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Gebran Bassil’s Distress, or Narcissism without its Basis

Gebran Bassil’s Distress, or Narcissism without its Basis

Wednesday, 11 November, 2020 - 11:15

No Lebanese faction dissolved in American politics to the same extent as the Aounists. This dissolution brought accusations of “treachery”, raised by Hezbollah and Damascus, upon Michel Aoun, not just in service to Washington, but Tel Aviv as well. His place of exile in France, the sanctuary imposed on him at the time, became considered amongst the Great Satan’s dens.

After the estrangement that followed his defeat and exile, Aoun and American administrations’ sentiments for one another came to resemble an unprecedented Sufi love: other Lebanese politicians with a predilection for the West never became absolute Americans: Camille Chamoun passed through London on his way to Washington, and Rafik Hariri went through Paris; both men had interests and ties with the Arab world they were careful to maintain, in Baghdad, Amman, Riyadh, Cairo and Damascus. Bashir Gemayel, on the other hand, took another path: it used to be described as “Israelism”, and only in the final days of his life it was described as “Americanism”. As for Aoun and Aounism, they continued to melt in Washington for over a decade, from the early nineties till 2005. Their ties were never severed or strained.

Since 2005, things began to change with the Aounists’ alliance with Hezbollah and their partnership with the regimes in Damascus and Tehran by extension. Days ago, the disagreement drove the US administration to impose sanctions on Gebran Bassil, the head of the Aounists’ party. No similar sanctions had been imposed on any other Lebanese political leader. The aides of Nabih Berri and Suleiman Frangieh were sanctioned; they were not sanctioned themselves.

Commentators rushed to explain: Bassil’s path to the presidency has been closed off. And they were probably right. The whole thing seemed equivalent to suicide: especially since revision under Joe Biden’s new administration is not guaranteed. Even if the sanctions were rescinded, it wouldn’t be quick and smooth.

What happened is that under Donald Trump’s leadership, the US, in its efforts to ward off Iranian influence, went much further than is typical for American administrations, while Bassil went much further than is typical for Lebanese Christians in the other direction. The distance grew further, as the anger over a lover’s betrayal is far greater than that which ensues from a dispute with anyone else.

More than this: The Aounists were not satisfied with distinguishing themselves. Indeed, they founded radical anti-western, especially anti-American, political customs among Lebanese Christians. Here, Aounists’ attempt to one-up brought them down by, like a lover trying to improve his standing in a relationship by having an affair. Lebanese rural hubris is seen in their behavior; they overestimated their importance and the strength of their negotiating position. But it is also a consequence of outright ignorance. Betting on their perceived absolute uniqueness, they believed the extent of their extremism would not cost them their ability to negotiate, a perception stemming from a narcissistic illusion of personal distinction that is not backed-up by any evidence.

On the other side, the aggravation of tensions between Washington and Tehran over the nuclear issue no longer allows for fluid positions, let alone a stance partial to the other side. Donald Trump, in turn, confronted Lebanese rural narcissism with global rural narcissism. Catching up with Trump, a narcissist himself, is always difficult.

Adding to the flippancy of this Aounist-Bassilist behavior is the absence of any principle or the kind of justifications that would convince even a child: it has been apparent, at every moment, their deep desire has always been for the US. It was clear at every moment that Hezbollah, the resistance, and Tehran did not arouse any genuine feelings of affection in the Aounists. Most of those who collaborated with Israel were from their party’s milieu. Their claims of concern for Lebanese unity were accompanied by resentment over Shiite citizens taking up residents in Christian majority areas with a Aounist proclivity... The American ambassador to Beirut, Dorothy Shea, revealed that Bassil “expressed his readiness to separate from Hezbollah, under certain conditions.” There is no reason not to believe her.

On the other hand, the years Aoun has spent in office have not added to the weight of his negotiating position with his original beloved, the United States. The “strong reign” has resulted in the weakest governance in this county’s short history. The “graces” of intensifying the racism directed against Syrian refugees generated much less popularity than that lost during the wretched years of his term. The insults hurled against Bassil in the streets outnumbered those directed against all the other politicians. Finally, with the Port of Beirut explosion, his position as the overseer of the regime’s crimes against the Lebanese, especially the Christians living in the port’s vicinity, was cemented.

Hubris became the death of the hubristic. Here, playing the role of a victim does not help, nor does comparing himself to Europe, the environment, NATO, China or Iran. Those who were negatively affected by Donald Trump and are betting on Joe Biden have either something to trade or something that could be defended. Gebran Bassil, on other hand, is a featherweight.

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