Syria and Lebanon: International Relations and Diplomacy in the Middle East

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By: Taku Osoegawa

Publisher: Syria and Lebanon: International Relations and Diplomacy in the Middle East

London, UK: I.B. Tauris, 2013, 2015. 264p. $25.00. ISBN: 978-1784532338

Volume: 3 Issue: 12

December 2015

Review by:

Josef Olmert, PhD

University of South Carolina

Columbia, SC

This book is dedicated to the question of why and how Lebanon has aligned itself with Syria since 1970 — and the method used by Professor Osoegawa in answering it is to apply theories of International Relations (IR). It seems to me, that this is a logical approach to discuss such an issue with all its complexities by trying to adapt IR theories to the reality of the Lebanese situation. However, after reading the book, I am left with the strong sense that something is missing here. This is a discussion of the historic context of the issue, the ideologies involved, social features of Lebanon’s polity, and perhaps above all, the sectarian element, which in my mind, is a crucial. However, this is not the exclusive key to understanding the Lebanese crisis in general, or the Syrian policies, including the particular issue of the Lebanese-Syrian relationships.

Osoegawa uses four theories relevant to his study, “simple realism,” “complex realism,” “constructivism,” and “complex interdependence” (pp. 6-17). All are well-researched, explained and written, but the overall emphasis on the “diplomacy” [the author’s word] of Lebanon’s leaders, vis-á-vis Damascus, is insufficient in terms of giving us the full picture of the subject on hand. This is so because the Lebanese crisis, which erupted in full force in 1975, was a multi-faceted dispute, leading experts to debate whether this was an “anomalous conflict” or a more conventional, though extremely complicated case of protracted political and social conflict. (This is well covered in E.E. Azar and R.F. Haddad, “Lebanon: An anomalous conflict?” Third World Quarterly, 8 (4), October 1986, 1337-1350.) Nonetheless, it is almost universally agreed that its longevity, intensity, and ramification, domestically, regionally — and at times globally — made it a uniquely explosive crisis. The historic roots of the conflict go way back, beyond the twentieth century, and in the context of the main question discussed in this book, there is no better quote than Hafiz al-Assad, who in a comprehensive speech on 20 July 1976, at the height of Syria’s direct, all-out military intervention in the Lebanese civil war, stated that “throughout history, Syria and Lebanon have always been one nation. This is what history shows” (Al -Ba‘ath, 21 July, 1976).

That said, the overall record of Syria’s policy in Lebanon, as well as its policy towards Israel after 1974, shows that the Ba‘ath regime acted much more as an Alawite-dominated regime, Pan-Arabism or Greater Syria notwithstanding. The current civil war in Syria — with the Bashar al-Assad regime being completely dominated by the Shi‘a Islamic Republic of Iran — may indicate, that in terms of regime survivability, the al-Assads may have made the right decision. But if this is the case about Syria, it is even more so about Lebanon, and yet, Osoegawa hardly refers to sectarianism in his narrative. Nor does he refer to the clannish aspect of Lebanese politics. It is the year 1970, which is the starting point of this study, obviously for two good reasons. It is when Hafiz al-Assad became the big boss in Damascus, and Suleiman Faranjiyya, was elected president of Lebanon, and starting the policy of reliance on Syria, more so than real alignment between two allies. It so happens that the current candidate of the pro-Iran and al-Assad coalition to become the next president of Lebanon, is the grandson of Faranjiyya. Not a coincidence.

Altogether, this book is an interesting and useful contribution to the discussion on hand, but more is needed. Osoegawa himself all but acknowledges it, concluding that “this case study may provide a basis for constructing a novel and widely applicable theory for explaining the behavior of penetrated weak states” (p.192). May I add that this looked-after theory should also explain the behavior of a presumed strong and coherent penetrating state?

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