Sunday, August 26, 2007

Logistics and Amateurs

The “Civil War” topic keeps coming back, and some news sites even have a separate forum on things such as “Civil War in the Making”.

They all miss the point; the war is already on, but the confrontation is taking a different form.

Military Confrontation?

There are worrying signs, with Hezb leveraging its foreign support far more efficiently than “March 14”. It is making worrying land purchases, and still has a strong infiltration in the Lebanese Army, in addition to its control of Customs and some Security Services.

But if you plan a fight, weapons are the last thing you plan for; at the very least, you need to ensure logistics, political cover, a secure “rear”, and some level of popular support. Those are far from guaranteed, and for all the talk of escalation, it is not being played out in strictly military terms, but in the backrooms of Lebanese politics.

In a sense, this the lesser of evils, unless one needs convincing that a military confrontation would further bleed the nation of its best and brightest, and will bring back the warlord cantons of old. Indeed. Furthermore, swapping the nastiness of Geagea, Berri or Joumblat for the megalomania of Aoun or Nasrallah may not be much of a bargain (or the other way round).

This is another type confrontation that began on the heels of the war of July 2006; a logistical/economic conflict among mercenaries and pportunists.

Economic Confrontation?

No wonder HassAoun’s sounding so increasingly pissed; they cornered on many fronts. The most important four that I can identify are;

1- No Storage: Prices fluctuate in response to outside markets.

In large part, this is because of the lack of a local “buffer”; merchants store nothing or very little. So as prices rise rapidly in sync with the rest of the world, war disruptions can cause havoc in supply.

How long would we last without outside supply? History can offer a grim cautionary tale to those of us who are tempted to find out.

2- No Independent Supplies: Supplies Sources are Concentrated.

Most goods are ferried across the Port of Beirut, even those that used to transit to northern Syria from Tripoli. And Hezb’s control of the port is less than assured, especially if we keep in mind this past January’s events, when Joumblat’s showed his ability to close the Damour road (a replay of 1860 in some respect), and Aoun’s demonstrated his inability to maintain control of the Kesrouan roads in the face of determined FL opposition.

Of course, weapons do go through, but “une armée marche à son estomac”, and so does a militia, especially Lebanese militias with a tendency to hide amongst civilians.

3- Lack of Funding: Iranian Funds are limited. Sure, they are splurging on a helluva lunch party; but it remains to be seen how they can afford dinner.

And the pressure on Iranian funding is ever increasing at the time when Hezb’s parasitism of the Lebanese state has been partially diminished. More needs to be done to limit their powers of patronage, but they already have pay directly for things they used to bill the government for.

4- “Smart” Sanctions: US Pressures are mounting.

OK, the Americans have their hands full, but they can still pack a punch. The latest Executive Order can have serious implications for the Diaspora that still supports Aoun. But more importantly it can have far reaching implications for Hezb’s support bases in Africa and North America.

They may not take direct measures, but the US Treasury has a way in scaring banks into bankruptcy. The cost of doing business may rise in some sectors of the economy, and transaction costs could increase, if they are not interrupted outright.

The Need for Incentives.

With funds from smuggling interrupted, and the cost of money transfers increased, Hezb’s “parasitic proto-state” is facing additional pressures as they are forced to assume the obligations of a state whose prerogatives they usurped.

Their little tour of the foreign embassies earlier in the year, to ask for “their” portion of the cash, was an indication that they were already feeling this pressure. Some of this Iranian money will have to be put to non-military uses

But all this is not enough.

If they are to show sincerity in reviving Lebanon, those who claim March 14th should offer real incentives. Talk of the tribunal and independence is all fine and good, but they are slogans of limited real applicability; after all, isn’t “حرّيه”, “سياده”, and “إستقلال”, pretty much the same thing? Aren’t some March 14th supporters such as Jouzou and Hezb Al-Tahrir the antithesis of those?

We need more genuine policy choices, a Lebanese economic vision of our future and our role in the region.

Keep in mind the context; Hezb had come to fill a void left by governments that have abdicated control of anything outside “Greater Beirut”, where 50% of the population now live. With the exception of the Great Fouad Chehab, successive governments had yet to offer those at the “periphery” any other than neglect.

They may be misguided fools to some, but many of those who follow demagogues like Nasrallah, Aoun, or others do so more as a "negative" reaction against real injustices than out of ideological conviction. That can still be mitigated, but time is running out, and politicians are not getting any smarter.

For us Lebanese, blaming Syrians for racketing our country and Israelis for bombing it is akin to accusing the grave digger for the death of the victim...


Anonymous said...

You're calling Lebanon a nation? I hope you're joking.

ghassan karam said...

That March 14 leadership or lack thereof cannot deliver us to the promised land is incontrovertible but considering the alternative they win hands down. To make such a choice is very rational, reasonable and sensible especially for those that believe in game theory : minmax. One must choose the least damaging alternative.
One hopes that by opting for the lesser then we are in essence buying time for a real genuine option to arise. One that will have the courage to call HA/Amal/Aoun incongruent and merceries and yet will check the Jouzous of the world and their destructive salafi ideas.

There is reason for optimism. Just look at Gaza and Hamas. Iranian funds did not buy them political legitimacy , not even fuel for their power plants. I don't see why we cannot have our own Abu Mazen.

(Actually we do and his name is Walid Jumblatt. Jumblatt for President anyone?)

Anonymous said...

Beautiful expression: "Abou Mazen and other undemocratic leaders of the Middle East", Great Just great could you please list the real democratic leaders? Nasralla ? Young Assa`ad? Some kings? Hosni Mbarak ? Ulmart? who elected him? Mashal in Syria? All of them in Iraq? The gulf? SA ? Somali? What a place is this ME.

Jeha said...

Anon 21:22

I have deleted comments by one individual who has insulted me and others, and who resorted to sending me threatening emails. I will not allow him to post here as a result; after all, one cannot have respect for democracy without respect, period.

IP blocking proved far too effective; someone in his neighbourhood complained they were having trouble connecting.

Please excuse this. such is the tragedy of the commons, I guess. I can assure all that I still wave through all comments, whether I agree with them or not.

Anonymous said...

Hazbani thinking.
The fact, sad for me personally, is that while the people on this blog are so smart and talanted, it is realy one of the best blogs on the net, having some connections to practical graphics and data handeling make me green with envy reading this blog, I do not belive it is the work of one person. Back to the subject, at the very time while the wise and clever people on this blog are doing their thing a Persian puppet state is being built in Lebanon. Now one hear about the phone system but also water, electricity, roads, medical systems, education, policing, and more is being handled by this proto-state. It is more or less independent as the Kurd area in Iraq or some semi independent republics in previous USSR, now Russia. Probably more so, in real terms, than Monaco Luxenburg Liechtenstein. What about that, realy.

Anonymous said...

Hazbani again
Sorry to interpose. The wikki on the tragedy of the commons, which is more philosophy and no math. is far from exact.
It is like that, 100 people each having a cow. Assuming they pasture on a common field which can support only 100 maximus yielding milk cows, exactly 100, not one more. Now a person bring one more cow, every body has one but he has two. So the yield of the milk is down, for every cow it is now 100/101 of what it was before. But for the one with the two cows it is 100/101 + 100/101. So now every body is getting two cows so the yield per cow is 100/200 of what it was before progress started. If the expanses for milking, transport, ect are fixed per cow it is a loosing situation already. Generally it keep going on and ends with no pasture, no cows, no people. It is because the cow were privet and the pasture was common and every body read Milton Freedman and was out for maximizing his own personal gain. It is similar to many situations in the ME - Levant. It is not very similar to a blog master cleaning his blog.
Thank you for reading it.

Jeha said...


I stand corrected; the tragedy of the commons link I should have referred to is more like the case when people take unfair advantage of a freely available resource, such as the GPL. Such an example of sloppiness goes to prove that this blog is unfortunately the work of one person.

In a similar manner, bloggers are establishing some sort of "Environment of Trust", in which people can agree and disagree, without the fear of coercion.

For a blog forum to be effective, however, it should be as open as possible. However, this leaves the door open for abusers. The nastiest are those who "hide" in foreign countries; from their relative safe vantage point, they can abuse the same freedoms denied to us in the Middle-East, and harrass those who disagree with their views. As if Arab bloggers did not have enough to worry about, in a world gone beyond the nasty norms of the past... For this reason, I have exercised whatever leverage I am willing to use, and rather than restrict IP's (with its "mukhabarati" connotations) implemented comment moderation.

I do not like this feature; I prefer to keep things open because, while I do wave through all comments, "moderation" slows down the pace of exchange. So depending on work and internet connection, I will "disable" moderation as much as I can. Depending on my connection, I may disable it from time to time, to keep those commons as open as possible... Though I am not hopeful.

...I am afraid that it will be a while before we can Lehit Ra'ot in a coercion-free environment...

ghassan karam said...

Please allow me to add to the above that there are amny examples where a common is run efficiently and is not abused. A good example is thewater source shared responsibly by the farmers in a valley. Over the years they develop certain tacit understanding about what is acceptable and what is not. But such arrangements work only if an asset is owned in common but it has no free and unlimited access. All commons will run into the logic of "ruin" if free access is maintained. An excellent example would be a fishing bay. If left without any supervision then fish will be driven to near extinction.
Solutions to "commons" are usually of two varities: (1) to privatize the asset in question or (2) restrict use of the asset through taxes. fees etc...

Back to the issue of blogs. A free blog will thrive only if all users behave themselves. As soon as some, even one, decide to abuse their free access then the experience of the others will become so costly that most will drop out. The solution is simple: privatise the blog and charge an entry fee that imposes restrictions on what can be said and what is not acceptable or (2) moderate all entries. In both cases the result is tragic but inevitable. Very few free discussion boards survive for long without developing rules and regulations.

Anonymous said...

It is Hazbani again.
Thank you all for what you are. It is never too late to learn (I am over 70 realy) and I learn every time I read this blog.
Still it is hard for me to accept that this blog is run by one person only. If this is true (as probably it is) and if there are many Lebanese like that (in Lebanon !) if people and nations will just let Lebanon be, with the advantages of modern communications, it can be turned into a real paradise in few years, pity that it does not.