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System Administration Work in Lebanon

August 18, 2006


There have been a number of articles in the media about rebuilding Lebanon now that a cease fire is in place. Some describe the rebuilding effort as a race between the West and Hezbollah to see who can win the hearts and minds of displaced Lebanese citizens first. For example, a Washington Times article by Sharon Behn [“U.S., Hezbollah vie to rebuild for Lebanese,” 18 August 2006] reports on the relief effort in those terms.

The United States and its allies are rushing billions of dollars for the reconstruction of Lebanon while Iran provides cash through its proxy, Hezbollah, in a race to establish long-term political influence among the country’s war-ravaged Shi’ite communities. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are sending $2 billion, said a Lebanese source close to the majority party in government, and the United States has publicly promised $50 million in humanitarian assistance. That sum will likely be increased at an international pledging conference later this month. Hezbollah, which successfully held off the Israeli military in the monthlong war that ended Monday, is already working with residents of the south to rebuild homes and businesses destroyed in the conflict. “This is an opportunity to do more than just rebuild, but to help to shape Lebanon’s future, and probably that is the biggest challenge,” said Rick Barton, who studies post-conflict reconstruction at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

As the article notes, Hezbollah has an enormous headstart in any such race. It is not only already at work on the ground, it has years of offering support to the citizens of southern Lebanon. Another point that Behn makes in her article is where the money Hezbollah is using comes from.

Hezbollah leaders have boasted that Iran will finance their reconstruction program, which could cost several billion dollars. That, said Kamal Nawash of the Free Muslims Coalition, would make Hezbollah even more influential in Lebanon than it is now.

As I’ve discussed before, the only way to dislodge Hezbollah in the south is to ensure that the Lebanese government is better able to provide for people’s needs.

“It is very important to us who rebuilds the south; it is very important that the government is seen as the main actor and the main player in the south,” said a Lebanese source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The fact that Hezbollah receives its funding from Iran is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because Iran’s pockets are currently very deep. Should that change, Hezbollah will quickly find itself unable to carry out its social programs and will quickly revert to nothing more than terrorist organization. In an interesting column by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times [“War on Daddy’s Dime,” 18 August 2006], he insists that U.S. policy should be aimed exactly in that direction and the surest path to achieving that goal is implementing a realistic energy policy. Talk about horizontal thinking! Friedman has a great opening paragraph:

I’m not sure yet who’s the winner in the war between Hezbollah and Israel, but I know who’s the big loser: Iran’s taxpayers. What a bunch of suckers.

Friedman’s point is that money that could be used to invest in Iran’s future (i.e., when the oil and natural gas runs out) is being used to prop up an illegitimate organization that undermines a sovereign government and doesn’t think twice about bringing devastation on its own peoples’ heads.

Where will Hezbollah get some of the $3 billion-plus needed to rebuild Lebanon? Last time I checked, Hezbollah did not have any companies listed on the Nasdaq. The organization doesn’t manufacture anything. It doesn’t tax its followers. The answer, of course, is that Iran will dip into its oil income and ship cash to Nasrallah, so that he will not have to face the wrath of Lebanese for starting a war that reaped nothing but destruction. Yes, thanks to $70-a-barrel oil you can have Katyusha rockets and butter at the same time. When oil money is so prevalent, why not? Hezbollah and Iran are like a couple of rich college students who rented Lebanon for the summer, as if it were a beach house. “C’mon, let’s smash up the place,” they said to themselves. “Who cares? Dad will pay!” The only thing Nasrallah didn’t say to Lebanese was, “Hey, keep the change.” … This is why I am obsessed with bringing down the price of oil. Unless we take this issue seriously, we are never going to produce more transparent, accountable government in the Middle East. Just the opposite — we will witness even more reckless, unaccountable behavior like Nasrallah’s and Iran’s.

Friedman believes by implementing policies aimed at dropping oil prices, the unsettled futures that face countries like Iran and Syria will arrive sooner rather than later. When it does arrive, there won’t be enough money to take care of domestic problems, let alone subsidize organizations like Hezbollah. Without money, the good will that Hezbollah currently generates fades fast.

Been to Syria lately? Why do you think it can afford to shrug off U.S. sanctions? It also is not making microchips. It is, though, exporting about 200,000 barrels of oil a day, and that is what keeps a corrupt and antiquated regime in power. The Syrian regime subsidizes everything from diesel to bread. As in Iran, almost half of Syria’s people are teenagers, and without real economic reforms, widespread unemployment and unrest are just around the corner — but for now, oil money postpones the reckoning. Ditto Iran. Iran is OPEC’s second-largest producer, selling the world about 2.4 million barrels of oil a day and earning the regime some $4 billion a month — the government’s main source of income. To buy public support, Iran’s regime subsidizes housing, gasoline, interest rates, flour and rice.

One interesting twist to the rebuilding effort is that the State Department’s fledgling Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) is going to get involved. According to a Defense News article by Michael Sirak [“U.S. Engages State Department-led Stabilization Office for Lebanon Relief,”  18 August 2006], “The United States intends to engage its still-maturing interagency office for post-conflict stabilization to help oversee its humanitarian aid and recovery activities in Lebanon in the wake of the one-month Israeli-Hezbollah war.” Overseeing this effort is one of the first major tests for the Office.

The S/CRS is meant to serve as the lead office across the U.S government to prepare for post-conflict situations in regions of the world and help stabilize and reconstruct societies emerging from civil strife or wars. When the U.S. military is involved, the office is charged with coordinating with the DoD to harmonize activities.

In other words, the S/CRS is about as close to being the core of the System Administrator Force that Tom Barnett speaks about as currently exists. As one might expect, S/CRS has a very interagency flavor about it.

Although the S/CRS is a State Department office, it presently includes representatives from the U.S. Agency for International Development, Army Corps of Engineers, Central Intelligence Agency, Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), Joint Forces Command, Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), and Treasury Department, according to the State Department’s web site.

The common thread running through all these articles is the fact that non-military efforts are more important to long-term regional peace and security than military ones. As I’ve written before, it starts with security but it can’t end there. Tom Barnett compares these kinds of scenarios to football or basketball games. It doesn’t matter if you win the first half if you can’t continue your success in the second half. The winner is the team that is ahead at the end of the game.

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