Sunday, December 30, 2007

New Year's Priorities

Ignore the news and enjoy the New Year's parties as much as you can, there'll be time enough for 2008 to suck. Nothing really changed from the end of 2006. Worse; the light at the end of the tunnel appears to be a train coming our way.

... And why shouldn't it?

As in Jan. 2007, each player continues to play "for keeps", and there is no likely "package deal" that will satisfy their hunger. As they continue on their collision course, the different players are mixing up alll the priorities, sacrificing"strategic" issues like sovereignty and the rule of law and precedent to secure "tactical" gains such as ministerial appointments and MP seats.

This is actually a common Arab mistake, and one that keeps recurring. In Lebanon, the 1990's were but a series of miscalculations, and of leveraging short term targets against long term needs, and it all led to the ballooning debt and to his assassination.

It is worth noting that, for all his faults, Saad appears to be a fast learner, but others are unlearning; the logic that led the Hariri camp to the '05 miscalculation and the Ashrafieh debacle is now followed by Aoun and Syria today.



Cases in point (Two of them)

1- Fellow blogger Mustapha points to a good article from an otherwise smart Aoun supporter; while there is a lot to say against the current majority's style, there is far more to say against the substance of the opposition's methods.

2- Michael Young shows convincingly how the Assad's rush to escape the tribunal is causing Syria to dig itself deeper in the mess.

The Long Term

The long term is not so rosy for those guys; aside from its Keynesian implication (H/T, G.K.), the long term has another impact on them. In their rush to secure short term gains, they are sacrificing the long the long term survival of their nations, groups, or clans. Yes, part of this is systemic, but part of it is

It does not take a genius to realize that the Aoun's actions will all backfire badly. And the Syrians will not change track any time soon; while they are losing many friends and much credibility, they still won't feel the isolation.

Even if the Hariri tribunal comes on time, Brammertz discretion reassures them. Yes, shorty may talk the talk now, but he too easily backs down. And there will always be an occasional idiot willing to visit (again) and validate the regime. Finally, with Damascus as the Arab cultural capital for 2008, Bashar will be too busy inaugurating those Chrysanthemums to worry much about his isolation till late 2008...

And by Early 2009...

By then, 2009 would have come along, with a new US President, and a solidly established tribunal. Yes, there may still be some (slim) chance for a deal with the Americans, even if the French are still grouchy, but that is unlikely unless someone is counting on huge oil finds.

By then, it will be too late;

when farmers eat their wheat fallow,

they only ensure their long term demise.



Monday, December 24, 2007

Eid Saturnalia

This year, the Eid and Christmas holidays came together, even if the politicians did not... OK, OK, there was two Eids this year, who largely ignored one another, ominously(?) mirroring in the spiritual realm the divisions among the profane. But we did more than just gloss that over in the spirit of this Winter Solstice; we celebrate them all… Banzai Libano!

The only downside was that Beirut and its approaches was turned into a giant parking lot by traffic jams and construction works. It is not so bad when you chose to walk around rather than drive; the city is small, and you can easily go from Raouche to Dora.

.. A note of caution, however; you will have to duck a few wannabe Fangio’s, and you will likely need a shower when you get there; the Haussman’s of this age do not seem to factor in human beings in their designs, or anything else that does not have the Mercedes Logo.

So I headed recent advice and went on a random walk (no, literally), and snapped a few pics on my way (OK, the one above is from Morocco…). The breeze was nice and chilly, with the sun's warmth just right, and this view of downtown does it little justice.

For all the squalid appeal of HassAoun's tent city, downtown Beirut was deserted. Yes, the pigeons and doves are making a timid come back, but the customers are few and far between. The taxman did not forget them; Azour's goons at the ministry managed to have notes posted on the doors of empty stores, reminding them to do their civic duty and empty their pockets.

I did not linger along for too long; there is far too much gloom in this real world. So rather than succumb to gloom-by-osmosis, I elected to go towards a copy of this fantasy land. The Géant was a long shot, an impregnable citadel surrounded by treacherous highways and byways. So I followed the traffic jam, which lead me towards the ABC mall in Ashrafieh. Festive the season may not be, but festive it wants to be; the Mall is decorated with flair…

There is even some panache, and a bon enfant atmosphere. I came in just in time to witness a congregation of Lebanese Parliamentarians holding one more session, as appropriate for this Saturnalia season… OK, those were the ABC's clown band, but I dare you to tell them apart!

So, in the shadow of the return of unwelcome Mages, you see we’re still managing to have a happy holiday season.



And since sub sole nihil novi est, here is a great classic from the Economist;

Saturnalia is the most wonderful time of the year, and also the worst. You want to enjoy yourself, but every December you end up exhausted, hungover and broke. All that shopping! All those presents! All that food! All those children and slaves running riot all over the house!

Relax. The key to a great Saturnalia is planning. Follow our question-and-answer guide, and you will never drag yourself like a corpse into January again.

How many days can I take off?

The vital question, of course. Saturnalia was originally only one day, the 14th before the Kalends of January. Augustus allowed three days for it, December 17th to 19th, but he was a man of severe habits. The festival usually lasts for a week, and most people take as much time off as they can get away with. Macrobius talks of lounging around "for most of January". That is certainly too long, but the point of Saturnalia is that, with the schools and the law courts closed, people can take a break from the frantic pace of modern life. Here’s what Saturn himself has to say about it, in Lucian’s words:

During my week the serious is barred; no business allowed. Drinking, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping of frenzied hands, an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water - such are the functions over which I preside.

Not everyone can take a break, of course. Essential services need to be maintained. Cooks go on cooking, accounting for the pall of smog that hangs over us all in December, and the shops stay open for those last-minute gifts you’ve forgotten. Abroad, too, those men engaged on expanding our glorious empire have to go on doing so. Only actually starting battles is forbidden. A generation ago Cicero, writing from Cilicia to a friend back home, described how a minor tribe called the Pindenissitae ("Who the hell are the Pindenissitae?" you will ask) had given him a great Saturnalia present by surrendering to him, and that he had taken 3,000 prisoners who, when sold at auction, had fetched 12m sesterces. "The soldiers are enjoying the festival thoroughly," he added.


Do I have to go to the temple?

Temple-going on the first day of Saturnalia is optional, but it is traditional and good for appearances. Most of us seem to have forgotten the religious point of the festival, if we ever knew what it was. Saturn (just to remind you) is the sickle-wielding god of sowing and grafting. He presided over the Age of Gold, that magic and long-past transformation of the world, when lions lay down with lambs and the earth brought forth crops without ploughing. At Saturn’s feast, for just a few days, we pretend we are back in that time of bliss and plenty, "when wine flowed in rivers, and there were fountains of milk and honey; when all men were good and all men were gold," as Lucian says.

Virgil once wrote that we are expecting a new golden age that will be heralded by the birth of a mystical child, a bringer of universal peace. It’s a nice story for poets and children, but of course we all know that universal peace is what the emperor brings us, if rather more expensively.

What do I wear?

No problem here. You are absolutely required to leave off the toga and put on the synthesis instead. (It’s that thing in the back of your wardrobe which looks like a dressing gown, only made of flimsier stuff.) Togas mean business, lawsuits, affairs of state; the synthesis says that you are going to PARTY. Some people complain that it makes no sense to dress like this when there is ice on the ground and Boreas is blowing, especially when they have sweated through the summer in an all-wool toga praetexta. But nil desperandum - put on lots of tunics underneath, a fur cloak on top, and beat the slave who fires up the hypocaust.


Is it essential to give parties?

Yes, it is. Only social losers hang round the Arcades trying to cadge an invitation. As Lucian says, there are two main reasons for offering Saturnalia hospitality to your friends:

In the first place they banish dull silence from your table, and are ready with a good story, a harmless jest, or some other contribution to entertainment; that is the way to please the gods of wine and love and beauty. And secondly they win your love by spreading abroad next morning your hospitable fame. These are things that would be cheap at a considerable price.

A few party suggestions:

1. Inviting "More than the Graces" (three) but "less than the Muses" (nine) is the best rule.

2. Food should be plentiful but not extravagant, eggs and fish for a starter, followed by boar and turbot, then sow’s teats and Lucrine oysters and sausages and pastry, followed by cheese and fruit for dessert.

3. Keep the wine well watered.

4. Myrtle is always a good choice for decorations.

5. And the conversation should be decent but never serious. Even Caesar, Cicero said, would discuss "only light matters such as literature".

6. Games are essential. "The dice-box reigns supreme," as Martial says. A favourite is choosing a king of the party on a throw of the dice, who then makes the other guests take their clothes off, libel each other or take turns with the flute-girl. People will play for hours, and bet on anything that moves.

What about presents?

This is the biggest Saturnalia headache of all, but the answer is simple: give them to everyone. This means your clients, your patron, your lawyer, your wife, your mistresses, your slaves and your children. Make a list of them, and omit no one. "I hate the crafty and mischievous arts of presents," Martial says; "Gifts are like fish-hooks." But at Saturnalia everyone is fishing, and everyone is biting.

How much should I spend? you will ask. Again, the answer is simple: as much as you can afford. Even the young Claudius, who was thought too much of a simpleton to be given a magistracy or anything of that sort, was allowed 40 pieces of gold by Tiberius to spend on Saturnalia presents. And Pliny the Younger reminds us that Julius Bassus, once pro-consul of Bithynia, defended himself against charges of rapine and extortion in his province by saying that he had needed the money "for a few slight gifts on his birthday and at Saturnalia." This will give you some idea of the expenditure required. Lucian suggests putting aside a tenth of your income, as well as going through your cupboards to see if you can spare any old clothes or tableware. These will do for freedmen. Give your slaves a few pennies to spend at the fair in the Forum, where they sell the sort of trinkets slaves like, and give your children nuts and clay toys: they will be broken in a day anyway. But be extremely careful about how you go about cutting corners with everybody else. The tribune Publicius once suggested that because Saturnalia was such a burden on the poor (and even the non-poor), no one should give anything but wax tapers to anyone richer than himself. He was obviously a fool.

Whole books have been written on what to give at Saturnalia. Martial’s Good Gift Guide suggests you cannot go wrong with a nice stationery set, new toga, alabaster bottles for the ladies, or set of silverware. If these are too expensive, the standard offerings these days are a box of candles, set of napkins or jar of plums. Although unoriginal, these are quite acceptable; and, if kept unopened, they can be recycled with nobody noticing. It was sheer bad luck that when Umber sent Martial a festive cornucopia of writing tablets, beans, tablecloths, sponges, olives and figs by special delivery (8 tall Syrian slaves), Martial should have spotted that these were all the presents that people had sent to Umber in the five days before.

If you prefer not to recycle, you can try to reduce the worth of your presents year by year, so that the togas get thinner, the cups lighter and the candles more transparent. But this should not be taken too far. Martial complained that the weight of Postumianus’s present of silverware fell from 4 pounds in the first year to 2 pounds in the second year and 1 in the fifth, until in the seventh he sent him "1/2 a pound of silver scrapings in a little cup". To another colleague he wrote what might be called an "Ode to Meanness":

You send me, Paulus, a leaf from a praetor’s crown, and give it the name of a wine-cup. Some toy of the stage has perhaps recently been covered with this thin substance, and a dash of pale saffron-water washed it off. Or is it rather a piece of gilding scraped off (as I think it may be) by the nail of a cunning servant from the leg of your couch?

Many friends are a puzzle when it comes to presents. Looking for that special gift for the man or woman who has everything? Can’t face another jar of plums this year? Why not consider some of Martial’s other suggestions:

Live mullets

A peacock-feather fly-whisk

A snow strainer

"Cilician socks from the beard of the fetid goat"

How can I avoid family arguments over which shows to watch?

There is no point in having such arguments, since nothing of quality is ever put on for the holidays. It is always the same old formula: criminals torn to pieces, a commercial break, followed by Gauls eviscerated, and ending with a crowd-scramble when the emperor throws out vouchers for free wine.

Do I have to give my slaves time off?

Unfortunately, yes. Part of the vaguely religious point of Saturnalia is that it is a festival of freedom: "When I was king," Lucian’s Saturn says, "slavery was not." This is why prisoners are not executed (except for your viewing pleasure) and children are excused from school; and it is also why your slaves are allowed to dress up, dance, insult you to your face, refuse to wait at table and generally misbehave. It is horribly inconvenient, just when you are trying to impress your friends and hangers-on with the quality of your domestic service, to find it in flagrante in the garden, or throwing up in the street. But just for a week, all men are equal. You must indulge all this with a tight-lipped smile.

How do I deal with unwanted guests?

You must be nice to them, even when they are relatives you wish you didn’t have or friends on whom you thought you had turned your back. That is the Saturnalia spirit. And remember, when they walk cheerily through the door, that things might be worse: they might be Julius Caesar and half his army, who turned up uninvited one Saturnalia and expected Cicero to entertain them. The great orator, of course, was stoical about it:

It was really very pleasant. But when he arrived at Philippus’s place on the evening of December 18th, the house was so thronged by the soldiers that there was hardly a spare room for Caesar himself to dine in. Two thousand men, no less! I was really worried about what would happen the next day, but Cassius Barba came to my rescue and posted sentries on the house. On the 19th, after being anointed, Caesar took his place at dinner. He was following a course of emetics, and so both ate and drank with uninhibited enjoyment. It was a really fine, well-appointed meal. His entourage moreover was lavishly entertained in three other dining rooms. The humbler freedmen and slaves had all they wanted - the smarter ones I entertained in style. In a word, I showed them I knew how to live. Still, my guest was not the kind of person to whom one says, "Do come again when you are next in the neighbourhood."

Can’t I just skip the whole thing?

You must be a philosopher, or some other sad Greek. It is not done to get out of Saturnalia, and only spoilsports try. However, if you insist, you could always retire to your country house and, once there, retreat still further to a summer house in the garden. Pliny the Younger did this. He told a friend that when he sat there, with the interior curtains drawn and the windows open on views of the sea, he was quite unable to hear, in the house, "the licence and mirth of the servants. I don’t hinder their festivities," he wrote, "and they don’t disturb my studies." The philosopher Seneca did much the same in his flat in the middle of Rome, and Juvenal said he knew lots of starving poets who simply spent the holidays in their attics, getting their verses ready for the publisher.

For poets, of course, the unbridled excess and commercialism of the festival is disgusting. Others might agree. But there is a good reason for taking part, even if you remain unmoved by the magic of these "best of days", as Catullus calls them. The world’s only superpower will never preserve its booming economy without the wild holiday spending of ordinary Romans. In this consumer-led Golden Age, Saturnalia is no longer an indulgence. It’s a civic duty.

Shameless CopyLeft Mode OFF>


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Syria is Ba(ath)ck...

Worse; for all practical purposes, it never really left. And even worse, far more powerful than the combined muscle power of all its goons, it is able to exert its power through our own sorry crop of “leaders”.

Emergent Stupidity

It is not for lack of smarts; on the individual level, they are a very resourceful and intelligent bunch. However, it is on the “group level” that they become potentially deadly.

With no vested interest in the emergence of a peaceful state, their interaction creates a cross between decision avoidance and emergent stupidity rises from the interactions of the combined egos of otherwise individually smart. Kinda like an ant colony in reverse, if you will… In comparison, even the herd mentality of the Béni-oui-ouiparliament” next door appears rational.

And the net result of all this is that Syria is back in force in the Lebanese political game. It has trodden a path cleared by this “emergent stupidity” of ours, and imposed itself as the supreme arbitrator of Lebanese politics. Do not be fooled by those French and American amateurs; take Sarko’s phoning and prodding add it to Bush’s blunderingimpatience with Bashar”, you reach two conclusions;

1- In effect, by formally “pressing Syria to end the impasse in Lebanon”, they validate the current Syrian approach. So what if the Saudis, fed up with Bashar’s antics, finally cleared the way for the tribunal? The tribunal still has a long way to go, an eternity in politics. And possession being nine-tenth of the law, the Assad regime may still have something to trade when push comes to shove, especially if the presidential endures in Lebanon.

2- They publicly confirm the uselessness of the Lebanese, at least as a body politic. So what if we agree, on the individual level, that we want a “free” country? We still disagree on the clan level, where talk about “freedom” is nothing more than discussion about “comparative tutelage options”… .As a result, we remain imprisoned in a sectarian system in which one kidnapped sectarian group lives off the taxes paid up by the others.

Careful What You Wish For…

However, it is not all rosy for the Assad clan, as demonstrated with their recent communication troubles with one of their key objective regional ally.

All the diplomatic jaw-jaw cannot hide fundamental divergence of interests; Syria has changed, and so has its environment. So, regardless of all the obfuscations and postponements, prey and predator are locked in a fight to the finish.

As a result, Syria finds some deadly hidden mines on its way back into Lebanese politics. And their effects can only be amplified by the presidential void as the figl eafs drop one by oneFor one, the Hariri assassination has created a sectarian break that amplified the resentment caused by the destruction of Hama, and the current struggle is far too often translated as announcing a Sunni-Shiite conflict. For all the ambitions of the (dead?) Cedar Revolution, this overblown fear could still turn a self-fulfilling prophecy, and thus kill its promise. For another, they are relying on a web of self-contradictory and unnatural alliances; unless they jettison him, they may soon discover how bitterly many came to regret trusting Aoun.

...And finally, as the governmental void persists and the Lebanese come to realize how well they have “decentralized” and adapted to it, the incentives will rise to do away with a state bureaucracy heavily infiltrated by parasites and Syrian holdovers…

So the Syrians are their wish; they are back in Lebanon. This Christmas will see some happy (first) family...

But they better be careful what they wish for…



Monday, December 17, 2007

Tistou's Lesson

First, a disclaimer: For those amongst who can understand the actual argumentation of either “side” to this “battle of marionettes”, the prognosis is not good; stop reading, and go watch your favourite muppet dance to the tune of his foreign masters. For the others (that is, normal people), read on:

The (short) story so far:

M8 proposed General Suleiman’s as a “consensus” president, M14 initially opposed him on principle, because it would mean amending the constitution, but now that M14 agrees to amend that same constitution, M8 opposes any amendments it because it would mean that the government, which it does not recognize, will have to petition the parliament to amend the constitution, to bring in General Suleiman’s as a “consensus” president…

Confused?

Well, you should be, and this has nothing to do with the faults of this Cliff Notes version of the Lebanese situation; you’re mind is perfectly normal. It just does not make sense unless you realize that the vociferations and counter-vociferations of local and foreign pols only reflect wider power struggle in the region and beyond.

In comparison, the bombs we endured in July 2006 (along with others we left behind…) were nothing next to the mines (not only Israel’s, but mostly our own) on top of which we’ve living… But we can make funny and interesting movies when we rise above our hangups and agree to look ourselves in the face, warts and all

Not that the logic without is any better than the logic within Lebanon. The actual motivations of the “players” of this nasty game are simple. Exempli Gratia:

Within

Hezb wants a pliable president so that continue to bear arms (or arm bears), such arms that will allow to impose a president on others. Agnus dei...

Aoun will only “vote” for a president that will allow him to become president. Gluteus inflamo...

Hariri wants a president who will allow him to implement reforms and restore the economy which he insists can be implemented by the same team and political logic (and old friends) who put us in this economic mess in the first place. Nic Plenum?

Berri, Geagea, and Joumblat do not really mind the return of (any) governance to Lebanon, provided it allows them to be back to their heyday, when there was no governance over Lebanon… Vae Libanem...

No wonder whatever partisans those “leaders” of ours still have left so easily succumb to hysteria; they are at their wit’s end in trying to find justifications for the actions of their chosen leader/prophet… E ovus est...

Without

Israel would like to make peace with the Syrians by trading Syria’s return Lebanon for its continued occupation of the Golan, provided Hezb, or any other side-effects of Syrian occupation of that same Lebanon can be “neutralized” by Syria itself. Just a little bit pregnant, I guess. Sceleratus plumbeus...

The Saudis want to keep their little Riviera, and are backing up some nasty types in the face of Syria and Hezb, knowing that said types are hell-bent on destroying the den of sin that they view that Riviera to be… Goldilocks politics on display. Sceleratus dives...

Bashar… Well, I have to admit that he is the only self-consistent of the lot; he simply wants to be allowed back in Lebanon, and is willing, and (oh so) able to leverage the contradictions of those “leaders” of ours, and the confusions of the French and Americans…Sceleratus directus...

Still Confused?

Well, you shouldn’t be anymore, now that you know that Syria is the only one of this sorry bunch who knows what it wants. The rest are content with jaw-jaw rather than deeds.

Lebanon crystallizes in the extreme the way the world is (mis)managed. An example of this is found in Maurice Druon’s only children book, “Tistou Les Pouces Verts”:

-Tistou : pourquoi les Vazys et les Vatens veulent se faire la guerre?

-Mr Trounadisse : c'est pour le désert.

-Pourquoi, ils veulent du sable?

-Non, ils veulent ce qu'il y a en-dessous.

-Qu'est-ce qu'il y a en-dessous?

-Il y a du pétrole.

-Et à quoi ça sert du pétrole?

-ça sert à se faire la guerre.

-Donc les Vazys et les Vatens veulent se faire la guerre pour du pétrole qui sert à se faire la guerre... c'est idiot !

Q.E.D.



Saturday, December 15, 2007

Nico La Sarko

“Moderation in everything… even in moderation”…

The current French predicament illustrates the importance of this motto. Oddly for a country that prides itself on its heritage of Cartesian logic, it does not seem to be able to “evolve” its institutions gradually, but can only reform itself through shocks and crises. Maybe that is why so many Lebanese feel such affinity with the French...

Aftershocks

Sadly for us, we are first to feel the aftershocks of their president’s “rush” to reform, greatness, and glory. No wonder I do not feel very "moderate" now; as I watch the series of events of this past week unfold, I have been struggling to keep the necessary “mental distance” to better understand their significance.

We need to look at the context of the man, and the events in which it happened, and to we factor in all the obfuscations following the event. If we do that, we can begin to understand how the bomb that killed General Hajj and his driver is part of far reaching aftershocks, beyond the confines of puny Lebanon.

Yes, among the proximate causes of the assassination are French amateurish haste. The LLC status does not apply here; the Sarko Clown Company bears as much blame as the Bashar Bombing Corporation.

But I fear the underlying causes go much deeper. It has to do with a changing of the colonial guard, with declining European powers struggling to maintain their pre-eminence in their chasse guardée coloniale, in the face of a aggressive China and a newly assertive India. The mess the West has nurtured can still help them delay the invasion, but it will not stop it, and neither will their protests

Julian Simon may well be proven right (again), rather than a hindrance, Ehrlich “population bomb” is proving to be an asset to those countries, especially coupled with technical education… But I digress.

Proximate Cause: The Man in a Hurry

First, let us consider Sarko’s case; as he struggles to prod France to evolve without too much fuss, he is facing powerful dinosaurian vested interests. Mindful that the first two years of his term will set the tone for the rest of the Quinquennat, Sarko Premier knows he has to work fast.

He also has to work faster; as the French economy faces a cyclical downturn, he has to bring in the bacon, or at least give the appearance of doing so. So he scurries around the globe signing contracts and making deals.

Sarko Premier thinks he sees a window of opportunity opening up in the coming year; the big boys are busy with a tight election campaign in which the mood of American voters appears to be growing ever more insular with the (apparent) success of the “surge” in Iraq. So Sarko Premier comes barging in the Middle East and Africa, where China has been expanding its business interests.

And that will be his fist mistake…

Qaddafi’s Tent

In his rush to outcompete his European rivals/partners on the heels of their Lisbon crow-eating fest, Sarko Premier forgets time… Yes, Europe and the United States may still control space, but Arabs control time.

Yes, we do. And Arab time is like a quicksand; the more you struggle, the more you get stuck.

First, the French got stuck with the shrewd Kaddafi, who promised much, lectured a lot, and delivered little, and the promised 10 Billion quickly shrank to 300 Million and change. They may even shrink further when Sarko Premier will be hit by the (political) bill for camping space.

Then come Lebanon and Syria. The French predicament was not missed on those Levantine Arabs. No one was impressed with Kouchner’s amateurish clowning around and his empty boasts. They were even less impressed with this pitiful display of weakness (or stupidity?) in France’s own backyard, with Kaddafi’s tent in Paris watched over by French police, zealously shooing away the parents of his French victims. If the French do not care about their own dead, why would they care about ours?

Bakhtiar’s Shadow

Bachar can be excused if he drew his own conclusions; from his perspective, the Chinese remain eager, the Americans are busy, and the French remain clueless, for all their past “experience”. For the all the UN resolutions, Western support to Lebanon does not grow beyond lip service; the facts of power politics still give him an opening in the coming year, especially that Sarko Premier still calls… and even promises to visit him soon to maybe extend an invitation to re-visit Paris and make a few “deals”.

Bashar has still some leverage, and for now, he only has to say what they want to hear, and do as he pleases… Heck, the French may even help him in tying a few loose ends; Khaddam and Rifaat may find that Paris is not the safest place to be for opponents of regimes the French are trying to please

No wonder Joumblatt is hedging (or being “encouraged” to do so); nothing personal, you know… Strictly business.

The Merry New Year…

True, many fundamental questions remain, and nothing is ever final in this part of the world. But the immediate grows hazier; with the Big Boys busy for at least a year, it does not take Michel Hayek to see that 2008 promises to be “interesting”. The Syrians are moving back in, and the Iranians are re-adjusting their pawns, and the Israelis are mis-maneuvering again.

By relying too much on outsiders to rescue them, all the “born-again Lebanese” leaders of ours have risen to the level of their incompetence; they never cared for our ambitions, squandered all our efforts, and snatched defeat from the jaws of our March 14th victory…

We may still have a chance, but not for long… I fear that, as assassinations resume (and they will), the next assassinated Lebanese politician will have to walk to his grave alone; too many good men were sacrificed for their petty political squabbles.

And, as the French sow the Rafale, we may reap (again) the Assifa.

Or we may not, and continue in that vacuum, limping along from bomb to bomb…



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