Lawrence Osborne was part of the media junket flown to Lebanon last week by the March 14th lobby in Washington. Along with Christopher Hitchens and Michael Totten (and Charles Krauthammer, for all we know), he was brought in to observe the big rally and presumably to collect enough soundbytes to drizzle in his writings over the next few months. Why March 14th thought that a travel writer and wine connoisseur who knows little about Lebanon would be an effective propagandist is puzzling. Were they hoping that he would manage to slip in a few cheery mentions of Siniora, UNSCR 1701, and the Hariri tribunal in an article about the effects of the Andean snowmelt on the acidity of Chilean cabernets? No, it seems that Osborne felt he had it in him to try some political commentary on for size. Here are some choice tidbits:
We walked all along the Corniche first, passing the war-ruined Holiday Inn and the new Dubai-style condo towers of Waffic Sinno: children carrying flagpoles bigger than themselves, old women with faces painted red and blue, teenage girls in blue hats crying “Saad! Saad!”–the name of Rafiq’s son, now the anointed hero of what has come to be called the “March 15 movement.”
M15, huh? A felicitous slip of the pen? (The impressions throughout the article do have an Ian Fleming-ish cast to them). Aww, who can keep all these Marches straight? I mean, there are two after all.
Beirut is a schizophrenic city these days. Driving along its coastal roads near Juneirah it looks like Genova or Nice.
I’ll tell you what happened here. I’m fairly sure that Lawrence meant “Jounieh”, but couldn’t be bothered to reach for his guide book to figure out how to spell the name of the town with all the Bulgarian strippers, so he played a little fast and loose and mixed it up with Jumeira, i.e. the island in Dubai in the shape of a palm tree. Hence, Juneirah. No big whoop.
Like the denizens of an Evelyn Waugh tale, the “March 15 movement” is opposed by the “March 8 movement” of Islamicists, and ubiquitous armed checkpoints keep the two Marches apart. The Beirut papers that weekend reported Nasrullah’s opinion that his men now needed “air defense weapons,” and as Hezbollah’s power rises, there is a feeling among the non-insane citizens of the city that bad times could return at any moment.
Fast forward to June 2009, where March 8th wins a slim majority in Lebanon’s parliament. Lawrence’s expert conclusion: over 50% of Lebanon’s voters are not only Islamists, they are also insane.
But later that night, three of our “scoop” brigade–Jonathan Foreman, Michael Totten and Christopher Hitchens–got involved in a street brawl with some thugs of a Syria-loving skinhead party called the SNPN after Hitchens rather gallantly insulted their swastika flag.
Yes, you know, the SNPN, arch-enemy of the M15 movement, with its headquarters in Juneira. The Syrian Nazi Party errrr… Nationalists? Whatever. M15 tells me they’re good-for-nothin’s and I believe them.
We tore up to the Shuf at 120 mph in SUVs, forcing people off the road and blasting horns. These are the most blood-soaked foothills on earth, a maze of valleys and pinnacles that make up the feudal mystery of Mount Lebanon… [Jumblatt] offered me the wine he helps make on his estates, Chateau Kefraya.”Socialist wine,” he murmured, since the party he heads is officially called the Progressive Socialist Party. The party isn’t very socialist, and the wine wasn’t very socialist either–it was perfectly international, though.
Mmmm, yes, blood-soaked foothills, feudal mysteries… our stock in trade. By the way, Lawrence, everybody who drives up to the Shuf does it at 120 mph, forcing people off the road and blasting horns. You weren’t getting preferential treatment. And would it have killed you to throw in a subtle segue from “blood-soaked hills” to the pungent terroir of Chateau Kefraya? That would have been sweet.
On the one hand, I’m glad that there’s someone in Washington spending money to bring opinion-makers to Lebanon. I just wish that they were doing it in a slightly less boneheaded fashion. I mean, who am I to quibble with a strategy that has wine writers pressing the flesh with Geagea, Jumblatt, and Chalabi? On the other hand, if anybody who’s anybody in Washington is taking this stuff seriously, they will have to conclude that Lebanon is caught in a struggle between two diametrically opposed movements: one that is a combination of insane Nazis and Islamists, and the other that is somehow a Lebanese extension of British military intelligence headquartered near a floating island in the shape of a palm tree.
Memo to March 14th: The 2005 vintage seems to have been a beaujolais nouveau. It’s held up fairly well but it will soon be undrinkable. If you’d let Lawrence meet anybody else, he would have discovered that for himself.