Friday, August 31, 2007

Ave, Gluteus! Osculatori te Salutant!

We in the Middle East know so much history, we forget nothing. We have so many proud traditions, we leave nothing behind. But that leaves us with too much baggage, we learn nothing.

Yet our history is full of tales that could help us understand the current system blockages in Lebanon, Iraq, and the enduring stagnation in Syria

Elections, Eh?

The tale is set back during the French mandate. The French had set up an “unicameral” legislature, with some of the seats “assigned”, and others elected; this allowed them to have a more pliant legislature.

Incidentally, this was no less representative that the rival “Syrian National Congress”, whose many members were chosen on wannabe King Faycal’s “selective, rather than elective principle”… Those who forgot that little tidbit were reminded of Great Sister’s methodology in 1992, when she guaranteed herself a more pliant legislature; those who did not get the message were set aside or diluted….

But I digress…

Back to the French…

Having secured their hold, the French had decided to “democratize” the rules a little bit more, and those designated MP’s were up for an actual election for their next term.

One of those Parliamentarians did not appear to care much for his constituents, so the main “notables” in his district gathered in a secret location to discuss their options. It was easy for them to agree that, “even if he osculated their “Gluteii”, one by one, they would never re-elect him”…

Human nature being what it is, one of the persons present decided to hedge his bets, and to report the news to the “Beyk”, and met him in his office in Beirut.

Rat; “Ya Beyk, خربيني!”…

Beyk: “Really!. What seems to be the problem?”

Rat; “Well, the وجهاء got together and agreed that, even if you osculated their “Gluteii”, one by one, they would never re-elect you”…

Lebanon, being what it is, the “Beyk” already knew about this;

“Don’t worry, I have a meeting with the Haut Comissaire; I only have one Gluteus to osculate, and they will all have to osculate my hairy Gluteus one by one”.

And so it happened, the “Beyk” was re-elected, and all lived happily ever after.

The End?

There are two key precepts that emerge from this story;

1- Gleuteus Atomicity; For each given period of time, there are many Osculii, but one Gluteus.

2- Osculii Invariability; For any Gluteus, the Osculii remain constant. This is fair warning to those Gluteii who think they are here forever; the region saw the rise and fall of many empires, and many Gluteii vanished into the dustbin of history. Osculii, however, endured;

Tout flatteur vit au dépend de celui qui l'écoute

What follows is that the little crises we’re enduring in places like Lebanon and Iraq are really due to a change in Gluteus. The various “brown-nosers” are not sure who the next ‘Haut Comissaire’-in-charge will be, and each is banking on the “side” they think can “win”…

One thing is certain; the “Arabists” are in full overreaching mode. Yet it is still not clear whether the winner will be the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, France, Syria, some may prefer to stay on the fence and wait this one out…

There will be time enough to osculate the winner of all this.

But one thing is certain; the Lebanese presidential election will clearly reveal whose hand is strongest, and whether a clear Gleuteus Maximus has established itself in the area...


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Delamarre's Shadow

At first blush, Ambassadors of countries that threaten Syria’s hegemony in Lebanon feel rather anxious.

To be fair, the Syrians have no monopoly on assassinating ambassadors in Lebanon… But they do have the largest market share by far.

On September 4th, 1981, Louis Delamarre, the French Ambassador to Lebanon, was assassinated by Syria’s gunmen. The aim may have been to kidnap him, buy the gunmen who intercepted the car shot him when faced with his resistance.

Modus Operandi

Maybe the aim was to kill Delamarre all along, after kidnapping him and dumping his body in the “right” neighbourhood, to ensure a given effect.

On March 16th, 1977, the Syrians “operators” who shot Kamal Joumblat had actually intended to dump his body in a Christian village, to ensure “proper” retaliations were initiated. But Kamal Joumblat had foiled locked his car, and driven it in a ditch, to make sure his body would stay where he was slain. In any case, “they” managed to guarantee the “desired” effect, thanks to their many proxies among various confessions…

Not that they need to try hard to find willing murderersbut I digress.

Kamal Joumblat’s assassins were later “disposed” of, and those who disposed of them similarly dealt with. A similarly fate awaited Delamarre’s assassins.

Lesson 1: Crime pays, but only for upper echelons.

…Provided one uses it “judiciously”; in politics, the only thing “worse than a crime” is a blunder.

Louis Delamarre was assassinated during a time when Syria still had relatively solid Soviet backing, without antagonizing the Americans. It was able to leverage this support against France, who was trying to re-assert its influence in Lebanon.

In addition to growing opposition in Lebanon, Hafez El-Assad’s rule in Syria was also facing growing threat from the Muslim Brotherhood. The assassination served to demonstrate the Syrian dictator’s determination; those who did not get the message will be “convinced” during the crackdown on Hama, when between 20,000 and 40,000 innocents died in an operation directed at no more than 500 terrorists.

The conditions today are different. For all the Russian support, this is no Soviet backing. The Russians today may well be playing up the great power confrontation, but their main interests are far more “business” focused, centred on retooling their industry towards civilian applications. Rather than just “Great Game” politics, it is more likely that Putin is leveraging his support of Syria and Iran for a “better deal” from the United States and the Arabs.

Lesson 2: If you want crime to pay, make you’re in the right environment.

The environment being different, Ambassadors like Khoja should be logically safe from Syria. Logic, however, is not what is guiding this regime. More accurately, it is a different logic, one of confrontation and even partition.

Pace the rants of otherwise venerable commentator, this regime is not about to embrace change; it is in strict survival mode, since it knows very well that it cannot maintain control over Damascus without power over Lebanon and its juicy rackets.

But in its struggle for survival, this regime is still reading from the “old book” bequeathed by Hafez El-Assad. Yet the father’s book was not written for the son’s world, his time has passed, Lebanon may well be evolving, and Syria is changing, albeit at a glacial pace.

The “old book” was only “valid” in the 1990’s, when many kidnappings and assassinations were visited upon the Lebanese. It was becoming less valid soon after 9/11, when the West realized the long term price of its long term support for “unresponsive” dictators….

Luckily(?) for Lebanon, for all the talk of a “deal”, this regime appears unable to change, and thus unwilling to respond to Western advances other than mere “window dressing”. In the face of Western disappointment, it seems to stick to a strict policy of:

Waiting for the Democrats

… But those who stand still can only fall behind, so postponing the reckoning will only make it worse. Stil, in the meantime, they can cause a lot of damage…

So Khoja is right to be careful

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...


Friday, August 24, 2007

Preemie Candidates...

As officers get promoted, they move from positions where they have to excel at tactics get promoted into positions where a strategic sense is more central. But it is a sad fact of military life that few tacticians can make the transition to strategists.

Transitions…

Lebanese military men appear to be no exception. Aside from the Great Fouad Shehab, few have been able to make the transition from the “short view” to the “long view”; Aoun is an eminent example of a great tactician with a poor strategic understanding. He had announced his candidacy too soon, giving his opponents a nice target to hit, and for all his claims, he has been thoroughly discredited (The Lebanese can be so ungrateful to great men).

Now it appears that General Michel Suleiman may lack the strategic view, as demonstrated by his own premature announcement.

He had well prepared his candidacy, leveraging the unanimous public support for Nahr El-Bared, and hedging against Palestinian anger by referring to the demonstrators who were shot at “martyrs”… But the fact that those poor victims were exploited is immaterial for most Lebanese, in whose mind the memories of Fatahland are still fresh, where many families were not as lucky… They would rather have other plans for them…

Then he made a solid announcement, putting forth a candidacy that appeared strong.

But he messed it up by claiming that no Syrians were involved in Nahr El-Bared... Whether this was meant as a sop to the Syrians who placed got him his current job, and where his sister lives, few appreciated it. After initially making overtures to him, they appear to have changed their minds.

Anyway…..

Even without those mistakes, his candidacy was in trouble from the start; he had “moved” too soon. It only served the energize those who claim March 14th, and it gave much fodder to Joumblat’s efforts at defeating any deal between the Lebanese (in theory) majority and the Syrian (in practice) opposition.

Joumblat has a point, after all; why make a deal with those who are trying to advance the interests of a foreign occupier and the fashionista. The “Bad Cop” routine by Emile Lahoud scares no one; even if there is no presidential election, the opposition would be hard pressed to find a suitable Sunni candidate for Prime-Minister, especially now that Syria’s taking on Saudi Arabia, after managing to piss off Iraq.

Then again, we should never forget that Quisling’s Lebanese children occupy the entire political spectrum

Business Lessons?

At least, those gathered around March 14th banner have avoided that premature announcement mistake, but it is mostly due to either their irrelevance, or to their internecine rivalries and jalousies

The business world would be less charitable about the Lebanese political class, what with all this talk about people being promoted to the level of their incompetence. That may explain why all Lebanese politicians are so eager at self-promotion…

Incidentally, this hints at a way to wipe out our deficit; buy Lebanese politicians for what they’re worth, and sell them for what they think they’re worth

Then again, it applies to all politicians…

So there’s hope for the United States’ deficit…


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Devil and Details...

Given that the Syrians are behind Nahr El-Bared, and everything else in Lebanon short of Global Warming…

Why has Elias Murr claimed victory prematurely?

Why has Suleiman absolved them of this?

Why is Hariri so apparently complacent about Jund El-Sham?

...

Given that Nahr El-Bared is not the only fortified camp, and may even be the smaller…

Why haven’t the Syrians exploited the Palestinian predicament and “activated” them?

Given that those who claim March 14th are the real nationalists…

Why are they being so kind on Khaddam?

I do not really expect answers to those questions; I would rather we did not have to raise them in the first place. The fact is, all “sides” force us to raise far more questions than they can provide answers for. Each sings his own meaningless old song

Lebanese politics is less confusing when you realise that the underlying patter never changes…

A furore vanitas libera nos, Domine


Progress, Eh?

This is an odd debate to have; the truth of the genocide is a no-brainer. Whatever the political implication, the world can ill afford such compromises with the truth.

I have a small Lebanese perspective of this; we’ve had our little genocide as well.

The Famine of Lebanon

Many villages in Lebanon did not have roads leading to them because it would bring in the Turkish "Askar"...

This isolation of Mount Lebanon was deemed necessary, even though Mount Lebanon depended on imports for most of its food supply as far back as we can remember. During WW1, the Turkish policies exacerbated the effects of the British blockade, and turned a shortage into a famine that spread as far back as Damascus and Jerusalem, where thousands died.

In Mount Lebanon, the situation was desperate. I recall stories about smuggling wheat past Turkish blockades. I have seen trenches carved in limestone, destined for wheat cultivation, and set up in such a way as to be invisible from the rare roads and pathways. Those stop gap measures could do little to stem the famine, and about 30% of the population of Mount Lebanon died between 1914 and 1918.

Surely, that too would qualify as genocide, though it is less "visible" than outright mass killings, and had many "parents", in addition to its Turkish main actors. But it is "impolitic" to talk about it, lest we upset powerful forces.

There are many similar cases nowadays, and it will get worse because of the increase in human population, the growing trade integration, and technological development makes it even worse.

One Significance of the Holocaust

The Anti-Defamation League’s position is significant, not only because the Armenian Genocide denial by the Turks is the only case of state-sponsored denial, but because of its role in maintaining the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. I feel that this role is important, and need to grow, as technological progress is far outpacing the growth of human wisdom.

This dark side of technological progress is darkly illustrated in the Holocaust; aside from the obvious death toll and hatred, it is significant in the sheer "efficiency" of the murderers. A true "industrial age" mass murder.

Modern Genocides

This efficiency is set to increase, as an AK-47 improves upon an MP-44, itself an improvement on the Mauser, proud successor of the “Chassepot”. We’ll soon have some new developments which will further magnify the power of otherwise feeble idiots, and give new courage to cowards.

With this in mind, the 21st Century is set to be bloodier than the first one; already 3 Million died in yet another genocide in Congo, with little fanfare. Other wars will be even uglier.

In facing off such truths, associations such as the ADL do not face the same limitations as the Lebanese or the Congolese. I feel that the sacrifice of the victims of the Holocaust deserve a more universalistic attitude; after all, Hitler’s “master race” had plans for all our races, one after the other.

The Need for More Idealism

The need for principled positions is more important today than ever; we humans are more technologically able while comparatively less wise.

We modern humans are still wielding our Stone Age brains, with all its limitations and nasty side effects. But now we’ve got ever bigger guns, and testosterone is still in plentiful supplies.

So we can ill-afford half measures, or any economies with the truth.

Update / Correction (August 22nd, 2007)”

It is essential to keep one’s facts straight, and I have to thanks to R for the heads-up.

As reported by Ha’aretz, “Abe Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League”, has now done “an abrupt about-face”, by referring “to the Armenian massacre as a ‘genocide’ for the first time”, after “consulting with Nobel Prize-winning author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, Foxman referred”.

To be fair, the ADL was not alone in its initial opposition; “other large Jewish organizations have also refrained from supporting the bill” that calls “on the Bush administration to recognize the 1915-17 Turkish massacre of its Armenian minority as genocide”.

Monday, August 20, 2007

دستور.... Please!!!

Now another Der General wants to become president of Lebanon. The only thing that stands in his way is the Lebanese constipitution and principle, or at least, caution. Taking into account the opposition of many deputies, this is far easier said than done.

Since our human mind is a “mythical mind”, I feel the current complex situations can best be comprehended through parables, stories and even jokes. Here's one that applies to the current topic at hand;

A man approached a woman, asking her; “if I offered you ten million dollars, would you sleep with me?”

The lady replied; “for ten million dollars? mmm... Yes...”

“how about ten dollars?”

The ingénue was scandalized; “What? Who do you take me for?”

To which the man calmly replied; “My dear lady, we've just established that. Now we’re just negotiating the price”.

Please, do not misunderstand me; I am not "taking" anyone "for" anything... At least not literally.

But I think we can all agree that, Pace the political rhetoric and bravado of a few "born-again Lebanese", the political landscape is so slippery, the same politicians may just as in which they "change their minds".