in the region. This is not to say that the grievances and concerns of the US are not valid, simply that they are not grounds for war, and would not be solved by war.

Heeding -- or seeming to heed -- the calls of the Jews for the 'destruction' of these countries (well, not France), is grossly counterproductive. Much of our conflict with them, and Syria and Iran are emphatically not like Iraq under Saddam who was orders of magnitude worse than they, lies in their perception that the destruction the Jews would like to see is the in fact undeclared intention of the US.

Otherwise we'll be looking at one of those stupid, pointless, futile and costly wars the European powers of earlier centuries were so good at blundering in to...

Posted by: Kip Watson Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 6:45 PM

Kip Watson: Heeding — or seeming to heed — the calls of the Jews for the 'destruction' of these countries (well, not France), is grossly counterproductive. Much of our conflict...lies in their perception that the destruction the Jews would like to see is the in fact undeclared intention of the US.

Finally someone points to the real problem: Jews!

Even more insidious is the Jewish control of the Arab media. Every wondered why the Arab press publishes such appalling antisemitic crap all the time?

It's a deliberate ploy to make the Arabs look bad. If Arab editors refuse to publish a certain quota of antisemitic articles/cartoons they are fired, or worse. It's real culture of fear in those newsrooms.

Jewish infiltration of Iran is even worse, and beyond the scope of this discussion, really. There, Jews dominate political life as well as controlling the media. Jews (or rather, crypto-Jews) are also highly over-represented in the conservative judiciary and Revolutionary Guard. In reality, Jews are the ones blocking reform and funding anti-US militias in Iraq.

Of course, anyone who points this out is branded an "anti-semite."

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 7:23 PM

Edgar,

It's true, the view of the Arab press towards the Jews bears many similarities to the view of most the Right Wing blog-world towards Arabs and Muslims (I count myself a rare exception of the latter).

Firstly, the Arabs are notorious loud-mouths. Their press may be hyperbolic, but the Arabs states themselves heeded the painful lessons of 1973, and have made greater efforts to be good neighbours to Israel than the Jews have to them (although it would be wrong to say the Jews have made no positives efforts).

Secondly -- with the exception of the Palestinians, who especially under Arafat, have largely called upon themselves the misery they have endured -- the Jews have been less proportional than the Arabs in their response to tension and provocation. This is particularly true as regards Lebanon.

Since the 1980s, Israeli treatment of Lebanon has been wanton and grossly disproportionate. Hezbollah are in effect a Jewish creation, in that they arose as a valid resistance to the appalling 1980s invasion and occupation of Lebanon.

Many Jews also seem to be spoiling for an entirely avoidable fight with Syria and Iran (or rather for the USA to fight with Iran), when both states -- despite occasional Iranian rhetoric -- have show no signs of being enthusiastic (or even prepared) for war. In fact they are both highly vulnerable states with significant domestic problems, who are fully susceptible to rational diplomacy -- a fact the French and Russians understand better than we.

In the case of Syria, needlessly ramping up tensions is pushing them into ever riskier actions, such as expensive and dangerous attempts to secure a nuclear deterrent.

Thirdly, because both of these squabbling Middle Eastern sects are bad, should we then throw our weight behind the side we know best and push for war? Should we, like the Kaiser toward Austria-Hungary, give the Jews a 'blank cheque' and hope to come out winners of the ensuing war?

That would truly be global strategy 19th Century style...

Posted by: Kip Watson Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 8:11 PM

Are we supposed to think less of Walid Jumblatt because he isn't a 100 percent unarmed cowering victim?”

Nah, I think less of him for massacring Christians.

But the huge cache of weapons being surrendered along with the men surrendering them lays bare the claim that there is only one militia in Lebanon.

Posted by: zdracks Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 8:34 PM

Are we supposed to think less of Walid Jumblatt because he isn't a 100 percent unarmed cowering victim?”

Nah, I think less of him for massacring Christians.

But the huge cache of weapons being surrendered along with the men surrendering them lays bare the claim that there is only one militia in Lebanon.

Posted by: zdracks Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 8:35 PM

Are we supposed to think less of Walid Jumblatt because he isn't a 100 percent unarmed cowering victim?”

Nah, I think less of him for massacring Christians.

But the huge cache of weapons being surrendered along with the men surrendering them lays bare the claim that there is only one militia in Lebanon.

Posted by: zdracks Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 8:35 PM

Are we supposed to think less of Walid Jumblatt because he isn't a 100 percent unarmed cowering victim?”

Nah, I think less of him for massacring Christians.

But the huge cache of weapons being surrendered along with the men surrendering them lays bare the claim that there is only one militia in Lebanon.

Posted by: zdracks Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 8:36 PM

Well at least Dip, I mean Kip, doesn't shilly-shally around with that "Zionist" stuff - he comes right out and blames it all on the Joooos.
Considering the fact that antisemites are invariably nitwits, misfucks and born losers he may have revealed more than he wished.

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 9:46 PM

Michael: why do you and most other commenters characterize these wars as civil (i.e. internal) wars? Lebanon has suffered invasion and occupation by FOREIGN forces - Syria, the PLO, and Iran (and yes, their Lebanese proxies whom they train, arm, finance and direct.)

I realize it is the "conventional wisdom", but to call these invasions civil wars is a disservice and injustice to Lebanon and its people. This is the narrative the Arabists and Islamists and their Western Leftist enablers have been using for decades to camouflage the PLO/Syrian/Iranian invasions, and to discourage Western military action against Syria and Iran (by minimising the role of those countries, and by painting a picture of a "sectarian hornet's nest of a quagmire” that no one would want to get involved with).

Characterising these wars as civil (i.e. internal) is like pointing to the treasonous French Vichy goverment in WWII France and calling the Nazi occupation of France a “French civil war”.

Sure, there are many, many, many Lebanese who are guilty of everything from apeasement to treason, but there is a much more important issue to be dealt with (within Lebanon and internationally) - namely the expansion of the Iranian-Fascist-Islamist empire.

Posted by: Tony_LC Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 9:53 PM

I wrote:

"This is the narrative the Arabists and Islamists and their Western Leftist enablers have been using for decades to camouflage the PLO/Syrian/Iranian invasions, and to discourage Western military action against Syria and Iran"

A perfect example of these western enablers: Glasnost and Kip Watson above, spreading the myth that Lebanse Shia have been oppressed by their countrymen and political system.

For your information, Lebanon is a constitutional republic, not a democracy, meaning your rights are protected by the constitution, not how many people who look or pray like you represent you in parliament.

Shia enjoyed the same freedoms in liberal, free-market lebanon as anyone else. Their poverty is caused not by opression, but by a very high brith rate (which increased ther poulation from smallest of the major sects to the largest in one generation) and the fact Hizb Allah have been waging war from their regions for the last 20 years. Not to mention that a large segment of Shia hold a world view hostile to economic and cultural development, including the opression of women.

Please get your facts straight, gentlemen.

Posted by: Tony_LC Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 10:20 PM

Kip Watson: Hezbollah are in effect a Jewish creation

Exactly. And tellingly, the media never mentions Nasrallah's Jewish roots.

He wasn't born "Hassan Nasrallah" - that's for sure.

He was born in 1960 in Smolensk, Russia as "Hershel Natanowicz." He immigrated to Israel in the late 1970s and became an agent for the Mossad. He took an assignment as an undercover operative in Lebanon, rising through the ranks of Hezbollah until he reached the very top of the organization.

He's as Jewish as Katz's Deli.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 10:53 PM

May I please point out something else...

The terrible civil war of the 70s and 80s was ended by the invasions of the Israelis and Syrians. Both invasions were initially justified, although such justification can be -- and was to some degree on both sides -- nullified by unjust policies towards the occupied people.

The Syrians are often blamed more for mistreating the Lebanese, because they stayed longer, they are not a democracy and they don't have a vast and powerful constituency in the West. The Jews are let off the hook, because they are our allies.

However, although they outstayed their welcome, the area of Lebanon occupied by Syria slowly returned to normal -- the area devastated by Israel is now 'Hezbollah-land'.

Syria have thus demonstrated, despite being a highly flawed society, some genuine good-neighbourliness towards Lebanon and its people, and on that basis I think Syria deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to accusations of assassination, subversion, dreams of conquest and the like.

Posted by: Kip Watson Author Profile Page at May 11, 2008 11:36 PM

Kip, I am only going to warn you once about ranting against "the Jews."

Syria have thus demonstrated, despite being a highly flawed society, some genuine good-neighbourliness towards Lebanon and its people

Fuck you. The Syrian regime killed a friend and colleague of mine with a car bomb because he wrote articles against the regime and in favor of democracy for the people of Syria.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 12, 2008 2:47 AM

Kip, I see from your blog that you're a big fan of Vladimir Putin. Any other dictators you feel like lending moral support to?

Prediction: You won't last long here.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 12, 2008 2:52 AM

"....the Arabs states themselves heeded the painful lessons of 1973, and have made greater efforts to be good neighbours to Israel than the Jews have to them......"

What planet is this guy on?

Posted by: Yehudit Author Profile Page at May 12, 2008 6:42 AM

I dont know where to begin. It isnt as nearly as simple as the original article would have us think. Even if there wasnt Iranian, or American, backing of groups in Lebanon there would still be a crisis and pending war.

Even if there was not the real issues of spheres of influence, for which BOTH Iran and the USA or fighting for, there would be fighting.

It all goes back to the unfair and unjust system of government at play in Beirut. Until it is more fair, more reflective of current demographics, it wont matter if the USA and Iran stop sending in hundreds of millions in cash and arms.

BTW, one poster said something that the Hariri/Sunni camp are those who opposed Syrian all along, this couldnt be farther from the truth.

Hariri, for years, was Syria's man in Lebanon and enjoyed very friendly relations with the Syrian apparatus in Lebanon.

Jumblatt, one of the main Hairi/March 14th leaders was also an ally of Syria and has the blood of thousands of people on his hands as his fighters fought side by side with Syrian troops.

Michael,

The FM has had hundreds of millions of dollars spent on fighters and weapons. But they havent had the time to develope their fighters like Hizb'Alllah have. You can pour hundreds of millions into militias like FM have and if you dont have proper training and time to develope them it will be a waste. Besides, I dont think any of the FM militia believe enough in what they are doing to die for it.

That is EXACTLY where the FM thugs differ from the Hizb'Allah thugs. They both have loads of money and arms, one side has had years to train and is very efficient and willing to die, the other side hasnt had the time and isnt willing to die.

It is interesting that everyone talks about Iranian/American/Syrian intervention and invasiosn of Lebanon, yet no one has talked about the Israeli inventions.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the early 1980s is the founding action of Hizb'Allah. Unlike Hamas, Israel certainly did not provide funding or arms, but their invasion was the action that allowed for the formation of Hizb'Allah.

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at May 12, 2008 7:56 AM

Kip Dip might not last, but the point about the ex-Syria occupied part of Lebannon vs. the ex-Israeli occupied part of Lebannon has some useful points to discuss.

1) I believe Israel wasn't trying to incite anti-Syrian terrorists, but Syria WAS trying to incite anti-Jewish terrorists.
Lesson: foreign incitement against an outer enemy can be effective.

2) Israel, like France, Portugal, Spain, most now EU countries except the UK, has done a lousy job of colonization and post-colonization development. After leaving, the Euro neo-Socialists leave a mess. When Israel has left a place, it's a mess.
(It is probably the case that "post-colonialism" after WWII is a bigger world changing force than Cold War post-War political alignment, but the coincidence in time allows the post-colonialistic changes and issues to be called post-war issues.)

Israel was founded on Socialist Zionist dreams -- the only place in the world that experimented with the Marxian nonsense of taking children away from parents so that they could be raised "equally", in a kibbutz. I think over 90% of the land in Israel is owned by the state, not private persons.

Big gov't might work OK when the gov't people are pretty good, and NOT tribal. It's terrible when the gov't people are tribal. (Israeli politics might indicate too much tribalism) In the 1992 "Jihad vs McWorld", the subtitle mentions tribalism, perhaps the most important modernization issue.

Perhaps it's time for the Northern Part of Lebannon to follow Slovenia's lead, and declare Independence and a new, separate, Shia excluding "Phonecia" or "Levant". Then Hezbollah can be the defacto gov't of "Lebannon", meaning S. Lebannon, and the other 3/5s can begin to normalize relations with the rest of the world.

Cyprus is split, so is Haiti (Hispaniola), so is Czecho-slovakia. Aren't two separate, independent small countries without a civil war better than one WITH a civil war?

Michael, are any of your friends thinking of anything like this?

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at May 12, 2008 8:07 AM

Of course, separation might sound crazy coming from somebody whose fingers keep typing Lebanon with an extra n. Oops.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at May 12, 2008 8:10 AM

Hassan Nasrallah is the closest thing Lebanon has to a dictator. You think he's going to lay down his guns if he gets more seats in Parliament? Please.

There are reasonable Shias in Lebanon who support electoral reform and oppose Hezbollah, and it doesn't even occur to you to support them instead.

I haven't said anything about supporting Hizballah. I've said that the system in Lebanon is messed up, which you agree with. I have said that the problems with the system are a serious reason why the conflict continues, which you seem to disagree with.

But your math doesn't add up.

Roughly one-fourth of the population supports this agenda.

So, if 25% of Lebanon supports Hizballah, then I fail to see how ending the nondemocratic, disproportional allocation of extra seats to Christians will give Hizballah-aligned people more than 25%. Hizballah obviously isn't killing off those non-Hizballah supporting Shias you refer to, or you wouldn't have met them.

By refusing to support reform until Hizballah magically dissapears, you allow Hizballah to remain. Thugs advocating on behalf of legitimate grievances are given power beyond what they would have if they were just thugs with guns.

First Hezbollah. Then reform. In that order only

"First" Hizballah is a phrase with no meaning. What, pray tell, exactly do you mean by "first"? First The US Army comes in and kills 10,000 Hizballese and US + Hizb + various third parties, tribes and sectoral militias kills 300,000 other people?

Or "First"... something good happens + Hizballah is gone somehow = then you can have electoral reform?

I don't know. Maybe there's another way to mollify the Shia that will make them feel like they have the 40% of Parliament they demographically ought to have without handing the country to Nasrallah.

You seem pretty convinced that Nasrallah doesn't have the support of the Shia universally. If he doesn't, going to real democracy in Lebanon would be a great way to demonstrate that, and it would really break his power if he was opposed by his own sect.

If he does have the support of his whole sect, than he wins the elections.
If you support democracy when your friends win but not when your enemies win, you're not a democrat.
No matter how violent Lebanon gets - even if genuine civil war breaks out - there will eventually be a return to coexistence with governments decided by a popular vote. Only sometime after that starts happening, will Lebanon become a functional state.

The system you're endlessly putting off changes to until this or that boogeyman is destroyed, is responsible for the sectarian identity that is the cause of all three civil wars in Lebanon.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 12, 2008 10:09 AM

Glasnost's own neighborhood ever gets shot up by terrorists, maybe then he will begin to understand.

About the time this started getting personal to you, Mike, you stopped being useful as an analyst. You're not alone, of course. Right now in Iraq, a lot of people had their neighborhoods shot up by 'terrorists', or whomever, and they basically started thinking like this:

they have absolutely no interest in participating in a democratic process under the current system or any other system. their only aim is power.

The Sunnis and the Shias started thinking that about each other, and then they went out and acted on those beliefs. The result was... Iraq. Circa 2006.

The airtight conviction that the other guy is out to unconditionally f*ck the system is almost as destructive to the system as the airtight determination to f*ck it yourself.

You're way too certain about things you can't and shouldn't be certain about. There are a lot of thresholds yet to be crossed in Lebanon. And they shouldn't be. When you stop calculating the other guy's actions but simply assume he is SatanHitler, you have become not only irrational, but likely to act in a manner that brings further net chaos.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 12, 2008 10:25 AM

Glasnost: About the time this started getting personal to you, Mike, you stopped being useful as an analyst.

Whatever.

The Sunnis and the Shias started thinking that about each other

Well, they were correct about the Sunni and Shia militias. The fact that the situation was disastrous doesn't make them wrong about the intentions of their enemies.

The airtight conviction that the other guy is out to unconditionally f*ck the system is almost as destructive to the system as the airtight determination to f*ck it yourself.

It's obvious that Hezbollah is fucking the system. If you can't see that, you are willfully blind. You woulnd't be if you were actually in Lebanon and had to dodge bullets and rockets.

What would you say about the Republican Party if they acted like Hezbollah in Lebanon? You need to seriously think about your answer to that question even if you don't answer it publicly.

There are a lot of thresholds yet to be crossed in Lebanon.

Yes.

And they shouldn't be.

We'll see if you still think that when Hezbollah crosses another threshold, or if you'll find an excuse for that one, as well.

Question: Does self-defense count as crossing a threshold, or is resistance to somebody other than Zionists allowed?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 12, 2008 11:00 AM

Marc: The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the early 1980s is the founding action of Hizb'Allah.

That's half of it. The arrival of Iran's Revolutionary Guards is the other half.

Marc: The FM has had hundreds of millions of dollars spent on fighters and weapons. But they havent had the time to develope their fighters like Hizb'Alllah have.

That's possible. But here's what I want to know: Where are these people being trained, and by whom? I have seen this sort of thing in Iraq, but not in Lebanon. Lebanon is a microscopically small, only half the size of Israel, and Israel is tiny. It would be hard to hide training camps. We've all heard about the "Hariri militia," but no one has ever seen it that I am aware of. Maybe Hariri did tell them to stand down and only sent glorified security guards after Hezbollah. I don't know.

What I do know is that there are all kinds of idiotic "theories" in Lebanon, and that I tend not to trust rumours about things I have not seen with my eyes or seen documented authoritatively.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 12, 2008 11:34 AM

Question: Does self-defense count as crossing a threshold, or is resistance to somebody other than Zionists allowed?

If Hizballah extra-legally comes over to a government building and says 'get out', I respect people who don't cave in to unsanctioned coercion. And if Hizballah then tries to shoot them, they'd have no choice to defend themselves.

Hopefully, sometime after that and before that kind of behavior spreads across the country as a whole, third parties can convince the respective chains of command to back off the throttle. If they can do that, fifteen people die, instead of five hundred, or five thousand.

I don't think, if a US diplomat was looking at press coverage and trying to decide if his *ss would be covered in trying to work out a de-escalation of this conflict, that this blog would fall into the "support" side. Nor are you obligated to, of course. But if you want to know where I'm coming from, that's where. The media - including your pals - are not on the side of the peacemakers, that's how I feel. We're naive liberals. We should be sidelined for people with more beligerrent postures but no clear plan. Right?

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 12, 2008 1:28 PM

Glasnost: I don't think, if a US diplomat was looking at press coverage and trying to decide if his *ss would be covered in trying to work out a de-escalation of this conflict, that this blog would fall into the “support” side.

Of course I want the violence de-escalated (especially since Hezbollah is winning). Why on earth would you think otherwise? Do you think I'm happy about the recent turn of events?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 12, 2008 2:20 PM

My friend Charles Malik, who is actually in West Beirut, remarks on the so-called "Hariri militia."

--

Who is the fixer for the LA Times in Beirut? Why is the LA Times feeding into the anti-government, pro-Hezbollah propaganda machine?

This story is a lame attempt to make it seem like the Sunni pro-government Future Movement had a militia fighting against Hezbollah. Despite what is written at the beginning of the article, the author somewhat comes clean about what she insinuates by noting towards the end that Sunni security for leader Saad Hariri were not even allowed to have guns.

The author tries to paint security company Secure Plus as something akin to Blackwater. The truth is that Secure Plus is a glorified private security company. They train their staff to a greater extent than security guards who monitor parking garage cameras, but do not train them in military tactics on how to launch RPGs and take and control terrain, similar to Hezbollah. Given the number of assassinations in Beirut in recent history, these guards are trained in evasive maneuvers in order to get their leader out of a bind quickly. These tactics often involve a lot of pushing and fast driving.

Hariri's private security does not have the training or experience to take on an army.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 12, 2008 2:35 PM

Michael, it's your website and a man is master of his domain so to speak, so I won't comment any more.

One last remark though if I may be so impertinent:

Instead of speaking about the Jews, I thought of a construction like "Israel and her supporters in the West", but thought does everything in contemporary life still have to be written in code? Isn't that more insulting than speaking plainly? We're all grown-ups aren't we?

Posted by: Kip Watson Author Profile Page at May 12, 2008 3:29 PM

MJT: The bastards shot up my neighborhood and are allies with fascists who murdered one of my friends with a car bomb.

Mike, I understand you are pissed off about the unfolding drama in Lebanon, as many of us are.

But you're using the death of Samir Kassir in a cynical way to get the upper hand in arguments. You have attacked Hizballah several times in his name. That is simply not right.

I understand this man was an acquaintance of yours in Lebanon, but I'm sure if he was alive today, he would not like his name used as a weapon against your opponents.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at May 12, 2008 6:49 PM

Of course I want the violence de-escalated (especially since Hezbollah is winning). Why on earth would you think otherwise?

Well, you're hosting an essay that I suggest is rather unkind to people promoting a message of de-escalation.

Second.. well, I can't put my finger on it. I just don't read your article as promoting a message of calm and mediation. You haven't seemed to notice the lack of American efforts to get people talking to each other or agreeing on a set of behaviors or a resolution. Your coverage just doesn't seem to be suggesting that everyone needs to take a deep breath and back off. Maybe it's your closing argument.

If the Shia have decided that now is the time to round up all their political opposition, put them in camps or liquidate them, and assume the position of the Fidel Castros of Lebanon, then perhaps that sort of thing is futile. It doesn't seem to be working out that way, though, which suggests that it is not futile. It's not being done, though.

I suspect that it could, however, probably be done. The equation needs to be changed, and airstrikes aren't going to do it.

I'll tell you who might be able to offer Hizb significant incentives: Israel. Along the lines of : behave and we promise not to kill you. But I don't see any signs that that kind of avenue is being explored. The US administration is hoisted on its own petard - we hate Hizballah and work for their destruction regardless of whether their behavior is restrained or not restrained, so they have no incentive to listen to us, which is cool because we're not trying to talk to them anyway.
According to our own policy, We have nothing to offer them and nothing to threaten them with.
That may not be absolutely and literally true, but that's basically our public posture - nothing to offer because we have a zero-tolerance, f*ck-you-all-the-time policy, and nothing to threaten with because, well, we're busy, and because Hizb is rather resistant to air force coercion.

Shrug. Maybe I'm wrong and a few US airstrikes would settle the situation back down. I'm skeptical, though. In the meantime, our attitude is writing checks we can't cash.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 12, 2008 7:09 PM

I was thinking that our approach towards Hizballah kind of reminds me of Hizballah and/or Hamas: approach towards Israel: We hate you and we're waiting for you to disappear, but we have no conceivable plan to do it. Heck, we don't even have a plan to get to a place where we might possibly be able to execute a plan to do it.

In the meantime, in both cases, we make policy basically just for the purpose of empowering our wrath and (to different, varying degrees) self-justifying moral outrage, to no obvious benefit for our respective constituencies or to our own movements - except possibly vis-a-vis the domestic prestige of the second, vs. the first.

It's a little dumber for Hizballah and Hamas because they don't even have, nor will ever have, nor have any idea or plan to be able to, destroy Israel, whereas we could in theory wipe Hizballah out if we wanted to. But since, in the real world, the chance of our doing anything like that is indistinguishable from zero percent, we are similarly just p*ssing in the wind, rather than establishing a modus operandi.

Anything you can't or won't disarm or destroy - which includes us, in relation to them - you're best off finding ways to deal with. Because you're coexisting whether you like it or not. Yelling and screaming about it doesn't change the facts.

Hey, but if you can accumulate power in your own nation by choosing machismo over common sense, there's no incentive to stop, for everyone.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 13, 2008 5:31 AM

You have attacked Hizballah several times in his name. That is simply not right.

I don't immediately understand your point, Edgar. Mike blames Hizballah for, i suppose to understate from his perspective, continuing to support the Syrians who probably killed the man.

That seems reasonable to me. I don't think he's suggested that Hizballah personally killed the guy.
I mean, I like the idea as much as the next naive liberal that Hizballah prefers not to kill Lebanese dissenters, but I don't think it's, to understate again, firmly established.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 13, 2008 5:53 AM

glasnost: I don't immediately understand your point

I can't speak for Edgar, but I think his point was more to the issue of using the murder of Samir Kassir to end debate on the issue. I can understand why Michael very emotional here, but to make these sorts of claims to emotion (ie. killed my friend/acquiantance, shot up my area) are not ment to further debate, but rather to stifle it. At least that's the way I've interpreted them in the way they've been presented.

Posted by: JohnDakota Author Profile Page at May 13, 2008 6:39 AM

No, it's not about absolving Hizballah of blame nor because I think Michael is stifling debate.

It's just not respectful to keep mentioning a car bomb victim to add a personal dimension to your anger. Even if it was a close friend or relative it would be in poor taste, but perhaps understandable.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at May 13, 2008 9:05 AM

Edgar: But you're using the death of Samir Kassir in a cynical way to get the upper hand in arguments.

My intention isn't to shut down debate (that's what banning people is for) or to win the upper hand, but to counter naivety about what Hezbollah is. They aren't after electoral reform, as Glasnost seems to believe. They are burning down media offices and erecting the portraits of a tyrant who murdered a man for proposing democracy (ie, electoral reform) inside Syria. They are fascists, not liberal activists.

Someone once said a liberal is a person who can't take his own side in an argument. Glasnost is exhibiting that tendency in this thread.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 13, 2008 9:06 AM

I posted while you did, apparently.

That makes sense. It's easier for some people to understand when you give a specific example from personal experience.

Apologies for misunderstanding you.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at May 13, 2008 9:08 AM

By the way, I'm not half as emotional about this as I probably appear. Not at this point. Lebanon is doomed, and I accepted that fact two years ago when the IDF barged in again.

Just wait and see what happens next time displaced Shia refugees from the next Israeli assault show up in Beirut and want hospitality. Things will get extremely ugly even by Lebanon's standards.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 13, 2008 9:08 AM

Barry Rubin explains the Obama/Hizballah/Jew hatred thing.

Riding The Tiger

Let me give you the punch lines:

In effect, Obama without realizing it, is arguing for a Syrian-, Iranian-, and Hizballah-dominated Lebanon. Such talk makes moderate Arabs despair.

I sent him an email in which I said:

Barry,

The "moderate" Arabs have helped convince the American left that the Palestinians have just grievances. All the rest follows from that. They are reaping what they have sown.

Most unfortunate.

His reply was quite instructive:

Yes, that is absolutely true and I have often used the example of "riding the tiger" and being unable to get off.

Posted by: M. Simon Author Profile Page at May 13, 2008 4:59 PM

They aren't after electoral reform, as Glasnost seems to believe.

You're not capturing me accurately. My comments have been mostly confronting a) what seems to me like an analysis, tone and logic demanding military escalation, and b) the disparaging of diplomacy, professionals who engage in it, and presidential candidates that appear to support it.

I've also c) suggested that Lebanon's sectarian, undemocratic political allocation system is a fundamental cause of sectarian division, and thus a prime cause of this war: of the conditions that led to Hizballah being a Shiite phoenomenon, that led to its character, its alienation from the rest of the political landscape, and that shapes its current behavior. I further argued that electoral reform is a necessary precondition to keeping conflict and violence low, and that it should happen ASAP, meaning tomorrow. It might not be as neat and tidy a de-esalatory event as "Hizballah disappears / is disarmed", but since there is no clear way to do that at an acceptable cost, this would be a good alternative way to start breaking up the political dysfunction and oppositional structure that has been a major factor in what's happening now.

So, electoral reform is only one of Hizballah's goals. Their varied motivations for that goal are a topic of speculation, but I have a feeling that one reason they have so much Shia support is because both they and the larger Shia community see this as a good and just goal. And that's because it is, by Western empirical norms, a good goal.

Now, the core clause:

When thugs get behind good causes, COIN 101 is to separate the thugs from the good causes by implementing the changes demanded by the good causes.
The principle also applies to peacemaking and weakening thugs with or without soldiers on the ground. You seem to have lost sight of this completely, Mike, and you have avoided representing my point as I name it here.

My opinions are not based on a belief that Hizballah is equitable to the ACLU. But, like I said, they're also not based on your gut-level worst-case, maximum-maevolence model.

Hizballah has a multiple-entity goal set. In fact, it has several of them, one for Nasrallah, one for inner leadership, one for rank-and-file members, one for passive supporters, and so on. The goals for all the sets are in constant flux and are not clearly defined to begin with in many cases.

One thing that's clear is that, in conflict with the need of the Sunni community for self-defense, there's a lot more capacity for Hizb violence not yet being implemented. And that escalation is likely to provoke.. more escalation.

In any event, they're not robots. They don't implement the most violent plan devisable in all circumstances. Some of their conflicting goals at some organizational level probably include minimizing violence, in conflict with other self-interested goals for which violence have been authorized and rationalized. The actions that output from that calculus are influencable. It's not a straight line from here to a massive military confrontation with Hizb. (a la the last line of your commentary). That may or may not happen, but it's not inevitable. That's a fallacy.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 13, 2008 5:29 PM

Old Leb'nan was ruled by a bunch of strongmen who kept their people in line by making them paranoid of the intentions of other sects. Name a hereditary leader, a godfather of a Lebanese sect, and I will say back to you the same name but I will be naming a murderer, a butcherer a criminal against God and Mankind; The Jumblatts, The Hariris, The Gaymayals, The Geageas, these men are the shame of Leb'nan. Assad's reign was harsh, many people disappeared in the middle of the night, many people died before their time, but don't forget he was invited in adn supported by the Jumblatts, The Hariris. The Gaymayals and Geagea invited and collaborated with the IDF instead; such saints. At the end of the day, foreigners have rarely been the cause of Leb'nan's ills. As long as the confessional strongman system stands, Lebanese will find ways to convince outsiders to contribute to their internal squabbles.

Geagea, Hariri, Jumblatt and Gaymayal all hate each other but each understands that Hizb-e-allah is beginning to blur the lines between sects. Pro-Hizb-e-allah druze are willing to die to fight other Druze, pro-Hizb-e-allah sunnis are willing to die to fight other sunnis, Pro-hizb-e-allah christians against other christians. What you are seeing is the death of the old ways and the birth of new ways. And yes it's all probably engineered by guys living in Teh'ran. So what? No one else seems interested enough or clever enough for the job. Maybe it's time to give up the hate, forget dreams of vengeance and reconcile with what Leb'nan is, not what Leb'nan should be, otherwise another generation will be doomed to car bombings , snipers and all the rest. Hizb-e-allah and her allies have chosen to be magnanimous in victory what more should one ask from merciful god.

Posted by: Azr@el Author Profile Page at May 16, 2008 6:32 AM
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