The Fall of Lebanon
"If you have tears, prepare to shed them now....
Oh, what a fall was there...
Then I, and you, and all of us fell down."
--William Shakespeare, "Julius Caesar," Act 3, Scene 1.
May 21, 2008, is a date--like December 7 (1941) and September 11
(2001)--that should now live in infamy. Yet who will notice, mourn, or
act the wiser for it?
On that day, the Beirut spring was buried under the reign of Hizballah.
Speaking on October 5, 1938, after Britain and France effectively turned
Czechoslovakia over to Nazi Germany, Winston Churchill said, "What
everybody would like to ignore or forget must nevertheless be stated,
namely, that we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat...."
In contrast, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch said that the
agreement over Lebanon was, "A necessary and positive step." At least
when one sells out a country one should recognize this has happened
rather than pretend otherwise. But this is precisely what took place at
Munich, when the deal made was proclaimed as a concession that brought
peace and resolved Germany's last territorial demand in the region.
Churchill knew better and his words perfectly suit the situation in
"The utmost [Western diplomacy] has been able to gain for
Czechoslovakia...has been that the German dictator, instead of snatching
the victuals from the table, has been content to have them served to him
course by course."
Yes, that's it exactly. On every point, Hizballah, Iran, and Syria, got
all they wanted from Lebanon's government: its surrender of sovereignty.
They have veto power over the government; one-third of the cabinet;
election changes to ensure victory in the next balloting; and they will
have their candidate installed as president.
The majority side is not giving up but is trying to comfort itself on
small mercies. The best arguments it can come up with are that now
everyone knows Hizballah is not patriotic, treats other Lebanese as
enemies, and cannot seize areas held by Christian and Druze militias. It
isn't much to cheer about.
Nevertheless, as in 1938, a lot of the media is proclaiming it as a
victory of some kind, securing peace and stability in Lebanon.
Not so. If Syria murders more Lebanese journalists, judges, or
politicians, no one will investigate. No one dare diminish Hizballah's
de facto rule over large parts of the country. No one dare stop weapons
pouring over the border from Syria and Iran. In fact, why should they
continue to be smuggled in secretly? No one dare interfere if and when
Hizballah, under Syrian and Iranian guidance, decide it is time for
another war with Israel.
This defeat was not only total, it was totally predictable. Just as
"If only Great Britain. France and Italy [today we would add the United
States, of course,] had pledged themselves two or three years ago to
work in association for maintaining peace and collective security, how
different might have been our position.... But the world and the
parliaments and public opinion would have none of that in those days.
When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is
thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might
have affected a cure."
Instead there was a lack "of foresight, unwillingness to act when action
would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of
counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its
jarring gong...." Actually, though, as Churchill knew, when he spoke
these faults were still not corrected. The folly continued.
And so is what comes next? Back to Churchill:
"All is over. Silent, mournful, abandoned, broken, Czechoslovakia
recedes into the darkness." That country suffered because it put its
faith in the Western democracies and the League of Nations (now the
United Nations). In particular, she was betrayed by France whom the
Czechs then, and the Lebanese today, trusted to help them.
The UN Security Council on May 22 endorsed the Lebanon agreement even
though it totally contradicted the Council's own resolution ending the
Hizballah-Israel war, thus betraying the commitments made to Israel
about stopping arms smuggling, disarming Hizballah, and keeping that
group from returning to south Lebanon. The UN's total reversal of its
demands from two years ago--constituting a total victory for Hizballah--did
not bring a flicker of shame or even recognition that this in fact had
All this is a victory for terrorism. It is quite true that the Lebanese
Shia--like the German minority in Czechoslovakia which Hitler
promoted--has genuine grievances and that Hizballah has real support in
its own community. But how did it overcome the other communities, the
other political forces in Lebanon? Through assassination and bombing
albeit done by Syria's surrogates rather than directly), by intimidation
and fear, by demagoguery and war.
Iran and Syria help their allies; the West doesn't. And so the message
was: We can kill you; your friends cannot save you. Look at their
indifference! Despair and die.
And here, regarding the future, we can only quote Churchill's speech
"In future the Czechoslovak State cannot be maintained as an independent
entity. I think you will find that in a period of time which may be
measured by years, but may be measured only by months, Czechoslovakia
will be engulfed in the Nazi regime. Perhaps they may join it in despair
or in revenge. At any rate, that story is over and told. But we cannot
consider the abandonment and ruin of Czechoslovakia in the light only of
what happened only last month. It is the most grievous consequence of
what we have done and of what we have left undone in the last five years
- five years of futile good intentions, five years of eager search for
the line of least resistance...."
Lebanon will not disappear as a country on the map, of course--contrary
to the Iranian alliance's intentions toward Israel--but it is now going
to be part of the Iranian bloc. This is not only bad for Lebanon itself
but also terrifying for other Arab regimes. The Saudis deserve credit
for trying to save Lebanon. But what will happen now as the balance of
power shifts? They are less inclined to resist and more likely to follow
the West's course and adopt an appeasement policy.
Again, Churchill in 1938:
"Do not let us blind ourselves to that. It must now be accepted that all
the countries of Central and Eastern Europe will make the best terms
they can with the triumphant Nazi power. The system of alliances in
Central Europe upon which France has relied for her safety has been
swept away, and I can see no means by which it can be reconstituted. The
road down the Danube Valley to the Black Sea, the road which leads as
far as Turkey, has been opened.
In less than four years, that is where German armies were marching,
thankfully a situation far worse than we can expect in the Middle East.
Yet the trend toward appeasement and surrender could well be similar.
"In fact, if not in form, it seems to me that all those countries of
Middle Europe... will, one after another, be drawn into this vast system
of power politics--not only power military politics but power economic
politics--radiating from Berlin, and I believe this can be achieved
quite smoothly and swiftly and will not necessarily entail the firing of
a single shot."
His specific example was Yugoslavia whose government within three years
was ready to join Germany's bloc. (It was prevented from doing so only
by a British-organized coup but was then invaded and overrun by the
Only the names of the countries need be changed to make Churchill's
point apply to the present:
"You will see, day after day, week after week [that]...many of those
countries, in fear of the rise of the Nazi power," will give in. There
had been forces "which looked to the Western democracies and loathed the
idea of having this arbitrary rule of the totalitarian system thrust
upon them, and hoped that a stand would be made." But they would now be
Churchill knew that his country's leader had good intentions but that
wasn't enough. His analysis of British thinking applies well both to
Europe, to President George Bush's current policy, and very well to the
thinking of Senator Barack Obama:
"The prime minister desires to see cordial relations between this
country and Germany. There is no difficulty at all in having cordial
relations between the peoples. Our hearts go out to them. But they have
no power. But never will you have friendship with the present German
government. You must have diplomatic and correct relations, but there
can never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi
power, that power which...vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest,
which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and
uses, as we have seen, with pitiless brutality the threat of murderous
force. That power cannot ever be the trusted friend of the British
Churchill understood that his nation's enemies took their ideology
seriously and that their ambitions and methods were incompatible with
And finally, Churchill understood the trend: things will get worse and
would even make it politically incorrect to criticize the enemy:
"In a very few years, perhaps in a very few months, we shall be
confronted with demands with which we shall no doubt be invited to
comply. Those demands may affect the surrender of territory or the
surrender of liberty. I foresee and foretell that the policy of
submission will carry with it restrictions upon the freedom of speech
and debate in Parliament, on public platforms, and discussions in the
press, for it will be said--indeed, I hear it said sometimes now - that
we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticized by
ordinary, common English politicians. Then, with a press under control,
in part direct but more potently indirect, with every organ of public
opinion doped and chloroformed into acquiescence, we shall be conducted
along further stages of our journey."
In short, what could be called "Germanophobia" or seen as war-mongering
in resisting German demands and aggression would be...verboten,
something often seen in contemporary debates when political correctness
trumps democratic society and pimps for dictatorial regimes and
Churchill predicted victory but only if the free countries--and even
some not so free whose interests pushed them to oppose the threat--were
strong and cooperated:
"Do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the
reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter
cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme
recovery of moral health and martial vigor, we arise again and take our
stand for freedom as in the olden time."
Wow. Well if you don't see yet the parallelism with the current time let
me continue on my own. Lebanon's brief period of independence has ended.
Lebanon is now incorporated--at least in part and probably more in the
future--into the Iranian bloc.
Only three years ago, after the assassination of former prime minister
Rafiq Hariri, almost certainly ordered at the highest level of the
Syrian government, a popular mass movement called the Beirut spring
helped push out the Syrian military. The resulting government was called
"pro-Western" in the newscasts, but it might have well been called
Forget about the Israel-Palestinian (and now Israel-Syrian) negotiations
or the latest reports from Iraq or Afghanistan. What has happened in
Lebanon is far more significant. When all these other developments are
long forgotten, the expansion of the Syrian-Iranian zone of influence to
Lebanon will be the most important and lasting event.
Basically, the supporters of the Lebanese government--the leadership of
the majority of the Sunni Muslim, Christian, and Druze
communities--capitulated to the demands of Hizballah. And who can blame
them? With a steady drumbeat of terrorist acts and assassinations, with
the Hizballah offensive seizing Sunni west Beirut, with the lack of
support from the West, they concluded that the battle was unwinnable.
Politicians, intellectuals, academics, and officials in the West live
comfortable lives. Their careers prosper often in direct relationship to
their misunderstanding, misexplaining, and misacting in the Middle East.
Then, too, all too many of them have lived up to every negative
stereotype the Islamists hold of them: greedy for oil and trade;
cowardly in confronting aggression, easily fooled, very easily divided,
and losing confidence in their own societies and civilization.
In a statement of almost incredible stupidity, the New York Times
"Everybody knew President Bush was aiming at Senator Barack Obama last
week when he likened those who endorse talks with 'terrorists and
radicals' to appeasers of the Nazis."
During the Cold War, I remember that it was said that if a Soviet
official or supporter began a statement like that--everyone knows--what
followed invariably is a lie. So it is in this case. For several years,
the main criticism of Bush has been his strategy of pressure and
isolation on Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah, and assorted terrorists.
There have been hundreds of op-eds, eds, speeches, reports, and other
formats on this point. It is the administration's number-one problem.
Suddenly, it applies only to Senator Barack Obama. What rubbish.
Equally, the principle issue is not just one of contacts with extremist
forces but how much toughness, pressure and isolation as opposed to
concessions (of which negotiations are one) and compromises are offered.
For example, there have been numerous ongoing contacts with Iran over
the nuclear issue for years, supported by the Bush administration. They
have all failed. For someone to come and say that negotiations have not
been tried is pretty ridiculous.
The hidden element there is really as follows:
The real fault is with us, not them.
You haven't offered enough.
And the assessment that no agreement is possible because of the other
side's aims and behavior is always unacceptable. This implies that
even if you talk with them and get nowhere, you just have to keep
listening to grievances, avoiding giving offense, trying, conceding,
In this context, what better example could there be of this dangerous
malady than Obama, the apparent Democratic nominee and possible future
president of the United States?
According to Obama at an Oregon rally, Iran does not "pose a serious
threat" to the United States. His reasoning is as disturbing--or more
so--than his conclusion. Obama explained that Iran has less to spend on
defense and if it "tried to pose a serious threat to us they wouldn't .
. . stand a chance."
We can now feel secure that the Iranians won't load their soldiers onto
landing craft and storm the New Jersey beaches. Unfortunately, that
isn't their military strategy. Perhaps Obama doesn't understand that the
average B-1 bomber costs less than a suicide bomber. Has he heard about
Forget that. Has he heard of terrorism, the Marine barracks' bombing, or
According to Obama:
"Iran they spend one one-hundredth of what we spend on the military. I
mean if Iran tried to pose a serious threat to us, they wouldn't stand a
chance. And we should use that position of strength that we have to be
bold enough to go ahead and listen. That doesn't mean we agree with them
on everything. That doesn't, we might not compromise with them on any
issues. But, at least we should find out are there areas of potential
common interest and we can reduce some of the tension that have caused
us so many problems around the world."
One cannot pretend away the implications of this paragraph. Let's list
No understanding that Iran follows strategies designed to circumvent
that problem of unequal power including terrorism, guerrilla war,
deniable attacks, long wars of attrition, the use of surrogates, and
The only way Obama sees for using the U.S. "position of strength" is
to listen to their grievances, as if we are not familiar with them. In
short, the only thing you can do when stronger is to get weaker.
Presumably the same applies when you are the weaker party.
Why is he so totally unaware that dialogue has been tried? A decade
with the PLO, longer with Hizballah by other Lebanese, four straight
years of European engagement with Tehran over the nuclear issue,
multiple U.S. delegations to talk with the Syrians, and so on.
Was nothing learned from this experience?
And what happens afterward if Obama's dialogue doesn't work? What
cards would he have left? What readiness to try another course?
Perhaps by then the Iranians will have nuclear weapons and other gains
negating that "position of strength" so fecklessly frittered away.
What possible issues can the United States find to compromise with
Iran? Let's say: give them Lebanon (oh, we already did that); ignore
their sponsorship of terrorism; give them Iraq; give them Israel;
withdraw U.S. forces from the region, accept their having nuclear
Why should the United States be able to reduce tensions through
negotiations when Iran wants tensions? There is an important hint
here: if the United States makes concessions it might buy off
tensions. Since Iran and the others know about Obama's
all-carrots-no-sticks worldview, they will make him pay a lot to get
the illusion of peace and quiet.
There is no hint, not the slightest, of his understanding the option
of using power to intimidate or defeat Iran, or as a way to muster
allies. If Obama had the most minimal comprehension of these issues,
he would fake it with some blah-blah about how America would combine
toughness with flexibility, deterrence with compromise, steadfastness
in order to gain more from the other side in negotiations. A critical
element in peace-keeping, peace-making, and negotiations is to act
tough and be strong in order to have leverage. Even in responding to
criticisms, Obama has only talked about whether negotiations are
conditional or unconditional and at what level they should be
conducted. He is oblivious to the fact that the chief executive does
things other than negotiations.
If this is Obama's strategy while Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons
what would he do in dealing with a Tehran owning them?
Make no mistake, Obama is channelling Neville Chamberlain--precisely
because what he says shows his parallel thinking. Many people may get a
chill listening to Obama but it certainly isn't a Churchill. Apologists,
sympathizers, and wishful-thinkers keep endowing this would-be emperor
with beautiful suits of clothes. He doesn't have any.
And at present, even more if Obama wins, the threat is of an Iran that's
aggressive precisely because it knows that it will not have to confront
U.S. forces. Tehran knows that it can sponsor terrorism directly against
U.S. forces in Iraq, and also against Israel and Lebanon, because that
level of assault will not trigger American reaction.
Yet anyone who doesn't want to get into war with Iran should be all the
more eager to talk about sanctions, pressures, deterrence, building
alliances and backing allies; in short, combating Iran indirectly to
avoid having to confront it directly.
All the more so now, however, Syria won't split away from Iran; Iran
won't give up on its nuclear program; Hamas won't moderate; Hizballah
won't relent. Why should they when they not only believe their own
ideologies but also think they are winning? In each case, too, they are
banking on an Obama victory--whether accurately or otherwise-- to bring
them even more.
There are too many Chamberlains and not enough Churchills, perhaps none
at all. Things are bad, very bad, for the West right now. The beginning
of repairing those strategic fortunes is to recognize that fact.
All quotes taken from the full text at
Barry Rubin is director of the
Global Research in International
Affairs (GLORIA) Center
and editor of the
Middle East Review of
International Affairs Journal.
His latest books are
The Israel-Arab Reader
(seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback
The Truth About Syria
A Chronological History of
with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and
The Long War for Freedom: The
Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East
Prof. Rubin's columns
can be read online.