Lebanon began its second round of national dialogue talks yesterday, with two principal topics on the agenda: (1) Discussing the very important issue of the “national defense strategy”; (2) Postponing discussion of the very important issue of the “national defense strategy” until the third round of talks, where it will be given the highest priority once again.
These discussions are the source of much amusement to me. Why? Because everybody and their cousin feels as if they are qualified to discuss matters of national defense. Shortly after General Michel Aoun presented his proposal, several other politicians promised to counter with their own proposals at the next round of talks. One can see how Aoun might have a few ideas about national defense, but what exactly will Jumblatt, Geagea, Safadi, and whoever else jumps on the bandwagon have to contribute? Running a militia in the 70’s and 80’s does not qualify you to comment.
The biggest source of hilarity, however, is imagining how euphemism-laden these discussions must be. Given the absurdity of the entire premise in the first place — that Lebanon can have a “national defense strategy” in any sense of the term — what kinds of rhetorical acrobatics are being executed to make everyone feel like changes are actually taking place while leaving the status quo in place? For March 14th, these talks are surely nothing more than an opportunity to keep reminding the public of the fact that Lebanon has both an army and a resistance, while for March 8th, they are an opportunity to paper over this fact in some kind of an institutionally sanctioned fashion. In other words, the national defense strategy has nothing to do with national defense and everything to do with strategy… political strategy, that is.
My friend Abbas wishes that March 14 would just shut up and admit that their “Israeli/Saudi/American supported project failed” and stop trying to meddle with matters that they don’t understand. In other words, leave the defense strategy to us, and don’t ask any questions. In fact, any kind of formalized cooperation or integration between Hizbullah and the government on matters of defense can only be in Israel’s interests, he argues, because it will turn the resistance (aka, the national defense strategy) into something more resembling an army.
Another possibility is that there is actually an element of sincerity about the national defense discussions. After all, if the Syrian-Israeli talks get anywhere, the Lebanese resistance will have to turn into something else… probably something akin to a “national guard”. Is Hizbullah setting the stage for this eventual transition?