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Hezbollah Comes Home to Roost
Israel and America’s Blooming Blunders

The face of regression descends on lebanon

The Western blunder, as old as the Crusades, is to assume Arabs inferior and malleable, to confuse backwardness with stupidity, and stupidity with incapacity. It’s the blunder that got the United States mired in Iraq, and facing absolute defeat there in a matter of time. It’s the blunder that once had France and Britain responding to similar humiliations with vengeful massacres. It’s the blunder that has had Israel spinning its strategic wheels, at Arab lives’ expense, since 1967, the last year it could claim a measure of moral imperative, because it was the last year, the last war, when Israel had unquestioned self-defense on its side. It’s also the blunder that got Israel and the United States double-teaming Hezbollah in Lebanon last summer (as a message to Iran, as an adrenaline shot to Olmert’s inferiority complex, as whatever: it doesn’t matter) only to end up fueling and legitimizing the very force it aimed to destroy.

Hezbollah emerged from the last Lebanon war its perverse “victor,” milking every leaded ounce of its confrontation with Israel for maximum propagandistic effect by letting Israel hang itself—first, in the court of public opinion; second, on the field, where the old blunder drove Israeli tactics right into a surprisingly deft and, as it turned out, unbeatable Hezbollah force. The two sides didn’t fight to stalemate. Hezbollah fought. Israel bombarded, and humiliated itself. So twice in six years, in 2000 and again in 2006, Hezbollah could claim that it had turned back the Israeli army. Whether it had done so in fact is irrelevant: so far as the mass of Arabs was concerned, Hezbollah’s Nasrallah was, is, as good as Saladin. That he has nothing whatever to do with Saladin—neither in background or disposition or aims—that he is, in reality, an anti-Saladin, a regressive, minor totalitarian to whom religion is both shield, shackle and cudgel, and that Israel and the United States have continuously underestimated his prowess at exercising that trinity to his power’s advantage, underscores the monstrosity of the old blunder.

And it’s what’s gotten us where we are today: A monster in his lair has been turned out, dressed up, beefed up and rendered a hero, and now he wants his due. The people who will now pay the price are the Lebanese, the same Lebanese who gave Hezbollah its newfound worship in those enemy-of-my-enemy days. But as anyone familiar with the weather patterns of Mideastern alliances, the needle is always on the variable. Nasrallah is now calling out his masses onto Lebanese streets to topple the Lebanese government. He wants to be caliph. And he has Lebanon’s great turncoat on his side, the old General Aoun, a little generalissimo in his own right, the man who, in 1989 and 1990, once stood as the Lebanese Christians’ great hero for standing up to Syria, then skedaddling out of there and into posh Parisian exile until he saw his own perverse opportunity again, once the Syrians had been cleaned out of his homeland: return to Lebanon a hero, join forces with Hezbollah, and become president. That’s the end game now.

The irony is that Aoun will be more of a puppet at the end of Nasrallah’s hands than he ever would have been as a Syrian puppet. But so go the bargains of power. He’s a chicken, but no spring one, and he wants his crown. Nasrallah wants his power. He wants pay back for all those generations when Lebanon’s Shiites were treated like Lebanon’s effluent by Maronites and Sunnis. He has the numbers. He has the power. He has the weaponry. Now he’s going to have his day. Lebanon is crumbling before our eyes as we speak, as we write, and there’s nothing to be done about it. It’s a sort of fulfillment of altered prophesy. The Lebanon that barely a year ago was enjoying the illusion of its Cedar Revolution is now victim of the same sweep of regression smashing over the Middle East—an astounding sweep, considering how regressive the Middle East already was, how bankrupt that regression seemed, how ready for a change it all was a few years ago.

But there’s nothing like hubris to give regression its Lazarus act. That, in sum, is what Israel locally and the United States regionally have achieved. They have revived regression. No need, by the way, to quibble over the notion that Arabs are backward, at least in certain respects: in their political and legal systems, in their cultural output, in their educational systems, and above all, and most destructively, in their incapacity to see past their religious differences. In all those respects, they are the Medieval European of our day, combined with a Soviet-style fixation on authoritarian power. But at the same time one always knew that whatever backwardness was in play, it would eventually give way under the weight of modernity—not the West’s, but Islam’s own: it once was modernity itself. It would become so again, given the necessary throes. The great error (that blunder again) was to rush those throes from without, instead of letting them emerge organically from within.

So here we are. Set back for who knows how many years, how many generations. Hezbollah ascendant in Lebanon, the Taliban ascendant in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda not yet descendant everywhere else, and Israel and the United States, these mastodons of pride and presumption, reduced to spectators at their own game. Thank you. We could have done without.

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