Saturday, September 03, 2016

James Stoker's new book on Lebanon: the most important book to come out on Lebanese civil war in many years.

I have started writing a series of critical review of the new book by James Stoker, titled: Spheres of Invention: US Foreign Policy and the Collapse of Lebanon, 1967-1976" by Cornell University Press.    I will not write my critical review here as I am writing in full details in Arabic in Al-Akhbar but will share a few remarks: 1) it is an excellent read. The author is unusually adept at narrating.  2) I don't know James's politics: we communicated but I don't know his politics but that does not detract from the value of the book.  I did tell James that I did not like his references to Israeli attacks on Lebanon, that he does not seem to realize the extent to which Israeli terrorism in Lebanon since the 1960s inflicted damage and fear and destruction on the lives of people of South Lebanon. I told him that my grandfather's house in Tyre was bombed three times by Israeli terrorists.  His bent on the civil war also lacks an appreciation of the socio-economic component. 3) the author is a diligent researcher: he searched for materials in a many archives which explains why he has come up with the most revealing story of US intervention in Lebanon.  At some point, I was not sure that James realized how important those materials are.  To me, the materials clearly implicate the US government in igniting and prolonging the Lebanese civil war--at least in the first phase of 1975-76 which is covered in the book.  4) The font of the print of the book is lousy. Cornell University Press should be criticized for the faint font, which strains the eye of the reader--especially the reader who read the book twice in a row.  5) The author is too cautious in his conclusions: he is too reserved to implicate the US, and is at pains to reiterate that there was no smoking gun that the US armed the right-wing militias of Lebanon. But the arming does not occur solely through embassy channels and often happens through CIA and DIA channels.  The US government was quite adept at covert civil war involvement (then and now).  6) The author did such extensive research that this book had unusually a very small number of factual mistakes.  (In some cases, due to reliance on the diplomatic dispatches, which is also the case in transliteration).  7) The author (who told me that he studied Arabic in Damascus for a year and later with tutor) should have consulted more Arabic books. Lebanese Leftist literature on the origins of the war has been validated by Stoker's findings.  8)  The author seems to maintain that Kissinger was not that interested in the Lebanese civil war but that is contradicted by the recent release of CIA presidential briefs from the administration of Ford which shows that the president was provided with a daily update about the developments in the Lebanese civil war.  9) we learn so much about the role of King Husayn and Israel in arming and supporting the right-wing militias and with the full knowledge and approval of the US.  10) Hafidh Al-Asad during his military invention in Lebanon in 1976 was close to the US government than had been previously thought, and his relations with the USSR was worse than had been previously thought. He clearly was trying to build up a relationship with the US government but then figured that the fruits would not be big given the US condescending treatment of Sadat at the time.  11) King Husayn was the chief advocate of the Syrian regime vis-a-vis Washington. 12) the US government clearly saw the war in Lebanon as it was: not as Muslim-versus-Christian but as right-versus-left and supported the right as part of the US cold war strategy.  13) The Lebanese government was an accomplice in the Israeli war on the Palestinian resistance and the American war on the left.  Maronite political leader clearly launched the war with the full support and encouragement of US and Israel and the reactionary Arab regimes.  14) Lebanese leftist rhetoric about the war back then was correct but the lousy leaders of the left (George Hawi, Kamal Jumblat, and Mohsin Ibrahim) foolishly did not prepare for a war that was imminent. 15) Yasser Arafat clearly did not want to be involved in the Lebanese war, and he was dragged into it. 16) Lebanese left should have listened to George Habash who tried early on to arm and support the Lebanese left, which was more under the sway of lousy Arafat.  17) Kissinger ran his policies on Palestine and the PLO totally in opposition to the entire rank of Arabists at his department of state. 18) Since the 1960s, Lebanese presidents and Maronite leaders were begging for a US military invention in Lebanon.