Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Axis of (Necessary) Evil

We should not be too happy that our diminished government is being invited to this little get together. It’s about time we Lebanese learned that, when lions invite us to dinner, we should pause and think; we could be the dinner.

Today, the region’s great and (not so) good powers are gathered in Annapolis, to talk about Middle East peace. With unjustified
optimism running rampant, and even otherwise staid and prudent magazines such as the Economist are "puffing the magic dragon", and waxing lyrical about Bush as “Mr. Palestine”…

Right. And I’m sure Bush will still respect us in the morning too...

Fat Chance

Seriously. Even the most souped-up hash smoker would be doubtful about all this display of hyperbole? Do they really think we’re buying it, that the chance of peace in the Middle East are anywhere near possible? Now that our national IQ has jumped up a notch, we cannot fail to notice/recall some key facts.

Palestinian Fact; the Palestinian (and thus the Arab) bottom line remains Jerusalem (sort of) and the 1967 border (definitely), generally in line with Abdallah’s plan as formulated in Beirut. To those who disagree with this fact, many Palestinians would invoke their right to be compensated for the past 60 years…

Israeli Fact; the Israelis cannot afford to give them that. They cannot withdraw the colonies, and they cannot leave the Golan. To those who may disagree with this point, I am sure many Israelis would invoke the “principle of precaution”…
Syrian Fact; the Syrians do not really care about the Golan. They would rather be back in Lebanon. To those who may disagree with this fact, I would invoke both the “principle of reciprocity”; before we give Bachar the benefit of the doubt, let’s see how much he is willing to give his own people.

Saudi Fact; the Arabs are now led by the Saudis, and find themselves aligned with the Americans, whose support they need to confront Persian assertiveness.
Iran’s Fusebox

Put all these together, and what you see is not aimed to bring peace to the Middle East
, but rather to create a realignment of sorts. As the region is gearing up for conflict or confrontation with Iran’s Mullahs, both Arabs and Americans need to guarantee the safety of their “rear guard”.

And this means that the main objective of the conference is not to solve the Middle East crisis, but to establish a
way to manage it. And this in turn means that Syria is invited to discuss how they will realign within the Arab world. If they can “deliver” Hezbo and realign away from Iran, then all is well; Bashar would be back in Lebanon just like his Father was in 1990, when he “helped” in liberating Kuwait.

But I doubt that Bashar will be willing to do so. As an indication, I note that the fuses are far too well aligned. Aoun will “blow” himself to protect Hezbo’, and Hezbo’ will “blow” to shield Syria… even Syria can “blow” to protect Iran. On the other hand, he has sent a second fiddle to a meeting attended by decision makers.

And even if Bashar wanted to, I doubt that he will even be able to do so; with all those funds flowing in for “investment”, the "cautious alliance" is now more than that, and Iran has surely infiltrated Syrian services at least as much as the Syrians have infiltrated Lebanon.

Tilting at Windmills

In this meeting, it does not really matter whether it is the French or the Israelis who convinced themselves that they can “deliver” Syria. Even discounting the fact that only Iran can "deliver" Syria, the fact remains that the Syrians cannot or will not "deliver" what the Americans or the Arabs will ask of them.

What may matter is another little detail; if the Syrians cannot, or will not,
deliver anything at Annapolis, they should not expect anything in return. In that case, why did they “stay their hand”, and not used the Lahoud card before it got wasted? Do they have a “plan B” to face Brammertz’ reports, or is something else afoot?

And how do we know
which way the wind is now blowing?

Here's a Lebanese Fact; watch Joumblat


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Digging in...

Truth is the first casualty of war…

Serial Victim

Truth is also a serial victim of politics, and in particular of this failed election. In the absence of a president, the country only formalizes the vacuum of the past few 15 years.
Yes, we had presidents and governments for a while, but since 1990 at least, they were more mostly pawns, moving to Assad’s will. The situation did not improve much after 2005. Because of internal divisions and residual Syrian influence, local politicians upgraded themselves to benchwarmers, with little power to affect our destinies; they could only exert their nuisance and exercise their kleptocratic skills.
This Friday’s expected fiasco had at least one positive outcome; the Syrians did not get what they wanted.
Yet...
Proximate Causes

There is little need to demonstrate that the proximate cause for this failure is Syrian interference and French incompetence. For all his professed love of Lebanon, Kouchner did little but to stiffen the Assad clan’s resolve to face the “free world”. And only the prospect of a seat at the Annapolis conference may have stayed their hand.

For now… lest one think they can be parlayed into growing a decency organ, the fact remains that Assad can only afford a puppet in Lebanon, because of the bad example we give “his” people… But this is not the entire picture.

The fact also remains that the “free world” would be willing to give Syria what it wants, provided it takes care of a few loose ends for them, such as Hezb…

Why else would the French try so hard, and compromise the Tribunal?
Why else would the Italians have been so conciliatory?
Why else would the United States have tolerated Israeli aggression?
…?

Underlying Causes

Why? Simple; because the underlying cause remains; it is not merely Lebanon which is on the table. It always was. This time around, the main target is Hezb and, through it, one of Iran’s pressure points on the West. For all their professed interest in our well being, Lebanon and its democracy are secondary to the Western powerbrokers.

Local politicos postponed taking a decision till after the Annapolis Conference, in the hope that the waiting game will benefit their side.

But they are not alone; the Syrians may be hoping that time is on their side, and have thus stayed the hand of their Pinocchio. They must have had a strong reason for doing so, and letting this card go.

Something more than a seat at Annapolis...

Let’s hope the Syrians do not get what they want. Or that they are too far gone in Iran’s orbit to reach escape velocity now.

This however, will only be for the (proximate) sake of Hezb. For the (ultimate) sake of Lebanon, and its secular potential, we need to have more tangible things to rely on than our enemies’ mistakes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Shorty Doesn't Get it

Watching Kouchner’s last night was so entertaining.

There was nothing good on the Comedy Channel last night, so I watched the news with my friends, just in time to see Kouchner’s Jumping up and down and giving his best schoolmaster imitation, lecturing those MP's of ours about their duties and obligations…
He reminded us of some of those pedantic teachers of old.

Rosa rosa rosam...

... You know the type, trying to tell the cancre(s)-de-service that he better shape up and face the music. All the while, the kid(s) would be listening with a wry smile, assured that Daddy would call the school’s headmaster to remind him about the real rules of the game.

Oh, how we used to pity those failures! We were sure that, when they grew up, Big Daddy won’t be around to take care of them… Or Big Daddy may not be so big for long.
Better follow the example of our parents, and work hard to earn our grade.
Oh, how we were wrong…

... Rosae rosae rosa...

Yes. Dead wrong; The meek will not inherit this world, and I am not sure about the rest. In today’s Lebanon, the bottom of the keg now rules the roost; those kids have grown to become president, ministers… even MP’s. It seems that Big Daddy’s reach, properly “leveraged”, will trump all the hard work in the world.

No wonder they are happy to do nothing; this is what they were taught to do. No wonder our MP’s once again shirked their responsibilities

... Rosae rosae rosas...

Then again, in the present context, this may not prove to be so bad…

The risk remains that they will take the easy way out and vote for Michel Eddeh; he's quite a Cordon Bleu, and Lebanese cuisine will see further improvements… But little else will. Then again, the possibility remains that common sense may still win the day. How? Consider the following constitutional equation;

A = Last September. Berri has issued his convocation to the Parliament to vote for the President.

B = After this Friday 23rd, The Parliament will become effectively an electoral assembly.

A + B = As an electoral assembly, the Parliament’s sole purpose is to elect a President. Having been already convened for that purpose, and it can convene anytime, anywhere to vote.
... Smart guy, that Berri, shirking his responsibilities to March 8th without appearing to do so

Rosarum rosis rosis!

So Ban, Kouchner, Moussa, and all the headmasters in the world can jump up and down all they want, the MP's are waiting for instructions from their Sugar Daddies… Which goes to say that, in this game, the only thing you need to know;

Who’s your Daddy?
And…

When is he gonna call?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Lebanese Generals...

As I hear Lotsa talk about lists, candidates, paper maneouvers... I like to pause a little, and look back at the country’s past. Back when similar (though lower level) turmoil was averted with the rise of the Shehabis… The Lebanese elite is scared of them, but to most people, they evoke a golden age.

Chamoun's Golden Age

They are both right, in a sense. The genesis of the Shehabis dates back to the (almost) civil war of 1958, partly caused by the (otherwise great) Camille Chamoun’s overreach. The troubles ended quickly when the ascension of General Fouad Chehab to the presidency, another great man, but with a crucial shortcoming.

All his experience in the "troupes spéciales du Levant" and then the Lebanese Army did not prepare him to Lebanese politics. Faced with the country’s systemic corruption, his military mind came up with an early version of homeland security, the “Second Bureau” and all their “patriotic” excesses…

Some corruption was down under the Shehabis, but democracy was being increasingly impeded. So, in the 1970’s Lebanese politicos ended up voting for Suleiman Franjieh the Elder. Unfortunately for us, rather than using his fists, he used his mind and displeased the Americans (among many others); when he visited New York, they even had drug sniffing dogs check his luggage. His brilliant stewardship led us straight into the Civil War in 1975; yes, the fire was ignited by Kissinger’s conniving, Arafat’s intriguing, and Assad’s meddling, but it was fuelled and stoked by many a Lebanese “leader”.

Enter Sarkis…

The Shehabis made a timid come back in the 70’s with the presidency of Elias Sarkis. But the timing was wrong, and all he could do was to administer the destruction of the country. In the 1980’s, they pinned their hopes on Bashir Gemayel, only to see them blow up with him.

Today, they may be trying another timid comeback; hence the previous head of the Second Bureau Johnny Abdo, and his friend Minister of Justice Charles Rizk. And it looks like I am not the only Shehabi out there...

Still, for all ye skeptics, we could try for another general; how about General John Abi-Zaid?

He is Lebanese, he is a mensh, and he is smart… And as a Maronite, he is eligible.

... And he really freed Lebanon, countrary to other would be "liberators". Unless you think the Syrians would have been “dialogued out” of the lucrative Beirut rackets without the United States Armed Forces breathing down their necks next door in Baghdad. In which case, rest assured; Bashar would have still respected you in the morning, too…

Too bad Ol’Rummy screwed up so bad. But for all the hype, he was never from Missouri…

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Autumn's Last Fig Leaf...

Also Sprach HassAoun...

And no sooner has Nasrallah rattled the airwaves, fresh from another paper victory, that Aoun came along to reinforce the message, as he usually does… Apparently, Hezbo’ promised him a better deal than HaririStill, for all the outrage of the motley majority alliance of nationalists that huddles around the spirit of March 14th, the fact remains that something like this little pas-de-deux was expected.

His Bark, Your Bite

For all the coordination between orange and yellow, they do clash sometimes, and the HassAoun couple could not really dance to the same tune... This was demonstrated last July, when Fath-du-Jour and friends tried a stab/slice/thrust… at a northern Lebanese Caliphate. For all his faults, Der General had to bear in mind that his fan base is recruited among many of the best and brightest of Lebanon’s secular base. So, no matter the Hezbo'Noose around his neck, Aoun could not approve of his partner’s/boss’s “Red Lines”.
Now, he feels he can; much to the dismay of many, those who claim to support March 14th have not been putting their best foot forward for the presidency. They should have done more than marketing crooks like Ghattas Khoury, or using public funds to hurl cheap shots at the presidency… But they act as if we were still in the days of “secret instructions” bestowed upon them by the overlords… Then again, many among them are born-again men and 11th hour Lebanese, and the concept of a spine may not completely catch on... Inevitably, some invertebrates and bottom feeders will remain; try as we might, we'll all remain far from Plato's republic.

War of the Marionettes

Let’s not kid ourselves; none of them is really in control.

We are in the middle of a larger power struggle. In this version of the Middle Eastern Great Game, we are not even pawns; we are part of the chessboard, albeit the central part, for now. And the French, for all the
globe trotting, are not even playing in central stage…

And even if Kouchner can sing, Syria is playing a different tune. And it is playing for keeps, a high stakes poker where it is fast running out of cards. The Assad regime is playing a “Poker-for-Life”, and until now, it needed to maintain a semblance of “
Plausible Deniability”, playing the “furthest” cards first. Only those who could not be traced directly to them were hurled at the table, but things are changing now.
For one, the regime’s options are fast running out; we Lebanese are masters at obfuscation and procrastination, and we could postpone elections till after the elections if need be. Whether this is a good thing remains to be seen; we've done it before with tragic results. Still, it looks like we may do it again and, unlike the past, Chronos may not be on Syria's side.

For another, the regime’s confidence is increasing, its leaders appear to be interpreting the difference in style between French proposals and American demands as a divergence over substance.

The net result is that, as its confidence grows and its options diminishes, the regime will likely start using the cards closest to its chest, after the camps, come Jibril and Hezbo'...

The Greater Great Game

But the regime forgets that, for all is alacrity and shrewdness in criminal matters, it may now only another piece of that chess board. Regional powers increasingly treat it with contempt, and only value it for what it is not, or fear it for what it can do.

Those who value it for what it is not fear that in its absence, an Islamic state would rise in Bilad El-Sham. Many of those wet blankets are in Israel; they fear what it can do and hope that placating it will deflect from them the ire of terrorists.

Munich, Nokhtsumakhn?

And in this lays the weakness of the Assad regime; by alining itself on Iran, it is not merely opposing Western proclaimed "goals" as standing in the way of larger interests. And by promoting chaos in Lebanon and exporting terrorists to other countries, it is convincing even the wettest blankets that the alternative can hardly be worse; not too many burqas in Turkey, after all...

Then, when the last card is dropped, so the last fig leaf of Assad’s cloak of lies will fall, exposing Syria bare… And much as Lebanon now, Syria's gamble's risk demoting it from a pawn to just another square on that chessboard.

God Help us Then

Abid’Allah, we can deal with, but Ahzab’Allah are another thing…

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Scientollah

Yesterday, the "Loyal Officers" decided to carry out secret maneuvers across Teegeeack, to pre-empt a pre-emption by the evil Xenu and his "renegades". They are sure that all their valley hopping will bring the fear of Sauron into the evil Zionist Galactic empire.

O Yee of Little Faith...

It is a wonder few people believe this... Heck, It makes more sense than the strength of Hezbo's "expansion" in northern areas. Or even more sense than Nasrallah’s secret maneuvers, that no one has seen or heard. In a country such as Lebanon, where the rumour is a unique example of a perpetual motion machine; the only confirmation is that "nothing on the ground really happened"… Dungeons and Dragons, anyone?

But the key question is not why people believe him; as P.T. Barnum once pointed out, there is a “believer” born every minute indeed.

The key question(s) are;
Do Nasrallah and his masters believe their own rhetoric? Do they really see those “paper stromstruppen” of theirs can still change the course of events?

Or are they merely improving a bad hand on the eve of a key election? In that case, with all the roars and threats, are "return trips" are possible?

For the answer, do not waste time watching diplomatic dances, but watch the streets of Beirut over the next couple of weeks…
And watch out overhead; the mighty are falling hard...

Monday, November 05, 2007

Thaw Before the Storm

Our Fertile Crescent’s little war just gotten hotter, with an increase in rhetoric on one side and the other.

In order to get some context to the looming fight, let us pause for a minute. If we accept that our troubles are mostly an issue of “Syrian Succession”, maybe we ought to pause and read a page from Kim Junior’s book; he has been making conciliatory signs of late, even allowing the hated Americans to
dismantle their prized reactors… A question comes to mind; did the Koreans get close to the Syrians only to “sell” them?

He has little choice; with his economy faltering, Junior has bet heavily on the bomb. So the fizzle of his pet project may have weakened his hand.

The Coming Thaw
There are signs of a coming “thaw” between the two countries.

In South Korea, areas close to the DMZ are now experiencing a real estate boom, as an increasing number of people are now “moving in” areas that were once considered unsafe.
In the north, it is more subtle; workers in the new “maquiladoras” as still strictly segregated, but the Chinese border is far less porous. For all the posturing and fence building, the need of consumer goods remains, and peddlers are allowed to go across the frozen Yalu, in addition to the “friendship” bridge… With those comes a relatively brisk trade in South Korean pop DVD’s that penetrate deep into the country.

The north is not as isolated as it seems; the internet may not be there, but more traditional means trade can still be as efficient. Combine this with human ingenuity and curiosity, and you see many reasons why the North Korean regime, even if it lasts for eternity, will not last for a second more.
The Looming Frost

Then again, it is hard to get past the Pompadour and into Junior’s mind,; this could all be mere manoeuvrings by a leader still struggling to succeed his father. In due course, all this new construction could serve as additional “leverage”; like Seoul, they are within easy reach of the North’s paraphernalia.

Then again, time is in short supply, and Junior’s clock be running a wee bit faster, thanks to all those Cognacs and heavy meals. As he consolidates his power, he can do little but continue on the traditional cult adoration of his late father. He can add some cult of his own, but he can only be a lesser god; the modern trend for “consolidation” pushes for monotheistic pantheons. Platform shoes and Pompadours can only go so far… aside from the fact that they are not so trendy anymore. Then again, so are dictatorships, but that does not stop Stalin-impersonators.

His own successor may be even less god-like, and may even face a harder succession; alongside the DVD’s are a few bibles. The paradise they promise may not be verifiable, but no one came back to complain; the absence of Communist paradise, on the other hand, is far more tangible.

Already, the inner circle around Junior has been thinning of late, as a few clans fell in disgrace or were sidelined. So Junior has little other option but give some slack and vie for time, for now.
Lessons to Other Juniors

It is worth noting that the progress of medicine and hygiene, by increasing life expectancy, made life all the easier for all of us. But it has not made it easy for dynasties; as current monarchs live longer, the princes-in-waiting have to linger in the wings for ever longer. In England, the troubles of Prince Charles may have much to do with this wait, as he chafes at the bit, the poor monarch-in-waiting distracts himself with side issues, and can only watch his son and successor reach the eligible age…
I would not be surprised if the Brits did not decide to skip a king…

The Koreans have less choice in the matter, and may still have to endure Junior for a while, unless Cognac does not bequeath the same benefits as wine… Either way, Junior’s dynasty is facing diminishing returns, as in our neighbouring monarchies; no sooner would one successor have consolidated his reign that it will be time for him to exit the stage, and let the next one in.
Thank God for the slow pace of medical progress; Even if old dictators do not die, they can still fade away.

The entire matter should give pause to our local variety; ever since 2000, the Syrian succession has not been going too well. The decline that started in 2005 appears to have precipitated thanks to Bashar’s accumulation of ill-timed mistakes.

The latest summitry was a case in point; for all the talk of Moallem’s "refusal to attend", Syria was actually excluded from the summit’s discussions on Lebanon. To add insult to injury, representatives of other countries asked Moallem to come back and attend the meeting… But only after it had already finished.
So, what will Assad-Junior read into this?
Will he "bend" like Kim-Junior, to try and come back later?
Or will he let the exuberance (and inexperience) of his "youth" get the better of him?

This “survival of the fittest” thing is a tough game…

…Any “Evolution”, however, is not guaranteed...