Sunday, April 29, 2007

Adding Insult to Murder

Miss Lebanon was crowned Friday, in typical Lebanese pageantry.

Yay!

I am personally oblivious to the TV pageantry; with all the good looking Lebanese women around, displays on the flat screen are a poor ersatz. Yes, yes, dear ol’ Georgina was once Miss Universe… or Miss World… Whatever… Get over it.

Thanks to the LBC’s pursuit of profits at all costs, the pageantry also tends to take on some elements of voyeurism associated with the detestable real-time TV fad, and the winner could often be the one with the better phone bank. This time, the good looking girl won, but that is beside the point.

\\Begin Rant

The point is the timing. I do understand that LBC went satellite and (way) global to the rest of the Arab world, but there was a tragedy in Lebanon, and the funeral of the two victims was on Friday. Same country, same day, different “events”?

Not in my country. At least, not in the Lebanon I grew up in. Common human decency requires that they postponed the pageant, at least for the day of the funeral. I have no doubt that they would have done so for any of our inconsequential politicians.

Maybe we Peones do not matter, once we served our purpose. Maybe this is the real point of agreement across the political spectrum, from Geagea to Nasrallah; we’re all cannon fodder to them.

Incidentally, a friendly reminder; she better not shake too many hands; it’s ok for Bashar or Khatami to do so, but not for her.

\\End Rant

Sorry about the soapbox thing; somebody had to say it:

عيب!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Has it (re)Started (Updated)?

Here an interesting thing to watch; "they" apparently kidnapped 2 reported members of the PSP, and the car was found in the Christian sector of Beirut. This comes on the heels of some "interesting" initiatives an counter-initiatives to appease the tension... Bashir mentions the odd fact that the two kidnapped are Moslem Sunni members of the PSP; "Sunni" members of a "Druze" party, one of whom is 12 years old (another odd fact; precocious, eh?)...

Dude!

Enough to create a confusion as to whodunnit...

In my mind, there is still be no doubt this is the handy work of the Syrians and their Quislings; assassinating someone from one community and make it look like another community did it. When Bashar's father, Hafez, assassinated the Druze leader Kamal joumblat, they tried to make it look like Christians did it.

Now, Assad's boy has less control over events, but enough to try and create some confusion in our increasingly sectarian Lebanon.

Proxies...

To make sure it had the desired effect, they created a Druze outfit called the “Fakhreddine Army” or something, which committed massacres of Christians…

The Druze Joumblat and the Christian Geagea are allies this time around; in Syrian minds, this could be used to drive a wedge between them. Indeed, the two victims’ car was reportedly found in the Christian area of Beirut.

The Syrians always used proxies in those things; the Damour massacre was carried out by the Saika and the Palestine Liberation Army, both Syrian outfits.

No doubt they are trying to repeat the same thing. It may work this time, but not exactly as planned; people have experience with this sort of thing.

Who's Taking the Blame this Time?

Interestingly, the media is linking it the event to “the killing of Adnan Shamas a pro-Hezbollah” activist.

And the Lebanese MSM is making much hay of Jumblatt’s unprecedented call to Berri; his call to “to help secure the release of the kidnapped persons ‘to avoid unrest’" is nothing but a clear message to Berri and Hezb, and beyond them…

Once a warlord, always a warlord; only the (potential) victims change…

Banadoura or Bandora (Updated Apr. 26th, 2007)?

Abu Kais has been tracking the story, and it seems that "The chances of finding Ziad Qabalan (25) and Ziad Ghandour (12) alive seem to be slim". The choice of Ain El-Remmeneh for their kidnapping may have been the determining factor; auspiciouscly, this is where the war started...

it is a reasonable assumption to assume their dead, vicitms of manipulated "tribal justice". It is also reasonable that said members of the same tribe, but more likely other "perceived" members of that "tribe" and its affiliated will be targeted now for retaliation killings.

The trouble is, we all look alike, and we do not have religion on our ID card (thankfully). However, we should fear Lebanese ingenuity and our own peculiar accents and names; the days of the Tomatem / Banadoura / Bandora are upon us. And thanks to Hezb's actions, there is much goodwill on all sides now...

We'll soon see a few updates worthy of the the 21st Century;

علملاّ يا أباّري... قول للشبيبه الطّيبه يحضرو حولون ...

What is Really Scary (Updated Apr. 26th, 2007)?

It is vapid statements like that that are doubly scary;

The statement, [by the Shamas clan] which condemned the act and called for the youths' release, brought relief to a nation bombarded by rumors about the alleged death of Gandour and Qabalan

First, this helping of crapola is reminiscent of the warspeak that we had to endure back during the heyday of the last Jamboree. Second, it is odd that some editor felt the need to "edit in" and recycle this useless jawjaw, in order to "appease" us or some tribe he never much cared about before this day...

!...و قرد

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Chapter 7 (5/5): Long Métrage Américain

What a difference a visit makes. To us Lebanese peones, Pelosi’s visit was a stab in the back. To Americans, it was nothing but the first shot in what promises to be a bitterly contested race between Democrats and Republicans.

Same Ol’Politics

One sign the US is in national election mode is the silence about the V-Tech massacre; none of the great and good of American politics dared mention the real issue. The real issue? That some schizophrenic moron is able to buy a Glock 19 and a Walther P22, with enough ammo to kill more than 30 souls. And he is not alone

And why chicken-out? Because of 3 letters; the NRA. The Politicians will fall over themselves to cry over the dead, but not a singly soul would rise to address the real issue, that it is easier to buy a gun in the US than in present-day Lebanon.

The swing states are in gun-country, and no Oval-office hopeful, would dare risk their chances with the powerful gun lobby. Nor their party risk loosing control of congress; the politicos are still mindful of the price they paid for the assault weapons ban.

This coming election season, Democrats and Republicans debate Iraq. However, the real election contest will be among the main personalities; Obama, Clinton, and Edwards on the Democratic side, and McCain and Giuliani on the Republican side…

The Democrats: All Hail President Hussein!

The democrats love playing the iconoclasts, and undermine the top dog in their party. But I feel that all the early rallying around Obama is self-defeating.

Simply put, Americans are still not ready for a black president. As the novelty wears off, Americans will be cured of their colour-blindness, and more than a few will notice that Obama’s full name is Barakat Hussein Obama. I do not think that Joe Six-Pack, who could not countenance a President Dukakis (too short), will accept a President Hussein (they hanged the last one). But it will still make for an interesting primary fight.

On one hand, the presence of such a well funded, well packaged candidate may motivate Hillary Clinton into becoming a better candidate. She will need all the votes she can muster to counter the effect of the “Anyone but Hillary” club; whatever she does, 20% of Americans will always consider her the Top Dog.

On the other hand, a strong challenge may open up the field for other challengers, especially that dear Mr. Edwards. He’s working hard, pulling double-shifts to secure his spot at the dance.

But we should never discount this typical Democratic proclivity to shoot themselves in the foot, and antagonize potential supporters, thus snatching defeat from the jaws of victory...

Republicans: Open Season

Whoever emerges from the race will face off a bruised Republican candidate and a discredited Republican party. The race to the Republican primary is heating up; with John McCain so invested in a success in Iraq, other candidates see their chance.

Giuliani looks good now, but that little drag-queen show may hurt him; not all Americans have the same sense of humour as New Yorkers. A sign of Republican unease with their current pool of candidates is Fred Thompson’s appearance in the race; a mere mention of his name got him more than 10%... Even Gingrich the Newt may throw his hat into the ring...

Still, among all the other candidates, one should not discount John McCain too fast. He had been the frontrunner for a while; it is only natural that he has to start from behind. The only thing that could sink him is Iraq; while he strongly opposed the mismanagement of the war from very early on, his support of the current surge may play against him with voters.

Pitié Pour Nous, Pauvres Pêcheurs

One thing is certain; we in Lebanon are not out of the woods yet. Those who claim March 14th have wasted much time, and we may not get as good a reception in the West as before. Still, American interests have not changed, and their basic policy goals are not affected by the team that reaches the white house. Thankfully, our Syrian ex-overlords do not appear to realize this, and may be hell-bent on further antagonizing the entire world.

So we’re in for a long 2 years; the French will have a new team in place this fall, and the Americans come up with a new team in 2008. Here’s hoping President Bashar remains over-confident, and his Quislings irritatingly stubborn. There is a hope; a few Democrats can be counted on to do something stupid, and confirm Bashar in his mistaken sense of history…

On the downside, we’ll pay the price, in blood. But as long as we can enjoy Lebanese-made eye-candy, it will help us pass the time… and count the blows.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Chapter 7 (4/5): Kosher Duck (Updated)

Many fear Israel could come back to attack us this summer, but I feel this is unlikely; Hezb is far too isolated to provoke anything too rash (I am assuming Shater Hassan is rational, but in any case, he has time till Sept. 25th, apparently). More to the point, the current Prime Minister is all but discredited.

In addition, Israel has to content with the politics of the US presidential elections. The increasingly contested election is spilling overseas, as demonstrated by Pelosi’s visit to Damascus; a “courageous” mistake from anyone’s perspective, but the once-supporter of the Syria accountability act was acting for “the good of the Democratic Party”. At least, that’s what she thinks she’s doing. Her radical base is very happy, but so were the republican radicals back in the days of Gingrich the Newt. And you need more than just the base in the race for the White House.

With so much at stake in the United States, and with passions so high, Israeli politicians may be well advised to lay low. After all, the Democrats keep piling up visible mistakes.

Survival of the Foulest

In any case, Israeli politicos have their elections to worry about. Olmert has been able to postpone his misgovernment’s downfall by incorporating into his cabinet the foul Avigor Lieberman. As occupation and terror continues, bottom feeders on all sides are strengthened. The Palestinians have the likes of Hamas, but the Israelis have to contend with Avidgor Lieberman, whose “‘Da Lieberman’ reminds one of similar historical salutes”. Because of the necessities to ensure his short-term political survival, Olmert made a grave error, far more damaging to Israel on the long-term than the July War… From Akiva Eldar;

The silence of the leadership of mainstream Jewry in the world, in view of the legitimization of a person such as Lieberman, undermines the moral high ground they hold in the struggle against Israel-haters throughout the world. If a Jewish politician who aspires to transfer an Arab minority across the border can sit in an Israeli cabinet, why should an anti-Semite not sit in an Austrian government? Let's hear it for the Haiders.

There is an ongoing discussion among Ghassan, Amir, and others about Yvet’s real intentions regarding the Palestinians. would like to add my 2 cents here; behind any talk about territorial “adjustments” and population “transfers” lays an important fact; the need for Israel to secure water-rich territory, and the source of more than 30% of its freshwater.

This is highlighted in many publications in the United States, Canada, Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon. While Lieberman is still perceived as a racist among Arabs, there maybe some (twisted) method to the madness.

And some logic behind the accords, and the settlement-buidling...

Rise of Likud

It is in a bid to consolidate his government that Olmert asked Avidgor Lieberman to join “the government and blocking [other’s] own way in to the government”. The Term of the 17th Knesset will last until 2010, but “only one of the last 8 Knesset assemblies completed its full term”. This one might try to muddle through, but it is unlikely to survive beyond the next US presidential election; the Americans will need an ally with a clearer mandate that the present lame duck. This is where Likud comes in…

Once considered “passé”, the Likud is making a helluva comeback under Benjamin Netanyahu. Many of those Kadima MK’s are desperately trying to win back favour with the Bibi and his cohort. The scandals are not forgotten, but an increasing number of Israelis now consider that, while “Bibi” may have been a crook, at least he was competent.

War or Peace?

On the Long run, the Israeli politicians need to think beyond the news cycle and answer a simple question. No, it is not whether they want “War” or “Peace”; either War or Peace are but means to an end. The question they need to ask themselves is; what “end” do they want to reach?

For all the talk about “Talking to the Arab League”, the actions are worrying. The focus on MK Bishara and his supposed treason is a bad omen of Israel’s long-term preference.

To paraphrase ex-US President Lyndon B Johnson on J. Edgar Hoover; “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in”. LBJ knew how to keep people close, his potential enemies even closer, and in line.

In Lebanon, we have paid the price of isolating one another, and opened ourselves to such outside “interferences”… Perhaps they can use a look north, and learn from the example of Lebanon’s sectarian politics. An cautionary tale of the road not to travel…


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Chapter 7 (3/5): Persian Rags (Updated)

In Lebanon today, Iran looms large, far more menacing than Syrian ever was; while the Syrians could be bought off, the oil-rich Iranians are able to support Hezb’s undermining of Lebanon.

For all their bluster and Nasrallah’s menacing declarations, Hezb and his Iranians masters have far fewer teeth than other meddlers; their roar hides their confusion, and the fact that all they bare is all they have.

In Lebanon, all the investment in Hezb’s precious weapons is wasted; the more Nasrallah clutches on his precious arsenal, the more he alienates other communities, and even his own. It is too far gone now for any durable compromise on weapons; if they keep this up, disarmament will not be sufficient, and Hezb’s disbanding will become the new bottom line.

We are now paying a heavy economic price, but we have to recall that those who rented us to the Syrians for more than 15 years will not mind using us to bleed the Iranians over the next two years. For all practical purposes, we are back with a 1990’s style dual-government, and we all know how badly it ended for that other government, and for Lebanon as we rushed to make-up for wasted opportunities

In this Middle-Eastern Corrida, Lebanon is the cape that distracts the Bull. And it appears that Michel Aoun has, once again, picked the wrong Bull…

Olé!

Power Struggle

In addition to overreach on foreign shores, the Iranians have to contend with problems of their own; internal power struggle among the Pasdaran/Bassij, the reigning Mullahs, and an increasingly disconnected Middle Class. The extent of this power struggle was demonstrated by the sudden climb down in the saga of the British Marines…

In addition, the UN sanctions are already hurting the regime’s pocket. The current oligarchy cannot keep spending money on foreign shores while its own country’s infrastructure falls in disrepair. Its opponents are far better endowed, and far more determined than we give them credit for… They can last the distance.

Over-Reaction in Lebanon

As they pile-up the miscalculations, many fear Lebanon will once again, drift into a new civil war. At first blush, this appears valid since the only ones with an interest in war are the Syrians, via the Iranians and Hezb.

Logically, however, Hezb remains ill-equipped to contain the furies that this would unleash. Logically, the Iranians would not be interested in “spending” this precious card; they have invested too much in Hezb to sacrifice it on Syria’s behalf.

The net result is that stalemate is their only logical option in the medium term; they will not like a “Chapter 7” tribunal, but they will all find a way to muddle through. On the long run, the Mullahs will have to find a way to contend themselves with what they have, which is already purty darn good.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Chapter 7 (2/5): British Interregnum

Britain is the second actor in this comedy. Ever since the 1860’s, the British and the French had been rivals in the region. Their relative support of Syria appears linked to their history of “cooperative rivalry” with the French; their common interests drove them to cooperate on projects such as the Suez Canal, but almost drove them to war at Fashoda in Sudan, along the “Cape to Cairo” road. Ever since the 1860’s, it was enough for France to support one side to see Britan come to the rescue of the other.

Small wonder Churchill nicknamed DeGaulle “Jeanne D’Arc”, and joked they were “looking for a few bishops to burn him”… In our region, this stalemate resulted in instability; no sooner had one side found French support that the British rushed to the support of the other side. The exception was Israel; when the French were busy helping them build the bomb, the British we happy to equip their army. Then again, both old imperial powers needed Suez and the IPC; the structure of the latter was adjusted to include French interests, thanks to the offices of Calouste Gulbenkian, the famed Mr. 5 percent.

The same basic dynamic remains and the Mr. 5 Percent of the 21st Century may well prove to be Kurdish, but much depends on whether Salah Al-Din’s brethren are finally getting their act together

Side Effects

A modern side-effect of this rivalry is felt in Lebanon. In Lebanon and Syria, where the French voiced unequivocal support for the International Tribunal, the British were more “nuanced”. After all, they had invested much in a certain Syrian Doctor, with his British-born son. Their attempts at finding a reasonable compromise were faced with Syrian intransigence, however. While Lebanon sinks deeper in this farcical comedy of ours, the Tribunal continues unhindered on its way to Chapter 7 and more internationalization

The Syrians may feel far less in need for support nowadays; the troubles of the United States in Iraq may give an opening to Bashar Assad to repeat his father’s feat of controlling Lebanon. To the Syrians, Pelosi’s visit was more than a quickie; more like the light at the end of their tunnel. Their rising confidence rubbed on Nasrallah, who transformed his latest “victory speech” in a “declaration of war”, upstaging the Christian’s Easter Celebrations, and marking his territory for the coming Lebanese presidential election…

The ongoing “cooperative rivalry” may simply be the continuation of some good ol’ fashioned capitalist imperialism, and the light at the end of the Tunnel may well prove to be a train coming their way. A dead body may not be enough to terminate any dreams of engagement, but with British forces busy in Iraq, and with British politicians preparing for Blair’s succession, Britain is far too busy to think about it for the time being…

Return of the Conservatives ?

The current prime minister may be no lame duck; buoyed by a strong economy and an expanding military, he was very effective in dealing with the Iranian crisis.

However, the Labour government may be a lame duck, faced with its own “government fatigue” and the rising power of the conservatives.

It is too soon to tell how things will shape up, but Gordon Brown is already struggling to succeed Tony Blair. And he has to consider that the conservatives have their own youngish version of Tony; David Cameron


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Chapter 7 (1/5): France Matters

It appears as if the decision to set-up the tribunal under “Chapter 7” is all but assured. To the beleaguered Lebanese, this may be an “easy out” for those who claim March 14th, who elected to go the UN and avoid a direct confrontation.

This may not be a wise decision on the long run, since a direct confrontation with Hezb is all but assured. A move to Chapter 7 will only ensure that the coming conflict be even more messy, shifting more decisions to foreign chancelleries.

In the context of the region, events in Lebanon and Syria will be affected by complex interactions among France, England, the United States, Israel, and Iran, where changes are brewing…

This is the first in a Five-Part Series, in which I will look at the effect of the vagaries of the electoral calendar and the interplay among those nations. I’m starting in France, where the elections are still too close to call; with 2 weeks to go before the elections, it is a 3 way race among the main candidates, with a fourth that

can still act as potential spoiler, or "promoter".

Nicolas Sarkozy

Polling at 30%, Sarkozy appears to be the clear leader in this race. But the raw numbers hide two weaknesses; Le Pen and the undecided.

It is possible that as much as 5% Sarkozy’s “declared” supporters may be closet “LePenistes”; some of the backers of the far right tend not to declare their preferences outright because of the stigma associated with it… In addition, with more than 40% of French who are still undecided, Sarkozy still has some convincing to do. Then again, the undecided may prove apathetic, and Sarkozy can still count on his party’s strong organization to mobilize the base and “get out the vote”.

Ségolène Royal

While Madame Royal has demonstrated the power of empty slogans and TV packaging, one should not underestimate the lady’s determination. She muscled her way in becoming the socialist party’s candidate, and she is proving to be more than a match to Sarkozy.

Her inexperience and many gaffes are not helping her, but with 22.5 % of the vote, she appears to be more than a match for Sarkozy

François Bayrou

A second surprise of this race has been Bayrou, often ridiculed as the eternal also-ran of French politics. With 19.5% of the vote, he comes close to both candidates.

He has benefited so far from Segoléne’s gaffes, and his stance may still encourage many undecided to support “anyone but Sarkozy” early on. Regardless of what the MSM may write about him, he's still very much in play.

Jean-Marie Le Pen

Le Pen has a stable support base, around 13% to 15%, but it can grow to 18% or 20% because of many “closet” supporters. The disgust he inspires among the majority of the French is not enough to have him elected as a president. However, in the French 2-round system, he can assure the election of whoever he opposes, if he reaches the second round.

No wonder any candidate would love to have him at the second round..

Style v/s Substance

The main question is; how does it all affect us? The short answer is; very little. Even a socialist president will not change the fundamentals; Their common interests are such that a new French president will become more accommodating to a new American president; with George Bush outta there, even a Presidente Ségolène will collaborate with the Americans. However, her inexperience, and the fact that she ran against her party, will make for a messy beginning.

A new shift towards Syria? Don't count on it; the Syrians appear durably discredited in Europe, and they're not helping their cause by failing to understand that Lebanon is not their exclusive backwater anymore... French troops in Iraq? Don’t be so surprised; the call of oil is louder than the cry of the Internationale

Photo Finish (Update: April 21st, 2007)

This weekend will decide the First Round of the closely contested election. Because Sarkozy’s lead remains slim, and because there are enough other minions (er... Candidates), LePen can still create an upset; he may not win a place to the second round, but he may steal just enough to create a Bayrou-Royal face-off.

This campaign created much opportunity for a few nice Photo-Ops. Enjoy the show:

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Para Bellum (?)

The place reeks of 1973, when each player had the illusion of having gained the upper hand over his opponents. As each dug their heels in maximalist positions, Lebanon was dragged back into war, and the budding dream of a secularism in the Middle East was extinguished for a while.

Regional Games

Regional powers have been playing a tricky game of cloak and dagger.

In Iraq, interesting Timeline. After the disappearance of Askagari, some Iranian diplomats were made prisoners by the Americans, then some others were mysteriously kidnapped. Following the kidnapping of the British sailors, an Iranian diplomat reappeared, released by his captors… Then presto, the sailors were "pardoned". Askagari and a few others remain unavailable, however, but the Iranians have some hope of visiting those who remain under lock and key.

In Syria, Clutching at straws. Pelosi’s idiotic trip, for all here protests to the contrary, only gave the Syrians renewed hope. The Syrians and their apologists are making much hay out of a trip whose prime reason was crassly political, related to the coming presidential election in the United States.

In Saudi Arabia, Leadership. The leadership of the Saudis is all but confirmed. The Egyptians may not be too happy, but they have to play along for now; as they are mired in succession squabbles of their own, they lack the credibility, and need the resources. An little noticed development is the timid Saudi moves towards Israel, as both gear up to confront Iran.

In Israel: Crisitunity. Ehud Olmert remains the idiot-in-charge, in the face of many who think he should have resigned eons ago… As long as this government remains in Israel, it might attempt to shore up its waning popularity by doing something rash this summer to make up for last year’s defeat. In this context, we should view renewed “stories” about Israeli’s supposed incompetence with concern, in addition to Olmert’s rants.

In Lebanon: Revving Up…

In response to March 14th new assertiveness, Hezb has been acting particularly nervous.

While I understand their concerns about their own safety, their adamant is not helping ease tensions. Even those who support their right to arm bears lest open season be declared on them are being political opportunists; on the long run, few Lebanese are willing to go back to the days of the "Cairo agreement" and the Fatahland.

As they consolidate their little canton, Hezb is only “fixing” its weaknesses. They may be under pressure by Iran to do something to earn their keep, but the fact remains that there are no lines of communications among the three “regions” under their control.

In any war, Hezb has nothing to “fall back” on. For all practical purposes, the “Dahyeh” has already fallen militarily, with supply lines effectively closed at Damour. Control of the South depends on coastal cities, as well as the region around Hasbaya and Marjeyoun, none of which is securely under Hezb’s control.

The Beqaa and Baalbeck may appear to be a stronghold to outsiders, but Hezb’s control there is vulnerable in two ways. First, any significant supply is controlled from Anjar, with the mountain passes limited to smuggling. Second, Hezb’s control over the region depends on the goodwill of rival Clans, so any alliance with one clan upsets all the others...

Hezb is aware of it, as evidenced by reported attempts to consolidate a continuous territory with land purchases and intimidations. They though they had hoodwinked them into fruitless talks, and did not expect March 14th latest cornering of Berri, which brought us closer to either reckoning, or the deflation of Nasrallah’s soufflé...