Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Vichy and Lebanon, faces of the same coin.

When France surrendered to Germany in the early period of WWII, the most decorated officer of the French army Phillipe Petain, made a conscientious (though treacherous) decision to execute the Armistice Accords with the Nazis on June 22, 1940. His, was logic that France needed to prevent millions of deaths after the heavy toll it endured against the Germans on the Western front during WWI. Petain’s action would become a stain on France for generations to come. But blaming the chief alone would not absolve an entire country (except for a minority) or its leading class (except for De Gaulle), from the crimes of collaboration with the Nazi regime. Shaming Petain alone, or conveniently focusing on the gang of Laval, Bousquet, Flandin, Darquier, Touvier, Darlan and others, was and remains an easy explanation albeit, an unconvincing one. 

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When we talk about such dark period of France, we tend to view Vichy’s rule as the devil incarnate, but we tend to forget, or have been made to, the many politicians (Mitterrand for one), merchant families (Renault, Baccarat), artists & designers (Cocco Chanel, Louis Vuitton), philosophes (Sartre, de Beauvoir), entertainers (Maurice Chevalier, Edith Piaf), and other parts of society who, in their own opportunistic relativism befriended the Nazis, with some going out of their way to denounce fellow French citizens who happened to be Jewish thus, expendable.

So, fast forward to Lebanon in 2016, where the most undecorated army officer namely, general Aoun is not alone in his treason. He has sold the country to Iran and Hezbollah, only to get a redux of a Vichy called the Baabda Presidential Palace for a period of 6 years only. Others have joined the circus wholeheartedly. One can surely name as part of this cabal, Aoun’s acolytes, the FL, S. Franjieh, the PSP, the Future Movement, the Amal Movement (although unenthusiastically), who are responsible for the Vichyization of Lebanon. With them, one could safely add a plethora of bankers who support this political class, many merchant families who benefit from its trade, real estate speculators who launder funds, hospitality promoters who take illicit money, entertainers who sing to corrupted officials and criminals, and many others. Under the pretense of defending the ‘status quo’ which meant accepting political defeat and Iranian paramilitary occupation, an entire nation, or almost, has agreed to collaborate. They are still at it with no change on the horizon.

Today, the conflict is not one for or against the Vichyization of Lebanon, but rather, who is the next Petain?! 

This political class nay, this society, is in total denial. It is going along with a presidential election that is rigged, undermined, and devoid of any democratic meaning. Why? Because whether X or Y become the next president, and if he will submit to the sheer power of the 100,000-armed men and missiles brandished by Hezbollah against their fellow Lebanese (like Vichy and the French Jews) before being pointed at Israel, what’s the point of bickering over the candidate? Honestly, is it worth all this TV drama, vote counting, constitutional debates, and regime paralysis? 

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The Political parties have all kowtowed, some explicitly others tacitly, to the hegemony of Hezbollah over Lebanon. That is an undeniable fact, although few admit it publicly. In practice, they concede to Hezbollah its role as the sole arbiter in matters of war and peace, as commander of the only coercive force in the country, and the uber decision-maker in all that is key, critical, or material in the nation. No political party, save few voices and some fringe groups, has a plan, or the draft of a plan, or the intention, or an inkling of intent, to challenge this status quo. 

Just like the Vichy administration under the Nazis which saw many bickering amongst its leaders but never recorded a challenge to the Nazi regime so is Lebanon’s political class which is enjoying a game of musical chair on the deck of the Titanic.

Robert Paxton wrote about Vichy France with premonition: “Some of France’s best skill and talent went into a formidable effort to keep the French state afloat under increasingly questionable circumstances. Who would keep order, they asked, if the state lost authority? By saving the state, however, they were losing the nation”. Pity the nation (Fisk)……

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