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Thursday, July 27, 2006


the case against partition

posted by Aziz P. at Thursday, July 27, 2006 permalink View blog reactions
The idea that Lebanon is a failed state, and should be torn asunder, surfaces repeatedly. It is in one sense an excuse for the enlarged scope of the Israeli offensive against Hizbollah. But the issue does deserve discussion in the broader context of foreign policy aims aimed at furthering our own goals. To those ends, proposed partition of Lebanon (and/or Iraq) would only undermine prospects for peace.

Partition only works if the ethnic enclaves are reasonably contiguous. The ethnicities in Lebanon are not as separable as pro-partitioners imply. For it to work, partition would require resettlement - which is invariably a massive scar that never heals.

India is quoted as an example of a multi-ethnic success story. I largely agree; but if you look at indopak as a whole, we really are talking about a single canton in a very large partition - and the richest one in terms of resources (economic and human). Partition was achieved in the Subcontinent only via forced resettlement - which tore many families asunder (including my own and that of my wife). The scar from that terrible rend still drives all the conflict between India and Pakistan today - and has taken an even more dangerous turn now that both are nuclear powers.

The irony in all this talk of partition of Iraq and Lebanon is that once again, it is the great remote western powers drawing lines in the sand. What bothers me most about this casual attitude towards dictated identity is that ethnicity alone has never and never will be suffficient for a true nationalism. In fact, nationalist pride can emerge independent of ethnicity and always does so when watered by liberty. Lebanon, after long years of Syrian hegemony, was beginning to take fragile steps towards precisely that sort of genuine collective nationhood. As Michael Totten observes, there was a real potential there for a true Lebanon. And as Jonathan Edelstein observes, the idea of a genuine Lebanon is far preferable for Israeli security in the long run that a Gaza-style anarchy on its doorstep.

And - pace Josh - these arguments hold double for Iraq. The worst thing the West can do - for the cause of our own security, Israel's security, and global liberty itself - is to compound the post-colonial errors of nation-drawing with new errors of nation-sundering.

UPDATE: It should be noted that national identity often crystallizes in the face of shared existential threats. The effect of the battle of Gallipoli upon Australian national identity is one often-quoted example. Lebanese Christians are feeling their traditional sympathy for Israel evaporate, as they see their hard-won prosperity methodically destroyed:

Lebanon was coming back, drawing hundreds of thousands of tourists and rekindling its reputation as one of the most liberal centers in the Middle East. A series of national dialogues between Christians and Muslims sought to disarm Hezbollah. Now that progress has been set back 20 years, say some Lebanese Christians.

"The Christians right now are in a state of shock,'' said Robert Rabil, a Florida Atlantic University Middle East expert who was evacuated from Beirut last week. Many Christian leaders in Lebanon had urged Hezbollah to disarm, but few support the massive bombardment that Israel has unleashed on the country.

"They've destroyed the airport, infrastructure, highways and all kinds of places that had been rebuilt over the last few years. People plowed their life fortunes into this construction boom, and now it's all gone,'' said Rabil, a Lebanese Christian who has studied extensively in Israel. "I don't think that Christians at this point become more supportive of Hezbollah, but the country has been destroyed, and you can see some Christian leaders already are reaching out to Muslims as Lebanese first."

Throughout Christian circles in South Florida as well as major enclaves such as Detroit and Cleveland, the term "collective punishment" is being used to describe Israel's actions.

"I certainly feel sympathy for Israelis being attacked and their kidnapped soldiers, but as a father of three children I cannot justify what's happening now,'' said Fadi Hadan, a transportation engineer who grew up in the ancient town of Byblos, Lebanon, and now lives in Aventura.

And perusing the editorial pages of the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star, one is struck by the hope and courage of these people - Lebanese, though their religions vary:

Lebanon's capacity to rebuild is greater than others' to destroy

The time to prepare for Lebanon's uncertain future is now

Banks and media have key role to play in war - and its aftermath

I think that to give up on Lebanon would be as much an outrage as turning our back on Israel. These are a people who deserve better than the role of pawns. If we fail to help them come out of this with some semblance of their civilization, painstakingly reclaimed from total anarchy, then we will ultimately pay the price in perpetual conflict.


ethnicity alone has never and never will be suffficient for a true nationalism

it may not be, but it is often (though not always) necessary. there isn't a general solution to these issues, but i think it is often important to have a 'dominant' group so that an equilibrium can be attained. the problem with iraq or lebanon is that no such group exists right now. when lebanon was stable the xtians were dominant. when iraq was 'stable' (though through an iron fist) the sunni were dominant. by virtue of demographics the shia arabs should be dominant in iraq, but they have to work past the recalcitrance of historically dominant sunni arabs and kurds with their own ideas.

i think the case for partition is stronger in iraq because the geography is more favorable. it is a relatively big country. lebanon, not so much, as all the ethnic groups have presences beruit.


Here are my questions.

Do the people living in Iraq want to be one nation?

Do the people living in Lebanon want to be one nation?

My sense is the Lebanese, perhaps, do, the Iraqis perhaps do not. But, my opinion on the topic is not really very important. The opinions of the Iraqis and the Lebanese are.

Here is a fundamental fact of human nature. You can't make people do what they don't want to do.

Thanks -


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Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.