Is Stalemate an Option?

The situation on the ground in Lebanon is still pretty volatile, but should it stabilize as is, this Daily Star analysis (via Friday Lunch Club) of the major clarifications that have so far emerged is the most lucid and thought-provoking I’ve seen to date, both for the implications on Lebanon’s institutional crisis, as well as the broader regional implications:

If Lebanon shifts from street clashes to the hoped-for political compromise through a renewed national dialogue process, it will have a national unity government whose two factions receive arms, training, funds and political support from both the United States and Iran. Should this happen, an unspoken American-Iranian political condominium in Lebanon could prove to be key to power-sharing and stability in other parts of the region, such as Palestine, Iraq and other hot spots. This would also mark a huge defeat for the United States and its failed diplomatic approach that seeks to confront, battle and crush the Islamist-nationalists throughout the region.

The article goes on to point out that Hizbollah, by immediately turning captured rival militia outposts over to the Lebanese Army, demonstrated that it has no desire to govern Lebanon, so much as guard its veto-power over decisions concerning what it considers its own security interests.

In some ways, the fighting in Beirut bears some resemblance to the recent fighting in Basra and now in Sadr City, to the extent that both sides demonstrate a willingness to negotiate a settlement once the balance of power has been clarified. As the Daily Star article points out, this is in direct contrast to the American insistence on unconditional surrender (represented by the disarming and/or defeat of rival militias), both in Iraq and Lebanon.

Things are still pretty murky in both countries, and outcomes have had a tendency to evolve over time. (It’s now being suggested that the result of the Basra fighting, for instance, which initially seemed disastrous for the Maliki government, might actually have shored up his legitimacy.) But an essential incoherence is increasingly emerging in the American position. Namely, that al-Sadr, Hizbollah and Hamas can not be realistically removed from the political equation by force, and we’re unwilling (albeit to a lesser degree vis à vis al-Sadr) to include them via engagement. The same is only more true with regards to Iran.

The power-sharing model described by the Daily Star is neither stable nor practical; it represents neither defeat nor victory, but stalemate. The only alternative at this point, though, is the atomization of the entire region. So it looks like we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place for the time being. And so far, I haven’t seen any suggestions for either a Lebanon policy or a regional policy that offer a convincing way out.