Thursday, August 28, 2008

On Charisma

Heck, I’m way off topic here (again). But I just couldn't resist; after Gamal, Kamal, Bachir, Aoun, Hassan, we have grown allergic to charismatic "leaders". And now the United States are falling to the fad; rather than a substantive McCain-Hillary fight, we are witnessing a marketing and branding contest.
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This is not Baalbeck, and O'Bama's no Fairouz. Just a shrewd, smooth talking political operative. But just as those charismatic Arab failures of our past (and present) history have demonstrated, it takes more than jaw-jaw to do run-run.

I guess ones does not even need rattles to move men; smooth words would do. Let’s hope they don’t make a habit of it; American Idol is already pitiful enough...

Beati pauperes spiritu

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Georgia on my Mind

Ah, the ironies of the Great Game

There is much hyperbole and little fact/background in teh news nowadays. The media is not really aware that , in its invasion of Georgia, the Kremlin has taught the White House a masterly lesson in geography, teaching them Yankees not to venture too far into mother Russia’s “Near Abroad”. You would think the State Department’s Kremlinologist-en-chef would know better, but recall that she (and most others) misread (to put it mildly) the collapse of the Soviet Union, in spite of much evidenceHow about putting some real Russia experts on the payroll?

However, is Tsar Putin now overreaching? Or is he merely going for some more leverage?

Syria’s Russian Gamble

In the short term, the Syrian move towards Russia may pay off. On one easter front/province, the Lebanese leadership appears cowed, for now, and their Hezb’O’Clients have the run of the land. On the southern front, a headless Israeli government is providing them with the necessary cover.

This venture into Russia’s “Near Abroad” may well pay off in the immediate. But Assad’s regime is far weaker than it appear; not only is his support largely based on a shaky sectarian base, he is unable to secure his own high command’s security. Yes, he can still pull the strings in Lebanon, and he will do so forcefully. But this will only confirm what Hezb’s last “victory” has achieved; to confine Syria’s “support” in Lebanon to the imprisoned Shiite community. And even then, it’s not much of support; who do you think carried out those attacks that were carried out against Syrian workers?

“Eminent Domain” versus “Near Abroad”

however, On the long run, because of this shaky support the Syrian hopes are likely to be dashed.

We Lebanese have learned that you cannot fight geography; much of our opposition to Syria has more to do with the current sectarian mafia that rules the country, and little with the country itself. After all, many of us have family there, and more do good a brisk business.

However, the Syrians are still stuck in the days of the Damascus Congress, with assembly of pseudo-representatives (s)elected on the “selective, rather than the elective principle”, claimed us as part of a “Greater Syria”, as well as with what today is Iraq, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories. Some like to add Cyprus to the mix… I guess as long as they’re dreaming…

All Syrians grew up soaking in the myth of glorious Omeyyads, the stories of the deviousness of those “Isolationists” in the wayward “Eastern Province”, the plight of occupied Iskenderun. This current crop of Syrian leaders may actually have been raised to believe this newspeak, and the mirage of Greater Syria leads them to venture into the “Near Abroad”.

As they venture deeper, the Syrian leadership may be getting ready for another geography lesson, a crash course in the Carter Doctrine.

American Geography

The Carter Doctrine is little more than a 20th Century version of the Monroe Doctrine.

The Monroe Doctrine is often mistaken as purely isolationist. And in a sense, it is; but when the 5th President of the United States considered America’s “Eminent Domain”, King Coal reigned supreme and his country was (and still is) its Saudi Arabia. Today, Oil is the blood of the economy, and, with more than 40% of proven reserves, the Middle East is its bleeding heart… And Hormuz its jugular vein.

In the immediate, the Americans are distracted with their elections. But come November, whoever is elected will have to worry about how to power all those Abram tanks. Mc Cain may waste less time navel gazing than Obama, but either one will ultimately move to reassert America’s right on its own “Eminent Domain”.

And the fact remains that Syria, like Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East, are part of America’s “Eminent Domain”. And unless there’s another Nakhimov waiting in the wings, the Siloviki may not be willing to push far beyond Sebastopol. And the Bitkhonim in Israel may not really follow through with Brest-Litovsk, especially if the Americans remain unwilling to sell out Lebanon.

So, since the Syrian regime will one day learn that simple leitmotif; you cannot fight geography, especially not when you continue oppressing your own people and proclaiming fake reforms. So , now that they back from their Bastille Day vacation, maybe we should start them on the Dummies version of Geography, Lesson 1, which we owe to the mismanagement of generations of short-sighted Arab "leaders";

It may be our sand, but it’s their oil.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Moral Equivalence

It looks like Lebanese Prisoners in Syria will be not returned anytime soon; the Syrians are now asking Lebanon for the return of their disappeared citizens.

Fair Enough.

One would expect normal countries would are sincere about reconciliation to address such issues, and settle past injustices.

Except that Syrian troops had been in Lebanon since at least 1976, with checkpoints on almost every street corner, and with their mokhabarat kidnapping and killing with impunity. One would think that, if they really had any citizen disappear in Lebanon, they would have been able to find them.

Oddly Enough…

One would expect normal governments to point out such minor logical flaws.

Except that Lebanese officials have turned their coats so frequently that now they can only lower their pants. When good men make bad choices, it is the innocent who pays.

The True Number of Detainees

We have looked at the data on true number of detainees. The data is patchy, but one thing emerges; of those detainees released so far, less than 20% were actually claimed by their families. We have carried out a cursory “review” of those families who did not claim their own.

We noted two interesting facts;

First, many of those extended families had more family members still detained in Syria. It appears that, after one person is kidnapped, anyone who came up to complain or request their release was kidnapped as well.

Second, many of those families are in regions with extensive Syrian presence. Many are Shiites who are affiliated neither with Hezb, nor with Berri’s Amal party; in Lebanon’s sectarian “cold peace”, they have little avenues to seek redress.

So, you do the math. Knowing take a low number of SOLIDE’s claimed 400 hundred detainees. It is likely that they represent a mere 20% of the actual “population” of detainees. Therefore, there would be about 2,000 Lebanese detainees in Syria who are either still held, or were actually “disappeared” by the Syrian regime.

To those who would like better "data sources" than this biased blog, there are more reliable sources of information. But Fermi's approach is a good enough guide for this situation, and a more detailed analysis will come up with a similar number; it's all about orders of magnitude, after all, and you would expect more than 400, and less than 10,000, the number of people still missing during the Lebanese war.

Plenty of Blame?

And no, I am forgetting that there were other “players” in Lebanon during the civil war. Yes, the actual number of people who were “disappeared” during the war number more than 10,000, not all of them attributable to Syria. But since 1991, Syria, and Hezb to some extent, were the only “players” in Lebanon, and they could have easily found whoever was missing if they really wanted to. Or they could have easily "disappeared" those they did not like...

We Lebanese have our faults, but there can be no moral equivalence between our government’s serial incompetence in this matter and the Syrian regime’s serial killing in our country.

As our government appears set to abdicate any last shreds of authority (not to mention decency), it is no wonder everyone’s hedging, re-hedging, and cross-hedging their bets.

So good luck running free and fair elections in all that...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Cassandra in Lebanon

It appears few people have concerns about our government’s appeasement of Hezb; of all the Fils de Pétain, only four ministers made any reservations regarding the statement.

They had just wanted to add:

under the state wing

Simple. Elegant. And Logical. But it was not to be. But we’re already beyond the manifesto. It now appears we’re moving beyond D’Oha.

Back to a sectarian nightmare.

And the tea leaves of this witches brew make interesting reading, both internally and externally.

Internal Hedging

There are signs that each “side” in the Lebanese “equation” is now looking past D’oha; the Sunnis are circling the wagons, the Druze are hedging, and Christians are capitalizing on this.

The Sunnis appear to be changing gear, particularly in the north. Regardless of the Saad’s great resources, it appears that many are now considering the possibility of a post-Hariri era. Ahdab has been manoeuvring himself closer to the Salafis, and has been growing increasingly vocal of late. Fatfat is already “there”, his political base shored up in one of the fastest growing demographic segments.

Not many cannons, but a lotta fodder.

The Druze are hedging. To them, post-Hariri does not necessarily mean pre-Bashar. However, while the Syrian dictator is weaker than he appears, unable to protect his own, he still has the potential to do us much harm thanks to his alliance with Hezb. Joumblat finds himself on the crossroads; having defeated hezb militarily, he’s now focusing on extracting the best tactical “deal” he can. Because of Western duplicity, they have little choice in the matter.

ألف قلبه و لا غلب

The Christians are now in flux, divided between Aoun’s allegiance with Hezb, and Geageas’ alignment with the Hariris. Whoever wins the battle for hearts and minds of this segment of the population will win Lebanon.

Their perennial division is protection... For now.

Among all those, only Aoun appears to be planning for elections in June ‘09; his FPM ministers will be working hard to dole out patronage in the hope to regain much diminished lustre. However, even if Hezb allows any elections to proceed on June 09, for all Ziad Baroud’s democratic leanings, they will be neither free, nor fair. And this is what it appears Geagea is expecting; to him, the post-Hariri does not mean pre-Hezb. he can prepare safely for now, for two reasons; Hezb is too busy learning lessons form their Chouf debacle, and they cannot confront him directly without damaging Aoun.

External Drumming-up

The external signs all indicate that everyone is now looking, beyond the post-Hariri era, to the post-Lebanon era. At least, to a Lebanon pre-Cedar Revolution, when we were under the thumb of various foreign occupiers.

To the Israelis, the immediate consequence of the ministerial statement is to make official Hezb’s “takeover of Lebanon”. This means a couple of things;

1- Hezb’s policy is now official Lebanese policy. Which means that UNSC 1701 is dead, since Lebanese will move away from its obligations under UNSC 1559;

Lebanese officials from the president down had always legitimized Hizbullah's resistance as a national cause. "This time, a vehemently anti-Hizbullah government - led by a majority that has significant Western support - has put its signature to a clause that allows Hizbullah to take actions in the fields listed without seeking government approval. It also puts an end to any dreams of disarming Hizbullah. It secures Hizbullah's armed existence."

And this means that he 1949 Armistice is also effectively dead. The only thing preventing Israel to act on it now is its own internal power struggle. This buys us time until the return of Netanyahu...

Who though D’Oha was so close to Cairo?

2- If the perception that Hezb’s has taken over Lebanon continues to get more “traction”, then it is Lebanon which will become a pariah state. As such, expect the brush that paints us all as terrorists to return. And worse; if targeted sanctions are applied, that will only accelerate everyone’s move away from the state.

No wonder everyone is moving post-Hariri. They all realize that, “without strong state institutions, the state cannot be strong”, but the net results of their policies ensures that it’s not much of a state anyway.

Interesting times ahead.

It now all hinges on Hezb. This was their best year ever, and perhaps their golden age. So, as they reach the zenith of their expansion, will they capitalize on their success and extract an optimal deal for their “side”? Or will they drag us to war by continuing their push beyond the limits of the possible?

It is more likely that they will go on pushing further; they didn't come that far by merely playing along with the band...

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Fils de Pétain

Appeasement can work.

Indeed, it can.

However, as many of us learned when we “bribed” our way through tough situations, for appeasement to work, there are a couple of prerequisites.

First, that both appeasee and appeaser understand one another’s limits, and are willing to stick to them. And second, that the appeasee you’re appeasing needs something you’re willing, and able, to “deliver”.

In today's Lebanon’s, neither requirement is met.

First: Thugs and Fanatics

Indeed, as they try to appease thugs and fanatics, appeasers soon discover that such appeasees can be so uncouth and uncivilized. Back in the late 30's, both Chamberlain and Stalin were mistaken; Hitler's word could not be his bind. Our situation today is similar; those who follow God need not be concerned with the words of man.

But in our context, we’ve moved to a level beyond Chamberlain’s and Stalin’s appeasement efforts . back then, the appeasers could afford it; the British had a pretty good anti-tank ditch, and the Russians more than 4,000 km of "buffer"w’el rasputista, k##s emma? We find ourselves in a situation similar to 1940's France. Without such natural advantages to balance out the incompetence of their geriatric état major, many French felt an armistice would provide them with a decent way out.

However, just as soon as he signed the armistice with Hitler, good ol’marechal Pétain found out, much to his dishonour, that the Germans of the day would keep pushing back. and back. And then, his Vichy “government” could only watch as IG Farben et al. conquered much of France’s industry, and as collaborators

In a similar vein, our modern version of the cagoulards who claim leadership of March 14th have barely managed an armistice of sorts. They may hope that such displays of Byzantine elegance will intimate Hezb into “collaborating with the state”. But fudge is no solution.

They have another thing coming.

Second: The Bottom Line

An additional problem for Lebanon, this particular bran of appeasees does not limit itself to mundane goals.

One would think that the creator of time and dimensions had something better to do than to worry about the slice of land that represents less than 10-9848448293 % of the surface area of the known universe (not factoring soil erosion). One would think that the creator of mathematics, time, space, and the laws of physics would not need the help of a few naked apes whose totality represents less than 10-398133211884184482133293 % of the volume of the known universe (not factoring hair loss).

But one would be wrong.

But hubris and human stupidity are each far bigger than the universe. Yes, we humans are myth-makers who cannot live “with bread alone”. On the plus side, This makes for an interesting existence, with imagination filling in for reason every once in while. However, a few amongst us take myths at face value, and are thus immune to reason. And now, they have weapons, and a few more reasons to keep them...

Back in 1940 France, the hero of Verdun had become senile, too disconnected from reality to realise the messianic mission of the apostle of Germania.

In Lebanon, our brothers in (the Party of) God are no less fanatical. True heirs to Khomeini, they are assembled in a “Party of God”, embarked on a no less messianic, and far more marketable mission. Those reformed Quislings who delude themselves as “leaders” of March 14th disregard this to their peril.

...And ours.

Incitement

In the immediate, what this means to our local edition of the Fils de Pétain is simple.

They think that a fudging and creative wording such as the “right of Lebanon, its people, army and resistance to liberate or reclaim its land” matters. But no word can stop a messianic leader and his “Party of God”.

On the other "side", Nasrallah knows what he is doing. He is using the short-sightedness of those “leaders” who claim to represent March 14th, and he is taking over Lebanon. Slowly but surely. By then, it will be too late when they learn that:

He who runs away from a scuffle will only stumble into a bigger fight

In a sign of things to come, the few who appear to have realized this are Geagea, Chamoun, Gemayel, Joumblat, and the mouvance in Bab-El-Tabbaneh. They are all preparing and hedging at the same time.

And they have played this game before.

Last time, the Syrians came in. Since they have been pulling the strings of this farce, they hope to repeat the same trick. But this time, things are more complicated; in spite of their supporters (or because of them), they may find themselves be too busy at home. The fundamental paradox of the Syrian politics remains today, and may even be stronger. So;

Any new edition of the Lebanese civil war will be for export...

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