Sunday, August 22, 2010

US support of the LAF is counterproductive

A "news analysis" in the New York Times by Robert F. Worth comes, unsurprisingly, to a conclusion that the US must continue and perhaps increase aid to the corrupt and ineffective Lebanese army. Its flaws are obvious, starting with the beginning:

Earlier this month, Israeli soldiers were pruning a tree on their country’s northern border when a firefight broke out with Lebanese soldiers across the fence, leaving one Israeli and four Lebanese dead.

The skirmish seems to have been accidental.
And Worth's ability to ignore basic facts just keeps going. He mentions
The Lebanese Army, meanwhile, has been so intent on preserving its status as the country’s one neutral institution that it is now largely impotent. During the fighting in May 2008, for instance, soldiers sat in their American Humvees and watched, unwilling to take sides.

Yet he concludes that if the US wouldn't fund the LAF, then Hezbollah would take over Lebanon.

This "analyst" clearly hasn't spent five minutes reading the statements of mainstream Lebanese, including LAF leaders, concerning the border incident with Israel. Their reaction was identical to Hezbollah's - no one is the least bit critical that they sent a pre-planned ambush to murder Israelis, complete with tipping off a large number of reporters that a routine and legal tree-cutting was going to turn into major headlines. Their hatred of Israel far exceeds their hatred of Hezbollah. The liberal idea that funding states somehow magically turns them into friends has been proven time and time again to be laughably false, but it has become a major foundation of US foreign policy.

Everyone who reads Worth's worthless piece should also read the following, written by EoZ contributor Zvi.

Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid provides a fairly sensible commentary on the Lebanese Armed Forces' attempt to seek donations to fund procurement in the wake of the loss of $100M from the United States. Although one provably fallacious phrase has been added (the claim that the tree was in southern Lebanon is "malarky"), the rest of the column is quite sensible.  

The crisis with the Lebanese army is not due to it being ill-equipped, nor does this concern the army's need to develop, but rather the problem is the army's position in the structure of the state, and the lack of it being acknowledged as the only state instate with the right to bear arms.  
In other words, the problem is that the government of Lebanon is not a sovereign government, according to the definition of sovereignty. It does not have supreme, independent authority over Lebanon, because it cannot control territory held by Hezbollah or by the Palestinians. It does not enjoy a monopoly on the use of force, and cannot enforce its authority throughout the state.  
Al-Rashid concludes,  

One of the reasons that may have prompted the Americans to spend so generously to equip the Lebanese army – having invested more than $600 million to date – is because they think that the army will one day be strong enough to eliminate militias such as Hezbollah. However this is unrealistic when looking at the current situation in Lebanon; for the army will remain weak without a political agreement on granting the military powers, not just weapons.  
Any western support for the LAF is pointless and misguided. Recent events demonstrate that while the LAF cannot and will not solve any of Lebanon's problems, it can easily make them worse. With this in mind, and despite my respect and affection for the people of Lebanon, the United States and other western powers must not support or contribute to the LAF.

Who do you trust more to understand Lebanese politics: a New York Times columnist whose conclusions were set in stone before he did any research, or an Arab who has studied Lebanon for years?