Two years after the invasion and conquest of Iraq, and what have we gained? An Islamic state in Iraq, a looming confrontation with Syria, and the increasingly likely prospect of Lebanon reverting to a state of civil war. Hosni Mubarak is pledging to hold “elections” that will no doubt exclude Islamists and anybody else who could beat him. We are the proud parents of a Palestinian non-state held hostage to the moods of the Israelis and the vagaries of Middle East politics. Oh, yes: and 1,500 dead Americans, about 20,000 wounded, a bill that threatens to bankrupt us and a record of enough war crimes to provide grist for Osama bin Laden’s mill for a long time to come. Already al-Qaeda is gathering its forces recruited and hardened on the battlefields of Iraq and getting ready for another assault on American shores. George W. Bush’s journalistic sock–puppets are hailing their own hallucinations: what’s sweeping the Middle East is not a wave of capital-“D” Democracy, but a tsunami of nationalistic and religious fervor that can only redound against us.
Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolution” is a case in point, one that illustrates the entirely illusory nature of the media hype which is, unsurprisingly, identical to the U.S. government’s official line. The official story is that the long-suffering peoples of Lebanon have had enough, and drunk with the mere promise of the magical elixir of Democracy are at last rising up, seizing their liberty, and throwing off their Syrian oppressors. It’s a pretty story, albeit a bit simple-minded and hackneyed, but there’s just one problem: it isn’t true.
The reality is that Lebanon has had democracy for quite some time: or, at least, more so than any other Middle Eastern Arab nation. But instead of being a panacea for the country’s problems, this relative excess of democracy has merely exacerbated them. Divided into a bewildering array of ethno-religious and political fiefdoms, Lebanon has managed to survive the foibles of majority rule largely by avoiding centralization and devolving power back to the various clans, parties, and religious groups that constitute, in effect, a collection of mini-states.
The idea that we are introducing “democracy” to the Lebanese for the first time is absurd. The country has experienced some form of parliamentary rule since independence and the Pact of 1943, when the six-to-five apportionment of seats to Christians and Muslims was institutionalized, and Lebanon’s “confessional” system kept the various factions from one another’s throats. But the whole thing blew up as the Muslim population skyrocketed and the Christians declined: too much “democracy” could have foisted an Islamic state on the land of the Phoenicians, and the Christians resisted a re-divvying up of the electoral spoils to reflect the new demographics. The result was a long and bloody civil war, an invasion by Israel, and the invitation to Syria to step in and maintain some semblance of order. This invitation, one might add, was extended by many of the same people who are now raising such a stink about the Syrian “occupiers.”
In a Western-style winner-take-all election, the Shi’ite majority would triumph, roughly along the same lines as in Iraq: however, when it comes to “democracy,” Lebanese-style, it is quite a different story. The complex mosaic of Lebanon’s religious and tribal diversity translates into a Byzantine system of assigned seats reserved for certain groups. A single electoral district in, say, Beirut, is granted six representatives: two Sunnis, one Shi’ite, one Greek Orthodox, one Armenian Orthodox, and one “Christian minority” MP. It is a system that combines affirmative action with the worst aspects of the party primary system in the U.S., and one that lends itself easily to manipulation. The terms of this confessional apportionment are among the most hotly contested issues in Lebanese politics, and it is hard to see how more “democracy,” rather than less, is going to improve anyone’s life.
The U.S. is already pressing for “free” and “fair” Lebanese elections, but how can we even consider plunging our hand into this particular hornets’ nest and why should we? As Matt Yglesias puts it:
“Near as I can tell, there’s no really clear sense in which the Syrian sphere of influence in Lebanon is bad for the United States of America. Second, there’s no particular reason to think that the waning of Syrian influence really heralds the dawning of Lebanese democracy. Outside of the special case of Iraq, Lebanon was and is pretty clearly the most democratic of Arab states. They have elections which are vigorously contested. They have a quite robust politics at the local level. The legislature is a closer facsimile of a proper democratic one than anything else in action in the Arab world. And they have a reasonably free press and free media.”
So why are we sticking our noses in Lebanese politics, where we have no interests and no business being? The short answer is: Israel. It’s the payoff for the partial withdrawal from Gaza and the highly conditional concessions granted to the Palestinians. A somewhat longer answer is the delusions brought on by the democratist ideology that has gripped this administration, starting at the top, which threaten the financial, political, and even cultural health of the nation.
The sudden and quite unexpected resignation of the pro-Syrian Lebanese government which would have won any vote of confidence in the parliament is being portrayed as a necessary concession to a rising populist movement patterned after Ukraine’s “orange revolution” but it seems to me it was a very clever ploy. The so-called “opposition” is united by nothing but a common hatred of Syria and a willingness to act on behalf of foreign interests. Once the government is out, however, and the Syrians withdraw to the Bekaa valley, they will be left to fight among themselves and who can doubt that the communal grudge matches that have afflicted Lebanon for most of her history will reassert themselves in the absence of a stabilizing force?
The U.S. government has the chutzpah to maintain that Lebanon can’t have free elections until and unless each and every Syrian soldier is gone this while the U.S. hails Iraq’s recent poll, held while the whole country was under lockdown. Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad has announced that Syria will draw back its troops, but, short of a general peace agreement with Israel and the U.S., a total withdrawal from Lebanon just isn’t in the cards. He recently told the Italian La Republica newspaper:
“From a technical viewpoint, the repatriation [of Syrian forces] could happen within the end of the year. But from a strategic viewpoint, it will only happen if we get serious guarantees. In a word, peace.”
If I were Bashar, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Drunk on the heady wine of its alleged “success” in Iraq, the U.S. is careening wildly through the Middle East, charting a collision course with forces it does not understand and cannot control. And Syria is far from the only target: this war-maddened administration is intent on “transforming” the entire region and a regional war will surely do that.
Do we really want free elections in Egypt? What if, as seems all too likely, a party of fanatical Islamists winds up controlling the Egyptian government? It happened in Algeria, until the military stepped in (with U.S. approval). Americans might also find the fruits of democracy in Saudi Arabia quite bitter to the taste. While George W. Bush pontificates about how the U.S. is fighting for “freedom,” women with heads uncovered in the streets of Iraq proceed at their own considerable risk. This is not a case of the perfect as the enemy of the good: American intervention, in the name of “democracy,” is making things worse.
The catalyst for the current turmoil, the assassination of Lebanese businessman-politician Rafik Hariri, is wreathed in mystery, but it seems to me that Syria is among the least likely of many possible suspects. The BBC recently rebroadcast a post-9/11 interview with the fallen leader in which the interviewer continually hectored him to condemn Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and seize their assets instead, Hariri characterized Hezbollah as a legitimate “resistance” and condemned Israel as “our enemy.” We are told that he had been in the process of slowly changing his allegiances, and was on the verge of embracing the Lebanese opposition on account of the unconstitutional extension of President Emile Lahoud‘s term of office. But the idea that Syria would cut its own throat by killing Hariri and provoking an international outcry even as Washington accused Damascus of aiding Iraqi insurgents is just not credible.
In any case, everyone in Lebanon is now wrapping themselves in the mantle of a politician whose abilities to cut a deal were legendary: all factions now invoke his name. Yet we still don’t know who killed Hariri, and probably won’t know, for sure, for quite some time, if at all. And that is just a little too convenient, as far as the usual suspects are concerned.
None of this turmoil is benefiting American interests: not Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolution,” not the Islamization of Iraq, not the horrific prospect of Egyptian elections which, if they were held in a recognizably “democratic” fashion, would bring victory to Islamist nutjobs of the sort who brought down the World Trade Center and hit the Pentagon on 9/11. The one major step forward is the Palestinian elections a concession granted by Israel only after a protracted period of frantic arm-twisting, and a process that could still unravel quite easily.
Who benefits from this Middle East rampage, if not the U.S.? Israel, for one, as we have said: their war against the Palestinian radicals, who receive aid from Syria (and Iran), is advanced if both Iraq and Syria are knocked out of the game. But al-Qaeda also benefits in a big way. Aside from eliminating the only two remaining secular regimes in the region, bin Laden’s legions are swelled with each new military offensive in Iraq, with every threat issued against an Arab state: the ongoing subjugation of American interests to Israeli policy objectives confirms the main point of al-Qaeda’s propaganda war, which characterizes the U.S. and Israel as two heads of the same monster. As former CIA analyst and best-selling author Michael Scheuer points out:
“As I complete this book, U.S., British, and other coalition forces are trying to govern apparently ungovernable postwar states in Afghanistan and Iraq, while simultaneously fighting growing Islamist insurgencies in each a state of affairs our leaders call victory. In conducting these activities, and the conventional military campaigns preceding them, U.S. forces and policies are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world, something Osama bin Laden has been trying to do with substantial but incomplete success since the early 1990s. As a result, I think it fair to conclude that the United States of America remains bin Laden’s only indispensable ally.”
Condoleezza Rice is now bloviating that the U.S. has “firm evidence” that Islamic Jihad planned the assassination of Hariri in Syrian territory, with the assistance and complicity of Damascus: one wonders how long it will take the American media to realize that this “evidence” is just as “firm” as the “intelligence” that enabled administration officials to pontificate with equal certainty about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” and Saddam’s “links” to al-Qaeda and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The lies just keep coming, and so do the casualties.