My thanks to Wretchard at The Belmont Club for a tip to this NRO piece Tehran & Damascus Move to Lebanon by Walid Phares.
[Note: reworking this review from a previous review, so not all grammer and argumentative agreements have been cross-checked at this point.]
In this piece Mr. Phares puts forth the concept that jihadism against the West was given vent in the 1990's by al Qaeda, amongst other groups, and that a basic agreement between Sectarian and Secular regimes to incite terror and promote it was done by a "Khumeinist-Baathist axis". This axis properly stretches from Tehran through Baghdad to Damascus and then onto Lebanon. He then posits that another axis represents a Salafist-Wahabbist coalition that included al Qaeda. As a concept for basis of argument it is rough, but has some service to it.
The Ba'athist regimes in Syria and Iraq were more than ready to support an 'umbrella' of anti-Western terrorism, as witness the support of Saddam for training terrorists of nearly every stripe from Africa, Europe, Middle and Far East, and South America. Syria, more of an economic basketcase with territory under it, was a weak regime looking for support externally and wanting to *not* be considered as a client state of Saddam. While both regimes were Ba'athist in origin, the Alawite leadership of Syria was not willing to jeopardize its position by being a strong adherent to either Iraq or Iran or Saudi Arabia. Hafez al-Assad did a hard dance to keep all potential partners in the loop, but none of them held close for long term dancing. He even went so far as to go to North Korea for technology that would have been too dear to buy from Iran due to religious entanglements. Better a secular regime without scruples and no interest in Syrian politics rather than a local regime that had eyes on expansionism and would put dear strings onto anything bought by Syria.
All of that said these regimes could come to 'common cause' and cooperation on Lebanon for the support of Iranian backed Hezbollah there and the co-opting of the Lebanese government. Syria would like to reclaim Lebanon as a province, Iran as a client state and Iraq under Saddam as a place to further the media coverage against the West and possibly demonstrate his leadership abilities in support of Arabs against the Jews. So these conflicting goals of State expansion, Influence expansion and erosion of Western willpower coalesced in Lebanon. While there is commonality of short term goals the longer term goals are highly different.
What is left out of this? al Qaeda.
al Qaeda as an organization was none too keen on actual territorial goals nor on expansion of anything save terrorism and bringing down the Nation State system in the Middle East so as to start up the Caliphate again. In this they have common goal with Iran, but have different end-state regimes in sight. The furtherance of those ends was only going to be minimally served by Lebanon, although it was a great 'talking point' by the al Qaeda leadership. In point of fact al Qaeda was expanding its internetworking of terrorist organizations on a large scale, using the Iraqi conception for the failed later attacks after the first WTC bombing and then trying to join those into a Grand Scale terrorist attack in the Bojinka plot, which failed due to overcomplexity. al Qaeda, far from supporting this Iran-Iraq-Syria axis was, in point of fact, looking for an ongoing methodology for successful terror attacks that got away from suicide bombers and one-time attacks by individuals. This I call the Template of Terror. And it is not *aimed* at the Middle East, although it certainly draws upon it, but is aimed at the more technologically capable Nations of the world, so as to use their own technological infrastructure as a weak point for attack.
This does not mean that al Qaeda is not interested in the Middle East, but, instead, requires it in a certain state of affairs to draw support *from* it. That state of affairs was supported by the Iran-Iraq-Syria cooperative axis and so long as they were able to hold the status quo, al Qaeda had no reason to join nor interfere with them, although it was more than willing to accept training and supplies form them. The al Qaeda attack on the US on 9/11 did *not* grow out of the Iranian based axis, but, instead, grew out of a fantastical ideology that expected the US to collapse under its own weight due to a pinprick attack. As Lee Harris encapsulates this well, I will use his words from PolicyReview online (mirror link)[bolding mine]:
This theme of reviving ancient glory is an important key to understanding fantasy ideologies, for it suggests that fantasy ideologies tend to be the domain of those groups that history has passed by or rejected groups that feel that they are under attack from forces which, while more powerful perhaps than they are, are nonetheless inferior in terms of true virtue.In this fantastic view of the world al Qaeda does not see the US or the West in general as populated by people, but as props that can be manipulated on a global stage and tipped over due to this simplistic interpretation of them. To al Qaeda the US, or indeed the entire system of Nation States, are *not* systems or States but things given by Allah as temporary challenges to the true believer that can be overcome via the jihadi resistance. The regime in Tehran *also* supports this to a large extent, although they do have a somewhat firmer grasp of the Nation State system they wish to dissolve and expand into. The dreams of Caliphate are thus common in root and orientation, but grasp of the world is lacking to greater or lesser degree in both. Nations do *not* serve a legitimate purpose and are mere simple constructs that can easily be brought down and under control.
From a realist standpoint, with some grasp of geopolitics, the al Qaeda attacks were ill-timed for geopolitical reasons, but made coherent sense and timing within a fantastical viewpoint of the world in which this act of jihad would bring the might of the larger universal force to bear and topple the giant United States and, soon, the rest of the world. Iran did not seem to care overmuch for the timing when it happened, either, and but they *also* expected this to seriously degrade the West or even put the US into permanent turmoil. Syria and Iraq, however, while giving lip-service to such things, were not ready to throw their weight and support behind global jihad and had a good idea of the response that al Qaeda was going to get. By cooperating with those that had a fantastical outlook on the world, Syria and Iraq now found themselves unable to move out from the spotlight that was called upon that outlook. Within the Iran-Iraq-Syria axis a difference of viewpoint led to somewhat different views on results of activities.
From the perspective of the Nation attacked, however, there was the expectation that any group or Nation so bold as to attack the United States would *follow it up*. Previous 20th century warfare demanded that in large scale conflicts, and the short lull in the days after the attack waiting 'for the other shoe to drop' slowly left and the realization that this was the BEST that could be offered and that there was no coherent *plan* for destruction in place. This led to the US counter-attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq, the first to remove the direct State support for al Qaeda and the second to break into the noxious centroid of the Middle East and break down the interior supply and support lines for terrorism and plant something different to replace fantastical world outlooks. This would break the stasis of the Middle East that had been present since the start of the Cold War and had not shifted once that conflict ended.
Unlike Mr. Phares I do not see this as a cooperating 'tree of jihad' but different fantastical world views at work with different means and motives, seeking support from others that will give common cause for their own reasons. The Iran-Iraq-Syria axis did not support 9/11 by attacks afterwards for the simple fact that they were not put 'in the loop' by distrustful al Qaeda that had its OWN reasons for staging such attacks. Iraq had proven plenty capable in the early 1990's to coordinate between terrorist organizations and would have served that purpose had al Qaeda *trusted* it to do so. al Qaeda, however, had their own viewpoint on how to work terrorism and had successfully used their Template previously and were using it for individual larger scale attacks and did not want nor need the interference of this 'axis' in its operations. While holding some commonality of goals and contacts with this other axis, it had differentiated itself via means and methodology *from* that axis. While Islam may be a root to both of these phenomena, one axis turned towards traditional Nation States for support while the other aligned itself to the distributed network of Transnational Terrorists for its support.
The US in removing the truly fantastical Taliban and the extremely heard-headed Ba'athist regime in Iraq dealt a dual blow to the fantastical world of al Qaeda and the somewhat better rooted world-view of the Iran-Iraq-Syrian axis. Further the removal of Iraq made the connection between Iran and Syria obvious while before it had been masked by the overwhelming presence of Saddam's Iraq. al Qaeda continues to be a threat as witness the Madrid, London and Mumbai bombings and continues to deploy its template freely. The Iran-Syria axis, however, has been dealt a harsh blow and both poured in funds and fighters to Iraq in an attempt to destabilize the Nation and force it either to break apart or to re-coalesce into a totalitarian state either under Ba'athist or fantastical Islamic conceptions. Syria was the weak link in supply and funds and while their fighters proved more capable they were the ones targeted to be driven out by the riverine operations that finally went to the northwest and terminated at the Syrian border. Passage of individuals, arms and funds via the rivers of Iraq became extremely difficult and the final strongholds were taken out this year, in which large amounts of arms and material were seized, but fighters to actually *use* them were lacking. Iran was playing a steadier game of influencing internal politics in Iraq, via al-Sadr and his sectarian militia, and influenced elections in Iraq to a greater or lesser extent. Their hope is that through terror attacks, sectarian violence and general mayhem, that Iraq can be destabilized and turned into a client State, or at least have that happen to the southern region so as to give Iran direct access and borders with Saudi Arabia. Again, Iraq is a pawn and *not* filled with real people, but objects to be manipulated via this viewpoint. Iraq is a *potential resource* for trying to assert the Caliphate by using the populace of that Nation to the ends of Iranian influence.
al Qaeda, during this, was forced into a problematical position of claiming to be the 'strong horse' while being trampled upon. Further, after the fall of Afghanistan and Iraq, they were starting to look as if they could not comprehend what had befallen the Middle East by their actions. In a scramble to keep some semblance of the local Taliban going and spread influence to gain power locally, they set themselves up in non-controlled provinces of Pakistan and mended fences with Iran. No love was ever held between these two to be lost, and al Qaeda now saw that their support was going to be declining as world banking moved against obvious assets and large cash flows. As al Qaeda works years to put its large scale methodology based attacks into action, those of Madrid and London appear to have been in near-complete stages and carried through upon, while Mumbai seems of more recent vintage with al Qaeda expending resources into Pakistan and India for support of it. By being seen as the *cause* of the fall of Iraq, al Qaeda thus had to make good its outlook and actually move more support to its base within Iraq. So al Qaeda funding and attention now subdivided further to cover Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iraq, and all of its previously planned attacks. All the while the trickle of individuals it was sending into Iraq were not coming back and its leadership was being picked off piecemeal via standard police and intelligence operations.
To backtrack a bit, the fall of Iraq was a harsh blow to fantastical outlook on Pan Arabism, as well, as Saddam took up that mantle of being the 'great uniter' of Arab States and looked to be the Leader of the Arab World. State based socialism of the International (Communist) variety had been dealt a severe and apparently permanent setback with the collapse of the USSR, although its Transnationalist conceptions still plague the world. Nationalist State based socialism (fascism) was successfully transplanted into the Middle East during the period from the late 1930's to the late 1940's, so even when the exemplar States of this fell in Italy and Germany, the conception of it, being entirely *internal* to States remained as viable viewpoints for political parties. Ba'athism is a remnant of that, and by bringing down the prime example of that in the Middle East, National State socialism is *also* being heavily discredited which puts the Syrian regime at grave risk being the last adherent of that conception and of Pan Arabism. Their only uptick was that they held onto Lebanon.
In 2005 *that* ended and the final patina to National Socialism had worn off, demonstrating the true totalitarian Nature of it. Again, this was not a co-ordinated counter attack by the West, but a push to hold Nation States accountable for their activities and to get hostile Nations out of undermining and subverting *other* Nation States. Syria, already beset by problems in Iraq and being unable to exert any power *into* Iraq now was forced to withdraw from a *province*! Already having commonality of ties with Iran on the Iraq problem, this brought together Iran and Syria as *both* had lost face and power in Lebanon: Syria by direct loss, and Iran by having the diminishment of their directed group, Hezbollah, given only standard democratic representation and not controlling voice in that Nation. Both of these Nations worked hard to undermine Lebanon's nascent political system and subvert it. To properly do that required arm twisting, threats and reinforcing Hezbollah from the outside with more and better Iranian manufactured arms and training from various sources outside of Iran.
In the timing of the resurgence of Hezbollah, I do agree with Mr. Phares that it is to distract attention from Iranian nuclear development and to take power in Lebanon by force of arms. Thusly the Cedar Revolution in his terms 'was failed' by outside forces seeking their own ends in restoring the status quo there. He squarely places blame for this undermining upon the political factions *within* Lebanon to the forces *outside* it and incubating within it. From there he launches into speculation on current activities and their possible outcomes. But here I would also disagree on his viewpoint of the democratic process being 'failed' by outside forces and place the blame for this 'failing' upon the misunderstanding of democracy by the people of Lebanon. It is all well and good to point out particular politicians and their bent towards one State or another and the inherent problems of a nascent democracy to coalesce. This is common for democracies of any variety and always a problem for those trying to gain a modicum of stability for the political arrangement inside the Nation practicing it. It is not helped by external forces seeking to destabilize it and subvert it.
Not coming to terms with these problems and directly addressing them cannot, however much one wishes to do so, be placed at the feet of political leaders. Political leadership, in a democracy, must be a reflection of the will of the People practicing it. If imperfect politicians are being offered by political parties, the fault is *not* that of the parties to put them forth, it IS that of the People not to withhold their support from such parties and individuals and put forth OTHER individuals and parties that better represent them. In Lebanon the use of the old parties that were part of the Civil War before the Cedar Revolution necessarily compromises their current positions by being based upon the passions of that conflict and the political necessities of it. The People of Lebanon sought a path that would try to find some sort of stability by choosing 'the devil they knew' and put hope upon their assertion of willpower, via the ballots, to ensure that such will was expressed. They had not learned the hard and harsh fact of democracy: it is *not* a system to generate stability but to gain commonality via instability.
Democracy is not *made* to be a stable system, but one that in being unstable in known ways so it can properly reflect the will of the People. In this democracy is not simple casting of votes, but deciding upon the direction of the Nation from the lowest level up to that of the National through the representational choices made by individuals at the ballot box. Most such systems devolve upon two major parties to try and integrate broad and popular themes of the people into some commonality, but that is barely a rule of thumb and many democratic Nations have multi-lateral governments composed of many parties and governments that regularly rise and fall as the will of the People coalesces for some time and then shifts to as the political atmosphere changes. Italy, through much of its post-WWII period is emblematic of this with governments rising and falling often as internal social turmoil is reflected by National politics. By accepting the *process* of elections and the validity of results, the Nation State changes to be better suited to the people within it. This is rarely, if ever, done with the very FIRST ballot cast by the People.
Iraq, as counterpoint, is getting used to this idea of elections having meaning and being meaningful as a *process*. The insurgency and sectarian violence is trying to undermine the *process* of democratic outlook and return popular outlook to that of all-powerful strongmen,warlords and imams. Establishing this process can take years if not decades. For example, even after the Constitution of the United States was put in place in 1787 the prime fault line of that document over slavery erupted into Civil War a bit over 7 DECADES later. The Nation was meta-stable during that interim and the threat and problems of slavery hung over the Nation as a cloud, being hotly contested again and again as time wore on. The Nation *knew* this would not last and it was a question of not *if* there would be a war, but *when* and *how bad*.
The Lebanese People expected *instant* results and then peace and freedom.
They had NO history of the process of democracy and had unrealistic expectations of it.
Their neighbor and the regional power it was aligned with *both* wanted to use Lebanon to their own purposes and regain the *legitimacy* of those purposes. Of course they both twisted the imperfect individuals of the political process to their wills to meet these ends. The people of Lebanon failed themselves by NOT holding their politicians directly accountable for their LACK of activity and for giving into the demands of these foreign powers within their Nation. By not paying attention and holding the politicians feet to the fire via the political process, it is not the fault of ruthless autocrats and fantastical believers to take advantage of the situation. It is directly the fault of the People not remove legitimacy at the first HINT that this was happening. By not paying attention and having had their wonderful parade revolution and not investing time and effort into building the *process* that *process* failed them.
And into this vacuum we now have a new coalescing of forces and axes with al Qaeda and Hamas joining Hezbollah, but worrying that they are being co-opted by Iran. Syria is proving to be a client state with little more to offer than as resupply point and gathering point for terrorist activities into the region. The Wahhabi Imams have forcefully *denounced* Hezbollah and require its followers to offer it NOTHING, and so al Qaeda risks its donors in this activity, but perhaps they have lined up Venezuelan support to replace *that*. We hear grumblings of a possible Shia/Sunni sectarian coalition in Baghdad to attack the government there, not realizing that they then turn themselves into instant targets by all that support the government and will delegitimize themselves in the *process* of democracy that is being built.
In all I find what Mr. Phares to say as interesting in giving a quick gloss to the complexity of the Middle East and not another conspiracy concept which is extremely common in that region. Offering a new venue for conspiracy theories misdirects attention from deeper analysis and offers simplistic solutions instead of reasoning via actions and stated National goals. Simple analysis which takes in multiple factors ends up with multivariate and complex analyses based upon guiding principles of identifying the interests of players and then seeing how they perform actions upon those interests. I disagree with the tree conception he puts forth, but am otherwise in agreement on the shifting coalescing of forces. Conspiracy theories offer simplistic overview of the problems of the region and engender themselves of ignoring the totality of the problem space involved. A more in-depth analysis allows for a review of multiple ways to approach the greater problem without resorting to a conspiratorial viewpoint that can only say results are because of one thing or small collection of them. Actions on the inter-Nation scale are rarely that simple to identify when multiple State and non-State actors and players are at work. In this review of activities in the Middle East the commonality of results does not confer commonality of end point nor commonality of starting viewpoint for those actions, but gives a wider problem review space and allows for alternate renderings of activities to give them greater depth and meaning while eschewing the simplistic conspiracy concept for them.
Simple outlooks that are extended and integrated lead to complex results and final analysis.
Simplistic analyses most often point towards preconceived notions of what the results mean, instead of letting the actions speak for themselves.