Monday, May 12, 2008

Why Now? A Conjecture about Lebanon

Well, the Army just nullified two cabinet decisions, Hizballah is withdrawing its gunmen and everyone is breathing a sigh of relief. So the question I’ve been wracking my brains trying to figure out “Why is this little war happening now?” Then I read an article in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times by Borzou Daragahi and Raed Rafei. While it’s not a core of the article, this passage set the ole Spidey Sense a-tinglin’:

For now, Hezbollah's offensive achieved one significant military goal: crushing the budding forces of Hariri's Sunni Future movement, a constellation of poorly trained and lightly equipped government supporters organized around neighborhood offices and private security companies run by retired army officers.

Suddenly, the whole thing makes sense. Hizballah has recently acquired a capacity for monitoring Rafiq Hariri International Airport. They don’t want to monitor March 14 government ministers as they jet around the world—they want to monitor any possible flow of arms into the country! They’re preventing the March 14 Forces from forming militias.

I’m a little shocked that the Future Movement hasn’t gotten further with building a militia, but the past two days makes it very clear that any militia they had constructed was in no shape to counter Hizballah.

Hizballah is protecting its monopoly of private violence. It’s a strange strategy, but it’s fairly clear that Hizballah doesn’t want to become the state in Lebanon. They clearly can do it. The March 14 Forces are obviously not up to the task of fighting it out and the Army is definitely not interested in a task that all factions don’t support. If Hizballah can do it and doesn't do it, clearly they just don't want to. Instead, it looks to me that Hizballah simply intends to maintain its pre-eminent position. I’m floored. It doesn’t look like Hizballah is even interested in pursuing some sort of Islamic republic. I find it ironic that Hizballah, of all people, are committed to a sort of consensus rule in Lebanon. I guess I would label it a program of “consensus within certain constraints.”

My new theory is that they are committed to consensus rule in which they are the primus inter pares. They may want simply to take over the role of France or Syria in Lebanon’s history—playing the sovereign that reigns over the system of sectarian compromises. Indeed, it doesn’t seem like a bad strategy. Abolishing the 1926 constitution and inventing a new system would create enemies. Maintaining hegemony within that system as the “power behind the throne” may be more appealing to them. After all, it worked well for Hafiz al-Asad. It was literally invented by the French. Moreover, it would make them popular. Clearly, they are willing to let other politicians and interests co-exist under their reign. If everyone knows that Hizballah could abolish the 1926 constitution, but sees that it isn’t willing to, it affords them a legitimacy of sorts. Moreover, it complements Nasrallah’s enormous popularity throughout the Arab world.

The only other theory that seems slightly rational to me is that Hizballah might really see itself as what it paints itself to be—a resistance movement targeting Israel. They’re not interested in ruling in Lebanon, they just want their launching pad. That notion seems crazy to me. It seems patently obvious to me that no matter how good they get, they’re not going to be able to end the Israeli state. I really have trouble believing that this is all about the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, let alone about those stupid Shaba’a farms! Indeed, after last summer’s “war,” Nasrallah was at pains to show that he didn’t intend to escalate against Israel again. It seems to me that Nasrallah has too keen a sense of realpolitik to be motivated by a crusade (er, jihad) against Israel.

Let’s see what Hizballah asks for when they sit back down with the March 14 Forces. If they still ask for the veto, instead of something like a Shi`i PM, I think I’ll have to take it as a clear and definitive sign that they intend to be seen as a proponent of the 1926 constitution. It will certainly illustrate that Nasrallah is capable of considerable restraint in favor of pursuing his long-term goals and is not drunk on his own power.


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Cuphound said...

Dear Anonymous,

It's an excellent piece! I can see that I need to follow Daragahi and Rafei more closely. As far as I can see, they're the only ones in the media who have a real idea about why this war happened.

It's kind of sad that all Robert Fisk can do is whine about the United States. I don't have any problems with his basic political stance. I just found it disappointing that he isn't watching what's going on closely enough to point out that Hizballah had clear incentives for military action at this time.

I really wish I knew much more about militia formation.

Thanks for the link!