Impressions, views, and steam-blowing by a lonesome cowboy.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Lonely Are the Brave: General Aziz el-Ahdab

For those who remember and for those who don't know, I am getting ready for March 11.

Thirty years ago when Lebanon was falling apart, and when no one stood up to do the right thing, Brigadier General Aziz el-Ahdab did.

It was March 11, 1976; the country had started its journey down the abyss. The civil war, then called "events", was raging. Citizens were abducted and killed in the streets on the basis of their name/sect/religion. Warring militias were shelling civilian areas, merrily destroying downtown and the port, and stealing merchandise in the millions of dollars. For good measure, they also burned what they could not steal. Snipers were killing pedestrians and drivers, just for crossing from one sector to the other.

Shocked, scared, and confused citizens kept turning to the state and its institutions for protection and guidance. All they got was hot air and paralysis from Frangieh and Karami (RIH, Rot In Hell, both), president and PM respectively. Both were unable to solve anything and, in typical Lebanese fashion, none would resign.

Whatever respect these two clowns had, when sworn into office, dwindled fast. Of course PM Karami (RIH) claimed that the army could not be used to protect life and property, because it would split. So he did not use it, and it still split. In Karami's (RIH) book, and to this day for many, applying the law in Lebanon apparently means "taking sides" and being "biased".

The disappointing thing to many at the time, including myself, was the total absence of any position by the army on the fate of the nation and its security. Some officers made noises. Rumors abounded. Air Force commander Georges Gharib had issued a strong communiqué hinting at action if the politicos did not solve things. Then pooof! Nothing further from army senior officers.

Then in January 1976, a junior officer in the army, Lt. Ahmad Khatib took his soldiers and heavy equipment and joined the leftist-PLO camp of the war. Again in typical Lebanese fashion, the top brass had dithered too long and lost control of its troops.

After the very top brass shirked it duties, and after some junior officers rebelled, Brigadier General Aziz el-Ahdab, Commander of the Beirut sector tried a desperate last-ditch effort. He took over a TV station, tried to pretend he controlled his sector, and demanded the resignation of President Frangieh and PM Karami, and called for the election of a new president within a week.

That Ahdab failed in getting the resignations and in reuniting the army, in my humble opinion, takes nothing from the man's courage, honor, and decency. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The man used what was available to him and the gamble was worth it: trying to save the nation and its army.

That the commander of the Beirut sector, the capital city, after 2 years of mayhem only had a few hundred men and no heavy weapons says a lot about the incompetence of the government and the army leadership.

Whether Ahdab acted with, or without, some Palestinian help, as rumored then, does not bother me in the least. (In fact the PLO was really on the side of Khatib). At any rate, times were desperate, the man's demands made sense and people intuitively sensed and supported these demands. Celebratory gunfire broke out on both sides of town, i.e., both factions rejoiced, as did the average citizen. What happened in the next few hours: international phone calls, Syrian pressure, personal calculations etc, we'll never know.

Things might have turned out differently for Ahdab and Lebanon. However, less than 24 hours after Ahdab burst on TV screens, and after countless telegrams of support from every possible professional association and organization in the country, Brigadier General Ahdab stood alone. No officers, no troops other than his own few, no politicians, no air force joined in. The misguided, the opportunists and the cowards had gone back to business as usual, and the country sank further in the abyss.

Ahdab kept control of the TV station for a while. The station ran some of the best programs/debates on the war, possible solutions, secularization, constitutional law etc. Then General Ahdab disappeared from the scene.

The man was derided, and to this day, as "General TV", or "Aziz el-Ajdab". This cynicism is beyond sick. Our culture glorifies, excuses, and perpetuates the thugs and the corrupt that come out on top.

The real hero does not always succeed, but he can be counted upon to do his duty and be honorable, even against overwhelming odds.

Brigadier General Aziz el Ahdab, this citizen will never forget you. You were the only man in position of responsibility to bang on the table and say ENOUGH when the country went mad. You took a gamble. That you failed is a sad commentary on the rest of us.

General Ahdab, Sir, I salute you wherever you are.

Friday, March 03, 2006

No Democracy, Republic Please

Democracy, in the strict sense of majority rule, is a bad idea. What works, in America and Switzerland and elsewhere, is republican (small r) government. Walter Williams tackles the subject (briefly) in his latest column. The distinction is often lost on many. So it's a good refresher, and certainly something to ponder, especially for Iraqis and Lebanese these days.

Here are a couple of quotes: (from "How to Create Conflict" by Walter Williams)

Chief Justice John Marshall added, "Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos."
Majority rule is a zero-sum game with winners and losers, with winners having the power to impose their wills on the minority. Conflict emerges when the minority resists.