THE STATE GETS A BAD PRESS TODAY. IT DOES TOO little, it does too much. It serves itself, it serves anyone but you and me. The rich seek to deny it the wealth it needs to run. The poor demand more of it than any organization can deliver. "Special-interest" pressure groups condemn it when it heeds the pleas of others. Individualists decry it as interfering when it tries to play fair with all. Disarmers depict it as warmongering. The defense community warns that it neglects the simple necessities of national security. The law-and-order lobby complains that it is soft on criminals. The civil libertarians allege that it wants to send honest men to jail. Everyone, left, right, center, wants more or less of the state and finds few good words to say about it unless he gets what he wants. Even the Marxists, who put their shirt on the state's back, look forward to the time when it will wither away. The state seems to have no friends at all.
What would its critics, even its enemies, make of a country where the state does, because it can do, virtually nothing? Such is the condition of Lebanon. Even in February, the outward trappings of the state were all present. There was a governmental structure, with a head of state, a prime ministerial office, a parliament, and a raft of political parties. Lebanon had a seat at the United Nations and maintained embassies in most foreign capitals, which issued visas and revalidated the passports of its nationals resident abroad. There was a constitution, a judicial code, and a legal apparatus whose courts occupied prominent buildings in the country's major cities. There was a police force, and a customs-and-immigration service that inspected the papers of travelers at ports of entry. There was a civil service, whose members continued to be paid, and a rapidly dwindling army, whose maintenance was the principal charge on the government's account. But of a state that defends, adjudicates, taxes, heals, educates, governs, there was no trace at all.
This is the country that the four contingents of the multinational force were pledged to rescue from anarchy. Not anarchism, of course; that idealistic creed holds that communities, if untroubled by state selfishness, will learn to settle their differences and regulate their relationships by homespun diplomacy. Woe to the hopes of Bakunin and Malatesta! Lebanon abounds in communities, few of them subject to state authority, that cherish their differences and conduct their relationships at the point of a gun. A few heroic elements of the state system rise above the prevailing tide of sectarianism. On the second night of a visit I made to Beirut in December, a car-bombing of a Greek Catholic church round the corner from the Commodore Hotel brought the international press corps, sped thither by the taxi fleet that hovers at the hotel's door, to the scene within a minute of the bang. But the Beirut ambulance and fire services were ahead of us, the crews of their little Volkswagen buses busy with the damage and the casualties. They are almost the lone representatives of what you and I—hatethe state, love it, or pass by on the other side—expect as a matter of course.
The other normalities of existence function erratically or not at all. Self-interest ensures that the public utilities—electricity and water—are generally spared interference, and the corporations somehow collect their revenue. The service of both utilities is nevertheless frequently interrupted, either because shelling or sabotage damages their installations or because demand exceeds output from the machinery left intact. Many streets run with water from unrepaired pipes, and most stores and public buildings are flanked by petrol-driven generators. The sound of their springing to life in chorus is the sign that the electricity has been cut again. Only half the numbers in the national telephone system function. The postal service has been in disarray for years, unsurprisingly so when letter carriers may be murdered for belonging to the wrong religion. When the Beirut airport closes, foreign mail cannot leave or enter the country at all. Closures are frequent and often prolonged, for the airport lies in the shadow of the Shouf Mountains, within easy artillery range of the Druze and Syrian guns hidden behind their crests. And it is not only the airport that lies under their threat. The whole of East Beirut, the Christian quarter, can be and is reached by shells from the Shouf.
IT IS NOT AS IF BEIRUT WERE SOME FORMLESS THIRD World sprawl, with wasteland and vacant lots be-tween the buildings to absorb the weight of hostile firepower. Beirut is a large, densely built, and densely packed modern city. Most of its buildings are European in style and so is its pattern of life. Indeed, its inhabitants look European—an observation offered in an entirely unracialist sense. The Lebanese political leaders who attended the November meeting of the "reconciliation" conference in Geneva may have succeeded only in agreeing that "Lebanon is an Arab country," and it is certainly true that all Lebanese speak Arabic. But many speak English, a lot of Christian (and some non-Christian) Lebanese prefer to speak French, and virtually all Lebanese look Mediterranean French—or Greek or Italian—rather than what Europeans and Americans think of when they visualize Middle Eastern people. In many ways the Lebanese look more European than their near neighbors the Israelis, who, since the immigration of round about a million Oriental Jews, present in some districts a distinctly Asian appearance. And while Israel turns increasingly in upon itself, agonizing over policies that mean little to the Western world, a large part of the Lebanese population—Sunni Moslems as well as Christians—strains to emphasize its Westernness, and many residents seek nothing more earnestly than the chance to escape into the Western promised land. Two million Lebanese do in fact live abroad (there are major Lebanese communities in Wheeling, West Virginia; Austin, Texas; and St. Louis, Missouri), and by now the money they send home amounts to 40 percent of the national income. Many in Lebanon are sustained by the hope of joining the branches of their families in the diaspora.
This emphasis on the Westernness of the Lebanese is not intended to imply that what has been done to them (leaving out of consideration what the Lebanese have inflicted on themselves) would be more excusable if it had been done to Yemenis or Ethiopians. I emphasize their Westernness because I am addressing a Western readership in a Western magazine and I believe that people understand best the troubles of those with whom they can most closely identify. Which takes us back to the devastation and suffering that nine years of war—civil war, factional terrorism, foreign intervention against terrorism, war between foreign armies on Lebanese soil—have visited on Lebanon in general and on its capital in particular. Beirut is a city of a million people, one third of the population of the country. Perhaps 400,000 (no one has counted) inhabit the ramshackle southern suburbs around the airport, most of them newcomer, whether Palestinian refugees or Lebanese fugitives from the Israeli occupation of the south. The rest live in the city proper, which, seen at a distance, resembles any other prosperous port metropolis on the Mediterranean. The center is dominated by the high-rise towers of luxury hotels. The waterfront is girdled by a corniche and lined with charming seafood restaurants, blocks of expensive apartments, foreign embassies, and the tree-shaded campus of the American University. At the well-equipped harbor, efficient modern installations mingle with Franco--Islamic buildings instantly reminiscent of the setting for Casablanca.
Particularly Casablanca-like is the customs building, through which travelers who arrive by sea—as I did and as all must do during the frequent airport closures—make their entry. Arched and colonnaded, overhung by cypresses, it has honey-yellow walls that breathe the tranquillity of Mediterranean voyaging in the era of the Blue Train and the Messageries Maritimes. Close inspection reveals the irruption of Early Devastation style. Overturned container trucks, loopholed for defense and draped with barbed wire, block the main entrance. Splashes of bullets pockmark the façade. A lopsided sign points across the basin to the jetty of the Beirut Yacht Club, where the moorings are occupied by the funnels, masts, and derricks of cargo ships that have been resting on the harbor bottom since shelling—Syrian, Israeli, or Lebanese—sent them there in some forgotten round of the war in any year since 1975.
Early becomes Middle and Late Devastation style as the traveler penetrates the city. Every television viewer has watched the Battle of Beirut, though haze of memory will prevent him from putting dates to the episodes. Absolutely nothing in what he has watched will prepare him for the results. The gaps in the blockfronts of the South Bronx, opened by arson and urban decay, approximate somewhat the damage done to Beirut's center. Probably no city in the world has been as physically afflicted by the effects of street fighting as this one. For the Battle of Beirut—the many acts of which have involved almost every party to the Lebanese conflict—has been fought in the age of ammunition affluence, and every wall bears the marks. Block after block, high-rise and low-on the front, side, and back-the buildings are smallpoxed, measled, and acned with bullet strikes. An average building, fifty feet high and thirty feet wide, will show. two or three thousand bullet marks on its face. A building that has been the focus of a prolonged street battle will have been windworn by bullets, its contours eroded like the rocks of Monument Valley—doorways doubled in width, window pillars narrowed to sticks, roof lines serrated, all sharp edges rounded or flattened. It is perfectly possible, given the quantities of ammunition available, that large buildings at the borders of mutually hostile districts, like the Holiday Inn and the Phoenicia Hotel, have been hit by a million bullets, or two, or three: who can say? This is not just the nuclear age. It is also the age that has made ammunition junk, a throwaway commodity like popcorn or wedding rice.
Yet even the evidence that guns have been used like aerosol cans in Beirut's streets these past nine years will not attune the visitor to face what has been done to the city's heart. Beirut, time was, liked to think of itself as the Paris of the Levant, and photographs of the Place des Martyrs ten years ago lend substance to the claim. The Place was tree-shaded, filled with gardens, and lined by the dignified facades of a great commercial quarter, where French fashions were sold beside Islamic antiques. Today the Place is a silent shell, eerily magnificent, resembling a gigantic film set conceived with a megalomania exceeding Griffith's or De Mule's. The scale and the extent of the destruction beggars belief. It is as if midtown Manhattan had been burned out from Grand Central Station to 50th Street and from Fifth Avenue to Third. The streets have been bulldozed clear and—thanks to the bravery of the engineers of the French contingent—swept of unexploded munitions and mines. The walls stand. But the interior of each building is filled with the rubble of its collapse. And for block after block the sightseer meets not a living soul.
Beyond the empty heart of the city, and outside the hours of curfew, which, when I was there, fell every evening at eight and lifted at six in the morning, life, in the intervals between outbreaks of civil strife, went on with a bizarre normality. No doubt even now cars coagulate in enormous traffic jams, shoppers throng the streets, children troop to class—when their parents judge it safe—wearing the neat cotton tabliers of French elementary school pupils. Doctors and dentists receive patients, banks (there are sixty Lebanese banks) change money, stores offer for sale the gamut of international merchandise: Japanese electronic goods, Hong Kong textiles, Italian shoes, East European glassware. There is a Mediterranean-café life to the city; a plethora of newsprint, daily and weekly, French, English, and Arabic; leisure to gossip and pass the time of day in the famous Beiruti argot: "Shu haida, chérie, how's business?"
But there is also a strained, harried, almost frenetic dash to Beiruti street life, as if the passers-by were hurrying to put distance between themselves and each parked car. "Roving massacres" is what a Beiruti journalist has called car bombs, and their detonations have punctuated the city's life, often with ghastly results, ever since the shooting began. The strain goes deeper. Acute mental illness has declined since the outbreak of the civil war, an effect familiar to psychologists: external troubles rout ones that come from within. But the mentally stable are afflicted by chronic, low-level anxiety, which manifests itself in psychosomatic illness, ulcers, overeating, dependence on tranquilizers, and an inability to face a future of more than a few days' duration. A sense of powerlessness and an inability to comprehend what has happened to them, and why, lie at the root of the Lebanese neurosis. Many Lebanese confess to feeling like the victims of a conspiracy that they do not understand and whose source they cannot locate. There are, nevertheless, objective reasons for their situation, ones for which the Lebanese cannot be held wholly to blame. Some of the objective reasons are recent and contingent, particularly those stemming from the Israeli intervention, and some originate with the earliest appearance of Christian and Moslem populations in the Levant.
LEBANON IS A COUNTRY THAT AMERICANS ARE peculiarly ill suited to understand. The American miracle may be represented in a number of ways, political and economic as well as cultural. But it can be argued that the supreme triumph of the American people is to have produced the largest homogeneous cultural unit on earth. Neither China or Russia, comparable though each is in extent and population, can claim that the official lan-guage of the state is understood from border to border or that the values that obtain among the governing and intellectual class of the capital are the raw material of public life in the remotest province. Both countries are the cultural inferiors of the United States in that respect. But the "melting pot" ethos that has long directed the outlook of the United States is nevertheless a drawback when the country seeks to exercise its power in regions that do not resemble it. And there is probably no country in the world, not even multilingual Nigeria or multi-ethnic India, that resembles the United States less than Lebanon. An American might suppose that in a territory 135 miles long and fewer than 40 broad, with a total area smaller than Connecticut's, and with a civilization dating back 6,000 years, cultural differences would have mellowed if they had not altogether disappeared. Such a supposition would be entirely wrong. There has been no Lebanese melting pot. The Lebanese have been at daggers drawn for centuries, and in recent times the differences among them have sharpened rather than blunted.
It has been suggested by a Palestinian commentator, Hussein Sirriyeh, that influences on Lebanese affairs may be categorized under four headings: the Lebanese, the Palestinian, the Arab, and the international. Then, he says, differences among Lebanese may be divided into four kinds—sectarian (Christian against Moslem), socio-economic (poor against rich), political (pan-Arabist against Lebanese nationalist), and dynastic (local Lebanese leaderships against one another). This is to oversimplify. It leaves out of account—to mention but two factors—Israeli strategic concerns and Lebanese regionalism. It also passes over the puzzling and important question of what Syria wants from its embroilment in Lebanon. Syria has never accepted the separate existence of Lebanon, which under Ottoman rule was counted as part of the same political entity. To Damascus, therefore, Lebanon is Syria irredenta. But irredentism does not fully explain Syrian policy, which is also influenced by the desire to get Israel out of the Golan-an aim that Syria will perhaps realize by protracting its occupation of northern and eastern Lebanon and by the determination to see a pro-Syrian government installed in Beirut. It may also be that Syria is pessimistically convinced of the inevitability of another war with Israel, and hopes to see it fought on Lebanese territory rather than its own. Some or all of these considerations help to explain Syria's dogmatic refusal to move as long as there are Israeli forces in southern Lebanon, an intransigence it justifies by arguing that its forces arrived in the country at the invitation of the Lebanese government and not by unilateral act, as Israel's did. Because it leaves out the immense imponderable of Syria, Sirriyeh's analysis is even more limited as a tool for understanding. But it does at least bring into immediate focus the most fundamental and sanguinary of the differences among Lebanese, which is the sectarian one.
Lebanon belongs to the heartland of Christianity, and thereby to the storm center of Christian heresy and schism. Quarrels over the nature of Christ are no longer the staple of relations between Christians, but 1,500 years ago they were. The Nestorians, who believed that in Christ there were two separate beings, and the Monophysites, who believed that Christ had a divine nature alone, energetically propagated their doctrines against the official teaching that Christ was a single person with a divine and a human nature. The Monothelites, who believed in two natures but a single will, were later entrants to the fray; later still were the Orthodox schismatics, who had their own views about how the Holy Spirit descended from Father to Son. Regionalism and difficulties of communication between regions solidified these differences. Thus, the Christians of the Euphrates Valley became firmly Nestorian, the Armenians Monophysite, and the Maronites, now the leading Lebanese Christian community, Monothelite. The Syrian Christians eventually came to be numbered among the Orthodox churches. But these were not outcomes that Rome would let rest. At various periods between the Crusades, which greatly strengthened papal influence in the Levant, and the eighteenth century, Roman emissaries talked these churches or portions of them back into the fold, within which they preserved their own rites and customs. The Maronites came back en masse, the local Orthodox in part, the Armenians in a minority. The result is that there are today in Lebanon ten separate versions of historic Christianity: Maronite, Syrian Orthodox and Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Catholic, Armenian Orthodox and Catholic, Chaldean and Assyrian Nestorians, and some mainstream Roman Catholics, under no fewer than five professed occupants of the ancient Patriarchate of Antioch. The presence of some undisputatious Lebanese Presbyterians seems a comparative blessing.
Many of the representatives of the ancient churches would not be where they are but for the second important religious factor: the Arab conquest and the waves of religious persecution that the rise of Islam provoked. Moslems should not under Koranic law and do not much in practice persecute Christians. But all sects fall short of perfection by their own standards. Islam, which is a political as well as a religious system, often seems to be persecuting when, by its own lights, it is merely punishing non-Moslems for dissidence or aggression. The effect is the same.
The Maronites, according to their historians, arrived in Lebanon to escape the authority of the Abbasid caliphate in Syria, during the eighth century. The Syrian Christians were displaced into Lebanon in the early nineteenth century by the fanaticism of the Wahhabi reform movement, whose descendants today control Saudi Arabia. The Armenians arrived, as a result of Ottoman Turkish oppression, during and after the First World War.
Whether the communities arrived early or late, propinquity did not necessarily breed Christian fellowship. The large sects, among whom the Maronites stand first and the Greeks, Catholic and Orthodox, second, have a long record of disagreement; the Armenians, here as everywhere, stand somewhat apart, though they are widely admired for their industry and citizenship; the small sects take shelter under whose wing they can.
It seems probable that Lebanon, narrowly defined (about which more later), was largely Christian until the seventeenth century. But that does not mean that the rest of the population could be described, in contradistinction, as Moslem. Islam is almost as fissiparous as Christianity, and both of its main streams were represented in the country from early times: the orthodox Sunni and the schismatic Shia, who disagree about the descent of authority from Mohammed. But there is also present a branch of the Alawites, the Moslem minority sect to which President Hafez Assad belongs and through which he exercises power in Syria. Arid, of great local importance, there are the Druze.
The essence of the Druze religion is a closely guarded secret. As a result, the Druze may be regarded as a sort of Moslem sect or, alternatively, as nothing of the kind. In Israel, where numbers of Druze live, they cooperate with the state and provide a large contingent of the border police. In Lebanon, they are a power in their own right, with an ancient tradition and a proud record of resistance to foreign authority. The Druze appeared in the eleventh century, when they accepted the self-proclaimed divinity of one of the caliphs of Islam, and in the seventeenth century they set up as an independent polity. The secret nature of their religion resolves itself politically in a remarkable obedience to their own central authority and militarily in their famous fighting power.
SECTARIANISM COUNTS FOR LITTLE IN POLITICS unless the sects can defend themselves. Geography defends Lebanon's sects. On the central plateau of Turkey or in the riverine plain of Egypt, they might have dwindled into historical oddities. But Lebanon is mountain territory. "The Lebanon" is, indeed, a range of mountains, flanked by the Anti-Lebanon range, with the Bekaa Valley between them. "The Mountain" is how many Lebanese, and the Maronites in particular, refer to the region from which they spring. In the short but steep river valleys, many of entrancing beauty, that run from the watershed of the coastal range to the sea, minorities were for generations safely secluded from enemies and central authority. The coastal townsmdash;Tyre, Sidon, Tripoli, Beirut—became places of settlement for merchant immigrants, particularly Greek Orthodox and Catholics, and for the Sunni, whom the Ottoman regime favored. The Shia found room where they could. The intractable Maronites and the Druze made the Mountain their place of refuge. The mountains south of Beirut, particularly the Shouf, became the Druze heartland; the mountains to the north became "Marounistan," as journalists now call it, home to the Maronites. Geography did more than shelter the Druze and the Maronites. Because of the steepness of the river valleys running to the sea, which cut one group of villages off from the next, the standing of the valley chieftains was very sharply enhanced. Among the Druze, the calculated secrecy of their religion, which kept knowledge of the mysteries limited to a chosen few, overcame separatism. Among the Maronites, united in common belief, geography made each valley a family fief. The ancient quarrels of the feudal families persist to bedevil Christian—and so national—politics in Lebanon to this day. The most bizarre twist those quarrels have taken recently is the murderous exchanges between the two Maronite dynasties of the Franjiyehs and the Gemayels, resulting in the murder of the Franjiyeh heir apparent by Gemayel gunmen in June of 1978.
There are other mountain regions of the world whose inhabitants nurse a lofty isolationism and visit their local antagonisms on one another. Kurdistan is an obvious example. But the Kurds have the misfortune to sit astride a route to nowhere, so their long struggle for independence has failed to attract the world's attention. Lebanon straddles one of the greatest strategic corridors of conquest and trade. That is among its misfortunes.
No state seeking to exercise power in the Mediterranean or the Middle East can ignore events in Lebanon, any more than it can those in Israel. The two countries between the Syrian coast to the north and the fringe of Sinai to the south provide the land route connecting Asia with Africa. The time will no doubt come, as the great geopolitician Halford Mackinder predicted, when the technology of transportation will abolish the importance of land bridges. It has not done so yet. Historically, this one has been of the greatest significance. Along the narrow strip between desert and sea, armies have marched since the dawn of history. And though today the grazing land, water, and level ground that the route affords do not have the same military significance as when cavalry won battles, the route is still vital to power in the region. It is geography, as much as ideology or history, that makes Zionism a force to reckon with. It is the confusion of ideologies struggling for power over the same geography that makes Lebanon the plaything of external forces that it has become.
Yet, historically, the region has been under one rule far more often than not. It was so under the caliphates of the eighth and ninth centuries and again under the Ottomans from the sixteenth. In the interim, Mameluke and Crusader imperialism caused quite short-lived disruption. The international boundaries that chop through the great coastal route today are of recent and European making. The origin of those that define Israelis well known. The story of the delineation of Lebanon's boundaries is more complicated and obscure, though it begins at the same time.
AFTER THE FIRST WORLD WAR, ACCORDING TO plans laid during it, France became the mandatary power, under the League of Nations, in what today is Syria and Lebanon. Historically, "Syria" is the term for an eclectic region, loosely held by the Ottomans, lying between the Taurus Mountains of Turkey in the north and the desert of Sinai in the south and extending as far inland as the headwaters of the Tigris and the Euphrates. The division of the region between British and French mandates, and the creation of the Arab kingdoms that they sponsored in Transjordan and Iraq, sundered that loose but historic unity. And the French went further. Rather than rule their mandated territory as a single unit, they chose to divide it into quarters: a Druze state in what is now southern Syria, an Alawite state in northern Syria, the rest of modern Syria, and "Greater Lebanon."
In creating this last state, the French were institutionalizing a separation that they had been instrumental in imposing on the Ottoman Empire sixty years before. The Ottoman Turks had ruled Syria since the sixteenth century, but had been content that its more remote regions should muddle along while paying their taxes and not disturbing the peace. Other mountain regions in the empire, like Albania and Montenegro—poor, backward, and awkward to administer—enjoyed similar dispensations. But "Mount Lebanon" differed from Turkey's other backwaters by reason of its Christian population and its links with the West. France had long since constituted itself the papacy's agent in relations with the Maronites; it provided them with missionaries and had founded their network of modern schools. In 1860, as a result of an outbreak of violence between Druze and Christians, in which 11,000 Christians were massacred in a few weeks, France led an international peace-keeping force into the country and insisted that the Turkish sultan re-order his rule there to prevent a recurrence.
The outcome was the creation of the Special Region (Mutesarrifate) of Mount Lebanon. Roughly coinciding with today's Druze and Christian heartlands, it was put under the governorship of a Christian non-Lebanese subject of the Turkish sultan, who answered directly to the sultan at Istanbul. The Special Region was divided into seven districts, whose boundaries were drawn along religious ones and whose headmen were to elect an administrative council the composition of which would reflect the size of the different religious groups. Maronites and Druze predominated. It was under this liberal and successful system of government that Mount Lebanon was ruled until the Ottoman Empire collapsed, in 1918.
The French, as mandataries, naturally chose to perpetuate the system that they had inspired. Had they done only that, the Lebanese Republic, whose independence, under French protection, was proclaimed in 1926, might flourish yet. Unfortunately, the French decided to reward their Lebanese friends and supporters—both those who wanted a Greater Lebanon for its own sake and those propertied families whose holdings extended beyond the Mountain into the purely Moslem lands of the Bekaa Valley and elsewhere. It was a decision that also suited French purposes, since it further set back the demands of the nationalists of historic Syria—who included Christians as well as Moslems—that the region should form a single state under mandated rule. Such a state would have been impossible for the French to control over the long term. The result of French gerrymandering and Lebanese ambition was to turn the Mount Lebanon of two communities, Christian and Druze, into a Greater Lebanon (effectively the present state) of three, Christian, Druze, and Sunni Moslem, with a growing Shia Moslem element threatening to make a fourth.
Thence the making of the Lebanese problem of today. The French understandably chose to rule through their historic allies, the Maronites, and the Maronites too often chose to run the government as if the other communities were their inferiors. Their attitude was bound to make for trouble, and trouble came before the outbreak of the Second World War. But the war also presented the opportunity for a new beginning, and it is to that new beginning that many Lebanese today look back with the nostalgia felt for a lost golden age.
Lebanon and Syria (into which the Alawite and Druze entities had been absorbed), along with the rest of the French overseas territories, remained under French rule after the fall of France, in 1940. But the British in Palestine, mistrusting Vichy's resolve to keep the two free of German influence, decided to invade the territories in April of 1941. De Gaulle, as leader of the Free French, associated himself with the decision and simultaneously proclaimed the full independence of the two territories. His delegates subsequently backslid, but the British—who had had a long (and, to French eyes, not entirely disinterested) relationship with the Druze—held them to their word, and under Britain's tutelage a new Lebanese constitution was worked out.
Known as the National Covenant, this 1943 agreement provided for what was seen at the time to be a fair, though not equal, division of power among the communities. The Christians, who had been the largest community when the last census was taken, in 1932, were to enjoy a six-to--five majority in the distribution of parliamentary seats and to hold the presidency. The Sunni were to hold the prime ministry, and other posts were to be divided among the other communities. The Shia, for example, have come to hold the speakership of the parliament, and the Druze the post of chief of staff (but not commander) of the army. The princi-ple underlying the covenant was that none should hold a monopoly of power, so that policy would be determined by consensus.
In theory, the covenant operates to this day. Since in practice it manifestly does not, the question asked by the puzzled—and they include most Lebanese—is "What went wrong?" Or, as I put it to a journalist long resident in the country; "Who is to blame?" "A third, a third, and a third," was his answer. "A third the Lebanese themselves; a third the other Arab states, for interfering; a third the Israelis, for invading." An analysis so crude can scarcely do justice to the intricacies of recent Lebanese history. But since it has the merit of concentrating on essentials, it is worth pursuing.
FIRST, THE LEBANESE. LEBANESE POLITICS, SO kaleidoscopic in character that the patterns shift under the eye of even the most unblinking observer, nevertheless rotate around a number of fixed points. Religion, as we have seen, is one. Regionalism is another. Wealth or poverty is a third. A fourth is the importance of community leaders, whose standing may derive from membership in one of the ancient feudal families, or from control of a political organization, or from religious charisma, or—increasingly in recent years—from command of an armed force. A fifth, the most recent factor in Lebanese domestic politics, is the presence of the Palestinians, who began to arrive in the country after the Israeli war of independence, in 1949.
Among other fixed points that are keys to understanding the Lebanese crisis are the events crucial to its development over the past twenty-five years. The first was the short civil war, between the old Christian Lebanese establishment and the rising force of Moslem dissidents, that was ended by United States intervention, in 1958: it warned that the basis of the National Covenant was breaking up. The second was the Cairo Accord, in 1969, by which the Lebanese government agreed with its interested Arab neighbors to concede virtual autonomy over the seventeen Palestinian settlements in the country to the Palestinians, and to desist from restraining the cross-border terrorism of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The third was the intervention, despite the Cairo Accord, of the Lebanese army against the Palestinians, in 1973. The fourth was the outbreak of a civil war in April of 1975, triggered by a round of local murders subsequently to become typical of Lebanese communal relations, which devastated central Beirut, killed thousands, and left the country divided. The fifth was the arrival of the Arab Deterrent Force, largely Syrian, in June of 1976, which was designed to bring the war to an end. The sixth was the first Israeli intervention, in March of 1978. The seventh was the second Israeli intervention, in June of 1982, which culminated in the siege of Beirut and the evacuation of the PLO.
In recent years, the number of effective actors on the Lebanese stage has been reduced, and there has been a significant shift and concentration of force. Ideological positions have been robbed of much of their meaning; terrible rancor has been caused by the killings; destruction and displacement of populations overlie all policies. Effectively, the Christians are now in the hands of the Maronites, among whom the Phalange party—founded in 1936 in imitation of the authoritarian parties then dominant in Europe, though now Byzantine rather than fascist in its policies—has extinguished, in many cases by murder, the importance of its competitors and the families that led them. The Sunni Moslems, long established and comparatively prosperous, have lost much of their traditional influence, which was based upon a civilized understanding with the Christian leadership. The Druze, politically both a community and a party (the Progressive Socialist Party), have, under the leadership of the feudal Jumblat family; become allies of the left-wing groups in the country. Those groups, forming the National Salvation Front, are socialist and pan-Arabist; besides Syrian arms, they derive their strength from the poor Shia Moslems and, increasingly, the Palestinians.
Communities and parties are geographically concentrated, and the fighting since 1975 has made them more so. The Christian heartland has always been in East Beirut and in the mountains to its north (Marounistan). The north, particularly Tripoli, has always been largely Sunni, and there, through the deployment of a local militia, the Sunnis retain political importance. The south, now under Israeli occupation, has long had a Shia majority, increasingly large because of the group's high birthrate. Emigrants and refugees from that region populate the so-called "belt of misery" around Beirut, a chain of ramshackle suburbs inhabited by the poor. It is also heavily populated by Palestinians, who have some additional settlements in the north, outside Tripoli, in the Bekaa, and in the south. Until quite recently, West Beirut, traditionally Sunni, remained the one region where Moslems and members of other communities still lived in amity. Finally, the Shouf Mountains above Beirut are the heartland of the Druze, who have recently depopulated the region of most of its Christian inhabitants. The Druze in the Shouf can link up with the Shia and Palestinians in the "belt of misery."
Observers of Lebanese affairs now often argue that the making of the current lamentable situation can be dated to the American intervention of 1958, which inhibited a necessary redistribution of power from the Christians to the Moslems in the country. It did not seem like that at the time. The United States, whose missionaries and teachers had been a major influence in the country since the early nineteenth century; regarded Lebanon as an oasis of stability in the troubled Middle East and its political system as something to be preserved at all costs. The landing of the United States Army and Marines, during a war that cost 2,000 lives, undoubtedly preserved the system. But it left the Christian presidency of the country as dependent as ever upon Moslem acceptance of the status quo, at a time when Moslem sympathies were increasingly exercised by pan-Arabism and the plight of the Palestinians.
It was that shift of Moslem sympathy that obliged President Charles Helou, in November of 1969, to agree to the Cairo Accord, by which the Palestinians and their armed forces within the country were effectively released from government supervision. The accord had two direct effects within Lebanon. It frightened the Christians into enlarging their own unofficial armed forces, the "militias," of which that of the Phalange was the strongest. And it opened the country to direct retaliation by the Israelis for Palestinian attacks on their territory. Moslem protests at the government's inability to deter such retaliation led to the intervention of the Lebanese army against the Palestinians in May of 1973, which some see as an attempt by the right—Christian and traditional Moslem—to bring on a Lebanese "Black September." It was that event in Jordan in 1970, in which King Hussein had used his army against the Palestine Liberation Organization, that had brought Palestinian armed force to Lebanon in strength.
Palestinian resistance to the Lebanese army during the May fighting outraged the Christians. It realized their worst fear, that of a Lebanon robbed of its independence and pluralist character. By the spring of 1975, the Christian militias were spoiling for a fight, and in April they got one. A political murder of a Christian triggered a revenge massacre of poor Moslems by Maronites, and shortly afterward fighting among militias became general—first between the Phalange and the Palestinians, later between Christians and Moslems indifferently. During this period, close observers calculated that up to fifty militias existed, some only a few dozen strong, but all enjoying a measure of support, internal and sometimes external as well, and controlling a defined portion of territory. The first months, though characterized by murder for sectarian reasons, were neither very costly in lives nor materially destructive. In September, however, with tempers aroused and arsenals full (it is an arresting fact that Soviet-bloc weapons were found as often in Christian as in Moslem hands; the Soviets have done a promiscuous arms business in the Middle East, and they have every sort of blood on their hands, even Syrian), the war became savage. In the isolated Christian areas of the south, like the coastal town of Damour, the local militias were defeated and the civilians killed or expelled. But it was in Beirut itself that the worst of the fighting took place and the real massacres began.
Here the Maronites had the upper hand. Their effort to break into West Beirut eventually failed, but it left its indelible mark in the despoiling of the skyscraper-hotel area and in the devastation of the Place des Martyrs and its surroundings. The Maronites' attempt to purge the Christian zone of non-Christians, particularly poor non-Christians, was gruesomely successful. During January of 1976, they depopulated and largely bulldozed three refugee and shanty camps in East Beirut, massacring 1,000 men, women, and children, and expelling 20,000.
Massacre seems endemic to the Middle East. It was the Ottomans' favored method of exerting or restoring control within their empire, as the diaspora of the Armenians bears witness. There were serious massacres of Christians by Moslems in Syria and Lebanon during the nineteenth century and of Moslem dissidents by French auxiliary troops in Damascus as late as 1925. Massacre does not, in the Middle East, arouse hatreds; it revives and confirms those that already exist. The massacres of early 1976, Christians in Beirut, Moslems in Damour and the Beirut suburbs, had a further effect: they destroyed the integrity of the Lebanese army.
Like anything else in Lebanon, rank and recruitment in the army were determined by religion. The commander was a Maronite, the chief of staff a Druze, and the colonels Christian and Moslem in a six-to-five ratio. Critics of the old Lebanese system alleged that the army had been starved of funds and men so that it would not constitute a danger to the government, as other Arab armies did. It was certainly small-only 14,000 men. But thitherto it had done its job and had held together well- The massacres caused it to divide into four parts. One quarter constituted itself the "Arab Army of the Lebanon," under a Sunni. One quarter joined up with the Maronite militias. One quarter attempted to remain neutral. The fourth quarter went home. About half the rank and file actually joined in the subsequent fighting, in equal Christian and Moslem proportions. Separate from all of these, though perhaps the most significant, was the force raised by Major Saad Haddad, a Greek Catholic from the south, which would act as an Israeli-bother militia during and after the Israelis' withdrawal in 1978.
The dismemberment of the Lebanese army along sectarian lines meant that the authority of the state would now have to be shored up from outside if the country was not to be submerged in the welter of intercommunal fighting. The Christian leadership showed itself ready to make concessions, and in May of 1976 it sponsored a new president, Elias Sarkis, who was prepared to conciliate. But the Maronites' real hope seemed to lie, paradoxically, with Presi-dent Assad and the Syrian army—the second of the three major factors on the Lebanese scene. Syria's plans for the settlement of the Palestinian question did not coincide with those of Yasser Arafat and the PLO, and President Assad was keen to check the PLO's growing importance inside Lebanon. The Maronites, for their part, felt able to forget that Syria regarded Lebanon as a "lost province" (it had never opened an embassy in Beirut) in return for immediate aid. On June 1, 1976, the Syrian army entered the country in strength. Its presence was rapidly regularized by the approval of neighboring Arab states, who dispatched small detachments of their own to join it in forming an Arab Deterrent Force, which by November occupied the whole of the country, short of the border with Israel, and brought the fighting to an end.
The intervention, though a defeat for the aspirations of the Palestine Liberation Organization, was a dramatic relief for almost all the other parties to the conflict, at least temporarily. It provided a solution that even the leftist Moslem groups of what was then called the National Movement could accept with good grace. The Maronites, who saw the Syrians as the saviors of "old Lebanon," were exultant. But objectively, there was little to exult over. The Lebanese economy, once the most buoyant in the Middle East, and which had given many Lebanese, Moslem and Christian, a Western standard of living, was in ruins. The material cost of the war was calculated as equal to the entire gross national product for 1974. Thirty thousand Lebanese had been killed, and a quarter of a million had been driven from their homes, many permanently. Most government offices, of all sorts, had been looted and wrecked. The prisons and even the hospitals for the criminally insane had been emptied by extremist groups. And nothing remained of the Lebanese army.
THE COUNTRY MIGHT NEVERTHELESS HAVE BEEN nursed slowly back to health but for the operation of the third factor in the Lebanese sum: the Israelis. Domestic obsessions had made the Lebanese unfit to resist having the Palestinian problem foisted upon them. The arrival of the Palestinians had exacerbated sectarian and socio-economic antagonisms within the country to the point where they had provoked civil war. Given the arbitrary, overbearing, and often revoltingly cruel and extortionate behavior of the Palestinian fighters, the resistance they provoked even among Lebanese sympathetic to their cause should not have surprised them. The suppression of the civil war by external Arab forces had heightened Israel's fears for the security of its northern border. The hostile Syrian army was that much closer, and it showed no intention of interfering with the campaign of the nearest Palestinian forces against Israeli territory.
That campaign, in reality, scarcely threatened the survival of the Israeli state. The Irish Republican Army is a far more effective terrorist organization than the Palestine Liberation Organization, which since 1969 has inflicted far fewer deaths on Israel than the IRA has on Northern Ireland, which has a smaller population. Nevertheless, the analogy should not be pushed too far. The IRA's hopes for a united Ireland are not contingent upon the overthrow of the British state. It is precisely the fear of national extinction that PLO rhetoric arouses among the Israelis, a fear that makes many of their reactions understandable. But Israel's reactions to Palestinian threats from Lebanon look counterproductive, to use an overworked word. In March of 1978, under the peculiarly inappropriate code name Stone of Wisdom, the Israeli army invaded southern Lebanon, advancing as far as the Litani River in order to root out Palestinian forces there. It is generally agreed that the operation was bungled, and its principal result was to draw into the country a United Nations supervisory force, which thereafter lived on uneasy terms with the Israeli-sponsored Haddad militia.
Neither the UN force nor Haddad could altogether prevent occasional Palestinian attacks on northern Israel. But the second, and disastrous, Israeli invasion, in June of 1982, does not seem to have been motivated by security considerations in the strict sense. The pretext for it was the attempted assassination of the Israeli ambassador in London by Palestinian terrorists. Its purported aim, as represented by various interested parties, was to defeat the Syrian army without invading Syrian territory, or to settle the future of the West Bank by humiliating the PLO leadership, or—very far-fetched—to invalidate the idea of a mixed Jewish-Arab Palestine by destroying for good the only pluralist state in the Middle East. The real Israeli motivation seems to have been simpler and more obvious. Having secured their southern border by making the peace treaty with Egypt, the Israelis now sought to secure their northern border by taking conclusive military action. An operation that would defeat the Syrians and expel the Pal-estinians would make Israel safe for decades. Exactly the same calculations about their northern and southern borders had animated the strategic and diplomatic policies of the Crusaders, who when at peace with one neighbor had usually been driven to fight the other.
Such geographical imperatives can make for bad politics. Operation Peace for Galilee, launched on June 6, 1982, achieved the temporary expulsion of the PLO from Lebanon and inflicted a heavy defeat on the Syrian army and air force. But it also, for the first time, cast the Israelis in the role of aggressors, not because they initiated the attack on the Palestinians or even on the Syrians but because they did so apparently in disregard for the welfare of the Lebanese, who, however feckless they had been in the past, were by then manifestly incapable of defending themselves and entirely undeserving of the fate that their defenselessness brought upon them. It was the spectacle of the Israel Defense Force's bombardment of West Beirut during June, July, and August that prompted the Western powers to intervene temporarily with a peace-keeping force. It was the shock and horror of the Shatila and Sabra camp massacres—a return to the practices of civil war fomented by Peace for Galilee—that brought about the recall of the multinational force and the decision to leave it in place until a tolerable level of security in the Beirut region could be assured by other means.
One of those means was the newly reconstituted Lebanese army, upon which great hopes rested. The army and the multinational force, however, were powerless to prevent the February, 1984, uprising in West Beirut, which once more brought the country to the brink of civil war. In two days of bitter small-arms and heavy-weapons exchanges, Shia Amal and radical Sunni Mourabitoun militiamen drove the soldiers out of their positions in the streets and resumed the control that they had exercised there before last September, when the army took control of West Beirut. The army units were not defeated. In many cases, they simply disintegrated. Moslems in the ranks refused to use their weapons against their co-religionists, left their posts of duty, and awaited the outcome of events.
The disintegration of the army, on which Lebanon's hopes of statehood had rested, meant the collapse of the policies—both of the Gemayel government and of the United States—that had seemed promising only a few months before. The army, of course, had been a tender plant. Before April of last year, it had withered to almost nothing. In that month the government embarked on a conscription program, and, to everyone's surprise, recruits started to come in. Regular pay, hard to find in an economy as devastated as Lebanon's, was a strong incentive to the recruits—but there seems to have been more to it than that. The recruits joined in proportions approximately equal to those of the country's religious communities. Druze, it is true, were scarce. But Sunni and Shia Moslems seemed as ready to report for duty as Christians did, and many of them traveled from within areas controlled by the Syrians to answer their draft calls. The Americans who were training the army were enthusiastic about the quality and the commitment of the young men who came under their command. Projections of the size of the force, and operational plans dependent upon them, were optimistically revised. The army had hoped by early 1985 to field seven brigades, each organized into three armored infantry battalions and a tank battalion in support. The new plan called for twelve brigades, comprising 35,000 combat troops. Particularly satisfying to the Americans, after years of dealing with allies and protégés who seemed keener on taking than giving, was that the Lebanese government paid for all equipment and facilities it consumed. Thanks to the gold and foreign-currency reserves in Lebanese banks, the government was able to borrow freely, and on that credit it bought $800 million worth of American equipment in 1983. It also paid for the training teams dispatched by the United States government—teams that the U.S. Army had kept small so that the embryonic army would not fall into the error of expecting to be taught everything instead of learning for itself.
I found the senior American staff optimistic that the army would shortly be strong enough to advance to cut the route by which Syrian munitions reached the Druze and Shia militias. It may have been the prospect of such a move that emboldened the Shia, Druze, and Sunni fighters—prompted, no doubt, by their Syrian backers—to take their decisive February counteraction against the army
In addition, Moslem disaffection was fueled by the in- ability of Arnin Gemayel to mount a convincingly national government. It is certainly open to question whether any leader could have succeeded in welding together a country with two mutually hostile foreign armies on its soil and with fratricidal factions spread out across the map in deadly propinquity to one another. Clearly, however, Amin Gemayel did not show the formidable political talent needed for the job. As long as the Israelis were camped in the Beirut suburbs, Gemayel looked a credible leader. But with the abrupt Israeli redeployment to southern Lebanon in September, Gemayel lost the main prop of his power. By having signed a troop-withdrawal agreement with Israel in May, he had already lost flexibility in accommodating Moslem demands. Caught thus between the conflicting designs of the two regional powers—Israel, for a treaty with a second Arab state, in addition to Egypt, and Syria, for an abrogation of that treaty and a Lebanese government more to its liking—Gemayel had scant room to maneuver. He looked for help to the United States, which the Maronites regarded as their next savior after the hopes they had attached to the Israelis were dashed. But the United States was able to deploy only 1,800 troops in Beirut, and the whole multinational force only 4,000, whereas the Syrians had some 35,000 troops in Lebanon, some within a few miles of Beirut.
Moreover, the logic of American policy was from the beginning badly askew. On the one hand, the Americans pressured Gemayel to make his government more representative of Moslem numbers and interests. The likely upshot of this pressure would be a Lebanese government closer to Syria than the Gemayel government was, because this is what the Moslems allied with Syria would demand. On the other hand, the Americans were putting military pressure on the same Syrian government whose interests American diplomacy was, willy-nilly, advancing. Gemayel seems to have dealt with this muddled American strategy by stalling on the political reforms whilst hoping for an American deus ex machina to deliver him from both the Syrians and their clients among his countrymen. The suicide bombings of the French parachutists and the American Marines in October should have shown Gemayel that the Americans were just as vulnerable to terrorism, even state terrorism, as his brother Bashir, whose death by a terrorist bomb the year before may have deprived Lebanon of a resourceful leader. With so many cross-pressures to balance, Lebanon needed a Talleyrand. Instead, it got what one Moslem leader, not too unfairly, called "a little Shah."
Seen in a broader perspective, however, the problems of Lebanon go far beyond anything that any one man could set right. They have to do rather with the nature of the polity in which the several religious confessions of Leba-non have fruitlessly been trying to live together for so long. Had the French been content to erect a Lesser rather than a Greater Lebanon, comprising the Christian and Druze heartlands, there seems little doubt that it could have been made to work. The inclusion of a large Moslem minority put the state at risk from the start. The swelling of the Moslem population to its present size means that Moslem discontents will always provoke Arab intervention in Lebanon's affairs. Since Syria, as the successor state of the Ottoman province of that name, would not accept a separate Lebanon, Lebanon's survival was bound to depend on its ethnic differentiation from its larger neighbor. No such differentiation prevails. The populations of Syria and Lebanon are nearly identical in ethnic and religious composition (though in different proportions), an elementary point lost on an American Administration that construes Lebanon's problems in the distorting light of the East-West struggle. The Sunni and Shia communities are thus part of a constituency that extends far beyond the boundaries of Lebanon. President Assad's government considers itself entitled to intervene in Lebanese affairs. It does so with a politically uninhibited ruthlessness, and is sure of a measure of support when it acts. The Christians have twice recently been able to contain such intervention, by invoking first Israeli and then American assistance, but they are not likely to be able to do so again.
What must now be faced by the parties to the Lebanese conflict, domestic and foreign, who hope for a return to the simplicity of the National Covenant is that the old Lebanon is gone for good. Despite the absence of census statistics, it is clear not only that the Christians no longer form a majority within the country but also that they are now but one community among four. Realities therefore demand that they share the power that the constitution gives them more widely than they have been hitherto willing to do. It would be ironic for the United States, which has invested so much of its prestige in shoring up historic Lebanon, were constitutional reform to increase rather than diminish Syrian influence within the country. But the exercise of effective foreign policy, even for a superpower like the United States, has ultimately to do with recognizing realities rather than chasing illusions. Alas for a once fleetingly happy land, the Lebanon of yesterday has now passed into the realm of illusions.
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