I think the key here is that Lebanon isn't really a democracy, but a consociate; it only appears to have functioning democratic institutions when the partners - the leaders of Lebanon's sects - of the consociate are in near agreement. And aside from Hezbollah, the mostly-unelected leaders of Lebanon's sectarian factions, like mob leaders throughout history, take their cues from the most vocal and strident constituents.
Thus, although Hezbollah has violated the rules, the response from the government is not immediate. At this stage, perhaps nobody knows what that response will be. And no one knows what effect it may have.
Later in the day, "Charles Malik" considered:
the United States might be thinking twice about providing the Lebanese Army with any more munitions in the future. Despite three years of assistance, the Lebanese Army remains more in the position of a caretaker than as an active military force capable of preventing violence and defending the country from chaos.
I wonder. The U.S. has provided the L.A. the arms and training to at least challenge Hezbollah, if it so desires. The past few days have demonstrated that Lebanon isn't a democracy so much as a consociate, and that is perhaps the most one can expect after thirty-plus years of strained constitutionality.
My hunch: only when more people, especially some of the Shia, get tired and angry with Hezbollah will the Army change its mind and take a more active role in current affairs. As long as the L.A. remains armed and united, the possibility of its taking action still exists.
Charles: As I've been saying for a few years, the most important this to do in Lebanon is to destroy Hezbollah's stranglehold on the Shia community.
The Lebanese Army is an extraordinary institution. The Syrians and former President Lahoud - when he was commander of the army - did an amazing job using the army to unify the separated and sectarian youth of Lebanon. The sectarianism remained to a degree, but the Army helped break down the barriers to inter-sectarian dialogue very quickly.
However, given that the Syrians controlled the institution for over 15 years, there are quite a few holdovers from an era in which pro-Syrian yes-men were promoted over competent soldiers who did not agree with the occupation.
Once the Army is a unified body, ie once Lebanese sects support the government and democracy as much as they support their communities, the Army will become a regulated body.
Hezbollah and Syria are the main things preventing the unity of the Lebanese Army.
There is a difference between legality and legitimacy. Legality comes from written laws; legitimacy is sanctioned by time-honored acceptance - custom. At this stage Lebanese institutions rely more on legitimacy than legality. That's why the L.A. not acting immediately isn't necessarily a bad sign.
A few months ago I was convinced that Syria exercised "assassination control" over ALL of Lebanon's generals - because of the fear displayed of Syria at the Nahr al-Bared "victory" press conference. (EVERY general made it a point to excuse Syria, as if one denial wouldn't be sufficient.) It may have taken people a while to realize that with Mughniyah dead, the threat of assassination is gone, at least temporarily, so there is more freedom to maneuver.
I don't know what will happen next, but I don't think what happened in the 1970s and 80s, when the Army pretty much dissolved and its weapons were distributed to the militias, should happen this time.
This student of Lebanon's history is quite sure of this: Lebanese anger is a slow-building yet terrible thing. And a consociated system has no bill of rights attached to it to protect either the innocent or the guilty.
5/13/08 3pm Update
Now Lebanon publishes this remarkable letter from General Suleiman to all officers of the Lebanese Army. After a brief review of the past thirty years of Lebanese history, the General curtly blames what in any country would be his civilian superiors for the current situation! "We have repeatedly warned officials of the need to find the necessary solutions in order to avert civil war."
What follows is an amazingly humble and introspective diagnosis of the afflictions of the Lebanese soul, as the General gives his officers their instructions in the broadest terms:
"I am aware of your deep pain due to the current events. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the 1975 generation hurt a lot, but still was divided, and you are still suffering from the consequences of its division when it comes to restoring the state’s sovereignty throughout the Lebanese territory. In truth, the sadness burdening your souls is due to a feeling of humiliation and to the pangs of conscience. This should constitute a motive to consolidate your unity and cohesion by taking advantage of the past. Turning away from the military institution is not useful at all; rather, it further weakens it, whereas what is required is more creativity and achievements that are born only out of suffering...Do not allow the martyrs to be killed twice."
That is, officers are to do what they think they can do, short of killing people, to avoid civil war from fully breaking out again. There is no mention of taking orders from a higher political authority. The Lebanese Army can thus be understood as a full and separate partner of the Lebanese Consociate, answering to everyone and to no one, possessing its own culture and decision-making processes.
5/14/08 3pm Update
The State Department has announced it plans to speed up deliveries of military aid to the Lebanese Army: "We have a very robust package of support for the Lebanese military and we intend to carry that out and give them the kind of help that they need to be able to, again, carry out their mission and support the Lebanese people."
It appears that Charles need not have worried so much about American support.
5/14/08 4pm Update
Forty Army officers, including the deputy chief of intelligence, have submitted resignations, but Suleiman refused them.
Threatening to resign is a form of politics, and by keeping them in Suleiman is expected to address their grievances. I assume they were protesting the Army's "neutral" stance. Thus it is unlikely that the L.A. will be able to justify remaining non-partisan if trouble breaks out again. Hezbollah may no longer enjoy the freedom of action that it did last week.
If this is the most Hezbollah can do, they can only go downhill from here, and indeed Hezbollah has now suffered a military defeat in its attempt to conquer the Druze's Chouwf stronghold.