Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Stupidity (1/2)

This winter, the Middle East is heating up, and so is Lebanon. But let's start with the international scene first; the United States. I am surprised no one has picked up on Taheri's New York Post

Yes, Taheri cried wolf far too often, but this time he appears to be on the level. And yes, it's no lipstick, but the implications are far worse. Most notably, Obama's response all but confirms Taheri's claims!

Heck. I can understand that journalists are stuck in "group think", but I cannot see they can miss this one; after all, there's no lobbying egging them away from the truth. Normally, US elections would not matter to us foreigners; past history shows that whoever is elected will tend to maintain the policies of previous administrations. But this one may be different; yes, domestically Obama's plans appear superior to McCain's, but in Obama's approach there are elements on foreign policy that are downright stupid.

In the short term, there'll be hell to pay until an Obama administration wises up. This may be secondary to the concern of many in the United States; we ragheads do not matter; we do not vote in the US elections, and only the economy really matters. However, while Oil matters more than Arab blood (and in this case American blood too), the United States is not an Island.

Not anymore...


Gus rightly points out that those are technically separate agreements. However, there are larger issues here, beyond the point raised by Taheri that the two agreements are essentially linked.

The main concern here is that Obama's actions give the appearance of fundamental disharmony within the United States, and this could create a dangerous precedent. A president Obama would then expect his foreign interlocutors to stall, since they would expect political challengers to undermine him from within. Such undermining may not be unprecedented in American history, but its level and brashness is.

This perception of "two Americas" will further weaken the position of the United States in the region; Americans would be vain to think that theirs is still "a shining city on a hill".

The rest of the world is watching...

... And learning.

Update/Follow-up (September 24th, 2008):

Many a commenter pointed out that Tahery's report is misleading and, at best, simplistic. The basic arguments advanced by Tahery has been (again) refuted, and I apologize for not updating the post sooner... I tend to follow a “feast or famine” cycle, and work has been getting in the way of blogging lately.

Still, while that may be a reason, it’s no excuse…

However, it's not a complete crow breakfast for me; my main point remains valid: America’s not isolated. In this globalized world, I feel foreign forays by candidates, such as Obama's latest, can risk undermining the standing of the United States. Granted, this standing was not helped by the policies of Dubya Harding so far, but when addressing foreigners will little concept of plural democracy, this gives the appearance of disunity.

On another note, economic nationalism may be leading the august burghers who rule "shining city on a hill" to forgo the advantages fo globalization. Maybe Paulson does not need those 700 Billion after all; there's plenty of money in the world that's may be willing to get a slice of the action. Or maybe he's worried about his (incompetent) friend's golden parachutes... But I digress again, we have enough on our plate already.

Back to my main point; in an increasingly globalized world, America’s can longer afford to consider itself an isolated city on a hill anymore. Internal shenanigans have an external effect, and foreigners are now increasingly playing in its internal politics, as evidenced by the latest foray by Maliki, who’s proving to be no pushover, but no enlightened liberal either. Whoever gets this hot potato will like have to butt a few friendly heads. In this context:

Facts will matter less than perceptions.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


In previous centuries, rhetoric was a major academic topic. As an essential part of their education, many a real gentleman became masters in this art. The “art of saying nothing in flowery language”.

Today, and ever since the rise of advertising executives, “communication” is it. Yet the art of “mad men” is essentially not much different from that of past orators. Only their palette is much richer; beyond words, they add in images and sound. Maybe this is why they increasingly taking themselves seriously, thinking their marketing matters more than the product itself.

Across the world

The news feeds are full of such examples. The best example is found in the United States where the Democrats, having dropped a solid contender for a hyped-up longshot, are growing angry at the Republicans (and themselves) for beating them at their own game. As the campaign heats up, vacuous talk about “change” is met by no meaningless jibes about lipstick as the campaign is moving away from real issues and degrading into a high school popularity contest.

Thanks GK for the vid link...

And the World is Emulating Them

Others are “communicating” as well. Iran’s oil money is being put to good use in Photoshop launches. Venezuela’s oil wealth is allowing him to invite a few Russian pilots and sailors for a tour of Caracas… And now, we Lebanese have found the way forward for dialogue; not a round table, but a rectangular table. As the leaders gather around to sit, one may suggest they turn the table over, dispense with the chairs. They will at least know how the average Lebanese citizen feel.

Those gimmicks will get us all nowhere fast. The United States elections will not change the fundamental dynamic of a complex economy. No Russian sailors can save Chavez’ legacy; his cash will run out before his oil does.

Closer to Home…

As for Lebanon, what was true yesterday remains true today; our “leaders” can fool some people (and themselves) all the time, and all people some of the time. But their best efforts at rhetoric or “communication” will fail on the long run;

They have yet to devise a way to fool all the people.

In this regard, Hezb’O is trying hard. But they’re finding increasingly hard to hide the blood on their hands.

Reality will bite soon enough...

Sunday, September 07, 2008

On the Way to Cannae...

La politique, c'est comme l'amour, il faut des grands sentiments et des petites intentions.

Bashar appears to understand this well, and all his grand talk about peace in the Middle East and fighting terror only hides a very pedestrian goal; to return to Lebanon.

An Odd Delusion

However, it appears many others choose to ignore this simple truth. This is an odd delusion. No wonder some suspect the devious intentions of those who insist on “prying Syria away from Iran”. And they would be right; some of those guys have ulterior motives, hoping that Bashar would grant what the Palestinians could never cede.

However, when it comes to the French and even Hezb, I prefer to reserve judgment; with Baku-Ceyhan back under Russian control (again), the core interests of an oil-obsessed West cannot accept continued Iranian alignment with Syria. It is odd that le Petit Nicolas did not hear this délicieuse petite phrase; not only was he nearby when Michele Barzach uttered it, but his Italian wife must surely have shared with him the disappointments of her compatriots

Is he rushing things?

Or is it just Manoeuvring?

Improving his hand for when the Americans come back?

It is also odd that Hezb is increasingly undermining the state. Yes, strategically, the party remains the antithesis of Lebanon; as the country’s being slowly gutted, this primus inter pares among our national sectarian groups will ultimately destroy it. However, tactically, they have an growing list of immediate concerns, so why add to them by attacking the Army, and vigorously defending Bashar?

Or is it just Hubris?

Do the leaders really believe their newspeak?

What Gives?

Those behaviours are odd.

From Hezb’s side, it is odd that their experienced military leadership is expanding the “line of contact”, and negating their advantages. Yes, the region’s political establishment is all but bankrupt, and would be easy target were they not propped by hype and easy oil money… But tactically, it would make sense to focus on the limited goal of consolidating their “home front”.

From the French side, most of their foreign policy has a mercantile bent, and there is little "hard" interest there; while the Lybian deals may be falling through, but Syria cannot afford enough Airbus planes to really matter. The French policies may owe more to a post-Bush mindset than to a genuine concern about Syria, a country whom most of those so-called analysts could not have placed on a map till Bashar’s assassination of Hariri.

You mean the tooth fairy didn’t do it?...

However, while George Bush will (deservedly) go down in history as the “worst president ever”, the criticism against him owes more to his incompetence in Iraq than to his invasion.

And yes, Bush is still right on Syria.

Random chance?...

Even Gebran “Kélém” Bassil appears to understand the need to keep a distance from the (not so) tired dictator.


Friday, September 05, 2008

Oops! I did it again

Those who ignore the lessons of history are condemned to repeat it. The same goes for those who misunderstand those lessons.

Lebanon’s was subjected to successive tragedies by the miscalculations of its past leaders. Each in their turn followed the Syrian model; use their own sectarian base, and leverage a political issue to rule the entire country.

It did not work.

Hezb seems to think it can work for them this time around; after all, they have “the Shiites” united behind them. The sectarian logic appears impeccable; after all, it worked for Syria’s Alawites, didn’t it?

It will not work.

The same sectarian logic defeats it. Once you divide a country into sectarian groups, the communities themselves will be divided. In the past, “the maronites” who were united under the banner of the Lebanese Forces in their little canton soon find themselves fighting amongst one another. From Safra, to Intifada, to Harb-el-Tahrir, “they” brought upon the country more Syrian oppression.

In addition, the regional equation does not support it. Relying on the support of the Syrians and Iranians may not ingratiate Hezb to the people who really matter now; the Saudis. The Saudi-Iranian struggle in the Gulf is slowly seeping into Lebanon, and turning the conflict with Hezb into a Sunni-Shiite conflict.

It has already started.

What did they expect after invading Beirut. What do they expect after attacking the army?

It does not take a veteran to realize that mere gunmen cannot shoot down an army helicopter. Even the Lebanese Army’s antique Huey chopper are beyond the reach of the average AK or M16, and require more potent firepower, and a more stable firing platform.

It does not take a geographer to realize that the region where the chopper was brought down is controlled by Hezb. And as such, Hezb is responsible; either their goons acted willingly, or they were incompetent to control their own region.

Either way, it does not take a logician to see who really did this; it is whoever killed Rafic Hariri, constantly undercut the state, invaded Beirut and violently brought down a government.

And what if Nasrallah was no mere liar or mythomaniac? What if he was sincere in his claims of innocence?

Then it is worse than we though; he lost control over his goons.

Or maybe he never did; Assad remains a "player", after all.