- Global Security Watch: Lebanon, A Reference Handbook
In this text, David Sorenson provides a general background to Lebanese political and security issues for the lay reader. He confesses early in the introduction that he has never visited Lebanon but he nonetheless embarks upon a well-researched and extensive discussion of its intricate politics. He begins with an introductory history of the modern politics of the Lebanese state which heats up appropriately in the post-2000 period. A discussion of Lebanon's thorny demographics follows, after which Sorenson deals with political and economic development, the evolution of Hizbullah, the impact of regional dynamics in Lebanon, the status of the military, and some reflections on US policy toward Lebanon. The book is readable and concise and concludes with some helpful appendices that provide biographies of selected Lebanese political figures, a chronology of Lebanon's history, some official documents, as well as a list of Lebanon's presidents and prime ministers.
Lebanon's politics are not easily explained. Sorenson accurately states that "Modern Lebanon has one of the most confusing and disorderly political systems in the world" (p. 69). I have sympathy for any writer seeking to make sense of Lebanese politics, having tried many times to summarize its unique factional intrigue. The complexity of Lebanese politics is astounding, particularly for a tiny country with a population smaller than that of most major world cities. Indeed, there seem to be more actors in Lebanese politics than there are Lebanese — an observation that may stand up to scrutiny given the various regional and international players involved. In light of this confusing complexity, writing a "handbook" that seeks to lay out the niceties of political and security issues in the Lebanese context is a Herculean task. New details arise like heads on the hydra.
Unfortunately, inconsistencies and erroneous statements in Sorenson's book are only likely to increase the confusion for the casual reader. Particular players are occasionally misidentified. [End Page 154] For example, at one point the venerable founder of the Lebanese Kata'eb Pierre Gemayel is incorrectly identified as a "former president" (p. 18) and at another the well-known National Pact is erroneously said to have provided the position of Parliamentary Speaker to the Druze (p. 70). Elsewhere the Nestorian Church is misleadingly equated with Monophysitism (p. 50) — though since neither term is welcomed by the people to whom it refers perhaps the slight may be forgiven. The author apologizes for variations in spelling in cited sources, but this does not explain why Bashir Gemayel is frequently referred to as "Bashar" or why Rafiq and Saad Hariri sometimes become "Harari." These errors would be relatively minor except that they introduce further difficulty making sense of an inherently distracting array of personalities and actors. Stronger proofreading would also have improved upon several difficult grammatical constructions, for example rescuing Lebanon from drowning in its watery fate given that "There are few places in the world that have as much instability as does the eastern Mediterranean, and Lebanon is located right in the middle of it" (p. 121).
Looking beyond these occasional editorial problems, it is clear that the author has an astute understanding of Lebanese politics. The major developments of the civil war, international intervention on the part of Syria, Israel, Iran, and the United States, and developments since the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in 2004 are considered in some detail. The historical background and profile of the demographics of Lebanon ignore some pertinent details, notably the 1969 Cairo Agreement (albeit mentioned later in the book), or the existence of civil war organizations among the Sunni such as the murabitoun. They could also benefit by a more contextual knowledge of Lebanon's geography, for example differentiating between Kesrouan, the Metn, and Mount Lebanon, each of which demonstrates important differences for the politics of Christian groups. However, Sorenson's discussion of the political and economic systems, Hizbullah, and the armed forces are well constructed. His understanding of the political calculations of Hizbullah is well summarized as a...