Boy oh boy is the Axis of Evil the place to be these days. To witness the envoys tripping over each other in an effort to court Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah is to realize that the birth pangs of the New Middle East have been replaced by the death throes of the Bush doctrine. Being “against us” is so de rigeur these days that one wonders what the point of being “with us” was in the first place.
Still, some folks refuse to read the writing on the wall. Alice Fordham has a piece in NOW Lebanon this week (“If March 8 Wins”) in which she argues that a win for the opposition will spell trouble for Lebanon inasmuch as it would “change Lebanon’s relations, particularly with the US, dramatically.”
Europe is singing a different tune. The British, the French, and the EU Parliament have all said that they will deal openly with any government that comes to power in Lebanon. And, when push comes to shove, so too will the Americans.
Why? Because a win by the March 8th alliance will bring several parties into power, and Hizbullah will probably not even hold a plurality among them. Actually, Hizbullah can’t win, if winning means what most people think it does. Lebanon’s electoral law stipulates that Shiites are only entitled to 27 seats in the 128-seat parliament (or 21%). Therefore, in order to reach a 65 seat majority, the rest of the coalition, which includes the largely Christian FPM party (whose leader has received plenty of White House Christmas cards in his time) will need to win somewhere on the order of 35-40 seats.
Boycotting a Lebanese government in which: (a) Hizbullah alone is not a plurality; (b) Hizbullah has few (if any) more seats than it did in the last government; and (c) the pro-American opposition is guaranteed a veto in the cabinet, would represent a foolish and deeply hypocritical move by an administration eager to repair America’s bridges with the Arab and Muslim world. Rather, engaging Hizbullah through its empowered parliamentary allies and America’s own European partners seems much more in line with the rolled-up-sleeves approach of this State Department.
I have a question for you. What do you think of Shiites getting only 21% of the seats in parliament even though they represent at least more than a third of the population? (I know that no census has been conducted since 1932, but a recent study by a university professor Doueihy found sunnis and shiites at 29% each, christians at 35% and druzes at 5%). Similarly, do you think that Lebanon is viable without giving christians 50% of the seats?
Georges Corm said that a confessional system is a static one that is frozen in time while the population is dynamic. In other words, the parliamentary seats in the 1930’s gave 60% of parliamentary seats to Christians because they actually represented that amount in the population. But over the decades, the demography changed. So the status quo is not correct anymore.
Ideally, a secular state is the solution. But realistically, in the short to medium term, it isn’t. That’s why I am asking you the above questions. Maybe you should do a post on that: the viability (and possible prosperity) of the Lebanese state if the 4 main sects (sunni, shiite, druze and christian) are proportionally represented, in parliament and in other important institutional positions, based on census updates.
All important and difficult questions. I personally think that Lebanon is more than viable without confessional quotas, and there is no lack of good ideas about how to achieve this. What is needed is strong leadership and the political will.
I am a big supporter of the idea of establishing a senate (majlis shuyukh). This, in combination with proportional representation and no quotas in the lower house, would go a long way toward dismantling confessionalism. Decentralization is important, but not to the extent of federalism.
By the way, I believe that the Christians are more like 25% of the population, the Shi`a around 40%, and the Sunnis 30%. But this shouldn’t matter.
Your analysis is more like wishful thinking.
Let’s start from the base: What is the American interest in Lebanon?
What will happen after Hizballah fires one rocket at Israel? Or is your theory that this will not happen anymore? Which then leads to the question, why would Iran continue funding Hizballah?
I like your thinking. How about your thoughts on Christians having less than 50% of the seats in parliament (whether in a bicameral system or not)? Would that be a likely undertaking? Would that be feasible? Because the resounding argument I hear is that Lebanon is a unique arab state in which Christians have always been significantly represented (and have always been deeply involved). Would it be a loss for the Christians? In today’s Lebanon, where Christians are seen as the voters that would tip the elections to one side or the other, I think that Christians have nothing significant to lose by reducing their numbers in parliament.
Furthermore, a new census would be required, and also regular updates (maybe every 6 years or so) would be necessary to adjust to the changing demographic. However, it is very taboo. What’s your take on that? Is it feasible, or even necessary?
I think the most important thing to note about this new development (European thaw) is that it is all the more evidence that EUROPEANS CAN EAT SHIT, because they are spineless bastards, that deserve no respect. It is truly disgusting that these empty-headed European jackasses have no principles, no dignity, no sense of justice, but follow any stupid thing any stupid American says. Anyone with half a brain knew how stupid Bush’s policies were, even the bastard Europeans knew, but they were too spineless to reject Bush. They are the block that is the most disgusting, most idiotic, most deserving of scorn. Europe is the Fatah of the world, the shitty, empty, useless political factions that have no ideology except to be the puppet of the Americans.
it is disgusting. We should all read Perry Anderson, he is always brilliant on this subject.
Your questions are all the wrong ones.
Let’s ask a more basic one: What is the difference between the 2005 government in which Hizbullah held 14 seats and the 2009 government, in which Hizbullah will hold probably the same number?
Answer: the (mostly Christian) Change & Reform Bloc wins more seats in 2009 than in won in 2005, giving March 8 a victory.
So you want the Americans to penalize the Aounists for winning more votes than the other Christians.
As for firing rockets, how would the situation be any different if Hizbullah fired rockets while part of an opposition? Israel would still try to “turn back the clock” and punish civilians. (We’ve seen that movie before).
I have no problem with there being fewer than 50% Christians in the parliament. As I said, I’d prefer that the parliament had no quotas whatsoever, and that MPs were elected on a party basis. We should also have one electoral district, with proportional representation (as in Israel).
It is not feasible at the moment, but I think that we can get there in 8 years (i.e. two parliamentary terms) with the right kind of leadership. The following steps are probably needed, although not necessarily in this order:
1. Creation of a senate, as stipulated by the Ta’if Agreement.
2. Removal of all confessional quotas in the parliament.
3. Adoption of an electoral law with proportional representation (so, a party that wins 40% of the vote in a district wins 40% of the seats, not 0%!)
4. As an intermediary step, a new census might be conducted, taking into consideration Lebanese citizens living overseas.
I could not agree more. Let’s hope we have leadership for the next 8 years.
PS: AIG, I think that the State Department, ironically, is spending more time scratching its head about how to deal with Liebermann than how to deal with Hizbullah.
The difference between the governments is simple. One is led by hizballah, even if they don’t have the seats in parliament, and the other isn’t. In May we saw who really leads the opposition, so do you think counting seats in parliament is going to fool the Americans? The Aounists of course should be punished for indirectly using the Hizballah arms to win power and force concessions from March 14. That is not how a democracy works.
And if Hizballah is in control of Lebanon, hitting back at it is punishing Lebanon, not civilians. You seem to think that Hizballah’s actions are not the responsibility of Lebanon. But that is plain wrong. Hizballah’s actions are as much your responsibility as theirs, even if you do not like it just as the settlers actions are my responsibility also even if I don’t like them. You know as well as I that Israel’s response will be different if Hizballah is in power and it fires rockets. In both cases it would be harsh, but the magnitude and consequences for Lebanon could be different. Imagine in 2006 what would have happened if the Lebanese state would have joined the war along side Hizballah.
In short, the questions I ask are very relevant. But feel free to ignore them. What is the worse that can happen after all? 🙂
It is best to put your head in the sand.
Yes, Lieberman is much more of a problem for the US than a terrorist organization that killed hundreds of marines and is plotting hitting Jewish targets all over the world.
If you say so QN. If you say so.
“a terrorist organization that killed hundreds of marines and is plotting hitting Jewish targets all over the world.”
Yes but why is it a terrorist organisation?
You said: “The difference between the governments is simple. One is led by hizballah, even if they don’t have the seats in parliament, and the other isn’t.”
One is “led by Hizbullah” because you say so? How does that work? How come previous governments were not led by Hizbullah, even though it participated in them (with few seats than its partners)?
In May we saw who really leads the opposition, so do you think counting seats in parliament is going to fool the Americans?
What we saw in May was Hizbullah (NOT the opposition) defending its weapons. The Aounists sat on the sidelines. It was an action by Hizbullah taken in response to a move against Hizbullah (and, by extension, its sponsors).
The Aounists of course should be punished for indirectly using the Hizballah arms to win power and force concessions from March 14.
Which concessions? A blocking veto? They represented 45% of the parliament! In a democracy, an opposition with that kind of weight gets to be represented in the cabinet by the same proportion… It didn’t happen in Lebanon, for various reasons. I am not a Aounist, as you know, but don’t make it out like March 14th was lily white in this entire affair.
As for killing Marines and attacking Jewish targets, I see that you’ve suddenly dropped your realist view of the United States and adopted a neoconservative one again. One minute the U.S. acts in its best interests and eschews moral considerations, and the next minute it cares about Jewish targets and 280 Marines who were killed 26 years ago?
AIG, the U.S. is currently in the process of engaging IRAN, sponsor of Hizbullah (and the true author of the Marine bombings — Hizbullah did not exist in any organized fashion in 1983), not to mention the party responsible for many more U.S. military deaths in Iraq, just a couple of years ago.
You really think that the United States can’t get over Hizbullah if it suits its purposes?
Ynet quotes NOW Lebanon as having information about top Likud official meeting with top Syrian official in the U.S. Here’s what I wrote on SC:
Can you guess who said the following: “… what he declared during his election campaign will be different from what he will do when the practical stage arrives.” Ok, obviously the “he” is Netanyahu, but who said it? According to the article in Ynet, top members of the Likud party. Gee, how non-shocking…
Report: Netanyahu rep met top Syrian official: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3684417,00.html
Where’s AIG when we need him? 🙂
Thanks for reporting. I hardly ever read NOW Lebanon anymore, and I’ve been playing hooky from SC as well. (How’s the old crowd?)
Very interesting development. We’ll have to see how things are going. I kinda suspect several (diplomatic) bombshells in the near future.
I had a very interesting discussion with Abbas today. I asked him again about the peace talks, etc. Will report on it soon.
Barely had enough time for 1R1F, and even less for SC, unfortunately. Looking forward to your discussion with Abbas.
Btw, here’s the confirmation by Likud, fresh out of the oven:
Likud MK (Ayoob Kara) confirms he met Syrian official in U.S.:
I have plenty of counter examples to what you wrote, but let’s focus on your last sentence:
“You really think that the United States can’t get over Hizbullah if it suits its purposes?”
Yes, of course it can, but it has to get a huge benefit for that. After all, kissing up to people who shout “death to America” does not come easy to the only super-power. So I will raise again the question you for some reason avoid:
What are the purposes of the US in Lebanon? What does the US want from Lebanon and/or Hizballah?
This is the basis from which the analysis should start.
The next step would be to refine the question, because as we learned from the Syria Accountability Act, the interest of the US Congress may be different than that of the US administration. Do you think a Lebanon Accountability Act is out of the question if the opposition wins? I see that as a distinct possibility. I know for sure that it will be discussed. Will it pass? We will have to wait and see.
If you don’t understand what I mean about the divergence of interests between the Congress and the administration in the US, check what happened with the nomination of Charles Freeman. Then, extrapolate to Hizballah. No doubt Obama is a popular and strong president. Nevertheless, he will have to pick his battles wisely.
“… because as we learned from the Syria Accountability Act, the interest of the US Congress may be different than that of the US administration.”
I wonder whether Likud, after its recent and urgent meeting with a Syrian official in the U.S., is more supportive of the Syria Accountability Act (U.S. Congress), or Syria-and-Iran Diplomacy Policy (U.S. Administration)… 🙂
Why is the Likud in such a hurry? Didn’t Bibi say he’ll never withdraw from the Golan? Didn’t he say Syria is part of the Axis of Evil? Maybe Likud MK Ayoob Kara was sent to deliver Israel’s Terms of Syrian Surrender… This is all so confusing…
I am glad you pointed out that Hizbullah did not bomb the American military base in Lebanon. That is a point that is exceptionally obvious, but is increasingly being lied about by the neocon fanatics.
Also, I do not think the record is very clear that Iran is responsible for the bombing either. Though, either way, I am not condemning the bombing. US military had no right to invade Lebanon, and deserved to be blown up. I’m just making the point for the sake of the record.
Last, I don’t understand why you respond to AIG. It seems pretty clear that even he doesn’t actually believes the bullshit he says. For example, if we used his insane logic and applied it to Israel, every Jew in the world should be held responsible for IDF terrorism against the Palestinians/Lebanese/Syrians… and everyone else they terrorize. By his type of logic, Hitler type concentration camps would be an appropriate response to Zionist terrorism.
I respond to AIG because I enjoy debating with him, and because I think his views are representative of many people in Israel. Plus, every now and then he cracks a funny joke.
Yes, of course [the U.S. can get over Hizbullah], but it has to get a huge benefit for that. After all, kissing up to people who shout “death to America” does not come easy to the only super-power.
The U.S. is currently “kissing up” to both Iran and Syria, countries in which “death to America” pep rallies feature every now and then. Hey, those kind of rallies feature even more prominently in many of the countries that America counts as its allies, like Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, etc. So I think you are making an argument that may fly with the average susceptible Fox News watcher, but not the guys in the West Wing, the State Department, or the U.S. Congress.
I will raise again the question you for some reason avoid: What are the purposes of the US in Lebanon? What does the US want from Lebanon and/or Hizballah?
Lebanon has little absolute strategic value, but moderate to high strategic value relative to its size, simply as a function of its location and makeup. The strategic value that it does have can be split into two parts: soft value and hard value. The soft value is mostly image-related: a fledgling democracy, western values, blah blah blah. The hard value lies in the simple fact that everyone in the neighborhood tends to use Lebanon as a battlefield for larger regional struggles. On that second plane, the U.S. has some interest in maintaining influence in Lebanon in order to check the proxies and extensions of its opponents, etc.
As for what the US “wants” from Lebanon/Hizbullah, I really don’t know, simply because we haven’t really seen enough of Obama’s regional strategy. My guess is that he is aiming to end the Arab-Israeli conflict. In order to that — having learned from the mistakes of the previous administration — he is trying to bring as many players to the table.
As Stephen Walt put it recently:
I think that the same logic is motivating the United States right now, with regard to Lebanon. I’m not saying that they will talk directly to Hizbullah (this is highly unlikely, to my mind), nor am I saying that some kind of Lebanon Accountability Act will not be threatened (this seems highly likely, actually). What I’m saying is that, at the end of the day, if March 8 wins, I don’t believe that the U.S. is going to make life all that different for Lebanon. It’s just not in America’s interests to do so.
But, I’ll tell you what. If you can write a short piece making your case for why AIPAC should introduce a Lebanon Accountability Act, I would love to publish it on the blog, and we can have a debate. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Let’s get the facts correct. The US is not kissing up to Iran and Syria. The US is behind severe sanctions of these countries while it supports Lebanon financially and militarily. You are mixing talk with actions.
And in the other countries you mentioned, the death to America chants are not a fixed fixture sponsored by the government.
So I am making a correct argument based on the actual actions and facts on the ground.
Well, as is often the case, when asked for an argument you provide a meta-argument. Feltman does not need to talk to Lebanon to know what its interests are. He knows Lebanon very well. That, if you want to sell the questionable merchandise that Lebanon has interests. Each faction in Lebanon has its own interests. Hizballah wants to keep its weapons and serve Iran, the LF want partition, the SSNP want to join with Syria, the Sunni middle class wants to be part of Saudi Arabia etc. etc.
Thanks for the offer regarding the Lebanon Accountability Act. I will send it soon.
By the way, do you not agree that you are responsible for Hizballah’s actions just as I am responsible for the settler’s actions?
What is a meta-argument? If that is what you call an argument that is better than your argument, then I accept your judgment. 🙂
Actually, you’re of course right about each faction in Lebanon having its own interests. But I was not referring to the U.S. talking to Lebanon, but rather Hizbullah (through its Lebanese allies and the U.S.’s partners). This is the point.
Before I answer you on the Hizbullah’s actions question, can you explain how you are responsible for the settler’s actions? Are you admitting that you are personally responsible for the same violations of international law as the settlers and the Israeli government?
If consistently a gang in a US city terrorizes a neighborhood and the police does nothing about it, isn’t the police responsible? Isn’t the mayor responsible for not replacing the chief of police? Aren’t the citizens of the city responsible for letting that mayor stay in power?
It is obvious to me. Of course I am responsible for the settlers actions. I and many Israelis have decided that it is not worth it to confront them and they have established facts on the ground. I vote for governments that provide money to settlements. So like it or not, I support and am responsible for the settlements. I have mitigating reasons, but still bear responsibility.
In the same way, you are responsible for Hizballah.
I’m not responsible for Hizballahs actions. But I’m damn proud of their actions.
I agree then: you are responsible for the settlers’ actions because you “vote for governments that provide money to settlements”, and you can’t be bothered to confront them (and are thus guilty of the same intellectual and moral lassitude that you accuse Arab liberals of, but that’s a different issue).
By your definition, I’m not responsible for Hizbullah, at least not yet, because I have never voted in a Lebanese election.
But let’s say in the upcoming election, I do vote for Hizbullah. In that case, I would be “responsible” for its actions, according to your definition, right? What is the upshot? Are you trying to say that you think it is legitimate to bomb my house if Hizbullah fires an anti-aircraft gun at an Israeli fighter jet, because I voted for Hizbullah?
This is an exceedingly silly discussion, but hey, I’ve got nothing better to do than write a dissertation.
First, I am not perfect, but hey I already live in a democratic and thriving society. The settlers are not impinging on my rights and freedoms, unlike the Arab governments that are imposing on you. If they were, I would respond quite differently.
You are responsible for Hizballah even if you don’t vote. You are responsible for them because you tolerate them and because you choose not to stand up to them. You cannot be not responsible just by not voting. You cannot get off so cheaply.
If Hizballah attacks Israel, and there is a good military reason to bomb your house, then it is legitimate to hit your house. It certainly is legitimate to hit your army and infrastructure that support the ability of Lebanon to wage war and it is legitimate to blockade you.
Listen to yourself. You are so cynical that even your own hypocrisy does not faze you.
You won’t do anything about the settlers because you are afraid of them and afraid of being called a yafeh nefesh. That’s ok. Not everybody needs to stand up for what’s right. But, seeing as how this makes you responsible for them, don’t blame Hamas for firing rockets at your house.
Everybody is an hypocrite to a certain degree. I at least know my short comings. The settlers are not worth any effort on my side because you are not making any effort on your side. It is quite simple. When the Palestinians renounce the right of return, that to me will indicate that they want peace and I may be bothered to do something about the settlers. Until then, I have better things to do.
If Hamas can show that it is militarily useful to hit my home and that this will hurt the Israeli war effort, my house is a legitimate target. The problem is, that Hamas are not firing rockets at my house or at any specific target. They do not know what they are firing at and what they will hit. Therefore, there can be no justification for what they are doing. That is quite different than the case that Israel hits specific Lebanese infrastructure like power stations, bridges and roads.
“The settlers are not worth any effort on my side because you are not making any effort on your side.”
AIG. Stop. You are embarassing yourself with these arguments. Every single argument you have made today is one that you’ve criticized from the other side, at some point. I know you too well.
Go write your piece about the Lebanon Accountability Act. I’d like to say that it debuted on my blog before the U.S. Congress got it.
I do not think I am embarrassing myself. Please show me where I criticized my own arguments. If you are to busy to refute the arguments, that is fine. But please, the ad hominem attacks are not necessary.
Ad hominem attacks? I was complimenting you!
To say that it is not worth making any effort on your side because we are not making any effort on our side is the same argument that the Syrians over on Josh’s blog used to make with you, all day long. And you criticized them all day long for it. Now you come over here and flash it in front of me?
Why don’t you really take a stand against settlements? Go march in a protest with Shai. Write a letter to JPost. Complain to AIPAC. Do something.
But the argument is completely different. I am living in a thriving democracy. They are living abroad because they cannot live under a tyrant, yet they support him! I was not telling them to make any effort for peace. I was asking them to make an effort so that THEY could live in a democracy.
When you say I am embarrassing myself, that is an ad hominem attack. Maybe it is a compliment in Lebanon. 🙂
QN & AIG, I’d like to weigh in on the responsibility debate. I do believe that Lebanon bears responsibility for Hezballah.
We treat states as the basic entity of which our world is made up. They have responsibilities, rights, the ability to take decisions on behalf of citizens, the ability to sign contracts, etc.. Thanks to this we can discuss things like a Syrian/Israeli peace. Any signed agreement is binding to other or future leaders of the state. I’ll be the first to admit that this system is not necessarily ideal & not perfect. It certainly isn’t logical. But it is how things work at the moment. We can squabble about the details, but unless we can agree on some sort of framework, we are not really talking about a world that exists and talk of agreements, national rights, war & such become nonsensical.
In some cases, it is not clear who speaks for the state (eg Iraq) or if the state actually exists (eg Somalia) so qualifying an action as a state action is disputable. Afganistan-US war is a reasonable example
Assuming the conventional account is accurate, Al-Qaida committed an act of war against the US from within Afganistan on 11/9/01. Does this mean Afganistan is responsible? That’s fuzzy. Al Qaida are definitely not representative of the State.
What if it had been done with the implicit backing & knowledge of Mullah Omar (probably wasn’t)? Warmer.
What if it was actually an official act of The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan? Pretty warm. No?
Let me try to bring this back to Lebanon-Hizballah-Israel & the outcome of your elections. It’s a matter of placing a potential Hizballah attack on the ABC spectrum. As they becomes more ‘official:’ participating in government, regularly dictating or contributing to policy, conducting international negotiations, making war, etc., they get close to “C.” From opposition, they are closer to A or B. It would depend on they relations to the US.
Let me pre-empt the introduction of democracy to this. It’s tempting (to a democrat anyway) to say that Hizballah does not have a head of state position within Lebanon’s system, nor is it a parliamentary majority. How can you hold a nation responsible for the actions of some of its members? Even if they were you might even say in any “I” am not responsible because “I” did not vote for them. Unfortunately power is the name of the game here. Democracy cannot be assumed, especially not in the middle east. Assad represents Syria, Mubarak Jordan & the Kings their respective kingdoms. That’s a whole other debate. But for the time being, much of the world is non-democratic or imperfectly democratic. War & peace go on regardless.
I know that your central point is that nothing would really change if the opposition wins. But it’s a subtle matter. Israel 7 other countries have an increased awareness of Hizballah’s position in Lebanon. A a part of the Government with the de facto army, underrepresented due to constitutional constraints, they are likely to be considered state actors. Now let’s not pretend that this is decided in a courtroom. It’ll be decided in the court of public opinion, political rhetoric & war rooms. These elections play a role. As would any confrontation (even rhetorical)challenging Hizballah’s arms bearing position.
BTW – I’m not sure if I should respond to the heated remark by Joe M (comment 21) but… The two obvious flaws in the analogy are: (A) “every Jew in the world” is not an entity of this sort (not a state). (B) Legally, (for the little that’s worth)”Hitler type concentration camps” are crime against humanity or war crime while War or an act of war isn’t (necessarily).
The reason I did respond to Joe is that we are touching on one of the things which (in my view) are keeping International law from being a relevant part of the world. The legal framework never really took into account non-state actors as playing such significant roles.
Welcome. Sorry I’ve been off the radar, everyone, but I’ve been enjoying the spectacular weather up in Faraya, getting sunburned on the ski slopes. Will post some photos shortly (including one of a fricking crazy bastard skiing in his bathing suit… must be seen to be believed).