Saturday, July 19, 2008

Betting on Barak

It used to be that everyone in Lebanon worried about who the next US president would be. No more; we now know that, whoever the Americans elect, the fundamentals of US policies will not change; whatever the talk during election time, entrenched interests do not change. Or they do so very slowly.

Interestingly, it now appears that many others have now fallen into our past delusion, and most of them feel Obama is the stronger candidate. Iran, Israel and Syria expect an Obama president to “cut and run”. France expects that this will opens the door for a “third way” and thus a “greater role” for them in the region.

Only the Iraqis appears to be playing their cards properly...

Israel, Syria, and Lebanon

I am now certain that the past May events had a “French touch”. We Lebanese have many faults, but we're not suicidal. At least, our leaders are not. It now appears that the French arranged some of this past "almost war" in May; they pushed Joumblatt into confronting Hezb, and then knowingly abandoned the government to the Hezb'O'Rampage. This was too well-ordered a "retreat". A lame-duck US administration could then do little more than “drop” March 14th, and open the way for the Doha deal, the official announcement of the Syrian-Israeli track, and Bashar's little trip to Paris.

The way forward is unclear. The Israelis, understanding that Syria’s options are limited, are pushing for three key concessions from Bashar; to veer away from Iran, to cede their rights on the Golan’s water, and to push permanently settle Palestinians refugees in Lebanon.

None of those will have lasting power.

First, The Syrian economy is far too tied to Iran, unless the West is willing to pitch in with its largesse. Second, the Golan is far too to tricky an issue for a lame-duck, discredited Israeli Premier to handle properly. And third, unless the Syrians were really allowed back into Lebanon, they can hardly deliver on the latter.

Will Bashar Be Back?

At first look, yes. The Israelis appear to push hard for such a deal at the expense of Lebanon. Ever since Cedar Revolution, they have done their utmost to undermine its hopes, propping a then-beleaguered Syrian regime. Then, during the July War, they targeted Lebanon’s economic infrastructure under the pretext of destroying the “infrastructure of terror”. Now, the recent exchange further reinforces Hezb; Israel has effectively accepted this week a worse deal than the one it rejected in the past.


Paradoxically, Lebanon has been paying for the Israeli defeat in 2006. In a sense, this weakening of Lebanon affords Israel a “Plan B” in case the Syrian track fails. Lebanon would have become a failed Hezb’o-state, thus undermining its international standing. Then, as we pay the price of our leader’s hypocrisy and stupidity, Israel can advance its territorial claims further. Remember Dayan's words:

We have reached satisfactory borders [as a result of the June 1967 war], except with Lebanon

When will the Israelis realize that Arab leaders cannot just sign things away? Even dictators have to contend with popular will. Arafat could not “deliver” the Palestinians without proper consideration for the right of return. In the post 9/11 context and in the face of strong Saudi objections to his return to Lebanon, Assad cannot “deliver” Syria, or the Palestinians for that matter. Until the Israelis accept this, more blood will be wasted in our own little slice of home-made hell.

The US, Iraq, and Iran

In his waning days, Bush appears to be betting on a diplomatic “Hail Mary” pass on Iran. But little tangible will come of it; the Iranians will fundamentally prefer to deal with the next administration; in the past, for all Carter’s efforts, it is Reagan who collected.

On Iraq, the Iranians are indeed playing “nicer”. But this may have as much to do with the complex game that went on there, after loosing a few key Pasdaran generals, they have to contend with brewing discontent among the Arabs of the Khuzistan region, and now a resurgent Iraqi nationalism.

The new US climb-down is an indication of the latter, with a new twist; since Premier Malaki wants to win the upcoming election, he needs to appear strong with the Americans. But the latest withdrawal proposals are merely a repackaging of a commonly agreed-upon outline for internal Iraqi consumption.

Raison d'État

I feel the recent policies are simply mistaken of our neighbours are simply mistaken. To the United States, Lebanon is today an “asset” that can only be “sold out” for the “right price”. And the “right price” today remains oil.

It is a price none of our powerful neighbours can afford.

So, considering the need to revive Zahrani and rebuild the TAPLINE, I doubt the West woudl allow Syria control over such a strategic lifeline. Syria has little to offer except withdrawing its power of nuisance. So, even if Syria could afford Israel’s “peace terms” and were allowed back into Lebanon, it would still have to cede to more demands from the United States.

The United States still matter in this region; Even if Israel currently opposes reviving the Tapline, its local interests cannot trump the strategic needs of the Americans. Israel has little to offer as an alternative; for all the rumours, Haifa will not be back online anytime soon, and Eilat can only be a temporary alternative that remains politically dangerous.

In addition to undermining US interests, current Israeli policies are misguided; even if its existence is now an undeniable fact, Israel’s legitimacy still rests on a final and fair settlement with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu has it right; Israel's existence "does not depend on the willingness of the Palestinians to make peace." That said, Israel's long-term security does require a Palestinian willingness to accept the Jewish state.

In light of all this, the French role is limited. Even if they invited all the dictators to the Bastille “freedom” day parade, French desires can never trump Americans interests in the region. And Even as Ghawar dwindles, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf will remain central to the US economy in the near to medium future.

So don't be too hard on Obama. Even if his convictions lie elsewhere, a president Obama will not approach the region with the same goals as a President McCain or Clinton (yeah, yeah, I know...), and will continue to follow the “Carter Doctrine”. Indeed, Obama already been “shiftingaway from his “convictions”, as all"normal" politicians tend to do. Considering the misconceptions of his "entourage", and his past statements, this is change we can believe in, indeed:

However, even considering hard facts such as the allure of Iraq's oil, and the American need for a backup route out of the Gulf, minor powers will still be "Betting on Barak" and expecting a rapid withdrawal from the region...

Betting too Soon is a Mistake

It's a mistake because they're only betting on today's Barak, without accounting for changes he may need to make when faced with realities.

And there are two other reasons to consider. First, the untested candidacy of Obama may yet implode. Second, whoever the Americans elect as president, he/she (next time?) will continue grappling for oil, especially Iraq's, but neither Israel nor Syria will stop pursuing their little game in our small sandbox. And with Iran and Saudi Arabia vying for more regional power, this little lull will not last.

So, on the way to the Lebanese elections of June ’09 and the Iraqi elections of EOY '09, Expect a hot October ‘08 as the US election near, and a hotter January ‘09, when the US president is installed.

But expect an "interesting" ride in the meantime...


17 comments:

Anonymous said...

As an Israeli who read about politics but understand very little but do know some thing about pipe lines and such, few observations.
In Israel public opinion counts. As of now Lebanon look to the Israeli public as an Iranian colony rulled by people who idolize child killers. I know as much as most and more than some about evils done by Israel and have done as much as I could to correct what was correctable. Before telling me about this and that Israeli sin please tell me when and where the like of SK who did not fight in the name of The Leb. government, who invaded a civilian city and killed a child was made a public hero for such deed only by the Isreli government?
So as a result few in Israel will care if (contrary to my opinion) Lebanon will became not what the people keeping this blog want it to be. This impression of Lebanon was not created by the Jordan, Iraq, Israel,USA, France, KSA or Syria, it is 100% home-made.

As for pipe lines. The Haifa Iraq PL is more than 60 years old and narrow guage and from the Jordan west it did not work for that time. It is dead junk that will never work. If Lebanon look to other people as it look to the Israeli public no normal person in the world (Iraq, Kuwait, KSA and the other Arabs there, USA, France and the UK are in this world) will put an oil PL to the Med. in an Iranian colony, not even in a place that is 1/2 Iranian colony. When talkig about oil and oil transportation think about Hormuz but notice that the Iranian missiles in Lebanon can NOW hit all the Turkish oil ports as well as all the Israeli ports. Observing this you will realise that some body in Lebanon is playing a very funny game. Or is it that funny realy?

Jeha said...

Anon 20:21,

I am only stating the fact that the current Israeli approach is to Side with a minority Syrian regime, at the expense of a democratic, and potentially more secular, Lebanon.

On the Haifa line, I understand your point. Most of the line was indeed recycled in the Eilat-Ashdod line, until the Iranians funded the pipeline expansion in the 60s. But the point is that the demarcated roads and lines are still there, and a pipeline can be laid rather fast. Oil will flow along them, sooner or later.

The issue is: whose line?

My bet is on Lebanon. As long as the Israeli-Palestinian track is frozen, the Tapline will be more politically acceptable to Arabs.

ghassan karam said...

Jeha, I have already spent 20 minutes on a lengthy comment to see it disappear :-) Oh how I hate that. I will not attempt recapturing the original post but here is a diluted summary:

(1) Lebanese are still acting as if their own desires and wishes do not matter. Until we learn to take ourselves seriously then no one else would. Not Syria, not Israel, not Iran and not the US. We have failed to grow up and we have no one to blame but our politicians, religious leaders and above all our inability to grow a feeling of "citizenship"

(2) The Tapline might be of some benefit to Lebanon but it sure is not important on a global scale. To always refer to Tapline and Zahrani as being important rationales for policy is wrong since the global energy problem does not suffer of an inability to deliver extracted oil but instead suffers of an inability to extract oil. The Tapline and Zahrani are of no importance whatsoever either regionally or globally.

(3) The constant refrain that the US policy is driven by oil and that Ghawar is important for it is true to some extent but what is equally true is that the energy crisis is not of concern only to the US but it concerns the whole world. In a sense one can argue that the US consummer will be marginally hurt by $5 per gallon oil but such prices will devastate the welfare of possibly billions of people the world over. The US , being the largest economy in the world and the largest consumer of energy, has an inherent interest in an orderly market of oil but has not occupied a smaller country in order to "steal" its resources. What the US policy is after is the same as what the whole world is after: continued flow of oil. Keep in mind that oil is fungible and so it makes no difference who is selling to whom. Ultimately what is important is to ensure a global supply that will be able to meet the voracious appetite of a growing world. That might prove to be impossible without major shifts in consumer behaviour. But it is equally important to pay heed to the constant warnings by Sheikh Zaki Yamani. that continued increases in the price of oil will kill the goose that lays the golden egg if they push the prices too high so that oil will eventually be left in the ground.

(4) I am not as sure that ther will be an Oct. '08 surprise but I agree with you that many all over the world will want to test the new US administration come Jan.'09. I also think that those who expect Barack Obama to be a push over will be disappointed. He might be more willing to listen than others but he will"walk gently and carry a big stck" which I might add he will not shy away from using in order to protect US national interest , its allies and friends.

(5) I loved the gallery Jeha but above all the image of Jumblatt the tailor will be with me for a long time to come. That , in my mind, is a master piece.

Anonymous said...

Jeha,
As an Israeli, I tended to agree with you until I saw the heroes welcome by March 14 to Samir Kuntar. They are no different than Hizballah. And since Lebanon is going to end up a failed state, I would rather have it a failed state headed by Hizballah and not a pseudo democracy in which Hizballah can act without constraints.

It would be much easier to deter Hizballah if they ruled Lebanon and it looks like that is really the best option for Israel.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous
You are implying somehow that it is better to have a smart enemy by our side that a dumb ally...

Regarding SK, be sure that most 14 March supporters hate that criminal and what you saw from Jumblatt and other 14th March is just a tactical matter...Remember that HA have the military power and might...by neutralizing teh army 14 March is toothless...so it is a matter of appeasing the beast...
I understand your pain as israelis but if Israel surredered to HA, so why are you blaming us the anti-hizb people of Lebanon.

Nobody said...

You know Jeha... Sometimes when you get bouts of this conspiracist theorizing it becomes a plain pain to read you. I was also marveling at the ability of some Arab bloggers to switch from first class analysis to the most bizarre conspiratorial folklore. The tide is not moving your way right now. It may be even hopeless, but this does not mean that somebody set you up. Stop this whining.

Jeha said...

First, I would like to assure Nobody that mine is not a simple conspiracy theory; I will only state that I have been assured. If my paranoid nature shows up, it appears in the incessant references to a surprise here and there, as GK points out in (4). But one cannot presume whether things are [...] going my way; a good Lebanese, I'm sure to find cousins and friends on all "sides" of this sorry equation.

Maybe I will post later on how I fell the "Cedar Revolution" was almost co-opted, Timisoara style. In that case, thanks to what GK is referring to in (2), our inherent divisions and our inability to grow a feeling of "citizenship", it failed wholesale. But the efforts continue, and we are where we are in part because of well documented desire of our corrupt, inept political class, to perpetuate itself. They are standing still, stuck in the 19th Century, while we have all moved beyond them.

You may also fault me about my constant refrain that the US policy is driven by oil and that Ghawar is important for it is true to some extent, as GK points out in (3). But nations are led by men, who are often acting on their perceptions of reality, not their deeper understanding of it. A case in point; WW1 can be simplified as a face-off betwee Germans coal barons and British oil barons, and the early strategic choices of each side were initially based on their different perspectives. So the flexible Taxis de la Marne or Chemin des Dames defeated the extensive, yet rigid, German rail system.

In this context, manipulations and counter-manipulations are par for the course. And in our f###ed-up region, this creates objective allies, which Anon.02:01 appears to disagree with. However, as Anon.09:38 points out, the Lebanese can hardly be blamed for trying to adapt to a lousy situation. Then again, in doing so, our "leaders" have shown excessive enthusiasm in welcoming Quntar. Among the few who managed this setback rather well was Walid Joumblat, but he had to "absorb the blow". But the others were more typical of their species of spineless cretins; back when Hafez Père died, rather than simply "paying their respects" with a modicum of required hypocrisy, they went there like the pleureuses of ancient Egypt. Who can forget Eddeh, on TV, kissing the (otherwise) great man's coffin and making the sign of the cross?

On another note, if Y'all, like GK, liked the gallery and the cartoons, then there's hope for the comic book I am working on. If I find the time to finish it...

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:38,

It is not about the pain. I knew the soldiers were dead and that Hizballah was playing with the families in the most ruthless way possible.

It is about the surprise in seeing most if not all Lebanese parties line up to hug and kiss Samir Kuntar. It is the surprise of not one Lebanese party saying anything about how Nasrallah tortured the families and would not let anybody visit the prisoners. I expected that of Nasrallah, but I did not expect all the other parties to praise him for this.

I do not buy the appeasing the beast explanation. The Lebanese politicians acted as they did because they though that would be popular. There are not that afraid of Hizballah. Any goodwill M14 and Lebanon had in Israel is completely gone. We now realize they are no different than Hizballah, just more sneaky and less truthful and that if in power they will continue to cover up for Hizballah. It would make things much simpler for Israel if Hizballah was in power and all this charade would be over.

Make no mistake, Israel did not surrender to Hizballah. It surrendered to internal public opinion. Yes, democracies are weak in that way. But it is a weakness I am happy to live with.

Anonymous said...

Hazbani thinking.
Israelies who read and write in this blog have some positive feeling toward Lebanon. The Lebanese may not like it or need it now but who knows about the future? I do not know Anon 23:38 but I think like him. After all have been said these bloody demonstrations told the Israelies clear and bold what they can expect if and when they will not fight for their lives because tortured and killed they will be in any case. Some of the Israelies suddenly remembered that Jews were living in Lebanon befor the nation-state was invented and befor Christianity and Islam and then in the last 50 years they were totally and absolutely 100% exterminated. If and when Lebanese argue with me about the Palestinians and when things get hot I tell them to compare the fate of the Jews in Lebanon to the fate of the Palestinians in Israel, I do it only when I get upset because it irritates and does not solve a thing. Generally I belive that one should look for solutions not for excusses to make war. Now the Israelies are irritated. It looks as if the whole mad show was staged to set the Labanese people and the Israelies one against the other. Nothing good will come out of this.

Gus said...

Jeha,
You can count on me for at least one copy of the caricature book, hey maybe 2 or even 3 :-)

Gus said...

Hazbani,
You have always come across as being a serious analyst of the Arab-Israeli problem. I would appreciate your comments on the idea that has been floating around for years but seems to have picked up steam in some circles recently:
Wouldn't it be best for the Palestinians both in Gaza and the West Bank to stop the violence and demand for a separate state and instead agree to become Israeli citizens. Let Israel absorb all the land but by doing so they have extend full citizenship rights to the "conquered" Palestinians. The Palestinians will then accept the new reality but demand full rights as citizens and because of the demographic issue wind up in controlling the land eventually.

Anonymous said...

Gus
That is the one million dollar question?
Thhe regional and international politicization of the isreali palestinian issue prohibits the fulfillment of a separate state.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 23:38
From your tone, I understand your disappointment with the 14of March..especially the Prime minister..you are not alone. A lot of us beleivers in democracy are.(Just check the blog from Beirut to the Beltway.) Remember most 14th of March , especially the christian wing(Geagea) were accused of being traitors and zionists during the latest war.

By the way, I am no fan of war but Israeli strategists should know better than that...the internal public opinion was right: Why did you go crazy and start bombarding Lebanon? don't you know that HA 2007 is different than HA2000? Unfortunately, you cannot get rid of HA the same way you did with the palestinians ...so you have no other choice right now than to suck it in and appease that beast as we do. So what works for you works for us. I don't understand why it is ok for you to appease HA and not for us. Be realistic.

Anonymous said...

Anon 21:53,
In what way is Israel appeasing Hizballah? How is agreeing to the swap appeasing them? Israel knew the soldiers were dead but made the swap for the sake of the families.

Imagine that Israel did nothing after the Hizballah attack in July 2006. Israel would have agreed to a swap and then the Hizballah victory would have been seen as huge. Now Hizballah understands that even though guerilla organizations are hard to fight, Lebanon will pay a huge price for any action by Hizballah and especially their Shia supporters. This is a strong deterrence against Hizballah and the fact is that they have not attacked Israel at all in the last 2 years.

In the end, Hizballah is Lebanon's problem not Israel's. Another war and the chances are that Lebanon as a state will not survive. And following the Kuntar festival, I really do not care if that happens and the same goes for most Israelis because we do not see any difference between M14 and Hizballah.

Hron said...

Jesus Christ Jeha, this is really fucking disappointing. You seem to be incapable of seeing Israel or Israelis as people concerned with their own safety, just like everyone else. If the Lebanese government is so weak and powerless, so divided and ineffective, such a joke in terms of actual governance, that it can do nothing to reign in militant groups bent on violence towards Israel, then why wouldn't they prefer a less idealistic compromise of Syrian control that at least gives them some peace, and a clear political party to negotiate with? It's not because they want Lebanon to fail; it's because so far, fail is all it's done, and it does all this *and* still spits in Israel's face with backhand anti-Israeli comments and blaming Israel for all its ills.

But I'm not saying M14 can just become Israel-lovers and solve everything. The Lebanese politicians (M14 included) still blame Israel for far too many of their problems, and shout anti-Israeli sentiment in order to get Arab street cred. I understand why this may seem to be a political necessity in the Arab world. But it is also why Lebanon is so fucked; the enemy of its enemy (Israel, enemy of Syria) is somehow... even worse than Syria? Syria wants to conquer and annex Lebanon in the name of Greater Syria, and this is somehow... an Israeli plot?

Oh right, I forgot, according to you, Israel wants to conquer Lebanon too. Because some general in the past had an idea that it might work. Can you recognize the present political situation and still claim this? Do YOU understand how democracies work?

Lebanon is fucked because it can't control its own fate. Its fate is in Syria and Iran's hands now, and, sadly, it looks like that's the way it will be for the next five years. May I be proven wrong. If seeking outside help (as is the Lebanese tradition) is the only way out, it would be best for those making these new alliances to actually treat them as alliances, friendships, or whatever, and perhaps seek some common values and pursue them. Most outside helpers will not be like Syria and Iran, ruthlessly using Lebanon as a tool for their own ambitions, so take care to offer something in return. For Syria and Iran it's simple: Lebanon can only offer its independence, which they demand, and take.

But for Israel, what it wants is security, which only a strong central government can provide in being able to restrict attacks on Israel from Lebanese land. It might cut Lebanon some slack, if it had any reason to believe Lebanon would actually treat Israel in a civil manner, but failing that (and it does fail that), security alone is all they dream of, and M14 certainly isn't providing it...

Anonymous said...

anon 8:19 and heron

'we' were your allies during the Lebanese war in the eighties because we had the same enemies. The palestinians and Lebanese muslims lashed at the democratic government and wrecked Lebanon..."we" always beleived in the partition of Lebanon because we knew that there is no way to mix oil with water..."We" are minorities like you swimming in a pool of undemocratic regional surrounding. Now we have for the first time the druze and the Sunnis and eventually the some of the Arab countries on our side...so that is a good thing

I can't blame you for saying 14th and HA are the same...but it is very simplistic...the syrians were so clever to make you think that it is safer to have them in...So that tells you how short sighted you are? The Syrian occupation of Lebanon allowed HA to grow like a cancer ...and they gave HA the green light to attack Israel to prove to you that their presence in Lebanon is desirable for security purposes...I can't beleive you are so ignorant in politics...If all Isrealis think like that...t is a disaster...
you should also understand that HA does not give a sh*** about ISrael destroying Lebanon...they even desire it because as weak as the government becomes as their chance of transforming Lebanon into a mini Iran grows...HA is not a Lebanese problem..it is a regional problem and therefore it is your problem as well...
Finally, we hate what HA did to the families of the kidnapped and my heart aches for what the child killer Kuntar did to a family of four...just hate it and, in the name of all people of Lebanon who think like me, I say sorry guys...but HA does not represent us ..it represents Iran...it does not represent the true face of Lebanon...I pray we will be able to sign a peace treaty one day and end all that nonsense.

Nobody said...

When it comes to Israel I think it's quite obvious that until very recently it was rooting for M14. Now it seems that some people get shocked by Kuntar's celebrations but then I always thought that Israelis tend to ignore that Lebanon is much more an Arab country than many Israelis would like to think. Lebanon belongs to the Arab world and this is where all these Hezbs, Fath al-Islam and Salafis are leading it step by step. People may think that upscale neighborhoods of Beirut or Juniyeh are the true face of Lebanon, but the thing is that the true face of Lebanon, or say a face that would be truly relevant for the near future, is this