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.

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    "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."

    hear, hear!

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    Ken, I think your (and Tim's) point was most persuasively made a couple weeks ago by a friend of mine who used to be in the Army. (He got out several years ago.) He said that the armed forces should only be used for defense, and what constitutes defense should be carefully circumscribed. Once we go beyond defense and start talking about "American interests" then pretty much anything goes.

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    I think that idea would be more persuasive if you didn't use the term "improving their domestic political climates" to include everything up to stopping genocide. Hell, I think this country could use a better political climate, but it's a far cry from Slobo's Yugoslavia or Saddam's Iraq. If you don't think we should wage war to defeat fascist dictators, say so. Don't be ashamed and make it sound like we're invading Sweden to give them a less onerous tax code.

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    Tim Cavanaugh,

    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.

    And we're supposed to just take your word for that?

    ...who will want to avoid a one-man-one-vote system after Syria leaves.

    Well, Belgium seems to get away with it.

    ...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(!).

    Sounds like typical tribal politics to me.

    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.

    Interesting. Thanks for the new line of argument. :)

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    Gary,

    Well, Belgium seems to get away with it.

    as a belgian I must say. HUH???

    Last time I checked, I am one man and I have one vote.

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    Ambriorix, Gary is agreeing with you. He's saying, Belgium does just fine with it, why not Lebanon?

  • clarityiniowa||

    Tim Cavanaugh - I'm also not sure what to make of the consequentialist arguments

    I'm not sure what to make of the word "consequentialist."

    Seems to me there is a proliferation of "ists" and "isms" on H&R of late. Better be careful, or the President might decide to declare war on them all.

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    "And we're supposed to just take your word for that?"

    Considering that he qualified his remarks with the words "From what I can gather," is there a reason why we shouldn't? Tim appears to have first-person contacts in the area, and he hasn't exactly been regurgitating the Rove/McClellan propoganda line thus far.

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    Tim, I'm curious, what is your connection to Lebanon?

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    "He said that the armed forces should only be used for defense, and what constitutes defense should be carefully circumscribed. Once we go beyond defense and start talking about "American interests" then pretty much anything goes."

    That's one line of argument. I'm willing to stretch the definition of defense to include some activity with our traditional allies--surely an alliance is an effective form of defense.

    ...and I'm still skeptical of the idea that destroying a tyranny in one nation bolsters liberal movements in third party nations.

    ...and in any predictable way.

    I would also add that if some fresh hell of a tyranny were to take to power in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan or Syria--by democratic means or otherwise, I wouldn't blame it on the U.S. invasion of Iraq without further qualification. However, if a fresh tyrant appears in Iraq--God forbid--or if Iraq descends into a bloody civil war--God forbid--, I will blame the U.S. invasion of Iraq for that.

    ...Ultimately, as I've said many times before, my opposition to the Iraq War was predicated on the value of what we were supposed to get relative to what it was likely to cost. What we got is hard to quantify--we didn't make the U.S. much safer from terrorism than it was when Saddam was under the watchful eye of the coalition, and I remain skeptical of the beneficial effects of the invasion to third party nations. What it cost us is easier to quantify--we can look at the budget, but, more importantly, we can look at the cost in American casualties and Iraqi civilian casualties.

    I thought there would be more American casualties during the invasion phase of the War. I thought it likely that Iraq would descend into civil war. But, at any rate, a big elective gamble with a small pay off equals a bad war. If the Bush Administration won the gamble, (and that's still a big "if" for me) that doesn't make it any less of a gamble. I'm against elective gambles with American troops.

    ...My charge against the Bush Administration has always been incompetence.

    P.S. Maybe someone else has already brought this up elsewhere, but drafting people to fight a war in which the sole purpose is to benefit some other country seems like a particularly reprehensible act to me. I imagine some other nation building a Washington crossing the Delaware mythology with American troops playing the part of the Hessians, and the thought gives me nausea.

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    The big payoff in the Middle East is going to take a little longer. We are just seeing the beginning of it now.

    The big payoff will benifit the people of the region, and it will also benifit us by undercutting the causes of 9/11.

    And sure, it's a gamble. It is also the only proactive plan put on the table by anyone. Except maybe the plan to remove all our troops from everywhere, but the antiwar.com types are not about to implement any policy changes, and they are wrong anyway.

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    "regardless of the consequences" is a pretty over-the-top statement. And as another poster pointed out, it is not as if we were invading Great Britain because we thought the parliamentary ban on fox-hunting was an intolerable intrusion on human freedom. We deposed a particularly genocidal, deranged, bellicose and anti-American tyrant ensconced on top of a pool of oil, in a region that produced the 9/11 murderers - some real stakes involved here.

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    "regardless of the consequences" is a pretty over-the-top statement."

    At what point do we leave Andrew? When everyone in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are finally free?

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    Ken

    Our troops leave Iraq when the security sitiuation permits. Our policy of urging democracy in the Mid East doesn't inherently require troops in Iraq, anymore than it inherently requires troops to be stationed in Saudi Arabia.

    But we don't leave OFF urging freedom on the Arab world...until they get it.

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    And...yeah, you're right Ken - it will probably take until about the end of 2005.

    (Maybe 2006...I can get too giddy, some times.)

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    "Ambriorix, Gary is agreeing with you. He's saying, Belgium does just fine with it, why not Lebanon?"

    I'm sorry that I din't get that right away. I was sober at the time.

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