In this season of peace and hope, it may be unpopular to observe the sad fortunes of a distant country with biblical connotations. This is particularly true since, in a rare ray of potentially good news, Lebanon's government, led by the widely hated 88 year-old ex-civil war general Michel Aoun, has announced that new parliamentary elections will take place on May 15.
But the realities on the ground in that unfortunate land, where I was based for over a decade, can lead to no other conclusion than that doom is at hand.
After an impressive period of recovery following the prolonged civil war that shaped Aoun, a Christian who was, and remains, allied with pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian forces, the bottom fell out.
The decades of growth and development were based on little more than reckless capital lending backed by cash remittances from Lebanon's large expatriate populations, who were drawn home by artificially high interest rates that ultimately proved unsustainable.
The central banker, once heralded as one of the world's most competent, has been accused of operating a Ponzi scheme with the country's finances.
Badly needed foreign aid has been available for nearly four years, but Lebanon's government will not submit to required audits that would almost certainly reveal decades of corruption among every element of the political class that governs the country.
In October 2019, the banks placed severe limits on access to accounts, immiserating most of the population. The de facto exchange rate — the value of Lebanon's currency on the street — declined by over 90 percent in a matter of weeks and has never recovered.
Mass protests overthrew the feckless parliamentary government, but Aoun's presidential regime remained intact and intransigent, no matter how much popular anger spilled into the streets.
The next government, led by my former university colleague Hassan Diab, an engineering professor who had a reputation for not being able to control his classes, fared little better than its predecessor.
It fell in turn, just days after the largest non-nuclear explosion in a city devastated Beirut's port area and many surrounding neighborhoods, killing at least 215, injuring thousands more, and leaving as many as 300,000 homeless.
The blast's explosive agent — ammonium nitrate — had been irresponsibly stored in the port for seven years. It is not coincidentally the explosive of choice used in terrorist attacks by Hezbollah, Aoun's major ally, which operates a de facto state-within-a-state for the Shiite Muslim population, and maintains its own heavily armed militia supplied and largely directed by Iran.
Popular anger seethed even more than it had the previous year, but the army and security forces stood firm and routed the demonstrators in a matter of hours.
No one had yet been held accountable. Hezbollah has blocked any serious investigation, with some suspecting its members or proxies were responsible for the blast.
Negotiations for a new government dragged on for thirteen months after the explosion, but within weeks of coming to power a Hezbollah boycott over the blast investigation left it powerless. It has not met since October, despite the vital problems facing the country.
Two years after the initial crisis, Lebanon's financial meltdown, which the World Bank rates one of the three worst in recorded history, remains unresolved and is actually worsening.
Over 80 percent of Lebanese now live in poverty. More than half are no longer food secure.
Hundreds of thousands have emigrated — mostly younger and well educated people, including 40 percent of Lebanon's doctors.
Some 63 percent of those who remain in the country say they would like to emigrate permanently, a figure that rises to 77 percent among young people.
Basic goods and services — including water, fuel, medicine, and electricity — are scarce commodities for most of the population. Depression and anxiety are the norm.
Violent crime — almost unheard of two years ago — is rising. The pandemic has harmed the country more than virtually any other.
Lebanon's international position has never been stable, but it, too, is worsening.
As the Biden administration shows repeated and embarrassing weakness across the globe, regional antipathies are flaring up with no fear of consequences.
Hezbollah's arsenal of missiles, estimated at an all-time high of 150,000, are now augmented by sophisticated guidance systems that Israel has declared a "red line" that could merit a preemptive military strike.
If a war should break out, neither side need worry about American intervention or, still less, the worthless "deep concern" letters and milquetoast calls for de-escalation that will inevitably emanate from Washington and other feeble international capitals.
Iran, which backs Hezbollah, already basks in Biden's de facto surrender to its strategic ambitions in both geopolitics and nuclear weapons acquisition.
Renewed international conflict over Lebanon could easily touch off a second Lebanese civil war among proxy factions goaded into finally bringing their irreconcilable differences into the open without any concern about superpower policing.
Even if cooler heads prevail and avoid war, no element of Lebanon's government has any serious interest in reform.
The political group that has long survived near-universal opposition in the street while clustering below a geriatric president has no reason to yield to any popular demands now. It also knows that stealing from a failed state is far easier than stealing from a well ordered one.
The forthcoming elections are likely to be as corrupt as any other.
The opposition is enervated and disorganized. Its "leaders" imagine that they are aligned with an ossified global left that has come to view peaceful protest — however ineffective — as the only acceptable path forward, if not an end unto itself.
Many have given up in frustration, either selling out or emigrating, if they are not simply trying to survive.
The idea of asserting rights or changing regime through active, armed resistance is fantastical, and even insulting, to them.
The best their countrymen can hope for is a kind of permanent haphazard, eternal suffering on the model of Somalia or Bangladesh or other countries where the powerful and corrupt hold sway over a populace of no concern to them.
With such a fate in store, war might actually be liberating.
Paul du Quenoy is president of the Palm Beach Freedom Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in history from Georgetown University. Read more — Here.
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