Friday, March 28, 2008

Syria's Dutch Cards?

Joy to the World, the Court is come

Let us receive her Justice;

Let every heart prepare Her room,

And Heaven and nature sing,

And Heaven and …

…Not so fast, Dude...

A court is no policy panacea, and this one no more than others, in spite of its oddities. Those who still believe in such things as magic bullets or Santa Claus better spontaneously combust those ideas; the initiation of the court is the beginning of a long process.

A very long process; in this high stakes poker, Bashar still has quite a few cards to play in spite of his own growing weakness, and quite a lot of reserves of “plausible deniability” left for him to draw upon.

Using his terror cards may not be optimal at this stage. His second cards; Aoun and Nasrallah, are “boxed in” at this stage, and any additional moves can prove ever more counterproductive.

The two "great" leaders have few options left, with Geagea and Joumblat "sniping" at them from the sidelines, they have to contend with growing dissent in the ranks. But before he moves on the master cards closer to his chest (and neck), Bashar can now wield a few powerful cards…

Enter the Dutch Ace…

The Hariri tribunal will apparently be located in The Hague, the Dutch hub of the international-justice industry. But Holland is also home to a politician who plans on diversifying into “movies”.

So, rather than ignoring this little Van Pen, why not make some hay out of it? Arabs love those conspirational linkages, and a little protesting can go a long way; it worked "well" during the Danish cartoons fiasco, when the right wing of the Hariri mouvance came to town… I'll bet the bank against all those criminally biased "engagionistas" that the Syrians are still playing for keeps; with this in mind, they would love nothing more than to outflank Hariri and his Saudis friends in such a field, just as soon as the summit is (officially) over.

Maybe this is why Abu Samra has been simmering more than usual. And maybe this is why the Dutch Embassy is being discrete.

But this time, no matter the number of useful idiots they can git may be harder for the outraged crowds to find their way there this time. And even if "someone" helped (again), the road may not be as safe for them, with fewer unarmed people for them to beat up; Geagea has gained some more “leverage” of his own. His opponents have a point; the Hakim's past flirtations are not reassuring, and neither are those of his current allies. But this does not mean that the "brown shirt" label may not get as much mileage this time around.

Joy to the World…

Monday, March 24, 2008

Anschluß Delayed...

As we gear up for the summit, Syria assures us that all it wants is peace

Peace Indeed

More accurately; all Syria wants is this piece of land we call Lebanon. In this, the current regime is no different from any of the regimes that preceded it by refusing to recognize Lebanon and calling for the reunification of this “wayward province” into the Syrian fold. With this in mind, Al Hayat’s recent editorial put the whole debate about the Summit in the right perspective;

The fact of the matter is that it is an extensive accumulation of the resistance towards dealing with "Lebanon the State", whether from the Lebanese side - currently represented by the Opposition - or by "Syria the State", which is attempting to correct the "historical mistake" of announcing "Greater Lebanon" at the beginning of the past century.

The behaviour of the current regime is made worse by the country’s identity crisis and its rulers’ lack of legitimacy.

In the Beginning Was The Baath…

It had first started as a “minority rule” under the Baath’s “Military Committee”, a joint Alawite-Druze affair. Then it evolved into a Alawite takeover of the country under Assad, after he dispatched other Druze officers such as Salim Hatoum. As Assad’s power rose, his power base shrank as a proportion of the Syrian population.

Having no “internal” pull to attract supporters, Assad-the-father had to resort to an “external” push.

Until 1973, Israel’s suppression of Palestinian aspirations played an effective role in mobilizing in support of the regime. After that, and especially after Egypt dropped out of the “Arab struggle” in 1978, the regime had to find its legitimacy somewhere else. By then, we Lebanese had come to the regime’s rescue; having started to rip each other apart in 1974-1975, we provided an easy avenue for Syrian involvement. They came in first on the “progressive” side via fronts such the “Saika”. After “victories” such as the massacre of Christians in Damour, they switched sides to the “American” allied “Isolationists” in ’76, then back to the “Progressives” in ’78…

And the game continued until they were allowed (by those same Americans) almost total control of Lebanon. But that was back in ’90-’91, when Saddam was “liberating” Kuwait on his way to “free” Palestine of those evil Zionists.

Like Father, Like Son?

Today, Assad-the-Son is struggling to repeat his father’s feats, and studiously going though the bloody pages of the “Book of Hafez”. He is now supporting a “progressive” opposition in the face of a “regressive” government whom his lackeys characterise as an “Zionist/American” creation, a “cancerous sore”.

But today’s fundamentals are different, and Assad-The-Father’s policies are not adapted to the mew context; the region has changed.

With the cold war over, the United States find themselves the only power in the region’s oil fields. And with the Sunni domination over Iraq gone, the Arabs find themselves in “direct contact” with the Persians. In such a context, both the United States and the Arabs feel threatened by Syria’s constant alignment with Iran. And this leaves Syria with few local cards; the Sunnis are not on board, the Palestinians are not playing along (for the most part, at least), and Christian are sidelined thanks(?) to their divisions.

Risk of Contagion

So Assad-the-Son can move his toys around, but he can do little else. Yes, Siniora may be a weak leader, but he’s no Schuschnigg, thanks to all that Western Support. Yes, Lebanon may not be present at the (irrelevant?) Arab summit, but with the absence of the Arabs, no Chamberlain will be attending. Yes, Israelis may not actively oppose Bashar’s policies in their quest of “peace” with Syria, but they are holding off support, at least until ‘09… And yes, there are some idiots and hacks left in the United States, but they are increasingly ineffective.

So Assad-the-Son can do little or risk exposing himself and pushing more on Lebanon’s division, and thus provoking a Sunni-Shiite war. Yet such a move would be ill-advised, as that could be uniquely contagious. And far more dangerous; the son’s regime is far weaker than the father’s.

For one, the minority ruling group bequeathed by Assad-the-Father has shrunk to “family and friends”. This process recently accelerated during the son’s accession, with the sidelining of the likes of Khaddam and Shehabi, the assassination of Hariri, and the “suicide” of Kanaan and his brother. Underneath this solid facade, the Syrian regime’s power base is shrinking fast and Alawite unity is further eroding; witness the latest string of arrests in Qardaha, the Assad’s hometown.

For another, 21st Century Syria is much poorer. With the “occupation rents” from Lebanon gone, the army’s sources of patronage are diminished. The regime also has to contend with shrinking oil reserves, and Syria will soon become a net oil importer. Unable to develop its oil industry any further, the regime will struggle to reform a “state dominated” economy, and a growing population will find less and less employment.

Iranian cash is helping, for now, but even that well is not bottomless. But this alliance may well be one of the main reasons of the regime’s long term weakness. This weakness is made worse by the results of the Hama massacre, which ensured that the regime’s rule will always have sectarian underpinnings. And the weakness is now further weakened by isolation.

True, in the sectarian context, the minority Alawites had little choice but to align with (Shiite dominated) Iran, to use as leverage against the rest of the (Sunni dominated) Arab world. But the Arabs now fear for their oil, and building alliances to face the Persian threat.

Joumblat’s Sensing the Change

No wonder Joumblat increasingly calls for the regime’s change. Such assertiveness has less to do with Lebanese masses, and he would not dare risk a backlash against Syria’s Druze if he did not perceive the regime’s inherent weakness. Now, this Syrian regime has wasted much time, and cannot realistically return to Lebanon unless they are willing (or able) to change… But chances are events will change it.

As long as the regime maintains its present course, it will have no option but to retreat from Damascus back a (much improved) Alawite heartland, and delay its grand plans about a “Greater Syria”…

Anschluß delayed is Anschluß denied…

…At least for now.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Alpha Patrons in Oceania

It is a worrying spectacle to see our local politicians travel the globe, scurrying around to meet the great and (not so) good of the world, and earn their support. The worry has to do with our country's current dynamics...

Political Campaigns

In normal countries, all this travelling and visiting is carried out “in house”. In their quest to reach ultimate “Alpha Male” status, politicians jaw-jaw with local power-brokers, shake a few hands, talk up some ravenous crowds into frenzies of support, or smooch a few uncooperative babies.

In Lebanon, their traveling and visiting is carried out “extra muro”. In their quest to reach ultimate “Alpha Male” status, Lebanese politicians jaw-jaw with regional power-brokers, kiss a few hands (or worse), bribe some local ravenous crowds into frenzies of support, or display a few dead babies.

Welcome to Oceania

The reason for all this is simple; more than anything else, politics may really be about a game aimed at the pursuit of "power equilibriums"...

In George Orwell’s 1984, such equilibrium was “internal”. Oceania, one of the world's three intercontinental totalitarian super-states, used its conflict with other super states, Eurasia and Eastasia, to maintain control over its population. The “Telescreens” kept the population in a state of “internal” torpor, its vigilance mobilized by the Ministry of Truth’s reporting of conflicts and wars.

Lebanon’s 2008 is not much different. Yes, we are spared the two-way surveillance of “Big Brother”, but the “Inner Parties” can deploy much media manipulation. With this “noise”, they can control countless “Little Brothers”; those intellectual zombies form the phalange of many “Outer Parties”, who patrol our daily life to kill any semblance of intelligent discourse with regurgitated blabber.

“Fund” Raising

In the absence of a stabilizing effect of the state, someone has to pay to maintain the country’s internal power equilibrium. Yet, since the Zombies of the “Inner Parties” have little value economically, the “Proles” cannot afford to fund such social parasitism.

So the support can only be external, and each leader has to find patrons to support this political addiction. To a certain extent, all our politicians become pawns in the regional chess game. They can at best try to be opportunistic.

With all the patronage pouring in from outside Lebanon, polticians such as Geagea have to find patrons somewhere; Israel is courting Syria, Iran feeds Hezb'O, Saudi takes care of Hariri... So it is no wonder they went to Bush’s United States.

But there is no magic pill, and someday, all those different patrons will ask for payments for the “services” they rendered. And then;

What will happen when all those bills come due?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Audacity of Hype

As one watches the unfolding of the world’s single most important election, one feels as if we live in increasingly “interesting times”.

The Real Contest

Ever since we have come under the increased attention of those in authority, the United States have been directly involved in our little country; no more “outsourcing”… Disengagement may have been “the most sensible policy” on the short term, but the long term yielded things such as 9/11.

So it is no wonder that, as we Lebanese wait for our president to be “elected”, we look with concern at the contest for control of the world’s capital. This contest has now narrowed down; among a hyped-up amateur, an eager political operator, and an hothead(?) war veteran.

Such political contests are fun to watch, especially when the Mundial is not on, or the Stanley cup is not too enthralling. And in this contest, the money inflation has different effects on the different games; while money has a corrosive effect on athlete’s performance, it adds a spring of confidence in the steps of politicians… And the contest heats up.

Having been watching the horse race for a while now, I can feel vindicated that my picks have been reaching the finish line… At least I get more luck at the office betting pool with politics; Brazil’s millionaires are far too determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

…The Khazen’s Dinner

Those political contests in the United States are not exceptional or really unique to that country, and they fit well in the context of history. First, the passions maybe as high as 1968, but it is nowhere near as high as the time of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Second, and for all the hype, the manufacture of the Obama candidacy is not different from that of Warren Harding; looked good and presidential, with little substance. Everytime the political forces realign, they try to bring in some “change” in the face of established powers.

It does not always stick. Consider the case of the once powerful Lebanese Khazen clan… No the world does not revolve around Lebanon, by my world does; so bear with me, you can read worse

The Khazen’s had historically been the bankers of the Maronite Church; their name, Khazen, comes from “Khazneh”, or “Money Chest”… (Note: check out MM's corrections)

Yet a few upstarts were rising in their Kesrouan domain. Lebanon was awash with Italian weapons back in the mid-19th century; the word for rifle, “boundouquiah”, is derived from the Arabic name for Venice… However, Tanios Chahine’s Fellahs bit more that they could chew during their uprising, leading to war and the 1860’s massacres. A “smarter” challenge to the Khazen’s came during the early 20th Century, during the mandate, when the French were backing Ghanem clan.

On day, Ghanem had organized a huge lunch in Jounieh, Kesrouan’s port city. When told about it, one of the Khazen elders commented simply;

“We’ll see them at dinner”

Ghanem did not really upset the good order of Kesrouan, but he stuck around. And the name stuck; the French’s good friend, “Le Bon Ghanem”, quickly became “Ghanem-El-Bone”.

Facts, Stubborn Facts

And so it remains in politics; short term hype may not always yield to a lasting effect. In the United States, the Obama challenge is deflating as an otherwise promising candidate is proving to another misguided politician who appears to think there can be a moral equivalency between the United States and other countries. The question has been often framed as such;

And if the United States—the most dominant military and economic power the world has ever known—believes that it and its allies do not have to play by the rules, why should Hezbollah or anyone else?

But the framing is wrong. This is neither about morals, nor about “dialogue of civilizations, but about rival national interests. Ever since Colbert, it was clear that states have no friends, no principles, only “Raison d'État”. And ever since Stalin, it was clear that might will always be right, albeit the “soft power of ideas” can still win over the long run… especially when backed by cheap(er) Saudi oil.

The teams of both “Billary” and McCain appear closer to understanding the world’s new realities. Hyped they may be, but far less "audaciously" so than Obama; rather than a candidate who happens to be black, that slick operator is proving to be just another black candidate. should they continue along this path, the few idiots around Obama are leading him to misunderstanding the world’s underlying dynamics, which could yield to a likely defeat.

First, they have yet to get Ben Laden’s memo, but a lot more others were swayed by his prose, which clearly shows that this is a fight to the end, with no away, and no out;

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.

Second, they appear to misunderstand the true nature of American pride. And no obfuscation can hide them; as more people realize that Barak is closer to Sharpton that MLK, they will dump him for the lesser of two evils.

As they circle the wagons around Obama, those arrogant unrealistic “realists” will likely sink with him. They had lunch, and now someone will have them all for dinner.

…And that’s what worries me;

The vocal concerns for Lebanon and the drive for secularism may all be a mere facade. Behind all this "audacity of hype" hides the enduring fact that ours remains a small, secondary country. And small countries like ours may well become the seasoning in this witches’ brew in which Bashar's goose is cooked.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Thanks for the Invite...

Thank you for “inviting” us to your little party.

We know it did not come easy, and we are really grateful for your magnanimity. We understand that you don’t truly neither recognize our existence, and that our freedom scandalizes you and the "intellectuals" who support you. And we apologize for that; it must have been hard to hold your nose and write us this little invitation letter.

We apologize if the stench of our freedom so inconveniences you. We understand that times have changed, and our timid search for change now threatens you. We apologize for that too.

We apologize that you had overstayed your welcome, and that you had to be kicked out of your province, our country. Please forgive us if it appeared that your “Schutzstaffel” backed down in the face of lame foufou who do little more than talk. We understand that your “brand” is down in the face of our supposed “greed”, and we apologize for that too.

We apologize for this, but we can’t help it; it’s in our nature to yearn for freedom. We understand that our yearning for secularism stands in contrast with the region. We understand that our yearning for pluralism sands in the way of your need to suppress and cheat freedom, so we apologize for that too.

We apologize that you find it hard to hide all those you had previously “invited” or “eliminated”. Yes, some great and good may forgive, but none of us will ever forget, so we apologize for that too.

And now, we apologize that we can’t come.

At least, we shouldn’t come… Not until we have a president who can truly represent us. We apologize for our flawed system where candidates do not get 99% of the vote. We apologize if, as a result of our deviant ways, even the worst Lebanese president will likely be far more representative than yourself… As well as quite a few of your invitees.

We apologize… But we’re not sorry.

We’ll NEVER be sorry

But... Guess who might be?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Dessus-Dessous-Derrière... Les "News"

Amid all the talk about ships, threats, war, and recriminations, one thing at least is working; many aspects of Lebanese creativity survive, and some of it is making inroads in some glamorous places… Ninjas need not apply (then again, la nuit, tous les chats sont gris, n’est ce pas?…)…

Makes you think, the “good guys” maybe not necessary the loudest dudes, eh?


So there may be hope for us, after all.

Short Update: the video I had uploaded was removed by Youtube for "inappropriate" content. Maybe some shirking violet apparently got upset at my little "photo montage" inspired by Michel Fugain's insolence...


Thursday, March 06, 2008

With Friends Like These.. (updated?)

O Lord, guard me from my friends ...
... My enemies, I can handle

Such must be Aoun’s latest prayer as he ponders his new friends. Sure, many in March 14th are not choir boys, but the ones on the “other side” makes even the nastiest among them look good.

OK, one may disagree with Nasrallah, but at least the guy stands up for something. Yes, it is something most of us dislike, but he has a few achievements he can look proudly upon. For now

Picking the Bottom of the Barrel

But Wi’am Wahab? Nasser Qandil? Hard to go lower... Those guy's only achievement is their unprecedented abuse of the Arabic language’s rich vocabulary to twist logic and wipe out common sense.

And now, while everyone is focused on the show in Cairo, good ol’ Quandil is claiming the Americans are planning to carry out tomahawk missile that would target Rabiyeh simultaneously with the explosion of booby trapped cars to imply that a suicide attack has targeted the FPM leader. The attack would be blamed on a radical Islamist group like Fatah al-Islam”…

Logic: 0, Quandil: 20,212,939... And still counting...

...Better Watch out.

But do not disreguard good ol' Nasser completely, Signor Duce-Wannabe... Since your new friends promised you The Chair, they’ll live up to their promise. If they feel cornered, they may soon give you the shaft to cover their own "Gluteus"… And they’ll blame it on the usual suspects; Israel, the United States. Maybe they can even add the Vatican to the list.

…after all, aren't those devious zionists everywhere?

Update (March 07, 2008)

Maybe I spoke too fast... After all, Assad Murder Corp. still has a lot of fodder to feed its cannons, and quite a few useful idiots to peddle its lies.

Indeed, why shaft a treacherous General when you can blow up a Yeshiva and "provoke" a "retaliatory response"? ... By dragging an entire country along for the fun, you may be able to renew the sacred alliance against the "Zionist Aggressor", in spite of the enduring presence of the sisterly aggressor. And what if Lebanon ends up destroyed again? We're not too far from the stone age, anyway...

Ah, those devious Mullahs...

With Israel such an accommodating enemy,they only need to do as they say ...

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Nihil Novo

T’iz been a slow week, with no need for censorship, we had no news, and nothing worthwhile (?) to report.

Delenda Cartago, Delenda Cartago..

Sure, there were a couple of Jaw-Jaw shows on TV; Aoun managed to sound rather coherent for a change, and Berri’s men fired a few shots to celebrate his jocularity.

But was it all really relevant? The only relevant fact is fact that the President of our Assembly has his own militia. And that they feel confident in their impunity and ammo supplies to start unlicensed fireworks… Small potatoes compared to what the Mullahs are cookingif it works, and if they can use it...

And yes, there’s a big fuss about some ships.

But was it really relevant? Ever since the last Punic War, the locals lost control over their own shores to foreign powers. Only the ownership changed; Britannia rules the waves no more; it exhausted itself confining Russia in Crimea, then fighting U-Boaten and mayale”. So it should be no surprise that the Mediterranean is Uncle Sam’s own Mare Nostrum. And in spite of the many clueless morons, Uncle Sam is unhappy with some locals… They’re only saying it with ships, among other ways, but they can do little else for now.

Cartago Delenda Est!

And now, we hear the Saudis are being asked to skip town.

But is it really relevant? The parking situation will not improve on Gemmayze just yet. Many Saudis remain, together with a few Gulf Arabs; not all can afford to travel around too much. And the westerners have yet to make a move. Or maybe, like the Kuwaitis, they doubt the allegiance of their local expatriate “citizens”, especially considering Shater Hassan’s threats.

And next week, expect nothing to happen; we have another non-election that nobody really wants.

And beyond that, nothing relevant will happen short of a full-blow (civil?) war will move the Lebanese glacier. Just the usual tremor (but more to the north, next time), threats, assassinations, “security breaches”... The fact that nobody wants a war, and that the army’s strong enough to stop its occurrence may not matter; the iceberg has hit the Titanic, and nature will do the rest…

But not just now.

Not untill the REAL election is over…