Sam Menassa

The Poison Maker and the 'Useful Idiot'

The August 4 port crime, whose first anniversary went by last week, is the biggest and most dangerous of a series of various crimes that have been and continue to be committed against the country during the “strong reign,” which has been surpassing all precedents.

There is no disagreement that no crime can be equated with the port blast. Its magnitude and implications should make it a turning point for examining the state the country finds itself in. However, it seems the blast's business is continuing to expand tirelessly and that the poison being cooked up for the country’s future runs along the same lines as the Port of Beirut blast. Actually, it could be even more dangerous politically because it aims to blow up the country as an entity and the framework for coexistence among the Lebanese. It is superficially and mistakenly described as the government formation crisis, while, in reality, it is a poisonous dish being prepared for the Lebanese, and its implications and dimensions could be more dangerous than the port blast.

We have been preparing to eat this poisonous dish for years, and it seems that our “meal” has been cooked. It includes, as it seems, a reexamination of the existing political system and structure, starting with the Taif Agreement as mentioned previously, weakening the Sunni figures nominated to take the position of prime minister one after the other, doing away with the power granted to the council of ministers as a whole, and establishing new ground rules tailor-designed to favor the ruling party and its entourage.

Early last week, the former state minister for presidential affairs and current advisor to President Michel Aoun, Pierre Raffoul, warned Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati against adopting former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s approach, saying: “If he wants to hold on to his terms, he will fly as Hariri did.” This rhetoric was espoused following Raffoul’s meeting with Aoun and was voiced during a television interview. Its danger lies in the fact that, on the one hand, it was not seriously responded to by any political parties from any sect- and this applies to Mikati and his response as well- while, on the other hand, it expresses President Aoun’s genuine thoughts and desires. Thirdly and most importantly, it resembles the port blast, except that its ramifications will not be limited to the destruction of the capital’s buildings and the lives of its residents but will also detonate Lebanon that we have come to know, consciously and premeditatedly.

Since Lebanon’s independence, the drafting of its first constitution, and the consensus that emerged around the National Pact, no Christian president has ever dealt with his Sunni partner in this haughty manner. He is challenging the Sunni sect not only locally but regionally as well, and demonstrating, once again, that his mentality, behavior, and intransigence come within the framework of the regional project that has been addressed repeatedly, that of the Iranian axis. It is impossible that the position of the President of the Republic to speak for only the president’s political movement, and it has become redundant to say that it has crystallized under the Iranian regional sponsor’s watch, and the practices being described as demonstrating intransigence are aimed at furthering Tehran’s expansionist project.

Neither the fragile and polarized internal Christian dynamic nor the regional situation allows for the Christian Lebanese President to face off against the Sunnis, both locally and on the Arab and foreign level, without Iranian support. This is how one could explain the slogans of protecting minorities, Levantinism, and turning east, as well as the rush to draw links with the Assad regime within a plan being implemented day by day.

Presidential Palace sources did not push back against Mr. Raffoul’s statements, and the President himself did nothing to expedite the emergence of a government on the first anniversary of the port blast- in what could have been a tribute honoring the scale of the suffering and a sign of respect for the thousands who protested. Instead, they saw a televised speech that obscured their demands for justice, rubbing salt on their wounds, especially as the authorities dealt with the day like it was any other; as it would go by as the day of the blast had, that the next day would be another working day.

What is also remarkable is that Christian leaders did not react to Raffoul’s statement and the President and his team’s silence about the formation process, opting to put their heads in the sand. A stance that can be explained in two ways: flagrant political naivety, which, if it is the actual reasoning behind the stance is deadly. Alternatively, it could be an implicit endorsement of this clownish behavior compelled by a misguided conviction that the Christians can, through these practices, retain some of the powers that had been taken from the President in a hypothetical republic. The second option would be superficial satiation of Christian selfishness whose political thought has been unsettled for a long time.

The problem is that Christians are divided between Aoun supporters and those opposing him reluctantly and shakily, thinking the next legislative elections can produce a new regime amid the presence of an armed Hezbollah, overlooking the fact that they, the parties opposed to Hezbollah, had won in two previous election cycles without this having any political consequences, leading the country to the state it is in today.

Politically, the term “useful idiot” is used to describe those seen as promoting a cause without fully understanding its goals. Useful idiots are cynically and cleverly exploited by those behind the cause, i.e., Hezbollah, which is too savvy to directly rule over a country that is pluralistic on the one hand, and where, on the other hand, the Sunnis’ numbers, their social and economic influence, and their Arab connections cannot be underestimated.

It thus badly needs the Christians to play the role of the “useful idiot,” to create a façade that they are in power, thereby satisfying the majority of Christians after of course, they had been domesticated, and fears of the specter of imminent Sunni violent extremism (as if Hezbollah is a charity) had been stirred up, thereby allowing the party to dominate and make decisions without directly ruling. Bluntly, this term applies to the situation between Hezbollah and the Communist movement.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time. We are familiar with the outcome of using the outside and the experiences with Syria and Israel. Those attempts led to decade-long occupations, and today, we are faced with an occupation whose duration only God can ascertain. All are experiences of attempts to disregard a blessing that we cannot put a price on coexistence, and this is exposed by some of the calls for federalism and its offshoots. Hezbollah has exploited this poison well, and it has helped the party further the expansionist Iranian project and confront all the Arabs.

Hezbollah believes that this approach has averted Sunni-Shiite strife while creating Sunni-Christian discord, which it sees as having less of an impact and is less costly to security and stability. And, unfortunately, it seems that maintaining security and stability, even under Hezbollah’s domination, is what the reluctant international community is calling for. The comical aid contributions and the political blindness of some of the Paris Conference members that it revealed are perhaps the best indications of the validity of what we are saying.

Parliament was dominated, a bizarre and unusual electoral was imposed, and the election of any figure other than Michel Aoun was disrupted. Now, it is time for the executive authority, the council of ministers, which is the backbone of coexistence, and the banner under which sects escape their insularism. Meanwhile, the international community is satisfied with the meager outcomes of the Paris Conference. Thank you, France!