Saturday, May 31, 2008

سليمان الحكيم

From misery can opportunity arise...

Something good may come of this "almost civil war" of ours... Rather than a weak president, Michel Suleiman has the potential to rise to become a powerful statesman. His lack of a strong support base needs not be a hindrance, because of the strongly antagonistic position of the country’s two powerful “March” Movements.

Nasrallah’s Trap

Recent events will likely give Hezb a much needed boost, as the Israelis are set to release Kuntar, that brave child slayer we burned Lebanon over back in 2006. On the short term, As usual, many Lebanese will end up footing the bill for the “the relatively low price Israel is expected to pay for Regev and Goldwasser”.

On the long term, however, the fundamentals will not change. Nasrallah remains in a bind, his “Military Solution” turning fast into a “Military Trap”;

Nasrallah has a problem. Most Lebanese want a real state and most Shiites don't want another war with Israel. Hizbullah, in contrast, doesn't want a real state but needs permanent war to remain relevant. That's Nasrallah's trap.”

But Nasrallah will not see it this way; buoyed by the prisoner exchange, Hezb “will be running on fumes”, and he will keep on digging. However, as he digs himself deeper in this trap, he will risks dragging us down with him.

Hariri’s Waiting Game

Not all of us will go quietly, but few of us can afford to make much of a fuss; when you’re in deep voodoo up to your neck, the last thing to do is to make waves.

So, as Hezb crows, the Hariri camp sulks. But they will not stay idle. In the immediate, they will focus on bread and butter issues. They have little option left but to play the waiting game and hope for the other side to stumble, or for the regional equation to change in their favour. They may have a (slim) chance. For one, Hezb’s high-wire act leaves them little room for manoeuvre. For another, and for all their faults, those who claim March 14th are closer to the real preoccupations of the Lebanese.

If they fail, Nasrallah's victory will be short-lived, and his self-proclaimed "Party of God" will soon be facing another Salafi-inspired party of God with a rival claim to those Fourty Houris [Note: some translate it as "virgins", but another reading could just as well lead to "wild raisins". But nuts would be harder sell... Anyway, I digress. Back to us nuts]... In the immediate, we’re all desperate for one thing; that this coming tourist season be successful; it will not only make up for the lost opportunities of the past two years, but the funds would help keep the other well-funded nasties at bay.

The Lebanese focus now on a promising summer with investment inflows. They focus on the formation of a government that enshrines the desire to build an independent, sovereign state

A Sehabi opening?

This time, however, the key of Lebanon’s success does not lay in the hands of those ineffectual politicians; our new President has a few cards to play. However, manipulating those negatives to assert the state’s authority will require great manoeuvring skills.

To most of us peones, Michel Suleiman remains a great unknown. Were he to try, Michel Suleiman will not be alone is his efforts; by taking the side of reason, he has to chance to become the arbiter that Michel Claoun could never become. So far, there are signs that he is, rather shrewdly, sticking to the letter of the law. Such principled behaviour would earn him much kudos, and could allow him to wipe out Orangebutt from the political scene by providing those Christians opposed to the Hakaym with an acceptable political alternative.

It is High Time…

There is indeed a great potential there. There is a feeling among most people in all confessional groups that we need to move on. It is high time we Lebanese marched past the bickering of the Ba’ath nostalgiacs of March 8th and the whiners who usurp March 14th. It is high time we live up to the dreams of the martyrs. It is high time we did more than pay lip service to the memories of the victims. It is high time a wise person came along to save the Lebanese child from the bickering of rival clans who both usurp its paternity.

…And it is time we do not have;

The Lebanese have to lead—the world will follow. This might be the realistic, perhaps even the noble, way of handling a country. The problem is that the decisions the Lebanese have recently made only increase the likelihood that they will eventually be abandoned by the international community[…] So will Lebanon eventually be abandoned? That's for the Lebanese people to decide

Let’s hope this genera Suleiman is another Shehab, minus the “Second Bureau”.

Let’s hope the first among those Lebanese will decide correctly. Never in our history was there as much riding on the smarts and manoeuvring skills of a single person.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Military Solution?

Ancient history can be so recent in the Middle East, not least Lebanon. The events of the past couple of weeks hark back, in some sense, to the days of the Greek civil war, the Peloponnesian War, when militaristic Spartans defeated mercantile Athenians.

Sparta’s military focus allowed it to do vanquish Athens efficiently. But after Sparta conquered Athens and humiliated it, this same military focus defeated it, as it failed to secure the peace. Sparta had no objective beyond victory, no solution beyond military.

A dialogue by other means…

And herein lays the key problem; the Military cannot be a solution, and they can never offer any.

Today’s Spartans forget that, for all their ingeniousness, self-sacrifice, abnegation, and bravery, they can only aspire to be a tool of policy. A tool that complements diplomacy;

"War is the continuation of politics through other means. The military objectives in war that support one's political objectives fall into two broad types: "war to achieve limited aims" and war to "disarm” the enemy: “to render [him] politically helpless or militarily impotent."

The nice thing about military tools is that they allow those who wield them to reach their objectives much faster. The efficacy of the use of military force is the bluntness of the message; the bluntness of the sword can simply cut the sharpest pen or the most eloquent of microphones.

But once it does so, once it meets its objectives, the tables are turned; the sharpness of the pen becomes more relevant. This is especially the case if the political objectives are clearly defined in the first place. In the case of the “Resistance”, since the shy away from publicly advertising their real goal (or those of their masters), their objectives are currently defined as the means themselves; the “Divine Weapons”.

Hezb’s “Miltary Solution” is fast becoming a “Military Problem”. And this problem has two aspects, both of which Nasrallah’s ill equipped to address.

The Objective is the Means

Hezb’s has achieved its military objectives in its latest coup. Yes, it took control over Beirut. Yes, it imposed its will over the population and the weak, ineffectual leaders who claim March 14th.

But now that it has done so, the actual limitations of its policy are appearing; it has nothing new to offer, no real solution to propose.

Now that those modern Spartans have achieved success, they are failing to develop a vision for the “after”. Yes, they know the sectarian threshold have been crossed. . Yes, they know they need to “engage” Sunnis and “reconcile” with them.

But they lack the means to do it. Their “Divine Weapons” are getting in the way, and the cost of keeping them is rising…

The Institutional Aspect

That would not be a problem in the limited context of Lebanon. But this game has many players, and those players have agreed on the “D’Oha agreement” as a framework to the current conflict. Kinda like a tailor made "Geneva Convention" for the ongoing Lebanese conflict.

As a result of this framework, a (wily?) President has been “elected”. As a result of this framework, a new PM (Siniora Part Deux?) will soon be back managing the crisis.

Even if 14 حمار cowers in the face of 8 حمار's diktat, Hezb is fighting a rear-guard action to conserve diminishing assets. The state’s bureaucracy, egged on by many, will continue encroaching on Nasrallah’s “Divine Domain”.

In the immediate, Nasrallah will do his Faqihest to enshrine his Divine Weapons in a new government statement. His goons recently wielded their military arguments again, but all the AK’s and RPG’s cannot hide the fact that, beyond this, Nasrallah has no other policy on offer.

He has nothing more than the threat of another “Military Solution”.

The Military Aspect

Faced with a growing hostility to this Military exclusivity, Nasrallah now faces the need to consolidate his powerbase by formalizing his state within a state. As he does so, the unconventional resistance is slowly turning into a conventional army, much like Arafat’s PLO did, once it secured its Fatahland.

The “Resistance” is turning into yet another occupying force. And much like the PLO, the “Resistance” is fixing its assets, digging in among an increasingly hostile Lebanese population. This is a tendency our neighbours may actually encourage;

"Some of the changes [Hezb] is undergoing oblige it to move from the form of a [guerrilla force] to the characteristics of a conventional army. This is the case in its deployment, its weaponry and also in terms of command and control. This transition is not entirely advantageous for [Hezb]. It deprives it of some of the advantages it had as an elusive body that strikes at the civilian population and hides behind the back of the civilian population."

But the stakes today is far more complex, and the implications far more dangerous. Back then, the PLO was a foreign body manned by foreigners. Today, Hezb may be a foreign tool, but it is manned by people who are just as Lebanese as anyone of us.

Interesting talks ahead...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Yes, Prime Minister

Now that we have a President, the business of finding a suitable Premier and making up the new government can proceed.

The D’Oha effect

Last time around, those who claim March 14th had found it easier to compromise with Hezb than to accommodate Aoun. This time is not so clear; the real impact of the latest bout of fighting will be shown in the makeup of the future government.

So, as far as the horse race goes, expect Future to work hard to retain Finance and Justice, Hezb to work hard to retain Electricity and Foreign Affairs and watch what happens to the Defence and Interior portfolios. It will also be interesting to note the real place given to the Christian “allies” of Future and Hezb.

As this comedy of lies goes on, we face two possible outcomes here; either, we’ll a president in place, but no Prime Minister, or we’ll have a diminished Prime Minister with an ineffectual government.

Cold Peace…

The latter probable outcome carries the larger risk. It hangs on one question; will Hariri go for the PM post?

Should he?

The odds are not good that any Prime Minister will be able to do much more than manage the current “cold peace” that Doha has crystallized. For this reason, whoever becomes Premier will have to either be a technocrat, or a “fuse” that shields the Sunnis from any failure.

And Hariri is neither. Furthermore, the fact remains that Hariri is the main Sunni powerbroker in Lebanon, in spite of his many flaws and failures. The trial period is over. That he had failed so far does not augur well for any future success. Now is even harder, as he has set the bar too high and will struggle to either deliver or walk away from earlier commitments. And he wil be under both external pressure from his Western and Saudi backers, and internal pressure from most Lebanese.

Should he fail, the bickering will resume, which will put him on collision course with President Suleiman, and therefore the many Christians who support him.

And since this remains a sectarian game...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Honeymooners

To read the MSM, we Lebanese are partying, celebrating the new agreement and the end of war. Or are we?

Far from heralding a new era of peace, the Doha "agreement" is at best a cease-fire, at worst a cop-out. There are many devils lying in its details. Even if one sets aside the issue of the “Divine” armaments of the “Resistance”, many hurdles remain. In chronological order, those are the Prime Minister, the Cabinet makeup, the arcane details of the electoral law, the tribunal, and not least Lebanon's "role" in the region and our relations with Iran and Syria...

I will address the inherent dangers linked to Lebanon’s dysfunctional sisterly relations first.

Et ta Sœur?

There are two dangerous elements in Lebanon’s relationship with Syria. Those are related to the fact that Syria’s secular promise has turned into a sectarian dictatorship, dominated by one Alawite clan.

The first danger is that the crisis between Lebanon and Syria will continue. The Syrians are unlikely to willingly recognize their “wayward province” of Lebanon as an independent state, and they are far from likely to agree to define the borders. Hezb will support them in those efforts, thus reinforcing the impression of a “Shiite Crescent” aimed at Sunnis.

The second danger magnifies the firs one; it is related to the Syrian-Israeli talks. The talks are essentially aimed at local consumption by beleaguered leaders who will therefore "spin the failure away" generously. As Syria and Israel fail claim progress towards peace, Hezb’s obstructionist position in Lebanon will become ever more untenable, if not its position itself. There will be a growing perception of a collusion between Jews and Alawites to oppress Sunnis.

Those perceptions may well be far from reality at first, but they are very much in the mind of conspiracy-prone Salafists. Recall that Hezb, when it started, was not much more organized than they were; given time, and money, they will get there soon enough. Now they have the motivation to do so.

No wonder Aouni El-Ahdab is already hedging his bets.


Going Forward

Many fellow Lebanese feel that I am being overly pessimistic. I personally feel they’re deluding themselves. This is not because of some wonderful insight that I may have, but rather because we’re talking about different things; While they are focused on the Probabilties, I am focused on the Risks, and the fact is;

Risk = Probability x Cost

First, the Probability of another flare-up is far from negligible. In the immediate, I feel that, for all the hoopla, too many interests have a stake in the continued poverty of Lebanon for us to have a decent summer; we’ll be cheaper fodder for them when election time comes along. on one hand, the Ninjas and "mjawla'in" maybe uniquely creative, but their increasing number is not reassuring. on the other, the Isrealis may soon find out that Syria's unwilling/unable to deliver much...

Second, the costs of another flare-up are too high. Even those who see recent events as “minor” would concede that the sectarian demons are now out of in the open.

Multiply the two together, and you will see that the Risks skyrocket, no matter how low the probability is.

At this stage of the game; recent events do appear to indicate that, whatever the facts, the main players in the region are acting on their perceptions of the facts.

So, while many are heading back to Lebanon in July, many others will be heading the other way.

...


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hell-lelujah

Agreement, eh? No need for a lengthy analysis to note this;

The agreement does not address the “Weapons of the Resistance”.

This is no mere Second Amendment issue; in Lebanon, the weapons are THE only issue, and should be monopolized by the State in a law-abiding country. As such, the agreement signed was nothing but an act of surrender to Hezb&Co, thereby confirming their takeover of Lebanon. The valiant leaders went after the crumbs Nasrallah left them, discussing electoral arrangements, ignoring the work their commission did.

Syrian announcement that it has started talks with Israel only confirms that. They have been able to get back into Lebanese affairs by the back door, and now feel they have leverage now. So they are informing the Israelis to come back to the table on their terms. But the Americans have yet to make their real intentions known. In addition, the Israelis may prefer to pass on talks, as some are tempted to consider that such a surrender means that the Lebanese State does not exists, thereby negating any previous agreements they had signed with it...

Expect another hot July

...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Talking Puppets

The “talk” series continues, this time with the Marionettes from 14حِمار and 8حِمار huddled in Qatar.

Safe Landing for Politician’s planes…

Those expecting anything positive to come from Doha would be gravely mistaken; hemmed in by the region’s behemoth, Qatar’s policy is limited to opportunism. The Emir’s need to navigate the trouble Middle Eastern waters leads him to moult double-dealing. So much so that he makes us Levantines look naïve in comparison.

In any case, for Lebanon, the outcome looks bad; the politician’s planes landed safely, after all. The lives wasted over the past few days do not see to matter much to them, and we appear set to waste a few more as they talk some more. The reason is simple; whatever they do, both sides have lost much, and both are gathered there under false pretences.

The one tangible fact is that, while thinks they have the upper hand, both sides have lost much from Hezb’s victory.

Political Capital Crashed and Burned

First, Hezb lost much by achieving a victory that is increasingly perceived as one of Shiites against Sunnis. The idiots gathered under 8حِمار do not appear to realize that theirs is now perceived as a uniquely sectarian grouping, not a national opposition. No spin can hide two key facts;

1- Most Christians stood this one out, which does not help Aoun’s reputation. His few remaining supporters are those who cannot forget Geagea’s past brutality or Hariri arrogance towards them.

2- The Druze stood their ground, taking the “Divine” out of Nasrallah’s wind. Yes, his followers feel emboldened, but all the spin will not hide those Iranians who were caught up in in the Chouf’s maquis.

Way to go, Divine Dude...

A Hard Landing for Lebanon

More worrying, Hariri lost much in this fight. He had been an ineffective leader so far, and has lost in two key respects;

1- For all his insistence on peaceful dialogue and coexistence, he had done little to strengthen civil society over the past two years. The government latest climb-down secured those who claim March 14th the nickname 14حِمار.

2- With the sectarian genie out of the bottle, many Sunnis are shopping around for another leader. It will take much more money for Hariri to regain their trust, if he ever had it. I fear he could only do so by throwing the fundamentalists another bone, thereby storing more trouble for the future, and undermining the case against his father’s real killers.

Way to go, Sonny Boy…

The Control Tower

A worse consequence of the Doha talks is that Lebanese leaders have allowed the crisis to be fully internationalized now. Unable to meet in Lebanon, they had to be ferried by separate planes to meet under the auspices of an outside power.

We’re now back to the days of the Mutasarrifiya, with much power devolved to local Zaims; the puppets remain the same, but only the puppeteers change. But this time, the fight has just began; Metternich is not around to remind those puppeteers the cost of unrest in Lebanon.

Tell the Sultan, if there is war in Lebanon there will be war in the Levant; and tell the Sultan if there is peace in Lebanon there will be peace in the Levant


...

... A Silver Lining;

At least, one positive thing came out of this whole mess; except for one Divine Troglodyte, the politicians are all gone, out of the country. Let them mess up Qatar for a change. see how the Emir likes it.

...

Friday, May 16, 2008

Talk and Dialogue

There has been much talk about talk in the news lately, and our insignificant little slice of the Middle East has been the center of much of it, even some ominous talk and “interesting” moves

Yet for all the useless attention we’re getting, most are missing this little truth;

There’s talk, and then there’s dialogue

The two are not necessarily the same. Such a distinction evades otherwise smart politician. He should take heed from those “leaders” of ours, now in Qatar to continue talking past one anther as they had been talking forever. Their talks serve no function other than provide underpaid journalists with a much needed excuse to window shop in Qatar. Yes, Beirut would be more fun, but the yellow rose of downtown has yet to unpack her UNHCR tent.

All this talk about talk misunderstands the real dynamics of the conversation between the United States and the Persians. Before mouthing off about engagement, those “realists” need to consider the persons they are engaging.

Engaging the Seculars

Yes, any engagement or talk requires common ground somewhere, anywhere. In this respect, those who call for engaging Syria may appear to have a leg to stand on. After all, parties like the PSNS/SNSP or Syria’s Baath both have essentially secular motivations that can be addressed and clarified. They can understand the limitations of their power, and they can understand the extent of your interest.

In any case, engagers will find that the players are not using the same vocabulary.

Syria maybe discussing the Golan, but the goal is really Beirut; the regime in place in that country is not Syrian as much as it is a mafia. This, the Americans should know about; after all, they keep cozying up to one member of this family. When Hafez butchered Hama, Rifaat was holding the knife.

However, such discussions are moot. The Syrian Baath party has become infeodated to Iran. As vassals, they have far less leeway in what they can give or take. Better to move the talk upstairs, then.

...

Engaging the Fanatics

… and as you move upstairs, problems appear that require more than mere “talk” to talk about.

At worst, engagers should expect to move really high up, beyond the plane of mundane matters.

Those nouveau fundamentalists tend to long after non-secular, out-of-this-world goals. As such, they answer to a higher authority. Such irrational players are all over the place; we find them in the ranks of Hezb, Hamas, the nasties around Hariri, as well as some elements of the Gush Emunim and their little friends.

At best, engagers will find that the players are not in the same conversation.

Even if one discounts all the Mullah-speak as sabre-rattling for local consumption, when Iran is talking about Palestine or Hezb, its goal is really more mundane objectives such as the Tomb Islands. This, someone like Obama should know about; he should listen less to the media, and a little more to the guy who came up with the doctrine back then.

It was the “Carter Doctrine”, if I recall

So keep talking.

Whether Billary, O'bama or McCain, the basic interests of the United States will remain the same. The rest is just talk...

Update: (May 17th, 2008): Divine Network

At least, a new Divine Phone company has emerged in Lebanon that can offer its Divine services in time for such Divine Dialogue/talk; it has now secured local calls, and may soon take international. God can call collect, all others, please pay cash...

Not that it will do us any good. Isn't it odd how the winning side learns the wrong lessons from their opponent's mistakes? All too often, victors tend to get stuck in their "mental impasse". Hezb may now be so busy emulating Israel's bulky C3I, that they cannot be bothered with immutable facts of war...

Soon, Divine Llamas?


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Divine Stupidity

From Divine Victory to Divine Signs of Upcoming Final Victories, Nasrallah’s divine party can add a new divine achievement to his list;

The Divine Fuckup

Yes, Nasrallah has yet to spin this latest achievement, but it is too late; all his charisma and eloquence will fall on deaf ears outside the core believers To those who count. In the minds of most, such is the perception. And, like it or not;

Perception IS reality

And the new reality means that the state’s institutions are now all but destroyed, and the prize Nasrallah took is nothing but an empty shell.

Those still charmed by the myth of the resistance have yet to realize OJ did it. So there is no chance in convincing them otherwise, but even such limited intellects can handle a couple of salient facts; unlike other countries in the Middle East, this little country is far too big for one party alone. And for all the Persian genius, Iran is not Germany, and it cannot take over the Middle East; it is barely holding on to the Tumb Islands.

Those still clinging to talk of “social revolution” have yet to get out of the classroom. There is little hope to make them realize that, whatever the justifications for the “oppositions’” claims, and there are quite a few, all legitimacy was denied by their latest actions. Much as other militias before them, Hezb has risen at the expense of the Lebanese state. As the slow disintegration of the Lebanese state proceeded apace, secular minds could only watch helplessly as fanatical fundamentalist were growing in power.

For the others, there is a new reality. There can be only one;

Either the state or Hezb'O’State

There are no two ways about it; there can be no “two state solution” in Lebanon. Either one state, or none at all;

What is a police force that turns into a militia at the drop of a hat?

What is an army that does not obey the government?

What is a government that cannot impose the rule of law?

What are leaders to whom decision avoidance is policy?

What is a society that cannot protect individuals from sectarian clans?

What is a clan whose members do not stick together?

As long Lebanese politicians waffle around this “two state solution”. There is no real out, and the latest cop out of the council of ministers has just finished off the remnants of the Lebanese state. Hezb still has a long way to go to achieve total victory, but those who claim March 14 are acting far “below” their rhetoric. They can spin their cowardice all they want, but a simple fact emerges; this latest compromise will be seen as weakness, and it will fail in the long run.

Much like a clown on his unicycle, those idiots will have to keep pedalling just to remain in the saddle. Something will give, and they will all fall. So, with this Chapter 7 special tribunal thing on the horizon, and an election where “realists” have a chance of winning;

We’re on our Own.

...

I've labored long and hard for bread

For honor and for riches

But on my corns too long you've tred,

You fine-haired sons of bitches.

(Bart the Po 8)

Stick a fork in it, this country’s done.