Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Thomas Friedman in Beirut

Is there something more annoying than a Western correspondent parachuting into a foreign country, and offering--hours after arrival--words of wisdom and analysis about that country? And who can superficially compete with Thomas Friedman in that regard? Really. He said: "First, a solid majority of Lebanese Christians voted against the list of Michel Aoun, who wanted to align their community with the Shiite Hezbollah party, and tacitly Iran, because he viewed them as being best able to protect Christian interests — not the West." Of course, he was wrong about his reference to Christian voters. In fact, not only did `Awn remain the person with the largest Christian bloc in parliament (in fact, his bloc expanded from 2005) but overall he received some 50% of the vote versus 49% of the vote if you measure only Christian vote nationwide. And the key areas where `Awn lost (like in Zahlah) it was due to Sunni votes. (Having said all that, I am opposed to the small electoral districting and believe that Lebanon should be made one electoral unit and proportional representation be adopted: that would empower secular, nation-wide forces that are now disadvantaged and miniscule). He then said: "Second, a solid majority of all Lebanese — Muslims, Christians and Druse — voted for the March 14 coalition led by Saad Hariri, the son of the slain Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri." Well, sorry to disappoint, but if you measure the popular vote in the election, it was in favor of the opposition: "'losers' got 54.8% of the total votes (839,371 votes) and the 'winners' racked 45.2% of the votes (692,285 votes)". He then adds: "Ballots were the only weapons the March 14 coalition had against an Iran-Hezbollah-Syria alliance..." Well, yes: Ballots and: 1) Saudi and Western money; 2) acute sectarian mobilization and agitation that would have made Zarqawi proud; 3) Hariri money; 4) intervention by the Lebanese president against `Awn; 5) intervention by the Maronite church in favor of March 14; among other factors. Oh, yes. He then said: "I watched the voting at a school in the mountain village of Brummana. People came by car, by wheelchair, by foot — young, old and sick." Don't get me wrong: Thomas Friedman can only write recycled cliches but could you not find a more used cliche about election than this one? I mean, you can google that sentence and you will find it in description of every election anywhere in the world and I doubt that he actually saw what he saw when he was probably there for two minutes. He then said: "It was striking to me how conciliatory the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, was in the concession speech." I bet he judged that not from listening to the speech but by looking at him because MEMRI has not supplied him yet with a segment of the speech with subtitles.