May 14, 2009

Brace for a Hezbollah Victory

Brace yourself for a possible Hezbollah victory in Lebanon. On June 7, 2009, Lebanese voters will go to the polls, and even some in Beirut’s current “March 14″ government think the Hezbollah-led “March 8″ coalition might squeak out a win.

Lebanon, though, isn’t Gaza. A “March 8″ upset at the ballot box, if it happens, won’t come about the same way Hamas won the last Palestinian elections. Palestinians had only two viable parties to choose from, Fatah and Hamas. One Palestinian I know said Fatah’s corrupt men were so hated that even then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert might have won if he stood for election against them.

Politics are much more complicated in Lebanon. The country is so ideologically fractious it makes Iraq look cohesive. Lebanon has almost as many political parties as people, yet most end up in one absurdly diverse coalition or the other. Not everyone in the anti-Syrian “March 14″ camp is a liberal democrat, and not everyone on the “March 8″ side is a jihadist.

“March 14″ includes both right-wing Christians and the Muslim Brotherhood, for instance. They agree on Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah being menaces, but little else. Liberal Christians, libertarian Sunnis, disgruntled Shias, and most of the Druze are there, too.

Hezbollah leads the “March 8″ bloc, but is just one part of it. The Party of God is joined by the secular Shia Amal party because the two make a formidable duo in promoting Shia interests within Lebanon’s sectarian political system.

Michel Aoun’s predominantly Christian Free Patriotic Movement viscerally fears and loathes Saudi Arabia. And the Aounists, for now anyway, would rather forge a cynical tactical alliance with Syria, Iran, and the radical Shias than get in bed with Wahhabis and the rest of the Arab world.

The Aounists are just using Hezbollah because they think it’s expedient and convenient. “The situation in the South is finished,” one of them told me, referring to the violent conflict between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006. “If it happens again, [Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan] Nasrallah will lose his case.” “We’ll extend our hand and ask them to join us,” said another. “But we can’t wait forever. If they refuse to disarm, we’ll crack the sh*t out of them.”

Hezbollah supporters themselves are all over the place ideologically. Many thrill to jihad and the destruction of Israel as the leadership does. Others believe Hezbollah’s military strength is Lebanon’s only defense against an impending Israeli invasion. They want deterrence, not war, and simply fail to understand that a disarmed Hezbollah is their best bet for peace and quiet. They are bombarded daily with hysterical propaganda on Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV and in Hezbollah’s schools against the supposedly warmongering “Zionist Entity.” Others simply reward Hezbollah with votes out of gratitude for their network of hospitals, schools, and other humanitarian fronts.

On my last trip to Lebanon, several “March 14″ supporters made a convincing case that daily life in Lebanon wouldn’t change much if “March 8″ won in June. Hezbollah has the freedom to do whatever it wants even now, because Lebanon’s government has always been weak and a hair’s breadth away from irrelevance no matter who runs it. Hezbollah itself is only expected to win ten parliamentary seats out of a total of 128. That’s less than eight percent.

Geopolitically though, everything will change. Lebanon’s current “March 14″ government is an ally of the West and of Arab governments other than Syria’s. Prime Minister Fouad Seniora has repeatedly – and I think honestly – stated he wants a renewed armistice agreement with Israel. A “March 8″ government would reverse all those diplomatic efforts and push Lebanon back into, or at the very least toward, the Syria-Iran axis. War prospects with Israel would increase, and any eventual war would almost certainly turn out more destructive than the last one if the people of Lebanon willingly elect a coalition led by a jihadist party vowing war and destruction.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 14, 2009 11:24 AM
Comments

Do you speak Arabic, Michael?

Posted by: molly Author Profile Page at May 14, 2009 12:39 PM

Do you speak Arabic, Michael?

Posted by: molly Author Profile Page at May 14, 2009 12:39 PM

Do you speak Hebrew, Molly?

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at May 14, 2009 1:21 PM

I want to "correct" some of what mentioned in the article.
"The Aounists are just using Hezbollah because they think it’s expedient and convenient. “The situation in the South is finished,” one of them told me, referring to the violent conflict between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006. “If it happens again, [Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan] Nasrallah will lose his case.” “We’ll extend our hand and ask them to join us,” said another. “But we can’t wait forever. If they refuse to disarm, we’ll crack the sh*t out of them.”"

1. Aoun does not "fears and loathes Saudi Arabia" just because he does not like it. It is because it is between him and the presidency of Lebanon. Aoun wants to be a president of Lebanon, anyone who supports him is his friend and anyone who does not support him to be a president is his enemy.
2. There is no wahabbis in Lebanon (may be an insignificant number!)
3. Unfortunately, Hizbullah is too strong “now” to be disarmed by anyone in Lebanon. As long as Aoun is an ally to Hizbullah, it is impossible to disarm Hizbullah. The only way to disarm it is by cutting its weapons supply and strengthen the Lebanese Army to force Hizbullah to disarm.

Posted by: GK Author Profile Page at May 14, 2009 2:57 PM

GK,

Yes, the Aounists are nuts. Lebanon has a only microscopic number of Wahhabis, if that. But I've heard even Hariri's people described as the vanguard of the Wahhabis, asinine as that is.

Lebanese have a vivid imagination.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 14, 2009 3:09 PM

"Lebanese political coalitions are ever-shifting kaleidoscopes. All internal alliances are unstable." Michael Totten's words.
I love his word "kaleidoscopes"....not singular, but plural.
All we Americans can realistically expect from our new naive idealistic administration is more Obamitudes. We can't be expected to solve this mess.
We'd be wisest now to prepare for planeloads of United Nations humanitarian aid to be sent to Beirut. Let the UN handle all of the expected aftermath this time; let the UN take all the flak which ordinarily would be aimed at America. Let the Moslem/Islamic factions in the UN sort out these kaleidoscopic bits. Why America each time? Others in that area have massive sovereign reserves. This is not our problem to solve any more.
We've tried too often.

Posted by: Morningside Author Profile Page at May 14, 2009 6:08 PM

Can't wait for June 7th!

Posted by: GK Author Profile Page at May 14, 2009 6:53 PM

Lebanon has a only microscopic number of Wahhabis, if that..

There are a lot of Saudis, and they do wield considerable influence. However most of the Saudis (except for the al Qaeda who were in the Palestinian camps/Tripoli) seem to take a vacation from being Wahhabi while they're in Lebanon.

Since the Saudis are influential, Aoun's alliance with Hezbollah and Syria does make a little bit more sense.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at May 14, 2009 7:17 PM

Since the Saudis are influential, Aoun's alliance with Hezbollah and Syria does make a little bit more sense.

Yes. They're picking their poison. But they're picking the wrong poison. I get where they're coming from on some of this stuff, but geez. Choosing Nasrallah over Hariri? (Eyeroll.)

I had dinner in Hariri's house. He's no different from the Christians personally and culturally. Nasrallah's bunker ought to give a nightclub-hopping Aounist a touch of culture shock at the least.

A lot of this, too, just has to do with General Aoun's megalomania. He wants to be president and thinks Assad and Nasrallah might crown him.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 14, 2009 7:53 PM

In the recent past the notion of a nation was built on common language, thereafter other projections followed: history, army, currency, school system solidifying all that for generations to come. An extra language - through common education. Flawed or not, it was shared by all.

But some nations use a lingua franca and can be viewed as part of a bigger nation: Arab-speakers, German-speakers, French-speakers as long as they fit La France ideology...not so much English-speakers surprizingly. Some nations can be defined through long term non-alignment.
Switzerland comes to mind. The language effect missing.

In Lebanon we see a case where nation building is almost impossible. Defeats and victories - in short "history" - means something else to every group. The hisbollah arranged a real tour de force by becoming part of Iranian and Syrian history. They destroy the Lebanese nation building every day whatever grievances they may produce. They may feel already superior to every Lebanese citizen and an alien element grabbing for power.

On the whole it is amazing how different a language (politically, culturally) one can create within a single language. Just steer those ideological sublanguages in one direction and the problem is solved¨. But for that one has to avoid strongly Aouns or Nasrallahs.

A "language school" for all those politicians involved might work well. And if you have multiple religions in the region - avoid them all 100% entering the politics. Stop using your god as a club.

First learn the language. Then get a viable nation. It may be a little matter in the beginning, but finally it can work.

Posted by: Czechmade Author Profile Page at May 15, 2009 1:46 AM

I love the way the questions are phrased:

"Some people say that while Hezbollah has arms Israel is less likely to make war."

"Some people say that while Hezbollah has arms Israel is more likely to make war."

So it's not Hizbullah making war, it's Israel. Finally, we are told. Hizbullah's attacks have nothing to do with whether there is war or peace. It's solely due to Israel who are apparently "making war" whenever Hizbullah is either armed or not armed.

It's not surprising that so many Lebanese view Israel as an enemy when even the "peace institute" cannot even ask questions without accusing Israel of "making war" for no good reason.

Posted by: Leauki Author Profile Page at May 15, 2009 1:47 AM

"The Aounists are just using Hezbollah because they think it’s expedient and convenient. “The situation in the South is finished,” one of them told me, referring to the violent conflict between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006. “If it happens again, [Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan] Nasrallah will lose his case.” “We’ll extend our hand and ask them to join us,” said another. “But we can’t wait forever. If they refuse to disarm, we’ll crack the sh*t out of them.”"

Typical local bla-bla-bla. I do not think FPM stands even remote change against HA. Although, I do not have much love lost for either.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at May 15, 2009 4:55 PM

molly,

If you need something translated from Arabic I think I can help.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at May 15, 2009 5:05 PM

Thanks, Leo, no I don't. Besides, my husband studied it. And, no I didn't speak Hebrew. I asked my parents to take Hebrew lessons when I was a kid but they didn't send me.

Posted by: molly Author Profile Page at May 16, 2009 6:34 PM

Thanks, Leo, no I don't. Besides, my husband studied it. And, no I didn't speak Hebrew. I asked my parents to take Hebrew lessons when I was a kid but they didn't send me.

Posted by: molly Author Profile Page at May 16, 2009 6:34 PM

I guess I am now an idiot not to be answered. Hey, did you at least ban Gary?

Posted by: molly Author Profile Page at May 16, 2009 6:40 PM

I guess I am now an idiot not to be answered. Hey, did you at least ban Gary?

Posted by: molly Author Profile Page at May 16, 2009 6:40 PM

"Hey, did you at least ban Gary?"

"Hey, did you at least ban Gary?"

Not yet (fiendish laugh). But this time instead of insulting you I'll help out with the translation from the Arabic. It goes as follows: "Even though Israel is a tiny sliver of land with no oil we're gonna blame all our problems on da Joooooos!".

I didn't even have to read the Arabic to figure that out! But that's pretty much all that molly needs or cares to know.

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at May 17, 2009 12:48 AM
I didn't even have to read the Arabic to figure that out! But that's pretty much all [she] needs or cares to know.

It's called willful ignorance.

Posted by: Li'l Mamzer Author Profile Page at May 17, 2009 6:40 AM

"Even though Israel is a tiny sliver of land with no oil we are going to blame all our problems on Joooooos!"

Let me try:

رغم أن إسرائيل دولة صغيرة فى القطعة من الارض التي لا نفط نحن بصدد إلقاء اللوم على كل مشاكلنا على Joooooos!

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at May 17, 2009 7:47 AM

If it was your home, I don't think you would care if it was "just a tiny sliver of land". South Africa was just a tiny sliver of land, too. What was wrong with those pesky South Africans blaming all their problem on the Afrikaaaaners? Don't I look clever making words look funny?

Posted by: molly Author Profile Page at May 17, 2009 10:40 AM

If it was your home, I don't think you would care if it was "just a tiny sliver of land".

Molly, please try to stay on topic. This comments section isn't here for you to indulge your obsession regardless of the subject matter of the main post. I wrote about Lebanon, and you're still banging on about 1948.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 17, 2009 11:52 AM

Pretty sure she is on topic, from her perspective, MJT. She's on record saying that Hezbollah's criminality including terrorism against the US (her country) is justified by the events of 1948. Personally, I can't even process that kind of thinking let alone come up with a counter-argument. How do you argue with crazy?

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at May 17, 2009 2:16 PM

I find that your relatively hardheaded and realistic take here doesn't square easily with a tone you frequently take, best encapsulated by this:

I have a bad feeling about Lebanon on even and odd numbered days. I don’t know anyone who has been there recently who thinks the future is bright, that more war isn’t coming, that enormous geopolitcal tectonic plates aren’t gearing up to rip the place into pieces again.

Logically, where would this pending disaster come from, if not from a chain of events initiated by a Hizballah victory?

This is a rhetorical question. I don't personally think that the pending disaster is pending, nor triggered by March 8 winning an election. I'm just surprised, since you see both A and B, that you didn't make more of an attempt to link them.

That's the kind of pairing I see frequently (admittedly, from blowhards) - Country X is f*cked, and anti-American force Y is gaining power. You've got both of those independently, but not linked. That's fairly subtle.

Something that's not clear to me from the article, or any article I've seen, is if the election of the March 8 coalition would end up putting a Shia as Prime Minister for the first time in the history of Lebanon. That would be progress. As long as sectarian voting dominates and Shias are the largest demographic group, any system that keeps them consistently out of power forever is unstable and contrived.

It's arguable that this is only the second real, cross-sectarian election in Lebanon's history. If it's non-violent and March 8 wins, that will be a peaceful transfer of power from one political movement/coalition to another. That will also be progress.

Frankly, I think the emerging Iranian-American detente will be pretty good for Lebanon; i'm fairly optimistic about the next five years. I agree with the rational take here, rather than the spooky gut feelings of last week.

March 8 needs March 14, not least because Lebanon is no longer a magical money tree for Syria without everything that March 14 represents. Various forces want to milk Lebanon too strenuously to allow it to burn down. That's why the 2008 confrontation was so carefully bounded. Compared to most of the rest of the neighborhood, those kinds of tremors constitute virtual normalcy.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 17, 2009 7:07 PM

glasnost',

"the March 8 coalition would end up putting a Shia as Prime Minister for the first time in the history of Lebanon"

I could be mistaking, but I think Lebanon Constitution (its biggest flaw) requires that major positions in government be filled based on certain sectarian rules regardless of how elections went.
For example PM must be Sunny, and so on.
If that is the case and Shia will get overwhelming majority it may lead to anything. Or to nothing.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at May 17, 2009 7:34 PM

Molly's perspectives on Palestine are widely shared with many Lebanese.

However, do most Lebanese really mean it when they say they support Palestine? Why do Lebanese mistreat Palestinians who live in Lebonan so badly?

If the Lebanese are not really motivated by a desire to help Palestinians; then why do they really dislike Israel? It can't be because of Shi'ba farms. It is an extremely small and financially worthless strip of land. Is the real reason that the Lebanese want to deport their Palestinians to Palestine and are upset that Israel is impeding this? If this isn't the real reason, then what "IS" the real reason?

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at May 17, 2009 8:45 PM

Would Lebanese favor selling Shi'ba Farms for a billion dollars?

Should Israel give the Shi'ba Farms to Lebonan?

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at May 17, 2009 8:47 PM

glasnost: Country X is f*cked, and anti-American force Y is gaining power.

You use obscenities pretty freely in your posts, which is fine. But do us a favor and write them out rather than filling them in with asterisks.

If the words are so offensive to you that you have to censor out letters, why use them in the first place?

Makes no f*cking sense...

---
molly: What was wrong with those pesky South Africans blaming all their problem on the Afrikaaaaners?

It would start to get annoying whenever they did so in the context of a discussion on upcoming elections in Mozambique.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at May 17, 2009 11:29 PM

Michael, Gary brought it up. The Gary you didn't ban after calling me a bitch. And Craig, I never justified terrorism.

Posted by: molly Author Profile Page at May 18, 2009 5:43 AM

Molly, would you like Michael to ban Gary? Sounds as though you would.

Posted by: Harold Author Profile Page at May 18, 2009 6:59 AM

It reminds me of how the Germans voted for the Nazis in 1933 because of how active the Nazis were in the streets. For many Germans, voting the Nazis into power meant peace and quiet. And it was the last democratic election Germany experienced for fifteen years. In that time a tenth of the population perished in WWII and Germany large chunks of its territory.

Is Lebanon set to repeat the same process?

Posted by: Solomon2 Author Profile Page at May 18, 2009 7:21 AM

"They want deterrence, not war, and simply fail to understand that a disarmed Hezbollah is their best bet for peace and quiet. "

I think what you fail to understand is that a shia in Lebanon can look at a palestinian in the west bank and see how being unarmed and having a compliant leader to israel still does not prevent jewish settlers from coming over and making your life miserable.

Posted by: Joe Rushty Author Profile Page at May 18, 2009 8:39 AM

Joe, I think you fail to understand that an Israeli withdrawal does not prevent the launching of rockets into Israel and making the inhabitants' lives miserable.

Posted by: Harold Author Profile Page at May 18, 2009 9:25 AM

The Gary you didn't ban after calling me a bitch.

I got called a lot worse than that on your blog, Molly. I seem to recall that you laughed about it. And the perps didn't get banned. I got banned, instead. More hypocrisy from the charming molly.

And Craig, I never justified terrorism.

So sorry, molly, but when you respond to questions about whether or not Hezbollah should be held accountable for crimes committed against innocent Americans with some garbage about holding Israel responsible for blah blah blah, you absolutely ARE justifying terrorism. That's exactly how actual terrorists justify what they do.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at May 18, 2009 9:29 AM

"does not prevent jewish settlers from coming over and making your life miserable."

Oh, those evil Jews!

If only attacking and murdering them had helped! But it hasn't and now they make lives miserable. They are so evil!

Posted by: Leauki Author Profile Page at May 18, 2009 9:31 AM

US monetary assistance to Lebanon should be cut regardless. The US is not the world’s ATM machine, especially now when we have so much need at home.

Let those who want to support Lebanon do it out of their own pocket, not the taxpayer’s. Lebanon is a dysfunctional backwater full of horribly sectarian people. They should be left to their own devices.

Posted by: Boojum Author Profile Page at May 18, 2009 12:05 PM

Actually, no, I wouldn't like him banned. But he should get a warning that if he curses at people, he will. I mentioned it because I think he's banned people for much less. No, Craig, I think anyone committing terrorism should be held accountable. That includes both Israel and Hezbollah. You not recognizing Israel's continued killing of civilians had noting to do with me.

Posted by: molly Author Profile Page at May 18, 2009 5:59 PM

I don't recall any incidents like that on my former blog, Craig. I doubt I laughed.

Posted by: molly Author Profile Page at May 18, 2009 6:02 PM

Actually, no, I wouldn't like him banned. But he should get a warning that if he curses at people, he will.

Why would MJT do that, molly? You don't ban people for being offensive and insulting on your blogs, so why should MJT? You ban people for disagreeing with you, and if MJT followed your example there you would be the first t go I bet.

I mentioned it because I think he's banned people for much less.

Do you? What do you base that on?

No, Craig, I think anyone committing terrorism should be held accountable. That includes both Israel and Hezbollah. You not recognizing Israel's continued killing of civilians had noting to do with me.

You are just muddying the waters with that kind of moral equivalency crap, molly. By accusing "everyone else" of being just as bad, you hope to cause so many headaches that the whole issue just goes away. An (unfortunately) effective tactic that people like you have developed over the years. Please don't insult my intelligence any further by pretending to want people held accountable when your actions have the exact opposite effect. You provide cover for terror groups by claiming they are no worse than the US or Israel. And, that is your intent.

I don't recall any incidents like that on my former blog, Craig. I doubt I laughed.

That's strange, because it was the very first time I visited your blog and I left several comments addressed to you, questioning your behavior. If you claim not to remember the incident, I will believe you. You are, after all, an HONEST person. Are you not?

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at May 18, 2009 8:08 PM

Molly, I was in a similar position to you when I started commenting here. Plenty of folks here don't like you, and they're going to harass you, get used to it. (Personally I'm glad to have you, because you allow me to be a centrist :-D)
I also think GR should get a one-way ticket to Nowheresland... not specifically because of anything to you, but because he hardly ever makes comments other than to start fights with other posters. But it's clearly not happening anytime soon, so move on. I imagine that Mike T, who thinks a lot of what comes out of your mouth is baloney, probably thinks he's paying his obligations to intellectual diversity merely by letting you hang around. I don't think working the refs is going to get you very far, is what I'm saying.

I'd focus on trying to make the case for alternate points of view on the topic at hand, backed by evidence and logical argument. You'll get the chance to push your pet cause, but you need to do a little genuflecting to what's actually being discussed.

BTW,

You never got back to my comment

http://www.michaeltotten.com/archives/2009/04/eurasias-shatte.php#comments

May 5, 336 PM.

In general, I'd put your odds of surviving on this blog at 50/50. I think your education on relevant topics has been overly emotional and narrow, but, unlike most of the rest of the blog, I don't actually think you're a bad person (or, any worse than most around here, better than some)
or unfit to be commenting. So, perhaps you'll take some free advice, such as above, and one more piece: don't feed the trolls. Discuss with people who tolerate you, and be selective in your engagement of people who are just talking smack.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 19, 2009 6:07 AM

IMO it is people like Molly and her comments that make reading and participating in a blogs comment section a waste of time, or worse, lead some people to develop a very misinformed opinion.

Posted by: Ron Snyder Author Profile Page at May 19, 2009 8:26 AM

Only in your own mind would you ever be considered a centrist, glasnost.

This back and forth opinion slinging is a waste of Michael's space. I await Iraq Pt. 2.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at May 19, 2009 1:12 PM

glasnost: "I was in a similar position to you when I started commenting here."

I cannot be the judge of that but assuming you are correct, what have changed?

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at May 19, 2009 1:31 PM

A lot of this, too, just has to do with General Aoun's megalomania. He wants to be president and thinks Assad and Nasrallah might crown him

That's probably what motivates Aoun, but why do his followers - follow? If someone wants to gain instant political cred in that part of the world, they'll accuse their opponent of being allied with the Wahhabis and/or the Americans. It doesn't matter if it's true, it will turn people against the opponent. This is a sign of general attitudes towards the Wahhabis.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at May 19, 2009 2:45 PM
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