The Lebanese Army today basks in the spotlight - and for good reason, too. For the first time since its disintegration during the civil war, it deploys its personnel and material south of the Litani River. Numerous journalists and analysts have written articles assessing the army's capabilities. Most have been scathing. However, all have conveyed relief at its deployment in Southern Lebanon.
Some of these assessments have compared the army to Hizballah, for obvious reasons. They sought to satisfy the curiosity a few individuals betrayed regarding whether or not the Army could take the militia on, and disarm it. Of course, considering what the Israelis were able to accomplish in a month, there simply is no question about what Lebanon's antiquated armed forces would be able to accomplish. If it were ever to take Hizballah on, it would lose mightily.
So if our armed forces are so obviously weak, why are Lebanese so proud of it? Why does it foster such feelings of pride among most, if not all, Lebanese?
For an answer to that question, I will quote none other than Walid Jumblatt: "the Lebanese Army is the product of political consensus - consensus among all of Lebanon's political forces (and sects) - consensus that protects it, and allows it to fulfill its duties." Therefore, in certain respects, the Lebanese Armed Forces are not merely means to ends, but rather ends in themselves.
There would be nothing easier than for a foreign power to isolate a particular sect in Lebanon, help foster a militaristic culture, train its military-aged men for guerilla warfare, and spend hundreds of millions of dollars arming it to the teeth and preparing it for war. In other words, there is nothing special about Hizballah. If the Americans, French, Russians or Chinese decided to spend $20 - $50 million dollars a month on militarizing the Druze, Sunna, or Maronite communities, you would see the exact same outcome.
However, as I've already mentioned, nothing could be easier. The challenge for Lebanon and Lebanese lies in the national project - in choosing to be Lebanese. And despite our Army's impotence, we remain proud of it because it is a living, breathing symbol of that project. The Army reflects our society, and will only do what is acceptable to all of us. It is truly, Our Army.
One of my professors at Hopkins once said something that struck me. He pointed out that contrary to popular perceptions, he believed it much more difficult to effectively lead state institutions than private enterprises. Whereas leaders of the latter were single-minded in their determination to secure profits, leaders of the former needed to factor in and manage the often contradictory demands that emanate from the soceity(ies) they serve.