Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tremblez Mortels...

Who needs analysis, when you have Hezb'o'statements. They always tell you what they really want. So tremble mortals! For those who did not get last month's memo, they inform us (again) that it's their way, or the highway... That's if the Israelis do not bomb it first, or the Syrians did not block it.



Methinks the invertebrates who claim March 14 will backtrack (again)... But as our pointless national "game" continues, mayhe each team can try choreographing their own "Haka". But even the best done Haka is only a show; the real "action" is what counts




But
our national "resistance" is nor merely playing a game. And unlike the All Blacks, its "victories" are not quite as real, and much more costly...


...

Monday, July 28, 2008

From Failure to Collapse

People confuse failure and collapse, in the same manner as they confuse Risk and Probability. Such confusion contributes greatly to the confusion about complex issues.

One example is the “debate” about climate change. Most fail to understand degree of uncertainty associated with numerous possible outcomes; arch-conservatives feel they are being misled by tree huggers, which leads Gaia’s disciples to the belief that humans are beyond redeeming.

In our local corner of the Muddle East, another example of this confusion leads us to the “debate” going about the text of the “ministerial statement”. There is little one should add to it all; the whole debate is out of context, since Lebanon is now in that unenviable place between failure and collapse.

A Failed State

In engineering terms, failure is all that matters; once a system has reached failure state, collapse is but a formality. After computations determine that the “Failure Threshold” has been reached, the only thing keeping the system together is not “computable”; most methods are inherently simplistic, making unrealistic assumptions such heterogeneity, non-isotropy...etc. Most importantly, they ignore the time dependence of many parameters.

This is why communication of risk information is so difficult, especially when you are dealing with a self-deluded patient, with an emotional stake in the continuation of their illusions. Someone such as a Lebanese politician...

Yes, the July ’06 War led to the complete failure of the Lebanese state. But we have done much locally to help along; after those who claimed March 14th betrayed its ideals, the country had been inching slowly towards collapse, from the Hezb’O’demos, to the last Hezb’O’Coup. Those who saw Lebanese “leaders” falling over one another to “welcome” the returning hero mistook the whole enterprise for a disgusting display of hypocrisy. Yet it was a little more than that; it was an exercise in survival by politicians who knew, deep down, that the state was gone.

For the time being, in the absence of a state, they had to compose with the country’s new masters, until the day when conditions change. In true Lebanese fashion, they were applying the old adage;

الإيد يلّي ما فيك تكسرا, بوسا و دعي علياّ بالكسر

“The hand that you cannot break, kiss it, and curse upon it to be broken”

.

Heck, it May Work... Again

It worked for the Egyptians, Hittites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Umayyads, Abbasids, “Franj”, Seljuks, Ottomans, Egyptians, French, Ottomans, and French.

It (almost) worked on the Syrians and Israelis.

It may work (again) on the Persians.

But this all means that all the current talk about the “New Government” hardly matters. At best, it serves as a way to dish out (local) patronage in the run-up to (eventual) elections, and can only be effective as long as (foreign) patronage does not interfere. At worst, it will act as a bad administrator of the country’s chaos, as most of us struggle to survive out of the mess.

Yet, while we may survive as we did before, Lebanon has failed. At least, this current edition of Lebanon has... It is too soon to determine what may replace it, but one thing is certain; we’re on the road to Collapse.

The country may turn back from it, but as individuals, the best we can do is to hedge accordingly.

More likely, those dragging us down this road will lead us to a renewed civil war. The “Maronite regime” was yesteryear’s “isolationism”, the “Shiite domination” is today’s “Persian hegemony”. But this time, as we delve deeper into the hell of Sunni-Shiite war, the effects could easily spill-over across the border, as the Alawite regime next door struggles to deal with the legacy of Hama.

Our best hope lies with our “leaders” sense of self-preservation; lets we forget, none of those who started the first civil war survived it.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Washington Lullaby

Ah, hypocrisy… I find it especially ironic that our Syrian brethren, who never fail to lecture us on the evils of the "Zionist Enemy", are now falling over one another to talk to Israel and make nice.

What was Verboten to Bashir is gewährt to Bashar

So, we may be stuck, we may be doomed. But if we’re not going down fighting, at least we’ll go down laughing. Let our good ol’ Lebanese humour be our weapon… That bring back to memory Jeanneton, an old children “naughty” song/tune. I am glad to see still has popular appeal, and I can’t wait to browbeat my kids for singing it (yes, some healthy hypocrisy...). Especially the "à poil" version:

Petit Bush en fin de règne,
La risette, la risette,
Petit Bush en fin de règne,
S'en va causer aux Persans (bis)

En chemin ses hommes rencontrent,
La causette, la causette
En chemin ses hommes rencontrent,
p’tit Bashar se démenant (bis)

Le dicto sentant son heure,
Ça frisotte, ça frisotte,
Le dicto voyant son heure,
Envoya des messagers (bis)

La mission, telle qu’on constate,
Ça rouspéte, ça rouspéte,
La mission, telle qu’on constate,
a des appuis motivés (bis)

Ces appuis, très plein d’espoir,
La niaisette, la niaisette,
Ces appuis, très plein d’espoir
Veulent très vite signer la paix (bis)

Pour ce mirage, il vont tout vendre,
La disette, la disette,
Pour ce mirage, il vont tout vendre
Et bientôt, nous sacrifier (bis)

Mais pour ceux qui vont nous vendre,
La pôvrette, la pôvrette,
Mais ceux qui vont nous vendre,
Trouvent qu’le prix à augmenté (bis)

La morale de cette histoire,
La misère, la misère,
La morale de cette histoire,
C’est nos chefs sont bien trop cons (bis)

La morale de cette morale,
La misère, la misère,
La morale de cette morale,
C'est qu'not’ peuple aime que les cons (bis)

La morale de ces morales,
La misère, la misère,
La morale de ces morales,
C'est qu'les autres sont pas moins cons (bis)


Let’s hope we can still laugh about this whole sorry episode come January; when the new guy clocks in at the oval office... And since we're not likely to get over our reliance on the kindness of strangers;

Let's hope his asking price will still be too high.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Futility and Hope

Few people understand the Lebanese. t galls many how we can call for democracy and freedom while at the same time cowering in front of Hezb and the liberated “Hero” of the “resistance”.

The many paradoxes of Lebanon were indeed laid bare for all the world to see, and few understood us. It is however rather simple; we have to constantly reconcile our real aspirations with the realities of a tough neighbourhood.

The needs of RealPolitik...

Lest we forget, we are a weak country stuck in a tough neighbourhood, with powerful neighbours led by greedy clans. I am convinced most Syrians and most Israelis want peace. However, their respective leaderships are driving them to war.

Syria does not recognize us and continues to snatch away at our little piece of the Levant.

The Syrians are given little choice; through brutality and intimidation, they are dictated by an uncompromising mafia clique. All the ambition that went into an otherwise grand ambition for the establishment Greater Syria has been reduced to secure the survival of a parasitic regime.

Israel does not recognize the Palestinians, and continues to snatch away at their little piece of Palestine.

The Israelis give themselves little choice; through fear and misinformation, they are manipulated by an uncompromising paranoid political class. All the ingenuity that went into an otherwise grand ambition to “make the desert bloom” has been diverted to colonize an already inhabited “Judea and Samaria”.

Renan’s Lebanon

But the neighbourhood is only half the story.

Yes, we Lebanese are not without fault. Many of our politicians allied with those foreign powers to perpetuate their local prerogatives, often switching sides, but never taking Lebanon’s. But all this crassness and greatness are together mixed in the same national crucible. As the perceptive Ernest Renan once put it (H/T BeO);

My Dear Friend,

If you want to see a nature whose charms can be equaled nowhere, a wonderful sea, an incomparable sky, the most beautiful mountains of the world, a hideous race in whose midst emerges the most wonderful types, a society which has reached the lowest level of disorganization that one can reach before regressing back to savagery, come here.

The shorter version; we’re FUBAR beyond repair, fodder for Lebanese comedians. Yes, we wasted a historic opportunity.

But it doesn't mean we will not get (yet another) chance.

Quod Erat Faciendum

So, there’s no sense crying after spilled عيان; this Cedar Revolution has run its course, and another thing will come along to get us out of this mess.

In the immediate, we now have to contend with the changed regional realities, and wait. Either the interests of bigger (but not greater) powers are realigned with ours, or our “current” enemies will make a mistake.

We’ve been lucky before. I am confident we’ll be lucky again. But our only option now is to wait this storm out, till better climes come. And they will Better times will come.

It may be a year, or it may be more. Some of us will leave, other will stay.

But all of us will remain.

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...


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Welcome

I have seen death.

Helplessly I stood by,

Light escaped my patient's eyes,

I have heard death,

Helplessly I stood by,

The dark angel claimed his prize,

I have smelled death,

Helplessly I stood by,

With tongue tasting the pungent haze,

I now watch death,

Cowardly I stand by,

with Child-killers standing in the glaze,

Blameless, they wait for death,

Cowardly we stand by,

Till the end of days.


Now, I've seen enough death,

And know enough to wonder why,

The point of life should be to loose it..

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Ah, Ça Ira...

France is simply “Le Pays des Grands Hommes”, and French leaders once berated the “perfide Albion” as being a nation of “épiciers”.

When pondering French policies, those statements give a couple of perspectives;

E Pluribus Pecunum

This “insult” was only viewed as such by the courtesans massed around the monarch; there is nothing inherent wrong with being a nation of small business owners. For, as it engages in the pursuit of happiness, the enterprising karcher can often be much wiser than the “bling-blingelite.

The Anglo-Saxons owed their success in large part to the continuing efforts of their many enterprising children. As long as the “épiciers” were active, each person had a stake in the collective success of the nation, so Britain thrived over the 18th and 19th Century while France was led astray by misguided “Grands Hommes” marching for elusive glory. The British tired later on, and as they became ever more reliant on the state, the flame of enterprise was taken up by their mongrel brothers in the Americas, and the Asians they once dominated…

In some respect, Lebanon is similar; we’re as much a nation of “épiciers” as any, mongrels in constant search of our identity. Or, to put it differently; much like eagles, we can soar high. But we never flock together.

Our leaders have been ignoring this at our own peril. Having survived successive parasitic governments, wars and occupation, we were dealt a final blow by one misguided “Grand Homme” who committed two deadly mistakes. His first mistake was to think he could herd us all into following his economic vision, but his grand expansion of government only freed the parasitic state(s) to grow at the expense of the enterprising multitude; so the middle class withered, emigration accelerated as the debt grew. His second mistake was to think he could outmanoeuvre the sisterly “Grand Homme”, a wily leader even beyond the grave...

We soon learned that no man can be greater than his country. And we’ll learn (not soon enough) that no party can be greater than the home country.

Diogenes’ Search

The fact that France is a Pays des Grands Hommes reveals something else. In comparision to the Grand Homme, all the others are Petits. In the absence of a great mind, the French are lost, and as each follows their own short term interest, they undermine that of the nation. A nation needs all its “épiciers”, bean-counters, “bling-bling” spendthrifts, misguided amateurs, or deluded(?) Parisians. But it cannot be led by them in the absence of proper checks and balances.

The French, focused on their search for such “Grands Hommes”, settle “en attendant” for poor compromises. Their pursuit of that ever elusive “Grande Idée” leads them to rather mundane short-term stop gaps.

Today’s France has limited strategic goals; run like a mere Epecerie, it is merely content with scurrying around to secure crumbs from the distracted Americans. When the Americans are back, France may be able to keep “un petit quelque chose” while the Yankees take the rest... This may be why they have "pushed" Lebanon (among others) into the mascarade of this past May, and why they are now courting the Syrians; there may be some crumbs in there for them before the Americans come back to the table.

So, at some level, today's French policies make sense.

Too bad it’s (still) such a low, low level.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

One's Freedom...

Give me your crazies, your psychos,

Your confused masses fearing to breathe free,

But we refuse those kidnapped by our sisterly whore

Send these, the settlers, tempest-tossed, to “Judea”:

I lift my lamp beside that closed door.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

I Told You So...

In tough neighbourhoods, you should always be able to back up your swagger with deeds. You can afford to show no weakness nor inconsistency, at any time, and for any reason.This is especially the case when a picture is more than just a picture, when “local residents” are more than just the local “Comité d’initiative”.

The current events are part of a recurring pattern. We have seen those mistakes before. We know the outcome before hand… The Chansonniers de la Route, a Lebanese comedy team from the 80’s, put it best in a song about those foreign forces who come to “protect” us;

Voici les bleus de la marine

Les preux chevaliers de l'Occident

Ils vont du Chili jusqu'en Chine

Pour venir se faire tuer au Liban

f

One has to give it to the Syrians; behind the times or not, they remain consistent, even if their local lackeys are not. Joumblat is already hedging, learning to “live with Hezb”.

Please excuse my current total lack of empathy; it's been a long time since I, and many others, have bee sounding the alarm and warning of the dangers of splitting hairs. So, till the next bulldozer comes your way, dig up those old Lebanese comedy reels, tapes, and 48’s.

And enjoy a few psychic moments while you still can.


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Marché de Dupes

In an interesting article, Raghida Dergham discusses the ongoing regional “grand deal”, which we apparently owe to;

Ehud Barak [...] effectively in control of the Israeli decision making process as a result of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's weakness and the allegations of corruption he currently faces”. It appears that this great liberal mindwants the return of Syria's influence and presence to Lebanon”, since the current regime is “weak the face of Israel but strong in the face of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Sectarian Minds

I think Mrs. Dergham only scratches the surface, and her piece could go deeper. Such “Cosa Nostra” type deals are not due to the deluded scheming of one devious individual. Such deals are due to something nastier.

We owe it to a sectarian mindset that is growing all over the region. And this mindset is leading to flawed thinking. Such thinking assumes that sectarian regimes are our Arabic destiny.

But that does not have to be the case.

Syria’s choices do not have to be limited to selecting between a sectarian Alawite minority dictatorship and a sectarian Sunni majority theocracy. Yes, I have no illusion that, under the current conditions, any weakening of the current Syrian regime will result in the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.

It does not have to be this way.

Secularism remains a reality.

Many forget that quite a few Arabs who opposed to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine did not harbour anti-Jewish feelings. What became known as the “Arab left” simply opposed the creation of what they viewed as a Jewish theocratic state.

Now, Israel is a reality.

However, the details of that reality are still a matter of debate, not least in Israel itself. The crisis without is only obscuring the debate within.

Many also forget that quite a few Arabs who opposed the creation of Lebanon did not necessarily harbour pan-Syrian feelings. This “Lebanese Left” was a secular movement, opposed to what appeared as a sectarian-Christian Maronite entity, and not necessarily supportive of a sectarian Sunni Monarchy.

Now, Lebanon is a reality.

However, any “Maronite Supremacy” is long gone, if it ever was present, and the future shape of the nation is still a matter of debate. In the context of that “debate”, most Lebanese instinctively took the side of secularism against any form of “Faquihism”, as they did on that famous day on March 14th, 2005.

And it is among the ranks of those lefties that the Cedar Revolution found many of its adherents; their opposition to a religious state in Palestine also applied to the Faqih state in Lebanon.

Sectarian Limits

But the human mind has strong “self-deluding” mechanisms. Once they like a football team, they will justify any cheats and fouls provided the team wins.

Through such mental devices, a few Lebanese lefties choose to side with Hezb & Co. They fail to see the real long-term dangers, blinded by one part of the regional sectarian equation; the one defined by the “Zionist Entity”.

Through a similar mental device, many Israeli lefties are all too willing to share the bed of the Likudniks, as they see only the part of the regional sectarian equation defined by the scimitar-brandishing barbudos.

In this context, Israeli “lefties” were the first to cook-up this modern Maginot line, later perfected by the Right as the “Security Fence”, and behind which Israel hides. Having cut themselves off from the Palestinians, and having turned the remains of Palestine into Banthoustans, they are jumping to the next logical step; walling the rest of the Middle-East out of their little Eretz Paradisos.

What happened is that Israel preferred to deal with Syria rather than Lebanon, Hamas rather than the Palestinian Authority, and [Hezb] rather than the Lebanese government.

The net result is that the example of the Cedar Revolution will be ignored, and sectarian thinking will continue to prevail in this Middle East.

At least till the Maginot line fails,

Or till the legacies fades away