June 05, 2007

More Birth Pangs


Crisis usually defines Lebanon, but these days, the country is navigating threats that many describe in existential terms: a battle, entering its third week, between the Lebanese army and al-Qaeda-inspired fighters in a Palestinian refugee camp; a seemingly intractable and altogether separate confrontation between the government and opposition that has paralyzed the state and closed part of downtown Beirut for more than six months; and, as important, deadlock over the choice of the next president by November. Since last year's war in Lebanon between the Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah and Israel, the United Nations has stepped in twice to assume responsibilities usually left to a sovereign state, forming a court to try the suspected killers of a former prime minister and dispatching an international force to keep peace in the country's south.

While some analysts see the military's battle against the militants as a way to forge a stronger state, others worry about the prospect of its failure. The threat of civil war still looms large over this always fractious country, but the violence and paralysis may suggest a broader breakdown: not civil war, but entropy, where the country becomes hopelessly mired in instability.

"I can't say we're now in a failed state, but we could become a failed state if assassinations resume, we see more car bombs and if you see no political solution and no president elected in due time," said Sarkis Naoum, a columnist for al-Nahar newspaper. "If all this happens between now and November, it means we're in a big mess. And after that, you can say it's a failed state."

(Sarcasm alert) It's all solely the Syrians fault, of course. Bomb Damascus and the salubrious birth pangs will return! Oh, "eradicate" Hezbollah too (supported by about a third of the Lebanese people, and growing likely), perhaps by substituting Shi'a Lebanese males for Sunni Iraqi ones, per this classic J-Pod punditry. And, as added bonus (goodie!), once the Hezb and 'Syran' beasts have been slayed, Teheran will be appropriately isolated, weakened enough regionally so that they'll play ball on Iraq. The Cedar Revolution will have been saved, and Iraq too!

You see, it's all so simple, if only Bush had the courage of his convictions....and just think, then we'd all be able to cherish the hard-earned 'birth pangs', indeed, the world would jubilate at America's latest democracy exportation triumph--and statues of Charles Krauthammer would be erected around the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus, for nobly helping steer the Administration towards a course of steely, bold action.

It's all so neo-con play-book 101, isn't it? Problem is, it's kindergarten fare, and totally removed from complex reality. It's airily aspirational Trotsky meets Partisan Review meets Scoop Jackson meets I don't like Arabs much meets faux national greatness let's (unconvincingly) play pretend I've got the biggest cojones on the block. It's utopic, hugely under-informed travesty masquerading as convincing policy. Time to (more decisively) throw out the old playbook, I guess, and get real. Sooner rather than later. More failed states could be around the corner, after all...the clock's ticking.

Posted by Gregory at June 5, 2007 12:47 PM

So what is the best policy here? Is it to let Lebanon fall apart? Is it to invite the Syrians back in, like Baker in the 90s? Is it to pass the buck to the UN, so that we can blame them when we fail? Or is it Olympian disregard for someting we cannot fix? Or, shall we blame Isreal for everything, and feel better about ourselves. (We will, at that point, have gotten real, I assume.)

There is no question lebanon is a mess and there is no question Isreal, in combination with hezbollah, made that mess. Was it better when Syria kept everyone in line via assassinations? Is that your solution? Or do you have no solution -- just a real sense there is no short term resolution to be had.

Look, I know this administration is hopeless, and Congress is proving itself equally hopeless. (I never thought I'd ever fault a Democratic congress for not being radical enough -- but, after much harumphing, we're still in Iraq) I can read Kos and figure that out. But we Republicans (even if we are RINOs to the Red Staters of the world) have got to get past primal screams, and figure practical ways out of this. Got any ideas?

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at June 5, 2007 01:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

OK. I read below. Well, I voted for Kerry in 2004 on the basis of Abu Gharib (man, that hurt). The GOP hs lost its mind,heart and patriotism on this issue.

We may have to really be Democrats for a while...Urg.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at June 5, 2007 02:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If being Democratic mean fiscal responsibility, posturing strictly within the bounds of diplomacy, immigration policy in which citizenship is the goal, the end of torture as a foreign policy tool, and the return of religious pluralism, it would be a good thing.

Posted by: Fred at June 5, 2007 07:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I've been a democrat my whole life and I'm afraid that for the most part the Dems are just like the Repubs, except they get their bucks from a slightly different set of the oligarchs. Wouldn't it be great if moderate Repubs and Dems got together and forced the Dems (or the Repubs) to be fiscally responsible and morally responsible? But that will never happen because it is all a big ego game played to the tune of how much can I get for my vote. And the pundits are all also just egotists, wanting to win, not wanting the other guy to "win". Look what we won. Four dollar gasoline, no retirements, an ever increasingly hostile world.

Posted by: Tim Osburn at June 5, 2007 10:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As long as I get to determine what is "morally responsible".

(Mass death to spread democracy is not "morally responsible".)

Posted by: someotherdude at June 6, 2007 12:29 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J-Pod, i.e. John Podhoretz or, as he is better known, John P. Normanson, is proof positive of the decline of our great nation in the 21st century.

That Normanson, a fool so blatant and Bill Buckley's definition, sadly, of a walking debt to the Conservative movement, has been given forums, Rupert's Chop Shop and NRO, to spew his lightweight bile only further weakens our marvelous country and its people.

Normanson could not find a cognizant idea if his life depended on it and, sadly, many American military lives are endangered every day by his uninformed, misguided, and blatantly foolish actions.

Posted by: Mark at June 7, 2007 02:59 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So true... the way this administration treats the Middle East as some kind of video game - complete with levels and bosses and masterminds in Damascus or Tehran - is retarded. As long as we have simplistic anti-Arab racists running foreign policy, we're going to have problems.

When the international community passed UN resolution 1559, telling the Syrians to leave Lebanon, the Lebanese mistakenly believed the Americans and international community would have their back. Then summer of 2006 happened and turns out they were all alone. Now, it seems the US is going to trade Lebanon for whatever paltry influence - if any - Syria has in Iraq. To even conceive of this as a "trade" is evidence of their weak understanding of the situation.

Posted by: Sally at June 10, 2007 02:43 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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