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Another Thought On Lebanon

Lebanon’s voters have handed a clear defeat to the Hizbollah-led March 8 Alliance. In a smoothly run and peaceful election, the pro-Western March 14 Alliance emerged with a clear majority of 71 seats, compared to 57 seats for its rivals. The results elicited a nearly audible sigh of relief from Arab capitals, as well as from leaders in Europe and North America. ~Paul Salem

No doubt Mr. Salem is correct that our allied governments in majority Sunni countries and governments in the West were relieved by the election result, but consider how different the election outcome might seem to the publics of various Muslim countries around the world. They know that the Phalangists, for example, are members of the March 14 coalition, and they will remember that the Phalangists were allied with the Israelis during their invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and were directly involved in the massacres that forced Sharon from ministerial office at the time. They now see the Western world and the dictatorships of the Arab world rejoicing that these people and their allies remain in power. What will these people conclude from this? Nothing to our benefit, I’ll wager.

A great deal has been said about Obama’s changing of the tone, which has prompted calls for changes in substance as well, but what does the world see most Westerners celebrating? What does the world see many Westerners trying to credit Obama with? The preservation of the status quo in Lebanon. There has been no move to “the West” in Lebanon: the final numbers for government and opposition are virtually identical to 2005. In other words, there has been virtually no movement at all. To his credit, the President refrained from saying something stupid and congratulating the winners as some vanguard of freedom, but this has not stopped his cheerleaders and friends from doing this for him.

There are a lot of questionable claims being made about these elections. For starters, take the claim above that the opposition is “Hizbullah-led.” The March 8 Alliance itself is, yes, but not the opposition as a whole. Hizbullah is a major partner in the opposition, but if these numbers are at all correct they still have several fewer seats than the FPM. This is partly a function simply of the demographics of Lebanon, the sectarian representation built into Lebanese politics, and the requirements of the Doha agreement. In any case, FPM is the largest party in the opposition at the head of the Change and Reform group. Their presence in the government, had they won, would presumably have been greater. Then again, I suppose “Maronite-led” doesn’t sound quite so menacing. What everyone seems to keep omitting from their commentaries is that the Druze leader Jumblatt has said that Hizbullah will probably be invited to join a national unity government. What does that do to simplistic binary analyses of what’s happening in Lebanon? It destroys them.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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