Lebanon Is a Lightning Rod for Political Currents in the Arab World
The end of the civil war, in principle, has been premised on an equitable redistribution of confessional power in the system. In practice, however, the end of the civil war marked Syrian occupation of the country until the withdrawal of its troops in 2005.
While the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulder of Lebanese to salvage their nation, the West, especially the United States, has a stake and responsibility to assist the helpless Lebanese during their dire historic moment. No doubt, the Iranian regime, its proxies, and especially the political ruling class in Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut bear the main responsibility for pauperizing their populations to the point of starvation, as witnessed today in Beirut. However, Washington has exacerbated their socio-economic conditions by pursuing a strong economic sanction regime against them with little, if any, recourse to mitigate the suffering of the innocent populations. As more information trickled down from former National Security Advisor John Bolton, among other former officials, about the inconsistent foreign policy of the Trump administration, many Lebanese worry that their fate would not be better than the Kurds in Syria. Thanks to Bolton and others, it is no secret today that the care shown by the administration towards the Kurds of Syria was merely a smokescreen disguising the Trump administration’s main concern about Russia and Iran to the exclusion of all other parties.
No less significant, amid the intensified American-Sino Cold War, China has seen an opening to expand its influence further in the Mediterranean by carving for itself an Eastern Mediterranean Lake along the Lebanese coast and hinterland coterminous to that of Russia along the Syrian shore. Following ongoing Sino-Lebanese official talks, the Lebanese government received two letters from the Chinese state-owned conglomerate Sinohydro expressing its readiness to help Lebanon surmount its dire economic problems and to invest in the country’s infrastructure irrespective of American sanctions. Though Hezbollah and allies have tried to allay the fears of Lebanese of changing their country’s political, socio-economic and cultural image to reflect that of Iran and China, one could safely argue that absent an American involvement Lebanon may become part of a potential anti-American Iranian-Russian-Chinese axis. No wonder, the patriarch referred to Lebanon’s Mediterranean setting as a foil to Europe’s paramount historic bond with Lebanon.
Evidently, the Maronite Church was able to maintain and balance its historic bond with the West with its opening to the Arab world to help found Lebanon, which had preserved its unique “Lebanonist” identity despite the harsh vagaries of Middle East politics. Today, however, the Maronite church, as many Lebanese, clearly feels helpless in witnessing their political and cultural heritage being ripped off from its environment. Indeed, as Ali al-Haq’s suicidal legacy shows: Hunger is the infidel! In other words, hunger, from an existential point of view, has transformed the defining aspect of Ali’s primary mode of being by serving as an “infidel” catalyst to his physical death. This could well be the fate of Lebanon: A nation whose starvation might lead to its political and cultural morbid transformation, with death standing on the crossroads of its societal desperation.
The immediacy today is for the West to provide food aid to Lebanon via credible nongovernmental organizations to prevent its starvation. True Washington may not be able to save Lebanon from its mafia-like political ruling class; nevertheless, Washington can help prevent the starvation of Lebanese and save them from their helpless transformation into an anti-American morbid bastion, supported by Iran, China and Russia.
Robert G. Rabil is a professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University. His views are his own. He can be reached @robertgrabil.