False (and Sometimes Dangerous) Ideas
A little less than two thousand years ago Claudio Ptolemy, a Roman citizen of Egypt, had a brilliant but false idea. Most people did not realize it until fifteen centuries later. His model of the universe had a stationary earth at its center with everything else rotating around it. Though false, the model worked perfectly, or so it seemed. It was so good that for centuries astronomers used it to track and predict with a good degree of accuracy the movements of heavenly bodies across the skies. It really did not matter that Ptolemy’s theory was false. It served its purpose well, then. And being false presented no danger.
But over time the purposes became wider than the ability to predict the paths of the sun and the planets. You could not use Ptolemy’s model, of a stationary earth with everything else rotating around it, as a basis for making any scientific advance in astronomy let alone sending a land rover to Mars or a man to the moon. That would be dangerous. Very dangerous.
Back to earth. Our little corner of the earth.
Lebanon should be thankful for the recent spate of speeches and declarations on the part of Hezbollah’s leadership. The party’s arguments in favor of maintaining an independent military status parallel to that of the state have been made very clear. Setting aside broader regional and ideological motivations, which most observers believe are intrinsic to Hezbollah’s regional ties and strategic agenda, the party has articulated its “Lebanese” reasons for maintaining a separate military force as follows:
The Lebanese system is fraught with sectarianism and corruption. The state and its armed forces are too indecisive and too weak to perform their responsibilities in defending the country and deterring our enemy, Israel. Hizbollah can do it better because it is able to decide and act independently, and therefore more efficiently, on such matters.
The Lebanese people should be thankful instead of being worried about this. They should accept the status quo happily and take comfort in that Hizbollah is not interested in taking over Lebanon, or in pursuing sectarian domination. When Lebanon reaches a point where a strong and just state and a non-sectarian political system and constitution are in place, we can then discuss Hizbollah’s self-assigned role as an independent liberation-deterrence-defense force.
To some, and probably many, these arguments sound sensible. They seem to hang together well. But in reality they don't. Like that of Ptolemy, Hisbollah's model is false, and doesn't serve Lebanon's purpose or interest.
It is simply impossible to (really) protect Lebanon and (really) deter Israel by assigning those sovereign functions to a separate military organization parallel to the Lebanese Army. It would inevitably make the state weaker and compound Lebanon’s inherent fragilities and structural fault lines. Even in the best of circumstances, and irrespective of what Hizbollah says or even does, the status quo contributes to the country’s downward slide far more than its alleged contribution to Lebanon's strength.
The only credible approach to addressing the issue of Hizbollah’s autonomous military force within any “Defense Strategy” inside or outside the “National Dialogue”, is to agree on a credible and realistic transition plan to a point where Hizbollah’s military capability is subsumed under the authority of the state, while safeguarding Lebanon’s defense capability during and after the transition. If you think this is difficult, and it is, the alternative (i.e. maintaining the status quo) is a lot worse.
Even if we dismiss the danger to Lebanon of being a theater for regional conflicts, including especially the looming confrontation between Iran and its many adversaries, and even if you manage to convince the world that Lebanon is not part of any regional alliance, Hizbollah’s false logic will continue to present a serious danger. Here is why:
If we accept Hizbollah’s military autonomy on the basis that the state is not capable enough to be entrusted with the country’s defense, it is not a huge leap for some (individuals or groups) to take the law into their own hand on the grounds that the state justice system is not good enough; or for others to stop paying their taxes on the grounds that the state’s tax system is not fair enough; or for yet others to establish their own local security outfits because the state’s police and security agencies are unable to provide adequate protection to all citizens, communalities and neighborhoods; you get the point. That would be dangerous. Very dangerous.
Hizbollah can continue to claim that Lebanon’s problems precede its existence. To a large extent that is true. What is false however is the notion that Hizbollah's insistence on remaining as a separate and independent military entity is not compounding those problems, or that we can embark on a national effort to fix them while leaving Hizbollah’s status, as is, indefinitely. The orotection of Lebanon and the interest of the Lebanese people do not revolve around Hizbollah's weapons. It is a false and dangerous idea.
Copernicus to the rescue, please!!