Friday, June 29, 2007

Friendly Foes

Politicians in Lebanon are in utter confusion.

Orange Trouble

On one “side”, Der General is perplexed by the Bteghrinator’s reluctance to start an electoral fight in the Metn. Indeed, the Organic Orange’s own Kelem Becile failed to convince their otherwise faithful ally to pick up a fight with the resurgent Falangos whose boss has hopes of re-rising to the Presidency. Yes, in Lebanon, some think that we can recycle our presidents, rather than electing some lesser mortal, especially that Monsieur 20 Pourcent’s indiscretions now appear pale in the face of his successors, and that he may have gained the wisdom he lacked in his early years.

On the same “side”, Der General’s lack of success comes on the heels of a tactical defeat during the civil war “prova” of January 23rd, when the “Grand Shtroumpf” and his Barbudos were left to carry the weight of the entire uprising. Luckily, they had stocked enough tires to choke the entire city back then.

But now, events are changing many things. The attacks against the army showed the depth of support among the nation for normalcy, to say the least. The orange support for the army is far from being the weakest, as many new posters labelled “Ansar” now attest.

As a result, the Barbudos want guarantees that their Christian ally face will stick around as they raise the stakes even more, pushing for a second government. At this stage, they are “blood-testing” all their allies, as even the Istiz is proving harder to prod than usual, because of his concern over that last shred of معاويا’s hair.

Foggy Blue Horizon

It is true that time is running out for the Rainbow Coalition of March 8th; Rictus Oblicus has already forced their hand by calling for by-elections in Metn and Beirut.

But Rictus Oblicus must look to his own back; many of his supporters appear uneasy about his foreign support, as it limits their own freedom of action… and compromise. It is true that Barbichu is struggling to succeed his father, and has so far proven to be too fast on the compromise, which unsettles even his closest supporters. It is in this context that Moukhtarionator’s and Hakaym’s frequent rants should be viewed, as they stiffen the resolve of their own “side”. And the latest events only pushed the base into a most uncompromising position; too much blood has been spilled for anyone to accept any compromise with terrorists who, incidentally, must now wish they were peaceful vegetarians… Too bad their brand of suicide requires “company”…

It is this context that we should read actions like the Bteghrillon’s premature announcement of victory; it may have opened the road to a compromise back then.

This will put more wind in Rictus Oblicus’ sails. Flush with foreign support, he has now expertly manoeuvred Big Sister, the main sponsor behind the March 8th Jamboree, into a confrontation with the dis-United Nations and the “Free World”… Free, as in for sale on the cheap, but luckily for us, the Damascus Cub has been unmaking friends. Maybe he cannot afford any deal; he owes too much to family, friends, and even the increasingly influential Turbanistas.

Any “openings”, “appeasement”, or “wooing” towards his den were soon answered by a diversification of terror, as promised earlier; the assassination of MP Eido, as well as by the attack against UNFIL…

Onward on to War?

In the face of this onslaught of terror from Big Sister, one would be perplexed by the strength of the support behind March 8th and the rabidity of their propaganda, especially among the many whose dress code is anathema to the Barbudos. But all the calls for “reform” emanating from those who claim March 14th only renews fears of a resurgent Hariristan, when Lebanon was little more than a “Banana Republic”, with a political class in hock with a few unsavoury characters.

This is no idle fear; in the hands of those who gave us the “quadripartite alliance”, “Paris III” money can potentially add more debt to a bankrupt system. The Orange can hardly be faulted for their paranoia, especially when they remind us that, without a good audit of public finances, and a genuine effort at reform of the country, agreements like Taef will be subverted to consolidate the power base of clan leaders and recycled warlords.

In this confused context, two things are obvious;

1- The entire political establishment in Lebanon is bankrupt,

2- The region is reaching the limits of the old clan-based systems under which Lebanon and Syria have been mismanaged for the past 50 years.

At some point, the Gordian knot should break. The Lebanese habit of “no winners / no losers” compromises cannot be sustained for long. Even if they manage to sidestep the by-election, they have the presidential elections to worry about. September 25th is fast approaching, and the mandate of Emile 1st Thallassophilos would soon be over. There is also that little matter of a little tribunal; Inspector not-so-Clouseau having concluded his inquiry, he only needs to publish his findings, which will reveal much. There is also that little “Al Madina” dossier Mr. Rozek has been pushing, with enough mud to attach to the most Teflon of Arab politicians.

Then again, that Gordian knot has proven very resilient, and not Alexander is in view…

Friends and Foes…

And as they ponder their next move, Lebanese politicians from all sides are more confused than ever. Struggling with all their contradictions and their incompatible alliances, they look uneasily around at their “allies”, praying;

Lord, Guard me from my friends.

My enemies, I can deal with


Monday, June 25, 2007

Italian Designs

When you’re planning to get in a fight, it is crucial to be able to get out as easily as you get in. During World War II, the Italians had deployed Autoblinda AB 40, with a driving position at each end;
In and Out of trouble in a jiffy…

Maybe that’s the rationale behind the Italian minister’s reported overture to Syria. Are they coming up with a political “version” of this design for their participation in the Lebanese Campaign? Whatever the case maybe, their diplomatic manoeuvres will be perceived as appeasement, with at least three types of repercussions:

1- Appeasement only emboldens terrorists:

…As well as their puppet masters.

The way the Italians dealt with their own hostage crises is very informative; their habit of paying money to free their hostages only “drove up” the prices, and increased “demand” for other kidnappings.

In a similar vein, the Syrians were emboldened and drove up the price when the latest Arab compromise was offered. To be sure, the Assad clan can not “hold” to a deal, not when it comes to Lebanon. But this time, because of the way they broke the deal, they may “overreached”, as the extent of their duplicity is revealed to the wider world

Time will tell.

2- Appeasement causes collateral damage.

This is the most egregious consequence of appeasement, and is little reported in the Western media; all those who were associated with the great white reporters were all massacred, because no one bothered to pay for such small fry.

In this context, the Lebanese are already paying a higher price for moves towards appeasement, and we will see more assassinations, and more local politicians hedging their bets.

Incidentally, what’s wrong with using local reporters cover local news? Rather than cutting yourself off from the rest of the world, use a little outsourcing. And recall that locals are less likely to have the wool pulled over their eyes

3- Appeasement Antagonizes Allies.

Appeasement shifts terror for a while, but it does not abate.

At the very least appeasements and ransom payments show that the Italians are woefully unconcerned about the effect of their little manoeuvres on others. Their attempts to “cut deals” to protect their troops will increase “pressure” on other troops, and The Spanish contingent may have Mr. D’Alema to thank for the latest attack, where Spaniard blood paid for his attempt at engagement.

At least, there are no Italian “nationals” among the terrorists… Yet.

With this in mind, it would not be surprising if the Americans did intentionally shoot that Italian agent on his way back from buying the freedom of a Mrs. Sgrena. That he died a Hero’s death does not hide the fact that such “activities” only endanger others. The shooters could just as well have been the families of the mant Iraqi or afghani minders who were sacrificed by the appeasers.

Check 1, Check 2… Check 3?

The first two “check”, but I am still no sure about the third one, at least not untly Spanish soldiers shoot a couple of Italian journalists by mistake.

One thing is certain, however; Signore Minimo d’Allema looks like a fool, having joined the ranks of many distinguished others who though “engaging” Syria did not have a price tag attached to it. Let us hope he learned that this fight is as much about “face” as it is about “freedom”.

It is too late to get the hell outta Dodge, and for all those who still harbour any illusions, keep in mind the following;

1- This is a fight to the end.

Here's a mathematical proof:

Lebanon = Syrian regime’s survival They will fight hard

(q.e.d)

For all the horrors of Nahr El-Bared where their minions took civilians hostage, rigged babies for explosion… the Assad clan is still playing nice. With all the Arab pressure bearing on them, they still feel a need for “plausible deniability”. They have yet to play their master cards, as explicitly stated recently

2- There is no “out”.

To those who want an easy out, remember the words of one Laden, Ossama B., in an ABC News interview, on May 28th, 1998;

We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weakness of the American soldier who is ready to wage Cold Wars and unprepared to fight long wars. This was proven in Beirut when the Marines fled after two explosions.

3- There is no “away”.

Since this is a larger fight, Rome will feel the crap its politicians are striving to sidestep in Beirut. They could have avoided this by staying out in the first place, and by just sending ammo to the Lebanese Army.

They’re fast learners, and they’ve got the cojones to take care of business…

But please, send us some of those nice German (forward-driving) tanks.

We can't wait to get them...

We can’t afford anymore retreats


Friday, June 22, 2007

Plausible Deniability

Victory at last… More like “at first.

Not to rain on our Parade, but our road to freedom has yet to begin, and it is long and arduous journey.

In this Poker-for-Life between the Assad Regime and Lebanese Freedom, the Syrian dictator still has a few cards to play. In trying to keep a semblance of “Plausible Deniability”, he has been playing the “furthest” cards first. Only those who cannot be traced directly to him were first to hit the table with full force.

First Cards

The first card was low scale terror; a little bombing here and there, escalating to assassination and cold blooded murders. Some of those were caught, and the party behind them weakened. But the network is little shaken, and still stirs.

Also among the first second cards were useful idiots, all too ready to play the game; some, like Hersh, were motivated by Vanity, others, like Michel Aoun, by spite and political ambition. They allowed the player to sow doubt in his opponents, but were soon spent.

For all the trappings of celebrity, evidence is mounting against this part of Hersh’s journalistic work. And Aoun is now a spent force, his only appeal being the disgust many feel with Samir Geagea, the Lebanese “ruling” class, and the Martyr Rafic Hariri’s side-effects.

There is even a “joker” among those first cards; few westerners truly understand the Middle East and what’s at stake, and fewer are even willing to ask the right questions. Those that do get involved, forget the nature of the beasts they are dealing with.

Second Cards

The fist of his second cards was played-out over the past month. Fath Al-Islam and its fans, more than 4,000 of them, were sacrificed in an attempt to split Tripoli and Akkar from the rest of Lebanon.

This was a smart strategic move; luckily (?) for us, it backfired. Today, in this sectarian standoff of ours, Tripoli, Dinnyeh and Akkar have all proven to be the main Sunni “muscle” behind Hariri. Remove that, and March 14th would become a mainly Christian and Druze affair, easily justifying a “Jihad” against it. This plan backfired, with the unforeseen effect of Tripoli’s resolve overtaking Hariri’s tendency at appeasement.

But there still are a few more; Jund Al-Sham, Asbat el Ansar, and a few other nasty little groups that can still be called upon to do their duty for “Bashar and family”.

“Tarnib”

Those political dinosaurs may not understand what the world has evolved into, but they still have a helluva bite. And as a poker player, the Syrian regime still has a few major terror cards, and is expert at playing them.

Assad has not yet played his stronger “tarnib” yet. It may not feel like it, after the July 06 War, the miscalculations, and the almost civil war of January 07, but he has so far used his master cards with parsimony.

First, Ahmad Jibril and his troglodytes have yet to enter the fray.

Second, a cursory zapping across Al-Manar reveals a brooding Hezb who has yet to activate his core troops. As expected, his early attempts at conservative revolution have failed, and the party is much weakened by all the economic pressures of rebuilding; unable to keep his promise of a flood of “pure money”, save for their “exclusive” claim on God, or maybe because of its “alliances”, the party has lost much support. It is harder to deliver on promises than to rail against the government. Especially when this government is playing the reconstruction “game” rather deftly, with cynical international backing.

But to Hezb’s real motivations, those losses are peripheral mercenaries, at best; the core of “True Believers” remains. At worse, they have still a measure of control over the Army and many Services; Berri’s little hiring spree was not all purely patronage.

And there may be more cards they can play, some we know, some we forget, and some we don’t. In this particular case; absence of any evidence is no evidence of their absence.

Raising the Stakes?

To conclude with some rain on our parade.

While we look to our Army’s victory with great joy, recall that “they” look at Hamas’ takeover of Gaza with anticipation; the entanglement there is not quantum, it is Syro-Iranian. And the Syrians will try something else, just as soon as this Arab waste of time is over; they do not want to provoke too many “brothers” too fasts.

And since he Syrians can afford only to play for keeps, they will likely try something big.

Then again, maybe that’s the whole plan for March 14th; knowing the Player is wasting his cards one after the other, play for time. But they’re only postponing the inevitable…



August will be hot. If we make that far…

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Legacy Systems

This little game of ours is far from over and gets more dangerous by the day. The words of what’s-her-face from NBN are only symptomatic of a deeper malaise.

She fails to realize the extremes to which some fanatics are willing to go. She fails to realize how uncontrollable the “street” is now actually becoming. For all the evidence of Syrian manipulation, things may have gotten out of hand, and I fear Hezb and March 8th are even more uncontrollable than the “other side”. True, their infeodation to a Faqih implies a level of control over the local pressure cooker.

But I see 2 problems with this;

1- Khomeini’s True Heirs

Iran’s Revolution is no mere socio-political phenomenon, and its goals are not limited to one country.

Its goals are clearly stated in the constitution as “Framing the foreign policy of the country on the basis of Islamic criteria, fraternal commitment to all Muslims, and unsparing support to the freedom fighters of the world” (Article 3-15).

And who are those freedom fighters? Well, simply all those whose freedom is beholden to the views of the leader of the “Umma”, a “just and pious person”, who is in charge until the return “of the Wali al-'Asr”.

2- Persian Realpolitik

This is the second problem; while the Faqih-du-jour may be realistic enough to think in tactical terms, his level of control may be waning.

For one, the Faqih himself is embroiled in a struggle, a side-effect of the routing of the “moderates” or “reformers”.

A side-effect of this struggle is the relative incoherence of Iranian foreign policy, as demonstrated by the British Marine’s fiasco. Another side effect is the regime’s increasing nervousness, unable to do much about Iran’s true ailments, the police is increasingly targeting a hard to control “morality” Hair Gel, “Bad Hijab”…

… They still have some good professional protestors who can whip up quite a nice frenzy. Someone should forward them the memo which discusses how poorly progress, science, and religion do mix.

A House Divided

Khomeini once reminded Iranians that he had promised them “revolution, not democracy”. A phrase ripe with meaning.

And since history has so far demonstrated that “a revolution devours its children”, the offsprings of this one are apparently bent on devouring one another; if Iran stands now a house divided, it is a three-way struggle among:

The Nasty (Rafsanjani)

The Nastier (Der Faqih)

The Nastiest (Ahmadinejad).

Hence the following questions;

Aside from her side’s political setback, that may be what-her-face’s true malaise, and why she feels that March 14th did actually “Halakouna”… So, since we’re beyond talking, and since Khomeini’s Iranian Heirs are bent on devouring one another:

How will Khomeiny’s Lebanese grand children act, when they find themselves orphaned in Lebanon, among all those Levantine wheeler dealers?

How will True Believers respond to the (slow) unmaking of their version of the Faith?

Or is the question a couple of years too soon?


Friday, June 15, 2007

Bared Lessons

In the modern Levant, there are now two eras;

Before Nahr El-Bared and After Nahr El-Bared

The events will be far reaching unintended consequences on Lebanon, Syria, and even Israel and Palestine.

Lebanon

When similar attacks were made against the Lebanese Army in the 1970’s, the Lebanese society’s divisions were deepened, and few supported the troops. Today, even Hezb has had to make grudging support.

We used to say that only the Christians could have gotten the French out, and only the Sunnis could have kicked Syria out. Much more than March 14th, 2005, this mess still appears to be a cross-sectarian affair.

An optimist would note that, in spite of the “Red Line” mistake, Nasrallah’s speech give little for the Salafis to hold on to. Had Hezb supported the Army too early, the Salafis would have had something to “hold on to”, propaganda wise.

A pessimist would point out the general “ugly” atmosphere, the political blackmail of “either a government or more terror”. When politicians refuse to live up to their responsibilities, and only pay lip service to decency, how do you expect the crowds to tone down their chants at the funeral, and stop making increasingly derogatory remarks about the “other side”?

Before you make up your minds; note that the pessimists usually survives…

Israel and Palestine

Israel will be affected as well; for all the rants of the dead-enders, the Lebanese Army conducted a model of counter-insurgency. Rather than level the camp, of direct “precision strikes” against any metal workshop in sight, it has proceeded cautiously against the terrorists. For now, the lack of F-16’s is no handicap, but those Gazelles are still woefully underequipped.

And more importantly, the Lebanese government, for all its faults, continued to engage the Palestinians, coordinating with Fatah, explaining his position, and holding out the hope of better treatment in the future. Time will tell whether our rulers are sincere, or whether they have an idea of how to improve the sorry lot of the refugees.

Time will also tell whether Israeli pols can still learn

Syria

Before Nahr El-Bared, the Syrian regime framed politics as a choice between dictatorship OR terror. As long as people ceded to this blackmail, Syria’s kleptocratic regime was able to continue, and even thrive.

After Nahr El-Bared, the masks have all but fallen. Blowing up cats and dogs is one thing, booby-trapping babies is another.

I have heard the story of the booby trapped Palestinian baby from many different sources; the child was crying, paralyzed by fear and unable to tell the Lebanese “Meghwar” who rescued him that he was “mined”; his explosion was triggered by remote control before anyone realized what hit them.

Whether the story is true is not relevant at this stage. I am using it to illustrate that, in this fog of war, perception becomes reality. Whether this is propaganda is not as salient as the diversity of sources that are passing; it around reveals how much the Syrian regime lost in Lebanon, and beyond. The Syrian border lets weapons through towards Lebanon, but the memes that pour back into Syria maybe far deadlier on the long run…

The Syrian regime may have hoped to trigger a mass uprising in Northern Lebanon, and in a sense, it did; but “the masses” it hoped to mobilize on its behalf all rose against it and its agents.

Nahr El-Bared has demonstrated how far is the Syrian regime willing to go to maintain the local kleptocracy. Whatever meager Arab support it got may not appreciate Syria’s new chums. For all practical purposes, we’re all dead if the Army’s not victorious, and if Lebanon’s not back under the Rule of Law.

Today, the choice has been framed differently; it is the imposition of dictatorship THROUGH terror.

And that’s no choice at all.



Wednesday, June 13, 2007

S.N.A.F.U

In Lebanon these days, the Situation is Normal, in that it is All F..ouled Up… A county-wide case of SNAFU that raises more questions than answers.

How Did We Get Here?

To be sure, Syria had quite a lot to do with this mess, as in pretty much everything. This had officially started as far as “November 10th, 2005”, when “Bashar Assad informally declared war on Lebanon in a speech before his ‘parliament’” in which “he called Fouad Siniora a slave [of a slave] that takes orders from the United States, and accused him of turning Lebanon into a "factory" of anti-Syrian plots”.

But our current team of post-nationalists did little to oppose this “Lebanese-Syrian War”, and in many ways, they may have helped unwittingly worsen our predicament by making more compromises than the country could afford.

How United Are We?

I mean Really United. The kind that gets translated in deeds, not words.

On the “optimist’s side”, there is a large consensus in Lebanon. When similar attacks were made against the Lebanese Army in the 1970’s, the Lebanese society’s divisions were deepened, and few supported the troops. Today, even Sunni fundamentalists support the Army, except for those losers out in Londonistan… or Qataristan.

We used to say that only the Christians could have kicked the French out, and only the Sunnis could have kicked Syria out. Today, this mess appears to be a cross-sectarian affair (and both are bringing the French back in, BTW, the better to face the Syrians...). Even Hezb has had little choice but to offer his grudging support to the Army; yesterday, I heard some even use (for the first time, as far as I can tell) the word “Martyrs” to describe the… well, the Army’s Martyrs.

But the pessimists would be forgiven in they noted the cracks in this façade. The consensus may not be large enough, and two major cracks appear here, in addition to an existing one.

First, there remains one unsettling fact. Not to wish a bad thing to anyone, but since the Walkyries are blind “samplers”, why is the proportion of Shiite soldiers among the Army’s fallen martyrs far lower than their actual share of the armed forces? Actually, as of the time of writing, it was closer to 0%. This remains a question worth asking…

Second, why is Saad so hell-bent on placating Hezb and the Palestinians militias? Not that I am looking forward for war 2.0, but the compromises I fear will only hasten it. To all those who appear to look for peaceful solutions, he should remember what happened to the last member of an illustrious family; when gentlemen play with hoodlums, the game is Rugby, not Football.

Third, an older crack remains. Recall the army’s less than stellar behaviour in January. Today, the army is being remade “on the run”, thanks to the actions of a new chief of staff, but it comes at great expense of treasure, materiel, and most importantly; men.

Vis Pacem?

Recall the Roman adage; “Si vis pacem, Para Bellum”; if you do not want to get in a fight, you better not act scared. The road from l'umiliazione di Canossa to Munich is littered with inconsequential leaders who either overextended their power, or over-compromised.

We all want peace, and we all understand the wheeling/dealing required for compromise. But allowing the Fatah-du-jour & Co. to keep their weapons would be a compromission that few can tolerate.

Saad Hariri’s excessive focus on the tribunal and any pursuit of compromise risks not only alienating Christians and Druze, but also his own Sunni base. From a purely sectarian perspective, he now risks facing a Christian-Druze alliance with the Sunnis looking away in disgust. So far, he can still recover from his many mistakes, thanks to Siniora statesmanship.

But if he keeps on this road, a far worse “Bellum” could be thrust upon us all.





How Much More Can we Take? (Updated June 14th, 2007)

In the Latest in the assassination series, an MP was killed, his son, as well as other 8 people, among whom 2 star Football players.

The concern now is about reactions; all March 14th MP’s have been very vocal, stating that “they will not take this anymore”. Whether they act on this, and what it means, is less clear. But two salient things are clear;

1- They do not control their “street” anymore. When the Nahr-El-Bared events had started, the killing of the Islamist Abou Jandal in Tripoli was indeed some sort of “pre-emptive private enterprise”, unlike the official story. The “streets” are indeed boiling, and the only thing preventing an explosion, the dearth of weapons and ammo, is a poor lid on such a powerful kettle.

2- The media coverage did fan the flames of sectarian hatred. It did so in very subtle ways; while all Arab channels, even NTV, covered the assassination and paid homage to MP Eido, I noticed a couple of “oddballs” in my channel surfing. Al Jazeera only noted that “10 people were killed in Beirut, among which MP Walid Eido”, while focusing on the (albeit) grave Palestinian Civil War. More tellingly, Al-Manar had Nassir Quandil, an Al-Madina affiliate, berating the Minister of Justice for his alleged corruption, and they only broke to bring in Saad Hariri’s speech.

Time, and mostly the next few days, will prove whether I am right to be concerned about Sunni-Shiite violence. Time will also show where this will go. But if it escalates, we can only have ourselves to blame, regardless of the extent of Syrian involvement.

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A Note About Comments: A few commenters and I do not always see eye to eye. But we stick to a few well unspoken rules, some of which I have clarified earlier. I have had differences with other bloggers, but it never came to this because we all stick to simple democratic rules as I understand them, based on my understanding of the Golden Rule;

- [Almost] no “paste jobs”

- No insults,

- No sophistry.

Anything less will turn this forum into a mediocratic swamp (Not that I do not dip in it from time to time). Whenever I had been seen to stray away from those rules, I had been berated (GK can be harsh).

I feel it is better to hit hard early, rather than being forced to take harsher actions later. In this regard, I have deleted quite a few comments from those that have been insulting to one “side” or the “other”. One persistent individual had been particularly insulting of late, and increasing the stakes to racism. You may have noticed that since his last insults (which are no longer around… for now). I have banned him and deleted his comments, and will delete any comments that he makes from now on.

This is the best way for me to leave this forum as open as possible, as I feel I do learn a lot from it. But please, do not let yourselves be dragged along this path; Bait is only phonetically part of “Debate”, lest the discussion be taken over by the Nasser Quandils of the blogosphere and their verbal diarrhoea.

So, please ignore the stench; at least till I take out the trash.