Blogs > Cliopatria > Lebanon

Mar 10, 2005 6:06 pm


I've been struck by the enormous Hezbollah protest in Lebanon, which apparently has prompted the administration to adjust its approach to the question of Hezbollah participation in the Lebanese government and has led to the re-installation of the country's pro-Syrian prime minister.

An open question: can people think of a comparable occurrence in world history when a popular protest of such size occurred in favor of a foreign occupation?

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Sandor A. Lopescu - 4/16/2005

Now wait a minute Jonathan. Whatever problems Lebanon may have had running its own show, how can we call Syria anything but occupiers? Israel went into Gaza to fill a void too, but are/were they not occupiers?

Sandor A. Lopescu - 4/16/2005

I'll agree that we occupy Iraq, and that Israel occupies Gaza, but I don't think France occupied Germany during the 1980s simply because French troops were stationed there (in very large numbers). It is a fine line, but it's bad faith to call the military and intelligence control Syria exerts over Lebanon any thing but "occupation."

Sandor A. Lopescu - 4/16/2005

Louis is about the closest thing HNN has to an old style Stalinist anti-Semite. Amazing.

Sandor A. Lopescu - 4/16/2005

Check Louis' website.

E. Simon - 3/11/2005

If someone wants to degrade every group equally - then that might undercut a suspicion of bigotry. But when only a single nation or ethnic community is referred to in terms meant to conflate its existence with a political movement that helped bring about its official recognition as such - as if their officially recognized nationhood or ethnicity was wrong but everyone else's recognized national existence is A-OK, I'd say it looks like someone's got a specific axe to grind against that one ethnic group.

Jason Nelson - 3/11/2005

I am not convinced of your argument by basic name calling and extreame representations of your opponents. You might be wrong or right, but prove it, don't just throw bombs without backing it up, it persuades no one.

E. Simon - 3/11/2005

I'm not sure if the good professor was hoping for something succinct or original. He certainly didn't receive the former and I'm really wondering about the latter.

But what we did get was a precise accounting of exactly where you stand. Ethnic communities or nations get the respect of their own names. All, it appears, except one - which gets, instead, an intended pejorative in a reductionist effort to caricature as a mere, political threat. Of course he can specify many communities of various size - Arab, French, Maronites, etc. - all benign and deserving of the seal of political approval and recognition as a group of not merely a political nature. Jews or Israelis, on the other hand - (and don't forget the "Zionist" UN that allowed their nation to come into existence) - need special calling out to alert any and all to their uniquely threatening designs. Truly a Mein Kampf moment.

Thanks for letting us all know where you stand. Long-winded and pointless rambling alone would have revealed your lack of seriousness, but the special treatment you verbally meted out along selected ethnic lines did the job in a much clearer way.

Jeff Vanke - 3/11/2005

LBJ went soon after the wall was erected in 1961. JFK went in 1963. Both received massive thanks for American occupation and protection.

I think you're going to find these examples only in analagous situations, where the alternative was or is occupation or attack or unusual influence from a competing outside power.

Recent French interventions in the Ivory Coast and elsewhere in Africa come to mind -- their respective popularity and lack thereof have reflected existing deep and broad divisions within those countries.

Jeff Vanke - 3/11/2005

The reason Anschluss occurred when it did on 12 March 1938, was because the Austrian government was poised to hold a referendum on the subject. No one knew what outcome to expect. Hitler didn't need such a referendum, even a large minority "no" vote, to deal with, so he pushed Anschluss through at this moment. True, he planned to do it soon anyway, but that was exactly why the referendum came up, to bring pressure to bear against Anschluss. (Mussolini had stopped Anschluss in 1934, it seems, when he rushed troops to the Austrian border. He had given the green light by 1938.)

Robert KC Johnson - 3/11/2005

Yes. I wasn't trying to deny that Hezbollah was a Lebanese political force. It was, however, striking (at least based on the press coverage of the protests) to see the overt praise for Syrian occupation. It may be, of course, as Jonathan points out, that in a country so long under foreign occupation of one type or another, this kind of arrangement is recognized as a fall-out of earlier actions.

Nathanael D. Robinson - 3/10/2005

Although I would not call Anschluss occupation, since it had been politically popular since 1919 after the dissolution of the empire.

Louis N Proyect - 3/10/2005

Okay, here are the points:

1. The Syrian government is basically a very conservative outfit. Outlets like the NY Post, the Weekly Standard, Fox TV and the NY Sun would have you believe that it is embarking on a mission to revolutionize the Mideast along Baathist lines. Nothing could be further from the truth.

2. Bush's attempt to drive Syria out of Lebanon--on the other hand--is a an attempt to (counter)revolutionize the Mideast by toppling Saddam Hussein and effecting regime change in Syria and Iran. It seeks more pliant regimes that will be allies in its drive to assist Likudist ambitions in the Middle East.

3. For every action, there is a reaction. By getting rid of Saddam Hussein, it opened up the door to jihadism. By trying to foster an "Orange Revolution" in Lebanon, it has stirred Hizbollah into action.

Here is a post to my own mailing list from an Arab Marxist familiar with these issues:

The demo in Beirut was indeed impressive. Arabic sources are saying 1.5 million - the biggest demo in Lebanese history ever. The US media put the figures at one-third that, but couldn't minimize it very far.

It all makes Bush's song and dance about "bringing in democracy" totally absurd when clearly the "tyranny" you're bent on throwing out can arouse huge demos and the "democratic forces" can't.

I really don't think oil has much to do with the US game in Syria, which is very serious by the way.

There are lots of aspects of interest.

This time Bush is doing it Kerry's way. He's got the support of the French because the French are Lebanon's former colonial masters (and Syria's too) and still think of themselves as the patrons of the Maronite minority. So here the Bush administration can cobble together an international colonial concensus for intervention. And they're really working at it along all the old colonial ways. They reported yesterday that the head of the Maronite Church, Sfeir - I don't know if he's a bishop or cardinal or patriarch or what - was invited to Washington by Bush, so he's going of course, willing to play the colonial pawn role that his coreligionists pioneered back in the 19th century.

And in the process obviously the US is again betting on being able to play sectarian games, as they've been doing in Iraq.

The US strategy right now is basically to crush any reasonably large Arab state which can constitute any sort of power in the region. This is called "the spread of democracy." So first was Iraq, because it was the most independent, next Syria, and after that Egypt and Saudia. The whole episode in the Sudan was along the same lines as well, though there the Zionists also aim to assert some control of the headwaters of the Nile. Anyhow, since the Bush-Zionist team require total abject obedience, they can't abide any independent states with any independent strength.

Syria-Lebanon is "Israel's" most significant problem - far more immediate than Iran - so Syria is definitely next. And the door to Syria is Lebanon. Not just geographically on the ground but politically. Bush can probably manage to invade Lebanon to "protect" it and he might not even need to use any or many US troops; the French will probably oblige and the UN is likely to provide cover or the EU. Bush can't go directly for Syria with his whole army bogged down in Iraq, but he can manoeuver with the help of the French and get into Lebanon. And that would mean putting the "Israelis" in Lebanon at least the Mossad.

Damascus has been doing a lot apparently to placate the Americans; reportedly closing Palestinian offices that the US calls "terrorist" and telling representatives of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad to take extended vacations out of the country.

Meanwhile, of course, Syria has said it will be pulling out of Lebanon.

All this has emboldened Bush, the Zionists, the French and the EU and so Bush is now insisting on total Syrian departure, right now, etc., or else sanctions, military pressure, UN pressure, etc.

But the Americans are forgetting that the folks on whom their hopes ride in Lebanon - the Maronites - were almost crushed by the Lebanese left and Palestinians in the 1970s and it was Syria that came in and saved their butts - to keep the Zionists from moving in and presenting Syria with a war it couldn't avoid.

So the Syrian leaders are not to be taken at face value as they appear to be conciliatory.

Basically, if Syria pulls out, the Americans, French, and Zionists can come rushing in - just in time for the Lebanese civil war to begin round II!

My contacts tell me that people in the Arab world are already volunteering to fight in the coming Lebanese Civil War against the US and its local proxies. If Syria leaves and the US encourages its Maronite oligarch friends to seize total power again, there will be civil war again, and the Americans once again will be searching for scapegoats to blame for "bad planning" when they're sucked into that.

The assassination of Hariri - which the US and/or the Zionists did - was aimed at pushing the Lebanese Sunnis into the anti-Syrian camp. But I don't think that will last all that long if Syria leaves; the Sunnis won't be happy with US-French Zionist control. And any fundamentalists out there will help the Sunnis remember whose side they need to be on. Besides, the demo yesterday shows where the bulk of the population stands.

So basically, to me it looks like Bush is about to swagger into a huge trap that he's virtually forcing the Syrians to leave for him. As usual, he and his neo-con expert advisers haven't got a clue. If the Syrians are forced out of Lebanon they can say "welcome to the Lebanese civil war" and meanwhile use their Palestinian cards to turn Mahmud Abbas's smooth sail into an "Israeli" port into a very rough ride.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/10/2005

I wasn't; at least I didn't intend to. I'm trying to inject, along with my colleagues, some historical context and depth into the shallow presentist national discussion which is the despair of historians everywhere.

There's a lot of gray area between Iraq/Gaza and NATO. I firmly agree that Syria in Lebanon is much closer to the former than the latter, but it's worth noting that it didn't start that way.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/10/2005

What I'm suggesting is that it is a fine line (aka a huge gray area) between "peacekeeping", "friendly intervention", and "foreign occupation" and that not all "occupations" are equally objectionable. If you don't think so, try to define "occupation" in such a way that it does include Syria in Lebanon but doesn't include the vast network of US military bases around the world.... It's possible, but it's not easy.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/10/2005

If you have a point, make it, and include a link to the article. You may think that it speaks for itself, but most readers aren't going to do your work for you.

Louis N Proyect - 3/10/2005

The San Francisco Chronicle
Syria discreetly pulls 4,000 troops from Lebanon;
Tension-reducing moves may have link to an Iraq war

BYLINE: Robert Collier

Syria has quietly pulled about 4,000 of its soldiers out of Lebanon in the past week, substantially reducing its 27-year troop presence in the country and sending a signal of moderation to the United States.

The withdrawal from isolated barracks, bases and checkpoints throughout northern Lebanon cuts Syria's troop level in the country to about 16,000 -- fewer than half the number of soldiers it maintained only a few years ago.

The partial pullout is the most significant step in a recent series of moves by Damascus to reduce tension within Lebanon, a strategic rearguard of the Syrian government that is viewed by many in Washington and Israel as a potential flash point if the United States invades Iraq.

"The Syrians are very intelligent in the timing of their steps," said Gen. Elias Farhat, spokesman for the Lebanese military. "You can consider the troop redeployment a message for the Lebanese people and the U.S. government."

In the past several months, the Syrians also have reined in Hezbollah, the radical Shiite Muslim militia in southern Lebanon that is considered a dangerous international terrorist group by the Bush administration. And Syria has carried out a series of discreet negotiations with U.S. diplomats to iron out problems.

"The Syrians have been working with Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army to clear out the south and prevent anything from happening with Israel," said a Western diplomat in Beirut who closely follows the military situation.

Syria's quiet moves come amid speculation within the Bush administration and in Israel that a U.S. war with Iraq could cause a "second front" to be opened across the Lebanon-Israel border, possibly drawing Syria into the fighting and setting off a wide-scale Mideast conflagration.

Most observers say their worst fear is not that Hezbollah would itself start such fighting by firing across the Israeli border, but that small Sunni Muslim radical groups -- especially among the 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, some of whom sympathize with Osama bin Laden -- could sneak some potshots across the border in the hopes of prompting an Israeli overreaction.

"It's strange but true -- they're doing everything they can to keep the radical Sunni groups out of there," the Western diplomat said of Syria's motives. "If there's any conflict with Israel, they want to own it, and they think now is not the time for that. We think they have it under control."

These views, which are echoed by many diplomats and security officials in Beirut, sharply contrast with recent reports in the Israeli press citing Israeli military and intelligence sources as saying that Syria has helped transfer Iraqi weapons to Hezbollah and has helped al Qaeda terrorists gain a foothold in southern Lebanon.

Lebanese and Syrian officials insist that the Israeli claims were fabricated and that Hezbollah has no need for Iraqi missiles since it already has Iranian-supplied Katyusha missiles, which can reach about 13 miles.

During the 1975-90 civil war, Lebanon was one of the world's bloodiest and most byzantine conflicts, yet has largely dropped out of the headlines since then. Syrian troops entered Lebanon in 1976 to try to stop the bloody, chaotic fighting between rival factions. Despite a 1990 peace accord that called for the withdrawal of Syrian troops, the Lebanese government has agreed to allow the Syrians to remain.

By nearly all accounts, Syria exerts a huge yet secretive influence over Lebanese internal affairs. Syrian officials rarely make public comments on Lebanon, and the two nations' relations are so tight that they don't even have embassies in each other's capitals. Instead, relations are directed by a little-known body of top officials of the two countries, the Syrian-Lebanese Higher Council.

In an interview with The Chronicle, Nasri Khory, the Lebanese secretary-general of the council, said the remaining 16,000 Syrian troops will stay in Lebanon for the foreseeable future. "If there is war with Iraq, that will complicate the situation further," he said. "The Sunnis were moderate before, but now it will be more difficult to control some groups, and the Syrian presence is needed to help guarantee stability."

Officials of the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, whose 2,000 soldiers act as a trip-wire to prevent a resumption of war with Israel, largely agree with that assessment.

"There's no doubt that there's very heavy Syrian influence on the fact that the border has been quiet for months," said Timur Goksel, the chief civilian official of the peacekeepers. "I feel very confident that the Syrians, the state of Lebanon and Hezbollah are trying to prevent a so-called second front," said Goksel, who has been with the peacekeepers in Lebanon since 1979.

"What we don't know is how the Israelis would react," said the Western diplomat. "There have been very subtle, narrow rules for cross-border conflict -- exactly where Hezbollah can shoot its mortars and how the Israelis can react. If someone radically breaks those rules, and especially in the context of an Iraq war in which the Israelis are hyper-tense, would Sharon show restraint, or would he go overboard and attack Hezbollah and the Syrians?"

The Syrian presence is sharply criticized by some Lebanese, especially politicians from the country's Christian population, about one-quarter of the population. Many of these critics say they hope that if the United States topples Saddam Hussein and installs a pro-American government, Syria's one-party state will be forced to pull out of Lebanon altogether in an attempt to stay in power.

"Syria is very afraid that it could lose the last card in its hands against the Americans and Israel -- Hezbollah and Lebanon," said Gebran Tueni, publisher of An-Nahar, a center-right newspaper that largely reflects the viewpoints of the nation's Christians. "If there is a new government in Iraq, Syria's role in Lebanon could really change."

"Syria is trying to be on the safe side of the Americans, hoping that Washington will give Lebanon like a gift to Syria after the (Iraq) war," said Faris Soaed, a Christian opposition member of Parliament. "But this is not likely, and Syria will probably have to give up even more to the United States. It will have to give up Hezbollah -- or Lebanon altogether."

Yet other politicians and analysts say that the historical, social and economic ties between Syria and Lebanon are so strong -- and Lebanon's factional divisions are so dangerous -- that Syria will probably continue its dominant role.

These ties range from booming trade relations to the hundreds of thousands of illegal Syrian laborers who occupy the lowest rungs of Lebanon's workforce, such as street vendors and construction workers. Every weekend, crowds of Syrians come to Beirut to shop for high-end imported goods, and similar numbers of Lebanese go to Damascus to stock up on low-cost food and other products.

"There's no question that Lebanese would still be fighting each other if it weren't for the Syrian troops," said Adnan Arakji, a member of Parliament from the bloc of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. "But we really are two nations but only one people, and it's unrealistic to think that we can be separated."

Jonathan Dresner - 3/10/2005


You're right that the Austrians didn't by and large feel that Germans were "foreign" in the sense that they shared language, culture and race (in that charming 19-early20c fashion), but the Anschluss was still an invasion. Austria had scheduled a referendum on union with Germany, but Hitler decided to forestall it: if the vote had gone ahead and union had won (which it was likely to do, as I understand it) then nobody would have considered Austria occupied.

It's an odd case, to be sure, and that's what makes the Lebanon thing so interesting.

I think it's also worth questioning, as others have, why Syrian troops are considered "occupiers": I'm not saying that Syria doesn't have a lot more influence in Lebanon than it deserves, but the Syrian troops came in to fill a void, if memory serves, that we left behind.

Brian Ulrich - 3/10/2005

Hizbullah has always been a native Lebanese movement, if one that was supported by Iran and later Syria. The relationship with Iran should probably be seen as an alliance, though Syria can exert more direct pressure, as they do with the rest of Lebanon.

Oscar Chamberlain - 3/10/2005

Is Hezbollah foreign to Lebanon? I think the point here is that, regardless of how it arrived, it is now an indignous movement.

Likewise did the majority of Austrians consider Germany foreign in any essential sense?

Ralph E. Luker - 3/10/2005

What about the strong loyalist element in the American Revolution? I can't recall the hard data on it, but I've seen indications that a larger percent of American colonial citizens went into exile after the American Revolution than French citizens going into exile after the French Revolution.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/10/2005


That's what I've been saying, too. Democracies are actually harder to negotiate with, often: look at our own treaty track record of executives signing and Congress failing to ratify.

One could, I suppose, see Northern Irish Protestant support for continued union with Great Britain as being a similar phenomenon. But it's rare indeed

Ralph E. Luker - 3/10/2005

KC, It's hard for me to imagine that the administration _didn't_ understand that Hezbollah had widespread support in Lebanon all along. That's what I didn't get about all the celebration of democratization in the middle east. Democratization is very likely to yield regimes which are pretty hostile to the United States and much of western values, including perhaps democracy itself.

Robert KC Johnson - 3/10/2005

Yes, actually. Hadn't thought of Austria.

Rob D. Priest - 3/10/2005

The German troops were /greeted/ on entering Austria, but this probably isn't what you mean.

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