I haven’t read it yet, but judging from the reviews, it sounds like Lee Smith’s book is a bit of a dud. Max Rodenbeck skewers it for The National:
“Smith believes he has much to teach us about this corner of the world, a patch he covered, from Cairo and Beirut, for the Weekly Standard, the small-circulation flag-bearer for American neoconservativism, before landing his current perch at the right-wing Hudson Institute in Washington. His book, a mix of citations from primers on Arab history, bald assertions, and anecdotage populated by a parade of mournful natives that Smith seems to have attracted in his travels, purports to be an expose of the true nature of the Arabs. It is meant as a corrective to the misty eyed romanticism of other journalists, scholars of the region, and such pitiable types as “Americans too young, confused or rich to love or respect their own country”.
Yet despite the jarring apparition of occasional perspicacity, his 200-page effort at myth-busting is potholed with mistakes, misjudgements and lapses in logic. Right up front, for instance, Smith asserts that Sunni Arabs have crushed minority challengers and ruled “by violence, repression and coercion” for 1,400 years. Yet one might have assumed that Sunni rule would be natural here, considering that nine-tenths of Arabs happen to be Sunni Muslims. (And not the 70 per cent that Smith strangely proposes, a figure quite unattainable even if one throws in not just religious minorities, but ethnic ones such as Kurds in Iraq or Berbers in North Africa.)”
Still not satisfied? An anonymous reviewer puts the Qnion to shame with a savagely brutal take-down.
In other news, Tha’ir Ghandour thinks the Lebanese Forces come out on top in the battle of words between Hezbollah and the Kata’eb, and Michael Young has a New Year’s prediction about Aoun’s relations with Saudi Arabia:
“Within the coming few months, perhaps even sooner, we shall see Michel Aoun visiting the Gulf; and don’t be surprised to hear his followers suddenly less eager to denounce the “Wahhabization” of Lebanese life.
A divorce between Syria on the one side and Iran and Hezbollah on the other is unlikely. Hassan Nasrallah cannot afford to enter into a confrontation with the Assad regime. But his allies are recalculating. When you’re unsure about political decision-making, follow the money. “
Over at Syria Comment, Josh Landis is crowdsourcing a “Year in Review“, and I’ve contributed a few paragraphs about the Syrian-Lebanese relationship:
I think that the Syrian government had a good year, as far as its relations with Lebanon were concerned. The parliamentary elections ended with a pretty ideal result: a win for March 14, followed by the self-destruction of March 14. This meant that Syria did not have figure out how to run pass coverage for what would have surely been portrayed in the Western media as a “Hizbullah government”. At the same time, though, the defection of Jumblatt and the general fractiousness of the remaining coalition partners meant that M14 no longer posed a credible threat to Syrian interests.
The formation of a national unity government — enfranchising the Doha Accord as the new powersharing mechanism in Lebanon, at least for the time being — formalized the stop-gap solution that Syria has sought, with regard to the weapons of Hizbullah.
The rapprochement with Saudi Arabia seems to have inaugurated a new agreement over Lebanon. It’s not quite a condominium like the one that existed from 1990-2004, but the two countries seem to have agreed to stop making life difficult for each other in Beirut, in exchange for cooperating on matters like Iraq.
It’s not clear what Syria’s long-term aim is for the Lebanese file. Some believe that it wants nothing less than to re-establish control over Lebanon, albeit without having the expense of keeping its army posted there. Others say that its interests in Lebanon are purely instrumental: using Hizbullah as a card in its effort to regain the Golan, and in its bid for greater regional clout.
What’s clear to me is that Syria is trying to diversify its relationships in the region, distributing its eggs from the “axis of resistance” basket (Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas) to other baskets. This does not amount to a potential “flip”, as the State Department is unrealistically hoping for. Those allies remain too valuable to Damascus. But as Tehran looks increasingly vulnerable and the credibility of the regime there is challenged, Syria’s cache as an interlocutor diminishes. This is where its relations with Turkey make much more sense, as does its rapprochement with Saudi Arabia.