How Does Chartering a Grand Strategy for Lebanon’s Military Factor in Accountability?

On Wednesday, February 20th, PITAPOLICY attended the Aspen Institute’s discussion on Lebanon, entitled, “National Defense: Charting a Grand Strategy?” Lebanon’s military is an institution that poses many questions for U.S. military and political analysts.  Aram Nerguizian from the Center for Strategy and International Studies stated, “The best thing that can happen now is that #Lebanon be neither heard nor seen from a security standpoint.”   Also, Nerguizian highlighted how a a generation of Lebanon’s Armed Forces officers are up for retirement in April. This poses both cost & benefit when dealing with legacy issues.  Furthermore, It’s unhealthy for #civilsociety if military leadership shifts towards presidential role-not just in Lebanon,but anywhere,adds Nerguizian.

One viewpoint, from an American Lobbying perspective asked about US legislative funding for Lebanon’s Armed Forces: Why did #US stop w/legislative 1206 financing of Lebanese armed forces?  Colin Kahl, a former U.S. Government official from the Obama Administration, stated,  Lebanon “lost its place in line”

Tweeted Observations

  1. North=new south b/c of #syria? @aramnerguizian of @csis: North Bekaa will be crux of instability due to Sunni-Shia competition #lebdefense
  2. But @aramnerguizian still worried if groups co-opted @colinkahl: Lebanon no longer epicenter of conflict #lebdefense
  3. #Syria factors in2 #LebDefense strategy RT @AspenMEP: @aramnerguizian of CSIS: you now have ungovernable areas in the south and in the north@AspenMEP Spence: Lebanon has more syrian refugees than #turkey & jordan -factors into grand strategy #LebDefense
  4. MP Robert Fadel: total number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon today is closer to 500,000.
  5. .@AspenMEP @AspenInstitute: Matthew Spence=1st #dod official to visit #Lebanon in 2 yrs responds to Charting a Grand Strategy #LebDefense
  6. Matthew Spence, US Defense Department: One of the most important things we can do now is strengthen institutions before we come to crisis point
  7. @colinkahl: I hope were going to look at some more creative ways to address #Hizbollah – financial, law enforcement, etc

Another viewpoint that was more critical of LAF’s legacy also surfaced.  Reporter Hussain Abdul-Hussain stumped the panelists with a few questions regarding the the power, impact, and goals for the Lebanese Armed Forces. 

To clarify, PITAPOLICY requested some more details on the background of Hussain’s opinion, which points to quite a few challenges regarding the political dynamic and funding impact of the LAF.   In a nutshell, Hussain uses PITAPOLICY’s favorite word “accountability” in questioning the LAF impact, not just on Lebanese civilian society, but its legacy in the region.  Please see below for his published opinion for Abdul-Husain’s piece for Now.

“Let’s Hold Lebanon’s Army Accountable”

By: Hussain Abdul Hussain

February 6, 2013

The Lebanese have elevated their armed forces to levels incompatible with democracy. While it is customary in any country to thank the men and women in uniform for their service and their willingness to risk their lives for the safety of others, any army in the world is just another institution whose members should remain under the law and whose leaders should be held accountable before an elected government.

Because the dysfunctional Lebanese state and all of its institutions are fragmented, corrupt and unaccountable, there is no reason to assume that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) is an exception. Just like the state, the army is made up of Lebanese people, and the majority of these people put tribal loyalty before national interest and have little regard for rules, regulations or policies.

And because of its inadequate equipment and inferior training, the LAF has always been viewed as a benign institution whose main role is to show up at Independence Day parades and send its personnel to be filmed in music videos praising the army.

Also because of its weakness, the army has often served the ceremonial role of being a “national symbol.”

Lebanese culture is riddled with examples of how people fail to understand what would make up a healthy relationship between the citizens and the military.

Fans of former army commander, now lawmaker, Michel Aoun idolize his picture in military uniform. When the national anthem plays, they often stand and hold their arms high in an imitation of Mussolini’s fascist salute, perhaps mistaking their posture for heartfelt nationalism.

And when the LAF defeated the Fatah al-Islam terrorist group in 2007, after an unjustifiably long campaign that left the army’s elite forces bruised, a popular advertisement showed Lebanese people saluting a soldier military style, an image suggesting citizens are under the military in the chain of command, which is a mistake. In America, a similar “support our troops” ad showed Americans simply shaking hands with a soldier who had just returned to the country, therefore emphasizing the separation between warzone and civilian life.

This undue veneration of the mostly weak and rarely competent Lebanese army, in a culture that idolizes macho figures and fascist nationalism, has put the LAF above the law.

Throughout history, army commanders have acted independent of elected governments. Most recently in May 2008, then-Commander Michel Suleiman decided to keep his forces out of the fray of a mini civil war that had broken out and that was concluded with the Doha Conference, only after March 14 had taken a beating and surrendered to Hezbollah-led militiamen.

Suleiman justified his stance at the time by saying that the army would have splintered, so instead he thought it was wiser to let the country as a whole fracture for the sake of keeping the army together. This raised a question that remains unanswered: If the army cannot prevent the outbreak of a civil war, what, exactly, can it do?

Also independent of any national oversight is the LAF’s Intelligence Directorate. [click here to continue.]


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