Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Accustomed to War, Lebanese Seem Worn out by Lack of It

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Accustomed to War, Lebanese Seem Worn out by Lack of It

Article excerpt

For many Lebanese, the Gulf war ended all too soon and all too wrong. The perfect scenario should have included a much better showing by Saddam Hussain. Called "le grand Aoun" by his Lebanese supporters, he was expected to hold out against the US-led coalition the way Gen. Michel Aoun did against Syria. Aoun was toppled 18 months after declaring war against Damascus.

An extended show of strength would then have led, in the Lebanese scenario, to an international peace conference that put the withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon on top of its agenda. But Gulf agendas and scenarios have paid little attention to Lebanon. And consequently the peace that prevails here is not of the quality that the Lebanese spent 15 years yearning for.

In fact, having grown accustomed to war, the Lebanese seem worn out by the lack of it. Whole weeks go by without incident. Teachers are exhausted by five straight school days in a row. Shops have resumed regular hours, causing clerks to complain of backaches after eight hours on their feet. And journalists yawn in boredom.

"Out-Newsed" by the Gulf

"Out-newsed" by the Gulf, otherwise important developments in Lebanon get only honorable mention in the press. Israeli gun-ships pummel Palestinian refugee camps and smash hideouts of resistance groups. Inter-Palestinian clashes suggest a challenge to Yasser Arafat. Powerful Druze leader Walid Jumblatt reverses his decision to leave politics by withdrawing his resignation from the cabinet. Few of these stories merited more than a paragraph in the US press.

One journalist complained, "The only stories I can get on the wire have some connection to the Gulf." His one "big" story -- and he said that sarcastically -- was about two groups who threw stones and tomatoes at each other; the burning issue was to support or not support Saddam Hussain.

Lebanese President Elias Hrawi toured four Gulf countries in June 1990, during which he submitted a list of projects for rebuilding the country at a cost of $5.25 billion. And that sum did not include the 310-square-mile Christian enclave that was, at the time, still a battleground for Gen. Michel Aoun's army troops and the "Lebanese Forces" militia under Samir Geagea.

Kuwait's pledge of $2 million toward these projects was viewed by the Lebanese not only as a drop in the Lebanese bucket, but also only a fraction of a drop drawn from the Kuwaiti well.

But with Kuwait's oil-producing facilities out of commission and the country in shambles, the Lebanese now realize that Lebanon's long road back to peace and prosperity will not be paved with Kuwaiti gold.

As for European interest in assisting in Lebanon's construction, the occasional French and Italian team of officials visit to assess the damage to Lebanon's war-shattered infrastructure. But doling out money is not as exciting as making it. Lebanon again finds itself playing second fiddle to Kuwait.

Far more depressing to the Lebanese is a signpost that reads: This Way to Peace, Prosperity and Damascus. Ironically, one of the first roads to be cleared of rubble, barricades and mines when Greater Beirut was declared in December was the Rue de Damas. The 66-mile route begins in old downtown Beirut and climbs and winds its way up the mountains and down again to the Syrian capital.

Equally clear of political mines is the road from Washington to Damascus. Accusations of involvement in terrorist activities, harboring Palestinian radicals and plenty of old-fashioned anti-American rhetoric were brushed under the red carpet that the US rolled out when Syria sided with the US coalition against Iraq. …

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