The Lebanese “Powderkeg”

Mideast_lebanon_syria_xhm112 "Though most Lebanese have grown used to America’s pro-Israel policy, they are now watching with anxiety as the U.S. emphasizes Hezbollah’s role as a surrogate for Iran and Syria. Lebanese have little sympathy for Iran and even less for Syria, not just because of Syria’s three-decade occupation of Lebanon but also because of the recent assassinations widely attributed to Syria, notably of the popular Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri. Still, the Lebanese are outraged at America’s use of their soil, in war and politics, as the playing field for its ongoing feuds with Iran and Syria.

On Nov. 8, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch made clear to Congress that the U.S. opposed the election of a president by any consensus that included Hezbollah. Under Lebanese law, a presidential candidate needs to win the support of two-thirds of the parliament to be elected on the first ballot, but after that, a simple majority suffices. Welch suggested that the U.S. would use its economic and political muscle to back a candidate that it considered favorable to U.S. interests. The U.S. strategy, as the Lebanese see it, is to promote a narrow, anti-Hezbollah majority on the second ballot.

Most Lebanese seem to be holding their breath, denying that civil war looms. The many private militias that were primed for battle in 1975 no longer exist, they point out. Even though Hezbollah has the strongest armed force in the country — stronger than the Lebanese army, which mirrors the society’s schisms — it shows no sign of preparing for a putsch. Most Lebanese tell themselves the factions will remain stubborn until the last minute, then make a deal.  Viorst


Ah, yes, the magic of "the deal."  This more or less sums up the Lebanese mind set with regard to politics, business, etc.  That, and the lesser magic of conspicuous consumption.

I do not believe that there will be another Lebanese civil war.  The Lebanese still remember the last one all too vividly for them to soon go collectively mad as they did the last time.  The Israel-Hizbullah war of 2006 refreshed that memory for them to something sticky, brown and still drying.  It will take a generation of quiet for the Lebanese to have a renewed taste for the mayhem that destroys friend and foe alike.  Maybe that was the point of the Israeli campaign?  Maybe not.

No.  No civil war.  Instead, look to see the further disintegration of civil society under the pressure of foreign political interventionism.  The Lebanese like a good conspiracy so well that they are perpetually willing to divide themselves into factions and groupings of factions allied to foreign players.  They really do not seem to know how to live without that kind of activity.

They will continue.  pl,0,7917308.story?coll=la-tot-opinion&track=ntothtml

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11 Responses to The Lebanese “Powderkeg”

  1. Mo says:

    I agree, I don’t think there will be a civil war but not for the reasons you state. Those that remember the war and do not want it repeated are the same people who didn’t want it in the first place and are also the same people that have absolutely no say in whether it happens or not.
    Those that do have a say are the young, who are impetuous and quick to fight and have no memory of the war and those who rule the country; And for the latter the civil war is probably a happy memory of making huge amounts of money and having the prestige and power of being a warlord in a nation with no laws.
    The “majority” coalition includes the Lebanese Forces of Geagea and the PSP of Jumblatt. These two were notorious during the war for their bloodthirsty ramapges (ironically, they were especially bloodthirsty when fighting one another). The LF is made of extreme far rightists and it is members of that party that talk most eagerly of war. The problem for the March 14th alliance is that they are supported by, at the most optimistic, 30%-35% of the country and their active members are very small.
    On the other hand, the opposition has the majority of the Christian and Shia population under the banner of former General Aoun and Hizballah. These two have very loyal followers and neither of the two wants any kind of internal struggle, if only, for Hizballah at least, because it will distract from their fight in the South. OF course theres also the fact that, well, who would be mad enough to take them on?
    In regards to “the deal”. Most Lebanese would agree with you that a deal will be made at the last minute. I am not so sure. I believe the plan was/is that the majority stalls till the last minute and elects a President by themselves. I am not so sure now, if only because the amount of foreign (esp. French) involement has reached a level that this plan may become too obvious and the backlash may be too great. I hope that I am wrong and that a deal will be made but if I had to put money on it, I would bet that come Saturday morning there will be no President of Lebanon.
    The question is what happens at that point.
    The plan for the ME was the removal or at least disempowerement of all and any groups with any power that still stood against Israel. Saddam, Hamas, Hizballah, Syria and Iran. With the score at 1-4 to those opposed to Israel, I doubt this adminsitration is going to give up so easily at what is effectively plan c for Hizballah (plan A and B being he UN and the IDF) as it is the last chance to do anything about them.
    This is all part of the plan for Lebanon I talked about over a year ago. We are in the end game.

  2. Martin K says:

    Im worried by the thought of attempts of destabilization of Lebanon. Ironically, our hopes for a peaceful internal outcome rests on Hezbollahs iron dicipline. I have met a couple of Hezbollah supporters here in Oslo, they are not insane islamists but profesional soldiers and individual thinkers. Hezbollah is not at war with the United States of America.

  3. Martin K says:

    Not so sure they will dare fight Hezbollah. Hez conducted an exercise recently, quite impressive. They are fully rearmed, and their bunkerinfrastructure did not get significantly weakened in 2006. Now they have improved IED capability, and increased knowledge on how to employ cluster-effect in ambushes/patterns of approach. On a tangent, I would guess that the flowback from the Hezb to Iraq is propably more significant than that from Iran.

  4. Will says:

    the breakdown of the consensual system of politics when the elites owe their allegiances to outside powers.
    French FM Kouchner tried the elimination list. Allowing sides to cross off from Cardinal Sfeir’s list until Michel Edde was the least unplatable to everybody but it didn’t work even with the exhortations of Putin,Spain, Italy, and as many people as could be involved.
    Following a lead from GPC in the Friday Lunch Club blog and googling from Al Jazeera English
    “Michel Aoun suggested on Thursday that he name an interim president who would take power until elections in 2009 and that the ruling majority appoint a consensus prime minister.
    Aoun warned that his deal would only be on the table until 11pm (2100 GMT) on Friday, one hour before Emile Lahoud’s term as president ends. ”
    My money is that departing prez Lahoud will appoint Army Chief of Staff Michel Suleiman to fill the vacuum and the Welch Club a.k.a. March 14 will not have the stomach to appoint a rival prez by a majority plus 1 vote. That’s my opinion and I am sticking to it.

  5. Mo says:

    re. Lahoud appointing the Army Chief: This is increasingly doubtful. Neither side wants to be seen as the side that destroys consensus by taking unilateral action. Therefore Lahoud wont do this unless M14 try and elect a majority prez. which they won’t do before he leaves the palace – In actual fact, for all their bluster, even though they have 68 MPs and need 65 votes to elect their half +1 prez, at least 7 of the M14 have made it clear they would not vote for a non-consensus prez.

  6. Will says:

    prediction is faulty especially when it involves the future. Lahoud came close to installing Michel Suleiman as interim prez until the 2009 election or a national unity gov is installed, whichever ocurrs first.
    He did this w/ his emergency decree giving the Army (LAF) power over the Sunni dominated Siniora’s interior police (ISA). HA and Aoun don’t recognize the legitimacy of the Siniora gov since the HA walkout. Likewise Siniora didn’t recognize the legitimacy of the Lahoud emergency decree b/c it wasn’t ok’d by the cabinet. Now the crunch will come if a situation arises that pits the LAF against the ISA.
    The majority is a majority thanks to HA votes. Even under the electoral law drawn up nder now deceased former Syrian Lebanese Czar Ghazi Kanaan, the majority became the majority w/ HA help. That will not happen in 2009- hence everybody will tread water until 2009.

  7. Will says:

    An additional comment. M14 and M8, as between Siniora and Hariri, everybody has to prefer the diplomatic & competent Siniora as PM to the idiotic Hariri the Son.

  8. Mo says:

    Treading water ’til 09 is not an option. The country, which is slowly disintegrating, would have fallen aprt by then. If the issue is not resolved in the next 2 weeks things will get worse. Much worse.

  9. Mo says:

    Additionally, Siniora is an employee of Hariri, like he was his dad. But yes, a much better “face” given the choice.
    At the end of the day, this is all about HA’s weapons. The US wants them, HA’s local enemies want them. And they are not getting them. The question is what is Plan D?

  10. Will says:

    Former Gen Michel Aoun gave them a facesaving way out of HA’s weapons with his national compact with Sayeed H. Nasrallah. Give the Israel occupied Shdbaa farms back, give the SLA people now branded traitors and in Israel amnesty, fold the HA military wing in the Army (LAF), have a new electoral law (one that reflects the population on the ground) to replace the one that the Syrian Ghazi Kanaan imposed, may he rest in Peace.
    But the minority (M14) in population Sunni, Jumblatt Druze, and Jaja Xtian Crowd backed by Feltman, Welch, & Prince Bandar will never surrender or share power w/o destroying the country.
    While they are at electoral reform 1) give the Palestinians citizenship to give the Sunnis more clout (Goodness sake, they are at least two generations Lebanese) (why treat them different than Lebanese Armenians or Jordanian Circassians?) and 2) counterbalance that with dual nationalities for overseas Lebanese (to help the Xtians out).

  11. Mo says:

    I am in agreement with you. What you say makes sense if those in a position to implement such reforms cared about more than their bank accounts and personal prestige.
    Your points on electoral reform are good but unfortunately impractical. The net effect of 400,000 new citizens on the country would increase the population by over 10% overnight. Im not sure the country could cope with all the demands that are currently placed on the UN being transferred to the govt. And in giving dual nationalities for overseas Lebanese, well, they are already entitled to it. Theres nothing really to stop any Lebanese abroad from having dual nationality (although it admittedly gets more difficult with passing generations).

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