"All politics is local", especially in Lebanon

Last week, I participated in a conference call with a Republican Congressman, whom I respect, concerning the situation in Lebanon. I very much appreciate his efforts to understand the political reality, and to solicit advice from concerned citizens familiar with the region. During the call, he mentioned to us that he had given much thought to the words of Congressman Ron Paul, a fellow Republican, who said on the floor of the House during debate on this issue the previous evening:
"It is very easy to criticize the Government of Lebanon for not doing more about Hezbollah. I object to terrorism committed by Hezbollah because I am a strong opponent to all violence on all sides. But I also object to the unreasonable accusations that the Government of Lebanon has not done enough, when we realize that Israel occupied southern Lebanon for 18 years and was not able to neutralize Hezbollah."
Congressman Paul closed with the words of Ronald Reagan:
"The irrationality of Middle Eastern politics forced us to rethink our policy there."
He makes a good point, but we cannot simply write off the "irrationality" of the region - to do so is in some ways a lazy approach. Anyway, after the call, I offered words of advice to the staff of the Congressman with whom I and my colleagues conferenced, reflected by the following:
Politics in the Middle East may be practiced differently and structured differently, but the concepts are the same.

To understand the internal situation in Lebanon, we have to remember the old adage: "All politics is local". [The Congressman] understands this, that's why he comes home from DC on the weekends, attends events and GOP club meetings, and holds conference calls with concerned citizens like he did with us this week.

That's why he gets re-elected. If suddenly he never came home, ran around the USA campaigning for other candidates and took international trips constantly, it wouldn't take long for a challenger to offer the people in [the district] a better alternative.

Unfortunately, some leaders of the recently-elected Lebanese parliament have failed to understand this concept. Instead, they have seemed more interested in elitist soirées in foreign captials and listening to flattering words of praise from heads of state, than in spending time on the ground in Lebanon trying to forge a national consensus and confront Hezbollah about trading its military prowess for a larger political stake in Lebanon. Meanwhile, Hezbollah's leaders, despite their bellicose and troubling objectives, have been on the ground building up popular support for their agenda, whether we like it or not.

It is unfortunate that the kind of leaders that we hope would prosper in the Arab world tend to be ineffective and lack credibility. In the future we need to evaluate them more carefully and seek better intelligence on their ongoing capabilities.

Finally, if we want the Lebanese government to succeed in marginalizing Hezbollah we have to remember: ALL POLITICS IS LOCAL.