Lebanon, as in the familiar jingle, made a big fall, and Washington is trying to put the pieces together again. When referring to Lebanon one should keep in mind that the country is an artificial creation. Before World War I, it was part of Greater Syria under the Ottoman Empire. The latter recognized a certain autonomy to the Mt. Lebanon region, where Christians and Druzes had lived and warred for centuries.
After the war, France as mandatory power detached Lebanon from Syria, a decision Damascus has not recognized to this day, and added to the original small area a large portion of territory inhabited predominantly by Muslims. France's purpose was to create a Western Christian outpost in the Middle East. The country was given a constitution that assumed the existence of a Christian majority to which the control of the executive and the army was entrusted.
Lebanon had little chance to survive and prosper because of a number of adverse factors:
1. Arab nationalism and Westernism are incompatible. The Arabs would not accept a Western outpost in Lebanon any more than they did in Israel.
2. Syria is determined that Lebanon will either return to the fold or survive as a vassal state. It can count on enough Lebanese allies to ensure the success of its ambitions. Representing a majority of the population, the Muslims advocate the end of a pact that distributes political functions according to religious confession and the introduction of a more ''democratic'' system.
3. The presence of the Palestine Liberation Organi-zation, which acted as a state within a state, further destabilized the country and provoked Israeli interventions which culminated in last year's invasion. Acting in conjunction with the Lebanese left, the PLO undermined Lebanon's Western orientation. It was successful to a greater extent than is generally believed.
4. The Greater Syria project would include not only Lebanon but Palestine as well. As a consequence, Damascus is both in the forefront of the Arab anti-Israel crusade and striving to control and direct Palestinian nationalism. The aim is establishment of a Damascus-based federation spreading westward all the way to the Egyptian border. The writer heard similar projects widely discussed during a trip to Syria.
5. Lebanon's future has become an issue involving East-West competition. The United States supports Israel and both support the Christians and the right-wing Phalangist party. The Muslims identify by contrast with the left, supported by Syria, which in turn is armed and supported by the Soviet Union.
The result is an effective partition of the country between Syria to the north and Israel to the south with the central government trying (not always successfully) to exert its authority over Beirut and the surrounding area.
Nothing under present and foreseeable future circumstances may return Lebanon to what it was originally intended to be. Efforts in that direction could prove futile if not counterproductive.
The future of Lebanon cannot be considered separately from that of the Middle East as a whole, where the issues involved are tremendously complex. The area is still in a state of flux, and it is a bold prophet who would try to foresee future directions.
Syria can play a role only when instability prevails. The oil producers, instead, are for not rocking the boat, instability being their greatest threat. Their future, however, is not at all assured.
Israel is likely to take initiatives within the next few years (the incorporation of the West Bank and Gaza, for example) with long-range implications. No one can foresee which form Palestinian nationalism will take and the consequences if its aspirations are not fulfilled.
Syria is most likely to take advantage of the situation precisely because, feeding on uncertainty, it can more easily adapt to changing conditions. And Syria has no intention of allowing Lebanon to become viable.
Under the present circumstances it is most unlikely that Lebanon will reemerge within the borders carved by France. Nor is it likely that the constitution that assigned a preponderant role to the Christian community will survive. The West is not listening closely enough to the wind of change. The obligation to protect the Lebanese Christian community - a task the West has assumed for over a century - remains, but the best way to do so is by beginning to take stock of present-day realities.