Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hizballah Taking Over Lebanon? Don't Worry! Be Happy!

By Barry Rubin

One of the most common themes in media stories in this bizarre era of ours could be called Don’t Worry be Happy! It’s the concept of mass media as valium.

Enemies, threats, Iran nuclear bomb, terrorism, Islamist revolution? Forget it, just illusions.

Here’s an example, a UPI article entitled—the title gives it away, right?—“Hizballah concerns misplaced.” Sure, what’s it matter if Hizballah takes over Lebanon’s government? I mean what could go wrong?

Here’s the lead: “Fears that a victory for the opposition March 8 coalition will give Hezbollah control over the country and its military forces are misplaced, analysts say.”

Cute, isn’t it? I mean it only works if you just interview analysts who say that. And who are these analysts? It’s sort of embarrassing. There are two of them. One is an article in the Gulf newspaper, the National, the other is a well-known—how can I put this delicately?—person friendly to Hizballah, namely Paul Salem, Carnegie Endowment representative in Beirut.

That’s it. Nobody else is cited. Of course the article is built partly on a technicality:

“While a March 8 victory could possibly fracture the pro-Western March 14 coalition that supported the 2005 Cedar Revolution, it is not guaranteed to bring Hezbollah to the head of the political scene in Beirut, Emirati newspaper The National reports.”

But that’s profoundly misleading. Hizballah might prefer that some other group be the formal head of the coalition so it can run things behind the scenes, avoid problems with Western governments, and keep the aid money and foreign loans coming in.

Yet Hizballah would have free run of the country and Lebanon would be part of the Iran-Syria axis.

President Michel Suleiman, described as “an Independent with modest widespread appeal,” became president because he had appeal where it counted, that is he was Syria’s candidate.

Now those well-known party-poopers, Israel and the United States, the article explains, are worried about a Hizballah-controlled government. But the readers must be told they’re wrong:

“Scholars, however, say the reality is that Lebanon will face challenges in forming a unity government more than face repercussions directly from an increased political role for Hezbollah.”

Get it? Who you going to listen to, the U.S. and Israeli government or some unnamed scholars? Well one scholar any way.

Often when I’m reading or analyzing these articles, I feel as if I’m reading the Onion, that satirical newspaper that makes up stuff that’s funny. But there’s nothing funny about Hizballah taking over Lebanon or mainstream media telling people it won’t matter.

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