Archive for February 18th, 2005

Dangerous Games

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Lebanon,
the modern incarnation of the Phoenician Empire, is in the news again. The
latest development has the US and UN poobahs trying to use the recent
assassination of Rafik
Harari
to pressure
Syria
to withdraw from Lebanon after 15 years of militarily imposed "peace".
This could be a dangerous move. Advocating it certainly was for Harari.

Harari, billionaire merchant, master manipulator and Prime Minister
during most of the period of Syrian domination, had recently broken with
the Syrian government and advocated their withdrawal, daring to dream
that it was finally time to recreate an independent and multicultural
Lebanon.

Modern Lebanon, like most of the nations in the modern Middle East,
was created by European fiat in 1926, with the breakup of the Ottoman
Empire, and therein lies the rub.  In a fit of geopolitical hubris
that marked their last serious act as the world’s major power brokers,
the Europeans, acting under the guise of the League of Nations, carved
up the cradle of world oil like a Christmas ham, and divided the spoils
between them. The crescent of biblical real estate we call Lebanon was
awarded to the French.

The curious thing about the Syrian invasion and forced peace is the
legendary Lebanese avocation and skill in politics, at home and around
the world.  Usually,
when a reasonably stable country is forced to impose on a neighbor to
curb chaos, anarchy and governmental breakdown, it is because of political
incompetence, lack of solid leaders or a breakdown of civil norms.  In
the case of Lebanon, the situation spun out of control due to an EXCESS
of talented politicians, inspirational leaders, active political parties
and jury rigged political arrangements.

For 30 years after its "independence" from France in 1946, Lebanon existed,
even thrived, as a complex but functional balancing act between nearly
equal Christian, Sunni and Shi’ite populations.  They arrived at
a compromise in which the president must be a Maronite Christian, the
prime
minister
must be a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the legislature must be a
Shi’a Muslim.

For a long time, as improbable as it seemed, this worked. We remember,
growing up, when Lebanon was considered a garden state in the desert
of Arabia, the Switzerland of the Middle East, a beacon of multi-cultural
tolerance, pragmatic functionalism and regional headquarters of big
business and banking. We had it on our list of "must-visit" countries,
especially after finding out they produced a dynamite brand of blond
hashish.

But at some point during the 70’s things got out of control,
politics got
taken
to
the
next level,
and
the labyrinthine
complexity and organizational talent of the Lebanese was channeled
out of politics and capitalism and into the most savage and destructive
internecine warfare the world had ever seen up to that point.

During the height of the Lebanese Civil War, there were so many players,
factions, armies, power centers, movements and militia’s that nobody
could tell them apart without a program, and a program was not available.
It was less a civil war (which implies two sides), than a free-for-all,
all-comers-welcome steel-cage death match which featured the popularization
of many of the modus operandi with which we have unfortunately become
so familiar; the drive-by shooting, the remote-control car bombs, the
selective set-ups and assassinations, the suicide bombs, death squads
and flaming martyrs screaming joyfully to their rewards.

The situation was so chaotic and potentially infectious that the world
looked on in cautious support when Syria moved in to impose some sort
of order and stop the violence. No one imagined they would still be there
25 years later.

As a curious and significant result of the Lebanese war, there has been
a diaspora of sorts, involving Lebanese politicians. All over the Middle
East, Latin America, and parts of Europe and Asia, Lebanese politicians
have
used their innate gifts to rise to positions of power in their adopted
homelands.  We know first-hand that in Ecuador, the majority of
the prominent politicians, with names like Bucharam, Nebot and Mahoud
are originally from Lebanon – in fact, from two small villages of Maronite
Christians who for some reason decided Ecuador was the place to be. Similar
situations exist throughout Latin America.

The theory of comparative advantage says that each country has a natural
advantage in production of certain goods and services.  We would
hold that each country is also the best at producing certain kinds of
individuals, with certain skills, talents and innate capacity in one
particular area of human endeavor.  In Lebanon it appears to be
politicians.

Now the fear is that if the Syrians withdraw, sectarian fighting will
break out again between Sunnis, Shi’ites and Christians.  However,
given the newly resuscitated hope for some kind of positive resolution
in the region, it may be time to let the Lebanese try again. Given their
historical position and national inclinations, it seems obvious that
Lebanon will play an important role in the coming denouement -either
as part of
the problem or as part of the solution.

RAFIK HARIRI has joined a pantheon of modern Middle Eastern statesmen
— King Faisal Al Saud, President Anwar Sadat, and Prime Minister Itzhak
Rabin — who dared to challenge the status quo and paid dearly for their
vision.

Personally, the Dowbrigade has long believed, (an opinion we share with
Usama Bin Laden), that the root of the problem lies in that gang of jaded
European
power-mongers who sat down with a map of the Ottoman Empire and, besotted
with petro-lust, started drawing lines in the sand.  Until that
historic perfidy is redressed, hopes for a rational and equitable solution
to the "Middle East Problem" will remain a seductive mirage.

article
from the Boston
Globe