Dispatches From the Moderate Left

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Hezbollah's Coup

I've been shaken out of my blogging hiatus by an insightful perspective that I recently ran across on the current meltdown in the middle east, by a person writing under the name Lebanese.Profile for the Lebanese Political Journal blog. This person describes himself as a moderate who is "battered for fraternizing with Israelis" and "assaulted for having friends who actively support Hezbollah" who is "doing my best to navigate and find a solution" in the complex mess that is the Lebanese political and social situation. That post just linked worth reading for an insight into the contradictions that arise from some of the dogmatic positions in the country, but more immediately relevant is his analysis of the outcome of the current Israeli campaign:
Israel is asking Lebanese to turn against Hezbollah. You know, we were already against Hezbollah. Anybody who's read a Lebanese newspaper in the last two years would know that. We were even more vocal in our opposition to Hezbollah during the first two days of the conflict. Many Hezbollah supporters considered turning against their party then.

No one is talking like that any more.

Hezbollah has already declared that it's won this battle. In fact, it has. Because Israel is not going to stick around to clean up the damage. Hezbollah comes out of this more powerful than ever before. They've effectively mounted a coup using Israel to assassinate the government, since Syria was so ineffective in doing so. They're so sure they've won that they've already threatened every Lebanese who spoke out against them during the first few days of this conflict.

The post is (as he admits) a rant inspired by the Qana attack - which was still shocking despite the downwardly revised death toll - but it contains a core of truth. Lebanon was on a constructive path before the recent conflict. It wasn't at a point where you'd call it a healthy democracy, given its heavily rigged voting system and the strongly sectarian nature of its politics, but it was moving there. It was on its way to becoming the first Arab democracy in the middle east and it was doing it in response to internal pressures. The Assassination of Rafik Hariri last year Catalysed local resistance to Syrias' unhelpful influence and that pressure, along with a concerted international diplomatic effort spearheaded by France and the US, saw a formal Syrian withdrawal. Relatively free elections followed and things were moving ahead on the domestic front.

These attacks, as Totten points out, pretty well demolish the theory that democracies don't go to war with each other. Whatever you thought of the Afghanistan or Iraq invasions, those two countries were run by barbaric totalitarian regimes before international intervention and so the arguments about those interventions are of a different nature. Lebanon was not a dysfunctional or failed state. It had been, but it was moving towards being a responsible international citizen in a region where that is all too rare.

It is this fact which should have informed Israel's response to the unjustified attacks across internationally recognised borders by Hezbollah. Unlike in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel has a potential a partner to work with in Lebanon - the Lebanese government (not to mention the UN which has an interim force in the area). These bodies are manifestly ineffective at times, so Israel is clearly justified in taking some direct action against Hezbollah in response to incursions. But, to paraphrase Siegman, what Israel has a right to do it has a habit of overdoing and "overdone" is the kindest way to describe the current attacks.

In its widespread campaign against Shiite population centres across Lebanon, including the south of Beiruit and much of the south of the country, Israel seems to have ignored the fact that it is drastically reducing the ability of the Lebanese government or other bodies to become partners in securing its borders. This isn't in the best interests of anyone, let alone Israel itself. Israel is rapidly backing itself into a corner where its only viable long term prospect is re-occupation of Southern Lebanon and further involvement in an escalating cycle of violence and bloody guerilla warfare.


  • The 'democratic peace' thesis (democracies don't go to war with each other) is still very much academic. To support it, you have to use definitions of 'democracy' and 'war' so restrictive as to erode the theory's empirical basis down to nothing.

    Not to belittle your insights, but lots of people observed from the start of this crisis that demolishing Lebanon's infrastructure and its govt's political standing won't solve the problem. It's well known that Hezbollah has entrenched itself by doing two things the Beirut government couldn't - providing basic services and taking on Israel militarily - and will be even less able to now. So this campaign was a gamble from conception: Israel will fail utterly or succeed utterly, by wiping out Hezbollah (something Olmert claimed yesterday had been achieved.)

    But the Hamas/PA precedent in the OTs over the past five years isn't encouraging...

    By Blogger John Lee, at 11:33 PM  

  • Nice, post, but of course, the installation of Fioud Sinora - a former executive of the Citibank group - as Prime Minister by "the French and Americans" was no less of a coup.

    By Blogger Communista, at 12:08 PM  

  • @John
    For someone who's not so well informed, feel free to elaborate on problems with the democracies at war theory. And I didn't pretend that the insights were mine or original :). I just though the phrasing in bold was interesting.

    By Blogger Jeremy, at 9:20 AM  

  • Pericles' Athens, medieval Venice, Cromwellian/Georgian Britain and Wilhelm II's Germany come to mind as quasi-representative states that used outright violence or other imperalistic practices against states with similar (or more democratic) forms of govt. That's why the theory's advocates carefully restrict it to 'true' democracies, presumably defined by universal suffrage. The main problem is that the era of 'true democracies' corresponds with an international system (Cold War and post-CW) in which factors other than the political character of states can explain the absence of inter-democratic war.

    Personally I think that ideology, security (economic or military), nationalism etc overshadow political mechanisms. What the US did to the Sandinista govt in Nicaragua (and possibly the Allende govt in Chile) really should be regarded as 'war', and both those regimes would qualify as 'democracies' by many definitions.

    That's not to say the theory is wrong, only that it's ambiguous, compared to (e.g.) the economic performance of market vs command economies.

    By Blogger John Lee, at 11:45 PM  

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