Hezbollah Plays Nationalism Card


This short International Herald Tribune piece by the Nixon Center’s Alexis Debat and Ghassan Schbley got me thinking about the simultaneously turbulent centrifugal and centripetal forces between transnational Islamist movements and state structures in the Middle East
It’s a very short, clever article — but here is the part with which I partly disagree and yet still find intriguing:

Nasrallah’s recent turnaround has given away important clues about Hezbollah’s ultimate hierarchy of allegiances. Confronted with a crucial decision between relevance and identity, the movement chose to amend what it wants, and sacrifice its sectarian credentials or international allegiances to reclaim the nationalist high ground.
Hezbollah is already reaching out to other constituencies, and getting in increasingly frequent arm twisting with both Iran and Syria.
The Saudis were key in defusing the crisis in Lebanon. The Saudis are also hard at work in Iraq and, as we have seen recently, in Palestine. In this process, the Bush administration should be careful to remain safely in King Abdullah’s back seat.

First of all, despite patronage from Iran and Syria, Hezbollah has always been a political movement focused on the liberation of its constituents from Israeli control. It’s core grievances are over land and self-determination.
This is not dissimilar to nationalist movements in revolutionary China and Vietnam that were to a significant degree misdiagnosed by the U.S. as primarily problems of transnational Communism.
It doesn’t seem to me that Nasrallah made any stunning turnaround.
He simply exploited state-based regional stakeholders as well as the transnational Islamist movement in this crisis and extracted resources from them. If he had to flirt with transnational movements and identity, then that’s a small gesture compared to his own desire to embed Hezbollah in the very fabric of Lebanese society and to one day have a hand in working the machinery of state.
The depiction of Saudi foreign policy activism seems spot on with me. The Saudis are filling a void that a faltering America has left open in the Middle East.
To say, however, that America ought to “remain safely in King Abdullah’s back seat” overstates the degree of mutual coordination and collaboration between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia on the Middle East project. It is because of Saudi dissatisfaction with American policy and American results that the Saudis have heightened their engagement with Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, and elsewhere.
If anything the Saudis left America off on the curb — and it’s not defined yet whether they will be back to pick us up.
Nice piece nonetheless.
— Steve Clemons


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