Across the Bay

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Cavanaugh's Reasoning

Tim Cavanaugh of Reason shares his thoughts on Lebanon. He's not following Nick Gillespie's route either, let alone Michael Young's or Chuck Freund's! Here's his entire post:

Would It Have Been Worth It, After All?

The Syrian ambassador to the UK says Syria is "defining a new policy" in Lebanon. President Bashar al-Assad tells Joe Klein troops will be gone in a matter of months:

    It's a technical issue, not political. I could not say we could do it in two months because I have not had the meeting with the army people. They may say it will take six months. You need to prepare when you bring your army back to your country. You need to prepare where you will put the troops.

    There are two factors. The first is security in Lebanon. The security in Lebanon is much better than before. They have an army, they have a state, they have institutions. The second thing, which is related to Syria, is that after withdrawing we have to protect our border. We need to talk about our borders, because when Israel invaded in 1982, they reached that point. It was very close to Damascus. So we will need [fortifications for the troops] along the border with Lebanon.

He may not have that long. President Bush says today "You get your troops and your secret services out of Lebanon so that good democracy has a chance to flourish," and White House spokesman Scott McClellan claims "firm evidence" that Syria was the base for last week's terrorist attack in Israel.

From in-laws I hear that Syrian troops have already left the Koura in North Lebanon. I don't know what that means, really, since the only Syrian barracks I know of in the Koura has been abandoned since the mid-1990s, and I haven't seen any Syrian troops in the region for years. There may still be a base of some kind on the coast. From what I can gather, people in the area—who are mostly Orthodox Christians and thus unalterably opposed to Jews, Catholics, and American foreign policy—seem to have come around to the Jumblattist view that the invasion of Iraq has knocked down the Berlin Wall, which would be a pretty big change in attitude.

In other North Lebanon news, the area's main Maronite power, outgoing interior secretary Suleiman Franjiyeh, shows no signs of switching sides against Syria: "Jumblatt," he says, "ought to be standing before the international court at The Hague for his war crimes against the Christians rather than championing the cause of freedom and liberty." The Franjiyeh family, like everybody involved in Lebanese politics (including Walid Jumblatt), has shifted alliances in the past, but the current Suleiman has never seemed like a particularly agile or subtle thinker. The Daily Star refers to an unspecified "massive" crowd that turned out in Zghorta for Franjiyeh's speech, which is believable: Unlike the Koura, Tripoli, or any other place I know of up north, Zghorta has good roads and public services, and presumably gets a lot of pork under the current system. It's worth remembering that "people power" can flow many different ways.

Speaking of which, The Washington Post's Scott Wilson notes one conspicuous demo that has been mostly absent from the opposition: Shi'ite Muslims. I don't want to get into the blognorant game of pontificating about what this or that group is thinking, but that's a pretty substantial absence. Michael Young says Hizbollah honcho Hassan Nasrallah met with opposition figures today, and apparently Amal MP Nabih Berri has too. In any event, I suspect fears about the impending power vacuum and social disintegration are overblown.

A more sophisticated concern is that so far the opposition has consisted entirely of previously dominant minorities (and, full disclosure, I and all the Reason staffers connected to Lebanon are connected through those minorities), who will want to avoid a one-man-one-vote system after Syria leaves. Last year I sat with An-Nahar editor Gebran Tueni (prominently featured at today's bash at Jumblatt's pad) while he did in fact argue against one-man-one-vote, cleverly likening Lebanon to a company that was divided up evenly by the founding partners, so that each member's family has to be happy with its number of shares no matter how many people there are in the family(!).

I suspect this concern too is misplaced—I don't see the Maronites, let alone the Druze, being able to hold off demographic reality much longer—but we may have something to fear from fear itself. Lebanon is not exactly brimming with people who see civil affairs as anything other than a zero-sum game, and if I were not part of the traditionally enfanchised groups I'd be wary of the current bunch that makes up the opposition. So it's not surprising that the Shi'ites have so far not been champing at this particular bit.

If people there say they're hopeful, and at least partly credit the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I'm not going to gainsay that—though anybody watching protesters riding in Mercedes convertibles in front of Beirut's Virgin Megastore knows that the Berlin Wall comparison is kind of idiotic. As anybody who's been there in the last decade knows, Lebanon was not all that fucked up to start with.

I'm also not sure what to make of the consequentialist arguments being made far and wide this week. Just a few short months ago, when things were looking grim, I, a dyed-in-the-wool opponent of invading Iraq, had to give a firm Patton slap to blubbering summer soldiers like the contemptible Andrew Sullivan. I didn't want the United States to invade Iraq, and would bring all the troops home right now, because I don't believe it is within the purview of the American government to invade foreign countries for the purpose (the sole purpose, as it turns out) of improving their domestic political climates, regardless of the consequences. I'm not ready to give that principle up now just because the invasion seems to promise some good things for an area I have a small personal stake in. If we conceded that publick affairs vex no man, we'd all be out of business. But I know better than to turn down free rider benefits when they come my way.

I agree with much of what he says up to a point, but I take serious issue with his talk about "previously dominant minorities," "one-man-one-vote," and "hold[ing] off demographic reality." I've already made my views clear on this issue, and tome, hearing people using this type of language when dealing with the consociational system in Lebanon, is like hearing a flat note. But I'm not getting into it now, I'm spent for the night.