Lebanon is Burning

Lebanon What are the "sides?’

On the government "side" we have Christians, Sunni Muslims, the Druze, the French, the Americans, the Saudis and the Israelis.

On the "anti" side we have the Shia, some Christians, some Sunni Muslims, Iran and to some extent Syria.

The Lebanese are their own worst enemies.  Once again, they are cooperating with external actors in the destruction of their little country, which, unfortunately, contains within its boundaries a sizable share of the cultural patrimony of mankind.

We Americans are still pursuing our dream of revolutionary political and cultural change in the Middle East.  Our dreams have turned into nightmares thus far but our government has not given up.  They reason that failure this far must be idiosyncratic and that if only one more country can be de-stabilized from the pattern of traditional life then the whole structure of tradition will "slide" into oblivion.  From their point of view, Lebanon may be just the place to get the revolution going.

The French?  They are just "sucking up" to the Bush Administration in an effort to make themselves more acceptable in the White House.

The Saudis?  They are engaged in pursuing the defeat of what they see as a Shia/Iranian drive for power in the region.

The Syrians?  They are trying to avoid being "stepped on" by the elephants.

The Israelis?  You tell me.

In any event, Lebanon will burn if the Lebanese are as foolish as they appear to be.   pl

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32 Responses to Lebanon is Burning

  1. jamzo says:

    what is the power that the saudi’s fear the iranian’s might get?
    iran is a much larger country (the size of egypt and turkey)
    iran 68,688,433
    saudi arabia 27,019,731
    (incl 5.5 million foreigh nationals)
    iran %569 billion
    saudi arabia $346 billion
    it is 51% persian and only 3% arab
    what is the threat to saudi arabia of iran having influence with shia arabs in iraq?
    there are about 15 million shia arabs in iraq – culturally distinct from persians even though they share religious ties –
    there are about 1.3 million shia arabs in lebanon
    there are small populations of shia arabs in bahrain and kuwait
    there are about 3 million shia arabs in suadi arabia
    iran shares religious ties with a small segment of the arab population of the middle east
    it has influence with shia arabs who have political power in lebanon and iraq
    iran is able to promote their religous cause with these shia arabs
    iran does not seem to pose a threat to saudi arabia in OPEC
    iran does not seem to pose a military threat to saudi arabia
    iran does not seem to be a threat to saudi arabia by agitating israel and the united states but this
    iran does seem to pose a threat to saudi wahhabism
    is the iranian threat to the saudi’s a religious issue
    has the united states involved in a religous war?
    is the united states allying itself with the fundamentalist muslims who created al queda to do battle with the shia branch of muslims?

  2. Nabil says:

    We are not as foolish as we appear to be. We are ten times as foolish.

  3. Stanley Henning says:

    Where Does Quadrillage Fit In?
    It would seem that Congress needs to question the various possible specific aspects of the military surge plan to expose the real problems confronting the plan and possibility of putting real meaning into such a plan. So far we have only heard glittering generalities. We need to better try and clarify certain factors involved in the current situation.
    To what degree are the so-called Sunni “insurgents” comprised of the disbanded Iraqi Saddam regime military? Can they ever be won over and, if so, how? If not, why? If not, what are the implications?
    To what degree are the Shiite majority we are supporting willing or able to “win over” the insurgents. Will appeals for a unified, prospering nation and equal treatment of all citizens win over the insurgents?
    If we cannot feel reasonably confident that these factors can be be satisfactorily managed, does this mean we are willing to support continuing Shiite attempts to “pacify” the insurgents and continuing attempts by the insurgents to undermine the Shiite heavy “government” ? Does this mean we can forget about a democratic Iraq? It appears that Pat’s discussion of Quadrillage may explain the details of how we plan to use our troops, and thus appears to partly answer this question. These may be the tactics, but it is the resulting overall political-military conditions, regardless of the success or failure of these tactics, that we will be forced to live with.
    Unfortunately, in the bigger picture, the “troop surge” plan really does appear to be
    designed to reinforce Shiite control and try to leave the loose ends of this administration’s Iraq misadventure in the lap of it’s successor.

  4. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    There are no such people called the Lebanese; only holders of such passports.
    In Europe too – there are no such people called the Belgians – only the Flemish and the French.

  5. The Agonist says:

    Blog Round-Up 1/25/2007

    What do crack dealer’s and the Constitution have to do with each other? See TPM for the answer. Will a president Hillary surround herself with yes men and women like Bush has? Steve Clemons has the answer. Col. Lang reports on the Lebanese crisis, and The

  6. zanzibar says:

    I have noticed an increased “chatter” in the corporate media about the strategy to isolate and weaken Iran.
    Here’s another one:
    Israel tries to cut off Tehran from world markets
    Before flying to London to spearhead the mission to sell the sanctions, the Likud party leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, said: “A campaign to divest commercial investment from Iran, beginning with the large pension funds in the west … either stops Iran’s nuclear programme or it will pave the way for tougher actions. So it’s no-lose for us.”
    On an earlier thread here we read about Israel landing weapons into Lebanon. It seems that there is an inexorable movement to expand the conflict in the Middle East. What happens when there is regional sectarian civil war with outside actors like the US and French taking various sides? It seems the goal of the Decider is to leave the next President an even worse disaster?
    The Cheney interview on Blitzer was incredible! The man is truly delusional if he believes many Americans buy that things are going swimmingly in Iraq. This Administration is completely off its moorings in its arrogance and disregard for public opinion. And, I was so impressed by Sen. Jim Webb’s response to the SOTU. I think there is a future President there. I feel real good that I contributed to his primary campaign.

  7. ked says:

    Col, I think you’ve almost got this down to ppt-scale. Maybe they are ready for it at the WH, or at least State.
    One thing has dawned on me about US ME policy (thanks to the excellent continuing ed that your blog and all its commentators have provided)… regardless of whether one’s is wise or foolish, the sensible policy is that which keeps the game going short of combat.
    Awww, forget the ppt – they LIKE combat.

  8. Mo says:

    Babak, By your definition, there are no such thing as Americans, just a bunch of Europeans and Asians; No such thing as South Americans, No such thing as the English. How exactly do you define nationality? The “Lebanese” have been where they are for thousands of years; Sometimes under different names, sometimes as independent city states rather than part of a whole.
    I said some time ago that there someone had plans for Lebanon and I believe those plans are coming to a fruition.
    That the Lebanese are their own worst enemies has been evident for decades. I’m not sure how much it is a case of them cooperating with external actors in the destruction of the country or vice versa. The disinction is small but important as in addition to the external factors, there is, in all this fighting, a complicated mix in Lebanon (as if it could be anything different). It isn’t only political and/or secterian rivalries. There are deeply held personal rivalries, there is massive financial considerations and there is a fear in the ruling elite of criminal charges if they are removed from power.
    For the US there is a multiple agenda. Starting the revolution that sees the nationalist organisations in the Middle East taken out is a major part of the regional plan. But there is also the fact that since 83, the US has wanted revenge for the attacks on the barracks and the embassy (regardless of how little the HA today has with the HA of 83) so anything to hurt them is a bonus. And, of course, theres the “supposed” Iranian Shia domination of the ME that has to be stopped.
    For the French, the White House is a consideration, but the Chirac-Hariri bond is probably of greater importance. It is understood that Hariri snr. financed much of Chriac’s political campaigns.
    The Saudis? By their actions it seems that its mostly a case of which Prince is in charge today. Their actions, statements etc. have verged on the schizophrenic.
    The Syrians? I think you are right, they are trying despeately to not look like they are backing anyone while at the same time backing the right horse.
    The Israelis? HA busy in the North is an HA quiet in the South. And a chaotic Lebanon that has HA removed/fighting in Lebanon is even better.
    Iran? If Irans backing of HA is to gain greater influence in the ME they must be damn patient people. In the 20 years before the Israeli withdrawl from Lebanon that they were backing HA, there was no political aspect to the party. Suddenly their backing has political motivations?
    The most important thing to note is that so far, all the arms fire that has happened over the 3 days of violence has been from govt. supporters. Is this the goal? Keep firing until someone fires back?
    We shall see.

  9. Mo says:

    The proffessors insight, depth of knowledge and constant monitoring makes his blog a very worthile read. The only drawback he has is that he’s so angry, he pretty much is against everyone in the region!

  10. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I agree with you that many countries have rather shaky sense of nationhood/statehood. Lebanon is not alone – many newly established states suffer from this.
    My point was only that the people who inhabit that area of the world called Lebanon seem to believe that their ethno-religious identities are much more important than the Lebanese one. I am not condoning it – just stating my view point.

  11. Matthew says:

    I never forgave Siniora for meeting with Rice after her “birth pangs” comment. Any government led by that loser is never going to succeed at anything. He is the exactly the type of “leader” that has produced the current Arab dilemma.

  12. Mo says:

    I see what you mean and in a sense it is true, although I don’t think its as simple as that. The confusion probably starts from the break up of the “Arab world” by messers Picot and Sykes. Nationalist Arabs will in the main have as part of their “struggle” the removal of the borders created by this agreement. Therefore many would see themselves as Arab before Lebanese. However this means that, for example, a Lebanese Shia who is an Arab nationalist, would see their alleigance to Lebanon as above say an alliegance to another Shia state such as Iran.
    Conversely, some Maronite Christians define themselves as “pure” Lebanese and are insulted if you refer to them as Arabs.
    There is also a case that what you hear and read about the country ignores the silent majority. The troubles so far involve politicians and the youth, a fiery combination. The silent majority dont hold the extreme beliefs of “my sect come what may”. The Sunni-Shia divide is not as wide as Western media is purporting it to be and will not and cannot ever reach Iraqs level as there is far too much cross-over in far too small a country.
    You could write a book on this subject and not be halfway to explaining it…

  13. jonst says:

    If I had to guess my guess is ‘they’ plan to use chaos in Lebanon as an excuse to bring down Assad, and replace him with a Sunni govt. ‘they’ see this as the simplest way to break the lines of communication between Iran and the Israeli border. IOW…the so called ‘crescent’.
    Not saying it will work or not work…just saying what i think some are thinking.
    As to your statement Mo, that: ‘If Irans backing of HA is to gain greater influence in the ME they must be damn patient people.” I recall Jumblat’s statement last year that “people who weave carpets are patient people”. Not saying i agree or disagree with that statement. But it did come to mind when I read your post.

  14. chimneyswift says:

    When I heard “the Decider” conflate Lebanon and Iran what, four or five times in the SOTU, I got very worried.

  15. Cloned Poster says:

    George Galloway at the debate that Blair hadn’t the balls to attend.

    When I was his warm-up act, I used to describe the right honourable member for Manchester Gorton [Gerald Kaufman] as the best foreign secretary we never had, and his speech this evening showed why.
    Indeed, an alternative administration of all the talents became clear on the Labour benches, including the right honourable gentleman’s friends, the right honourable member for Holborn and St Pancras [Frank Dobson], and the honourable members for Islington North [Jeremy Corbyn] and for Liverpool Walton [Peter Kilfoyle].
    How much stronger the Labour Party’s position would be in the opinion polls today if those were the men sitting around the cabinet table, rather than the men and women who are.
    What a contrast there was between those shafts of light and the myopia displayed by the foreign secretary. So rose-tinted were her glasses that she had even spotted the first elections in Saudi Arabia.
    As one who follows events in the Arab world closely, I must tell the house that I missed the first elections in Saudi Arabia, probably the un-freest, most undemocratic and most anti-democratic country on earth. So keen was the Foreign Secretary to describe the success of Anglo-American policy in the Arab world that she prayed in aid [appealed to] a grant to the youth parliament in Bahrain.
    But those were not the most foolish of the things that the foreign secretary said in her long speech. She talked about supporting the government and people of Lebanon. Well, let us split that proposition.
    She was not much help to the government of Lebanon when its prime minister was weeping on television and begging for a ceasefire, and when the British and American governments alone in the world were refusing, indeed blocking, any attempts to demand an immediate cessation of the Israeli bombardment.
    Worse, she was not much help to the government or the people of Lebanon when British airports were being used for the trans-shipment of American weapons to Israel that were raining down death and destruction on the very people of Lebanon whom she now claims to stand beside.
    But, of course, that was code for saying that she does not support the one million demonstrators in the square in Beirut who are demanding democracy.
    The foreign secretary describes the government of Lebanon as a democratic government. If the minister will listen, I can educate him. There is no democratic government in Lebanon. The minister should know that.
    If there were a democracy in Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah would be the president, because he would get the most votes. But of course he cannot be the president, because you have to be a Christian to be the president, and you have to be a Sunni to be the prime minister, and you have to be a Shi’ite to be the speaker.
    What they have in Lebanon is precisely the opposite of democracy. It is a sectarian building-block government that they have in Lebanon, and moreover one based on a census that is more than 50 years out of date.
    If those one million demonstrators had been in Ukraine or Belarus or Georgia, they would be described as the orange revolution, or given some other epithet – perhaps even “the cedar revolution”.

  16. Bernie says:

    Interestingly, Dr. Spencer Wells of National Geographic fame has done some genetic research with the hope of identifying the Phoenicians, to establish whether or not they are the ancestors of the Christians of Lebanon. ‘Phoenician’ has been used as a code name for Christian in the multi-ethnic mix. To make a long story short, while they didn’t find any evidence of the existence of the Phoenicians as a distinct people, they did find that the Christians and Muslims share a genetic identity going back thousands of years. “The Phoenicians were the Canaanites, and the ancestors of today’s Lebanese” Says Dr. Wells.
    National Geographic, October 2004.

  17. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Thank you for your information which also shows to what lengths people are going for an alternate identity – often at the expense of historical Truth.
    I think if states outside of the Middle East refrain from interfering in Lebanon the local ME states might be able to stabilize the situation there.
    Lebanon is utterly irrelevant to the security, prosperity, and well-being of US, EU, Russia and others.

  18. Chris Marlowe says:

    With the dramatic rise of the east Asian economies, led by China, the US economy will take a smaller piece of the global economy. Already, the US consumes far more than it produces, putting it ever more deeply in debt, mainly to China and Japan.
    Sometimes I wonder if the neocons realize this, and what they are really doing is pursuing a “scorched earth” policy in the ME, knowing full well that the US will no longer be a major player in the Middle East. The goal would be to make such a mess out of the place that no outside players could come in and exploit its resources.

  19. MarcLord says:

    To your question, “is the united states allying itself with the fundamentalist muslims who created al queda to do battle with the shia branch of muslims?”
    Yes. And vice-versa.
    Lebanon can be seen as a useful pawn to dig into Syria’s side. At minimum, Assad must be taken out and a friendly installed to contain the Iranian Social Revolution. It all makes sense if, instead of saying “Israel,” you say “Fort Apache.”

  20. MarcLord says:

    Chris M:
    re: the neocons, I wonder that myself sometimes. It would echo the British approach of external cohesion via internal friction. But the Kristol-Strauss crowd is far too rabbinical, and really believe the aggressive transforming democracy crap they espouse. They’re like Marxists after aversion therapy.
    That said, they love it when Arabs fight each other. Even while their grand pet theories die like gut-shot bears in the Mid-East, the neocons can take solace in schadenfreude, their views of Arabs joyfully reinforced.

  21. Different Clue says:

    I know nearly nothing about Lebanon, but sometimes
    the ignorant stranger may see things missed by those who know the subject in detail. And perhaps the thought offered in a spirit of admittedly-ignorant well-meaningness may be percieved
    as so lacking in bias towards one side or another as to be not requiring of immediate rejection out of hand.
    In that spirit, I offer these thoughts. What if the
    peoples of Lebanon do indeed
    share an identity; that identity resting on a shared
    history of ever-shifting alliances and antagonisms within a limited territory?
    What if the Lebanese Peoples
    were to make a conscious choice to elevate the “shared history” over the “ever-shifting alliances
    and antagonisms”? How might
    they do that?
    What if the communities of Lebanon which currently think of eachother as sectarian or tribal or whatever were to elevate themselves and eachother in each and all of their eyes to the status of Lebanese Nations? If they could do that, could they then each agree that all had legitimate National Interests and National Legitimacy within a shared supra-National framework to be called “Lebanon”? And if
    they could agree to that, could they agree to the utility of finding or crafting a charter of self-and-mutual respect which would allow them to live together in a Confederation of Separate Similar Equals, without the need for changing alliances to address ever-shifting antagonisms? And where would the Lebanese Peoples find information and inspiration from a source so
    equally alien to them all as
    to carry no risk of one or another Lebanese Nation feeling slighted or threatened by the invocation or use of that source?
    Well…might the Lebanese Nations consider the experience and history of the Iriquois League (Six
    Nations)? After the stunned
    laughter dies down, the Lebanese Peoples might ask themselves whether a Lebanese Confederacy or Lebanese League would be worse than what they have created or been given up till now. And the Iriquois
    experience is sufficiently alien to Lebanese culture and history as to favor no one side over another. So in case any Lebanese are reading this, and want to at
    least read about the possibility of an utterly radical new departure, here is a relevant website:
    Okay. I will shut up now.

  22. FKA says:

    What we are witnessing in Lebanon are two things:
    * Lebanon lacks the mechanisms to correct a political impasse: The gerrymandered elections of 05′ (according to a warped Syrian law)have produced a parliament … and a government that refuses to “heed” the pressing calls for new elections. Historically, the Lebanese have either resorted to fratricide or to a foreign power to come in a restore THE lull (since 1860)
    * A “surge” in escalation paid for by the United States (and its little friends in Europ and the Gulf) and executed by Lebanese militias (those of convicted murderer Geagea, highway robber and slayer of Christians Jumblatt and Saudi lackey Hariri). It was a mafia-like deal paid for in Paris (III) and executed in the streets of Beirut.
    It’s part and parcel of Rice’s “re-alignment”. (Notice how Rice ignored the question when asked WHETHER the moneys offered at Paris III were “for Lebanon or for propping up the Seniora government.”)
    The war of Summer 2006′ (Israel’s aggression) and its results, made things more pressing, and the govt’ of Seniora remains the (only) success Bush can hold on to.
    Unless a “deal” is struck, that will entail a CLEAR participation of the Opposition (in all its colors) in ANY government, even one headed by Seniora himself, the NEXT few days will witness massive demonstrations + a strike, prompting more militia activities by pro-govt’ forces. Without any doubt, the US will push Lebanon beyond the breaking point.

  23. Mo says:

    If ‘they’ truly think they can affect Assad via Lebanon then they must really believe their own hype. The link between HA and Syria is neither strong enough nor taught enough to have the defeat/destruction/downgrading of one much affect the other.
    And yes, the Middle East is place of patience, long memories and grudges. My point was that for nearly 2 decades Irans financing was to a military group that was not interested in becoming involved in the political machinations of Lebanon.
    Different Clue,
    Thanks for the info, an interesting read. From what I read, the Six Nations Federation was formed by honourable leaders of each tribe. If all, in fact if even more than a a third of the leaders in Lebanon were honourable, we wouldn’t have todays problems.

  24. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Different Clue:
    Lebanon was created for the Arab Christians by the French with a dispensation that favored the Christian Arabs over the rest.
    Demographics, almost immediately after the creation that state, have challenged that dispensation.
    The aim that you are suggesting is not immediately reachable although, in my opinion, it is possible in the long term.
    I think you need a new dispensation that would allocate the State power in a more dynamic and equitable way.
    Further, you need to have this dispensation put in practice for at least 40 years so that reconciliation could take place among various ethno-religious communities.
    Thirdly, you will have to wait for another 100 years to see the formation of National Identity in Lebanon (100 years is an optimistic estimate)
    In the meatime, certain state actors have to refrain from rocking the small boat of Lebanese State. You almost need an agreement among certain states that Lebanon would be a neutral state – like Switzerland.
    Is this all possible? Yes.
    Is it probable? No.
    What are the alternatives?
    – Present situation of business as usual – a blow up every decade or so.
    – Incorporation of Lebanin into Greater Syria.

  25. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I disagree.
    Syria, under the pretexts of fighting terrorism, or drug smuggling, can effectively reduce international truck traffic to and from Lebanon – thus gravely damage Lebanon’s economy.
    I personally do not see any utility for Lebanon to confront Syria – there is no margin in that.
    Poor Lebanon – so far from US, so close to Israel and Syria.

  26. D.Witt says:

    Here’s something interesting to ponder–I believe that neither the Israeli attack nor Hezbullah’s current ‘strike’ would have happened if Syria were still ‘running’ Lebanon. So, Hariri’s assassination was part of somebody’s plan for Lebanon. Cui bono?
    Typically, destruction and chaos are easy to achieve, and even if they are part of somebody’s ‘plan,’ it does not necessarily follow that the rest of the plan will succeed. Once again, the people on the ground are paying for the hubris and grandiose pipe dreams of a few rich oligarchs and would-be messiahs.
    It really is a tragedy for Lebanon, as it is a beautiful country with many well-educated and cosmopolitan citizens, and is a crossroads between the West and the Middle East. Part of me wants to criticize the Shia for their allegiance to Nasrallah above the country, however, I also recognize the social injustice of the current system. Mostly, I just hope that the Shia and the Lebanese govt. are smart enough to understand what a ‘pyrrhic victory’ is, and why that is not in any of their best interests.

  27. Mo says:

    Babak, there is already the Taif accord which calls for the removal of the sectarian aspects of Lebanese governance. They all seemed to have the guts to sign it but none to implement it

  28. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I thought Taif was a good start as well – at least it stopped the carnage.
    Others outside of Lebanon have to agree that she is a neutral state and leave her alone (against great temptation to do otherwise.)

  29. Adam Barbalee says:

    I knew a number of Lebanese who fled to our colleges in the eighties.
    I liked them well enough, quite warm and generous and deep friends in ways different than us, but also a bit scheming, true “entrepeneurs.”
    One thing that struck me as their country exploded is that they all agreed and boasted they ere the “smartest” of the Arabs.
    I thought that faith a part of their problems.

  30. Different Clue says:

    Mo and Babak Makkinejad,
    First, thanks for thinking my thoughts were interesting and possibly useful.
    I don’t know enough about
    Lebanon or its Peoples to know how honor of leadership
    is assessed or assigned. If
    the leadership is lacking, perhaps a rethinking of the whole problem would have to come from the followership,
    all several million of them, one by one. And it might be a very long term process.
    What would happen if a million or so individual Lebanese studied the Six Nations history and evolution of governance? And began discussing it among themselves and with other Lebanese, as just a theoretical example from a very alien source?

  31. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Different Clue:
    I do not know if studying is sufficient by itself. Many Lebanese are quite knowledgeable of the world since the Lebanese people have had to emigrate out of Lebanon in order to support themselves – they are in Europe, in Africa, in Arabia, in North and South America.
    Lebanon was the most cosmopolitan place in all of Islam and her people were well aware of other people inside and outside of the Middle East.
    You are, unfortunately, dealing with very entrenched cultural patterns of behavior. Sectarianism is only one.
    It is very difficult to copy one fabric’s pattern and try to weave it into an existing fabric’s pattern.
    The best thing that can be done for Lebanon is for the regional and external states to guarantee her neutrality and avoid taking sides in her internal struggles, in my opinion.
    An EU friend once expressed his regret to me that EU has not been able to help others not to repeat the mistakes of the European history. Perhaps something like that can be attempted at Lebanon.

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