I have a particular fondness for Lebanon, not having spent any time there personally. Father attended the law faculty at College Saint Joseph. Grandfather was Iran’s consul- general in Beirut. And when I was growing up Beirut was some how woven into this funny family joke about am acquaintance who told us once that he was going from Tehran to Beirut and was gonna stopover in Geneva, Switzerland – and if we wanted anything from Geneva?! “Yes,” father had told him, “come back with a better map.” In my high school, college and professional lives I have been fortunate to count a few Lebanese as associates, colleague and acquaintances.
Beirut, the reputed Paris of the Middle East, is burning, again. And I cannot help but think that, just like Paris, which has burned repeatedly too, this city will rise again from the ashes. It will however need a bit of Swiss ingenuity to keep it from backsliding into yet another nightmare. The miracle of Switzerland is the piecing together and maintenance of four distinct ethnicities and three and one half languages, international neutrality and a mythically fierce armed forces because it hardly has been tested. Never mind the petrochemicals, cheese, banking, efficiency, chocolate, skiing, natural beauty and yodeling – this tiny land-locked country has managed to win even the America’s Cup!
The land of and the successors of the ancient seafaring Phoenicians are best known for trade, for industry in the sense of labor. By temperament the Lebanese, the Hezbollah notwithstanding, are not much for fighting – they are better in building and rebuilding. They are also very patient people. The Lord has bequeathed to them a Sisyphus-like perseverance to keep rolling the proverbial stone up the hill over and over again. There will come a day that perhaps the Lebanese will try to defend themselves and the fruit of their labor with equal zeal.
The word zeal in Arabic is gheyrat, the Farsi speaker will use the same word to describe fervor, vigilance, self-respect and a sense of honor. The antonymic word bigheyrat in Farsi connotes a state of dastardliness, without steam or fervor, a state of placidity born of bifayedehghi (uselessness). With this in mind, I inquire “Where is the gheyrat of the Lebanese military?” The country is being bombed to bits millions displaced and hundreds killed — and all one hears about is the military resistance by the Hezbollah!
According to Wikipedia and Word fact Book (CIA, on line 20 July 2006) — The Lebanese military consists 75,000 active troops divided up among the three branches – army, navy and air force, operating equipment that is about 85 percent US-made, with the remaining being British, French, and Russian. The air force lacks any operational fixed wing aircraft. Active aircraft include former US army helicopters.
In the fleet are some 30 Bell Vietnam Era UH-1 Iroquois (“Huey”) and some 4 to 8 light utility Robinson chppers. Not much – it was deemd probably enough of a threat in the wrong hands that Israel saw fit to hit the airport first thing, to ensure that they would not take off agisnt Israeli targets. The navy consists of 7 British-made sea going patrol boats, 2 French-made landing carfts and 25 smaller patrol boats crafts.
The army consists of five regional commands, one republican guard brigade, eleven mechanized brigades, one commando regiment, five special forces regiments, one airborne regiment, one navy commando regiment and two artillery regiments. The army equipment consists of 700 US-made armored personnel carriers, 100 US-made medium tanks, 200 Russian-made medium tanks and 40 French-made light tanks, artillery, ground-based (surface-to-surface) and anti-aircraft missiles.
It is an open secret that conventional armed forces do not get along with militia or revolutionary forces. This was true in the case of Iran in at the onset of the Islamic revolution and it is equally true of Lebanon, where no love is lost between Hezbollah and the Lebanese armed forces. But should institutional rivalry or ethno-political jealousy between the two groups result in the Lebanese armed forces sitting out this war? May be a greater and far more sinister ploy is at work to deliberately excise the radical Shiite influence from Lebanon.
Almost a month into it, the Lebanon Crisis begs the question why something as devastating as this could go on for as long as it has? The obvious answer is because the two sides continue to fight. On the Israeli side, the presumptive superiority of its wehrmacht is yet to win the day, even though the blitzkrieg on civilian centers and infrastructure by its luftwafer has been going unabated. Not unlike the Zionist guerillas, French partisans, the Afghan Mojahhedin and Nicaraguan Contras – the lesser adversary in Lebanon has no intention of surrendering in awe of the oppressors.
History sides with Hezbollah, as it has before when they managed to dislodge the Israelis from southern Lebanon. Likewise, the Soviet militarism lost in Afghanistan; the American imperialism (not learning the lesson of Vietnam) is showing again on a daily basis in Iraq the limits of conventional military power. It is time for the lesser folk to make their mark on history of warfare in the Middle East, even if ever so briefly.
The Lebanon Crisis points however to a more frightening reality of today’s international relations. There is an abject poverty of leadership, realism, experience and vocabulary. There is no statesman of any moral authority or world experience to put an end to this mayhem. The Syrians are being led by a newcomer with no experience. The king of Jordan has to walk many more miles before he can claim even a tenth of his father’s acumen.
The Iranian president, Might Mouse Ahmadinejad, is simply a naïf. The Israeli prime minister and his defense chief — both rumor has it are of Iranian decent and maybe have a need to show up the Eye-rainian mullahs – are no Sharon, Golda, Moshe or Rabin. These two clowns are the equivalent of rookies on a sports team, where one is given an opportunity to play and instead one decides to grandstand in the hope of being made a starter.
As for Might Mouse Bush, what can I say, that has not been said already?! I know! He lacks foreign policy experience as do most everyone else around him and that includes Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice. “How is that?,” you ask. Simple, each of these – including John Kerry, Joseph Biden and Hillary Clinton on the Democrat Party side – lacks foreign policy experience because to each world politics is an extension of American domestic politics.
On the other hand, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George Herbert Walker Bush, and Bill Clinton saw the world just like an astronaut does – as one. In Europe, pretty-boy Tony Blair and Lady-Fuhrer Merkel are George Bush cronies and equally inept in foreign policy matters. The only one in Europe who could have some authority is Jacque Chirac but then he is about as erect these days as an overworked tool after a Parisian night of debauching. The man has no backbone left. Useless.
In the Middle East, the only one with experience that can make a difference is Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. But his nuts are in a double vise. He needs the American taxpayer-funded subsidy that he receives from the United States. If he went to far astray and showed leadership in the support of fellow Arabs (even though Shiite), he would simply embolden the radicalized Islamists in Egypt to rise and throw him out of office like yesterday’s bathwater.
Then there is Putin, who has some acumen but is more of a putain than pootyn (the Persian word from which one derives word “boot” in English). Just to think that a few decades ago the Soviets held sway over Egypt, Syria and Iraq. Today they cannot even clean out Chechnya or commit one way or another in the Iranian nuclear issue.
The problem with inexperience in foreign policy is that the after-effects of it linger far longer than the ignorance that brought it about. One of the faux pas that is committed by most wannabe world statesmen is the drawing of the world in easy black and white terms. Might Mouse Bush is a good example of this. In the aftermath of September 11 he declared that either the rest of the world was with the US or with the terrorists [read: them, not us].
The danger in such a naïve representation of the world order is that it leaves no room for maneuvering, for saving face – two essential ingredients of international diplomacy that produce compromise therefore peace and coexistence. This mentality then produces such humdinger offers like “take-it-or-leave it,” “my way, or the highway.” The other side, too, will soon develop its own lexicographic expression of obstinacy – “fuck off,” is the most common.
The events of September 11 should have brought Might Mouse Bush to look at the whole world from an astronaut’s perspective – as one. But that is a tall order for such a little man who probably thinks an astronaut is a dumb member of the team he owned or it is a novelty cabaret act that can propel a nut from the rectum.
The recent anal pronouncements of the US secretary of state reveal the paucity of thought when a mere armistice or ceasefire requires use of language that is truly nonsense. The notion of a sustainable peace is ka-ka. In the Middle East very little is sustainable except repression and resentment. The concepts of peace, cooperation and harmony are fleeting desires and are not attainable as a matter of cultural temperament in a multi-ethnic and decrepit societal structures.
The term “sustainable” in this parlance comes from the notion of sustainable development in economic development models. That too is ka-ka; there is no sustainable development in the present economic models, which all are based on production and consumption ends – everything tends toward exploitation, waste and depletion. This idiocy called sustainable peace coined by the secretary of state, as catchy as it might be, is destined to the same end as the “road map” of Arab-Israeli peace process a few years ago – dustbin of history.
The most ka-ka pronouncement so far by the US secretary of state has been about this being the “birth pang of the new Middle East.” I have a question: “Madam Secretary, as someone who has been, by personal or natural circumstance, as barren as the deserts that she seeks to reshape and cultivate, how can you possibly know about birth pangs?” “Whose perspective, mother’s or child’s are you talking about? That is a problem, is it not?
The secretary and her boss always pretend that they know things that they do not! Never mind the birth pangs of the new Middle East – what we have here in the Lebanon Crisis is the partial birth abortion of the Lebanese democracy at the hands of a band of Israeli juvenile delinquents backed by the adolescent American bully. One is 50 years old the other 230 and, together, they want to recreate the Middle East of the millennia! In this part of the world, there are memories that run older than Israel and America. Here, there have been dynasties that have lasted more than 230 years! The West should forgo its uneducated efforts at re shaping the Middle East for yet a third time since 1919. When this region is ready to change, it will do it on its own.
Regardless – in Lebanon, I believe that in the long run the Shiite will gain greater power. The trilateral Christian-Sunni-Shiite governance in Lebanon is dead hereafter. The Shiite components of the Lebanese armed forces will soon join the Hezbollah in the war against Israel, if not already, and will do so for one reason – to exact a greater political and constitutional role when one day this Humpty-Dumpty is put back together. The selling point of this agenda – even if Hezbollah and Shiites are defeated in battle – will be that “We stood up against the aggressor while the rest of you supine collaborators stood by to see the country ravaged by Israel. At the end — the structures will be repaired, bombed out places will be repopulated, commerce will flow again, honor may be restored — but will the soul of Lebanon ever return?
About Guive Mirfendereski is a professorial lecturer in international relations and law and is the principal artisan at trapworks.com. Born in Tehran in 1952, he is a graduate of Georgetown University's College of Arts and Sciences (BA), Tufts University's Fletcher School (PhD, MALD, MA) and Boston College Law School (JD). He is the author of A Diplomatic History of the Caspian Sea>>> Features in iranian.com