Blowback in Lebanon: Another Imperial Backfire

For anyone confused by the fragmentary and hot-buttoned reports ("Al Qaeda!" "Terrorists!" "Don't think, just look at these scary words!") coming out of Lebanon on the military assault on Palestinian refugee camps, Charles Harb of the American University of Beirut has a succinct primer in the Guardian. As Sy Hersh has already noted, what we are seeing in the violent carnage at Nahr al-Bared is yet another example of blowback, where militant sectarians are armed and funded by America and its regional allies in the vain hope that the groups can be controlled and exploited by local power-players and the Big Kahuna back in Washington.

In this case, a small band of violent extremists, Fatah al-Islam – who have ensconced themselves in the blighted Palestinian camps in Lebanon (even though most of the groups members are neither Palestinian nor Lebanese) – suddenly found themselves flush with money and guns in recent months. This windfall came after the Bush Adminsration (another band of violent extremists) launched a "redirection" of its Middle East strategy, linking up with the dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and Egypt in supporting Sunni extremist groups throughout the region to combat the growing Shiite influence and fight proxy wars with Iran and its proxies, real and perceived. (Except of course for Iran's biggest proxies: the violent Iraqi sectarian militias that Bush himself has put in power.) Fatah al-Islam was favored by the dominant Hariri faction in Lebanon as a Sunni counterweight to Hizbollah. But once again – or rather, as always – the machinations of the power-players have gone awry. Fatah al-Islam went off the reservation, allegedly robbed some banks – in addition to preying upon the defenseless Palestinian refugees who involuntarily "hosted" them – and sparked firefights with Lebanese military forces.

Now the latter -- humiliated by their inability (or unwillingness) to resist the brutal Israeli attacks last summer , when the defense of the nation was left up to Hizbollah – have moved with a heavy hand against the militants, and against the thousands of innocent Palestinians housed with them in Fatahal-Islam. These refugees have been made refugees again, forced to flee their homes from the – need it be said? – American-backed assault. Ironically enough, in this clampdown – with the usual heavy "collateral damage" – Bush finds himself shoulder to shoulder with Hizbollah, who have applauded the military action. Once again, we see that all these ideological and religious labels don't matter at all to the leaders of the Terror War; the only thing that matters are the temporary expedients of power.

For a closer look at the human suffering spawned by the new conflict, and some of the local politics behind it, see the continuing posts from the indispensible As'ad AbuKhalil at the Angry Arab (such as here and here). Meanwhile, Harb gives a good overview, and should be read in full. His conclusion:

The plight of thousands of Palestinian refugees trapped in the Nahr al-Bared camp echoes the Israeli bombing of Palestinian camps in occupied Palestine. Radical Islamist activists are moved by the atrocities in the north and attacks on their fellow militants. Palestinian factions are fractious, weakened, and infiltrated by foreign agents, further destabilising security within the refugee camps. The relations between Palestinian groups and Lebanese authorities are strained, and tensions can easily spill outside the refugee camps. The dangers of a conflagration that could spread across the country are serious. The US once nurtured the mujahideen in Afghanistan, only to pay the price much later. In the dangerous game of sectarian conflict, everyone stands to lose.