Lebanon's season of hypocrisy

Lebanon's current political upheaval resembles a mirror image of the strife that overwhelmed the country from 2006 to 2008, when Hezbollah and its allies embarked on a two-year effort to topple the government. But this time, the tables have turned: It's Hezbollah that has mustered the votes to form a government, which will reportedly be headed by former Prime Minister Najib Miqati. Meanwhile, Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his allies are on the outside looking in, left to express their displeasure through street protests and acts of violence.

Lebanon's political ground rules hold that the president must hail from the Maronite Christian community, the prime minister must be a Sunni, and the speaker of parliament must be a Shiite. A parliamentary majority, therefore, is theoretically able to elevate political figures that have little support within their own community.

But the recent reversal of fortunes has shown that the reality on the ground is somewhat different, and that the only real law in Lebanon is sectarian solidarity. Back in 2008, Hezbollah was appalled and outraged that the ruling coalition would consider replacing its resigned ministers with Shiite figures that had little support in their own community - now they're preparing to bring to power a Sunni prime minister that can count on only token Sunni support. Meanwhile, Hariri, who had defended the democratic legitimacy of the government when he had a solid parliamentary majority, now denounces the election of a new opposition-friendly government as "virtually a coup d'état."

All signs currently point toward chaos: The new Miqati government, once it is established, will vote to discontinue government support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is expected to implicate Hezbollah members in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. But as Elias Muhanna pointed out in FP last week, it's hard to see what the opposition gains from this maneuver. As the recent protests have shown, Miqati doesn't have the credibility to convince his community that the tribunal's indictments are flawed. And after he moves to disrupt the investigation of a murdered Sunni leader, his already meager support among his own community will likely fall further.

Hariri and his allies may be tempted take some solace in this dynamic. They will point to this fact as evidence that Hezbollah still needs them, and will therefore be forced to compromise. The situation, however, is not nearly so sanguine: Lebanese politics has a tendency to return to equilibrium only after no small degree of bloodshed and lost economic opportunity. Once again, it is the Lebanese people who will bear the cost of their fundamentally tribal and dishonest political system.



Domodedovo bombing: It's not about airport security

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says he's troubled by the security lapses that led to yesterday's Moscow airport bombing: 

“What occurred shows that there were violations in providing security,” Mr. Medvedev said in comments released by the Kremlin. “Such a quantity of explosive material that was carried in or brought in — that’s not so easy to do. We must hold responsible those who have ties to the company that makes decisions, the management of the airport.”

Russia's investigative committee has piled on, finding that "the terrorist had no difficulties entering the arrival hall where the blast occurred as there was not an adequate control." An anonymous police source told RIA-Novosti that airport security "turned a blind eye to the presence of unauthorized persons." 

A full investigation of the events should certainly be carried out, including whether there was anyone working on the inside, helping the bombers. But it doesn't sound to me like there was much out of the ordinary in the airport's security arrangements. (Nor do I detect some sort of latent Russian death-wish in the lax security arrangements.)  The arrivals areas at most U.S. airports are unsecured as well. According to the New York Times, there were only "sporadic" metal detector checks at the entrance to the hall, but spot checks don't seem entirely inappropriate for the country's busiest international airport. 

If anything, the attacks reflect how difficult it's become to carry out terrorist attacks on planes, as Chechen militants did from the same airport in 2004. As former DHS official Stephen Baker told the Times, “They’d like to be bombing planes and they can’t, so they’re bombing airports,” he said. And even if authorities were able to turn all three of Moscow's major airports into impenetrable fortresses, Russia's terrorist groups have proven perfectly willing to target subways and passenger trains. 

Every public space and soft target can't be secured and the root cause of the problem seems to be getting underplayed in both Russian official statements and international media coverage: As long as there's an ongoing low-grade insurgency festering in the North Caucasus, militant groups be able to find soft targets.