Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Pitfalls of Power

It is often the case that triumphant powers develop tendencies that make them vulnerable to weaker challengers.

As they achieve repeated successes, they soon become to believe that, by constantly reapplying the same formula, they will continuously be able to achieve success by the same means. However, their once-novel methods soon become “conventional” themselves, and a form of “doctrinal complacency” sets, reinforced by the ever increasing success. Such was the case in July 2006, when Israel’s ossified, conventional thinking led to its defeat at the hands of a challenger who espoused novel, unconventional approaches.

This is the case of Hezb’O today; its victory in July 2006 led it to an increasingly dominant position in Lebanon. This “new dominant” shows signs of increased confidence in the value of its past policies, since they led to so many successes. Indeed, after July 2006, their demonstrations and tent city led to the blockage of the country’s normal processes, allowing a continuous land grab and now a power grab.

However, in doing so, Hezb is only exacerbating a “power dilemma”; the success of its offensive policy will create ever stronger incentives to strike first, since a successful attack will usually so weaken the other side that victory will tend to be relatively quick, bloodless, and decisive. This is what happened during their invasion of Beirut in May 2008, when it lead to cowing of Hariri’s, and more crucially, of Jumblat’s Druze.

As it continued in this conquest phase, Hezb has consolidated “internally” by eliminating or sidelining “barons”, and is now expand “externally”. Its “external” expansion is now carried out as part of the elections, in which they are leading Aoun’s electoral offensive in the Christian. Whatever the final result, ShaterHassan’s allies would be sure to score quite a few points.

But Iran’s power grab over Lebanon will be far from secure, and the downside will come soon enough; as the successes accumulate, Hezb’s doctrines will be increasingly informed by the rose-colored lens of previous victories. Repeated victories make this offensive approach an easier choice because of the belief in the possibility of quick victory as well as the belief that failure to act will expose them to unacceptable risk.

This doctrine of action will become increasingly rigid, and the party will become ever less likely to change and adapt. As previous victories are celebrated, a culture of victory is increasingly emphasizing certainty in outcomes. Because this certainty belies the complicated sets of factors that allowed victory in previous engagements, Hezb is increasingly developing a “static conception” of political struggle that does not allow for change on the part of its adversaries. Soon enough, those adversaries will learn to exploit the weaknesses thus exposed, exposing dominants to defeat at the hands of inferior parties.

Regardless of the result of this upcoming election, little will fundamentally change because of both the institutional dysfunctions of Lebanon and the contradictions of regional power equilibriums. But time may choose for all; not only will there be less Iranian cash in the future, but at the present rate of consumption and decline, Iran is facing oil shortages and may even become unable to export much more oil by 2014. true, Saudi Arabia is not doing much better, but they’re not the ones challenging the United States for regional dominance.

However, we’re still a long way from Kansas; if time is the fire in which we all burn, we Lebanese are the ones closest to the flames.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Monsters, Inc.

Our Lebanese “Our leaders” have much to teach the Great Colbert about government; judging from the uproar they generate, they have improved on the idea that “the art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing”. The amount of hissing is irrelevant if the geese are busy hissing at one another.

For this reason, watching the Lebanese elections is discomfiting at first look. Almost everywhere political discussion appears geared “internally”, towards “consolidating” one's core supporters. Voting in that case becomes little more than a census, where real electioneering starts at conception, making sure the braying masses make enough voters, and guaranteeing that the economic system remains on the right side of failure to maintain them in a permanent state of patronage-enhanced servility. The only real debate is within middle class regions of Mount Lebanon, who happen to be mostly Christians. In that, they're leading the rest of the Arab world's elites.

A deeper look, however, reveals a less pessimistic view; those who once claimed Lebanon as the Switzerland of the Middle East forgot that our region has nothing like the German's federative obsession, the French administrative zeal, or the British legal scruples. We can only be as good as one can be in this cesspool of dictatorships, where the only country pretending at being democratic is ruled by one ethnic group at the expense of others. And no, I do not mean Turkey.

No wonder our search for consensus and internal stability is so elusive. At least, we're the only ones really trying, even if our model is far from perfect, or realistic. And so what if Nasrallah has missiles and Iran. Doesn't Lieberman have Tsahal, AIPAC, and a little more? I fail to see the core difference between those fine examples of Shiite tribalism and Jewish tribalism.

For the time being, our only hope is to try and maintain some internal power balance, by voting our heads rather than our hearts, to maintain our local overlords as much on edge as possible. The pie is shrinking, and their old ways of goose-plucking will soon have to change lest they run out of feathers... Or Until they weed themselves out of here.

Or, more probably, Until, that is, we're all emigrated from here. By “we”, I mean the middle class; the exodus of the Christians from Lebanon is only a symptom of the country's real tragedy, the absence of opportunities for the middle class, mostly made up of Christian, Druze, and Beiruti Sunnis. In the current state of affairs, there is little to do for all those who just want to earn a decent living, without the need to pledge allegiance to petro-mullahs or armageddon-evangelists.

But there's still some hope.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Spring Greetings

One Lebanese asks another; "Did you watch the solar eclipse yesterday". To which the other replied; "Oh, for us, it's going to take place Tomorrow".

Alas, under this grand talk of "diversity", we Lebanese hide real divisions. It would not be so bad if they were limited to arcane matters of religion or taste. In our case, we've moved beyond absurdities of calendar, we've each managed to move to different planets while living in the same country.

... I kinda like the part about numerous vacations, though.
But I digress...

I've had little to blog about over the past few weeks. I see little merit in either side of this sorry saga of ours... In the coming election, there will be no real debate of ideas, just a "conscription" of the electorate, as we're each pulled by the rival tugs of the regional giants; an Iranian-aligned "Shiite" party with money and "فهم", a Saudi-guided "Sunni" grouping with money and no "فهم", and a Christian salad of ex-warlords with no money and even less "فهم".

As for whatever secular "center" remains, we hide our hard earned money, as the looming global recession challenges our limited "فهم" of the world. In any case, whoever wins the current election will be of little real consequence; the real fight's taking
place outside this ring. The best we can do is continue our bloody jockeying for position within our little square in the regional chessboard.

....March 14, 2005 is so far away ...

...Still, it's not all bad; we've got a few things going for us...

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Release the Hounds!

Driving around Lebanon has been an increasingly interesting experience of late. In most coastal areas, traffic was a lot worse. This is not just because of an influx of Gulf tourists, but it appears mostly due to an increase in the number of “strategically placed” public works. With the election nearing, the increase in number of government mandated potholes is supposed too help the rival fortunes of the rival Hariri and Hezb’O camps.

In addition, the number of beggars and street salesman in most areas of the capital has skyrocketed. This can only be a direct indication of an influx of Syrian Mokhabarat who came to “cover” our elections, and whose retinue those poor wretches tend to be part of.

Alas, no Kaak yet…

So it’s a good thing Minister Baroud is enforcing those safety belt laws and the cellphone ban. 

I feel safer already…

... Well, to be fair, the cellphone ban is nice. The seatbelt laws, however, for "personal choice" reasons only a libertarian could feel compelled to justify. But still, I would hope more could be done. But I digress. Still, thanks to LaLebanessa for  taking me to task.

DoubleSpeak

I see those little local developments in the context of the announcement that Britain's Foreign Office announced Thursday that it has contacted Hezbollah's “political wing”(WTF?!)”. At the same time, their American masters are reassuring us that they will still respect us in the morning after that little flirtation while they continue to withhold equipment from our Army. If you can call that “old equipment that the Jordanian kingdom wants to replace” military hardware; I’ve seen newer crap.

Still, we may have a chance if the Golden Horde decides to ride again. Just maybe; they still make ammo for those M24/29, don’t they?

I am not only surprised that there is such a thing as a “political wing” for what is little more than the Lebanese outgrowth of the Pasdaran, I am even more surprised no one yet considered contacting Ben Laden’s political wing? So what if his followers wasted a few limeys; isn’t our rag-head blood just as worthy as theirs? And furthermore, Ossama’s a far more reasonable man than Ahmadinejad and his kin; Khatami’s a mere fig leaf, and rather than an end in itself, America’s favourite troglodyte considers religion as a means to an end…

But I digress. again.

In the context of all those shenanigans, I fear those will be tough days ahead for Lebanon. Regardless of which March you’re on, “only a sword can cut this Gordian knot” of conflicting alliances and rival interests.

In the short term, I fear the hounds have already been released… And the longer term may even be worse.

The Ugly Short Term

On the short term, our election is set to be a very dirty affair. That the polls are all on the same day creates even more opportunities for the better organized party to play “under the table”, and I would not surprised to see those who claim March 8th to win the day.

Indeed, the key players in the camp that claims March 14th, led by amateur-in-chief Saad Hariri, appear set to screw one another. Especially with “leaders” such as Amine Gemayel and Michel Murr, either of whom has yet to fathom a lie they could not utter.

The Uglier Long Term

On the long term, the Americans will re-learn the difference between talk and dialogue, as their little flirtation with Syria fails (again). On the longer term, Hezb’O’s conservative revolution will not prevail.

By then, however, Lebanon may well have collapsed.

Chances are there will be little left of the civil society that motivated the (true) Cedar Revolution. The best and brightest having emigrated away and moved on, Lebanon could well be even more solidly infiltrated by Hezb’O.

Yes, we Lebanese are no saints. But Israelis will hate the alternative… As they complain about their (accidental) terrorists offsprings that will go back to threatening their northern border, there will be little they can do about it, they will be too busy glossing over that dreaded A-word, especially if “Yvette” gets a seat anywhere near the government table.

The Americans will have a harder time as well, and “the One” and his “advisers” will come to regret ignoring the opinion of wiser men;

It is easy to see how Syria gains strategically from a "peace breakthrough" with Israel. It gains in Lebanon; it breaks out of the isolation that the Gulf Arabs (and the United States) had sought to impose on it because of its unholy alliance with Iran. The Israeli strategic analysis is harder to discern. The bottom line is that the Israelis are short-sightedly playing here with American strategic chips, undercutting an American regional strategy toward Iran-which one would have thought they had an interest in.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

WTF?

Check out this excellent article by the Middle of the East, especially the part in which it refers to this piece in The National.

Odd...

Was July 2006 a large scale Coventry?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Lost in Translation

So the election season is upon us. Each and everyone has started their specifying, and each in his/her own way.

So Hariri, having had his Feb. 14th Groundhog day, is now mouthing of about the sweetness of opposition... And odd way to motivate his partisans, but that's just me. Methinks he has far too much hope in the tribunal, or is he making a few political deals too many?

So Hezb'O'MyGodThereAreZionistsAmongstUs is, well, closing the ranks. Some see this as an the expectation of some tribunal-related questioning, and link it to tourists... Methinks the barbudos doth protest too much...

Either way, it is all part of an early circling of the wagons around each community's sacred cows. So Aoun is now … well.. whatever he's doing, it may work. At least his ministers are doing a good job, especially considering the other incompetents around them.

So the Syrians are moving their pawns around the chessboard, and making "come hither" gestures to the Americans, with those ever perspicacious Europeans in tow.

But most importantly, consider the Americans. They are “engaging” the syrians. Or they are not. Or not yet... Methinks, with all this talk of "balance", they're going after meager returns, thereby showing again that they do not know their head from their ass. This is not a stretch, considering where their best "talent" is...

What does it all mean? Nothing Yet.

Or Nothing New...





Or am I losing something in this "translation" of facts?

Maybe AbuKais is right, after all...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Coincidences

It is interesting how little news Middle Eastern newspapers really provide us with. As they feed us misinformations in the service of shady policies, one has often to read between the lines. In Lebanon, they more often serve us tired tirades disguised as real analysis. So we have to read “outside” the lines … Here’s a couple of little tidbits that we do not read about;

1- the February 12th kidnapping of Joseph Sader, the Middle East Airlines (MEA) director of information technology operations. Coincidence: he may have been related to the fact that he processed and prepared files related to the Hariri assassination case.

2- The February 18th assassination of Ghassan Miqdad, the MEA pilot, found dead in his own car in Beirut’s Ouzai district. Coincidence: he had transported the Hariri files to The Hague on Feb. 9. Coincidence: 2 months ago, his brother, Mohammed, was similarly assassinated, in the same area. Coincidence: 2 weeks before that, his house was burglarized.

And the biggest Coincidence of all; both the Airport and Ouzai district are under the control of Hezb’O. So as they hide their head up their own gluteus maximus;

Lebanon's great and good say it’s all personal.

I say its just business as usual

Bring on the Salami...



...Paranoid, eh?

Update: No. My source(s) are not Al-Siyassa, which I do not read anyway. And that's all I have to to say about that... For now.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Kahane's own Yvette

Regardless who prevails to become the next Israeli Prime-Minister, he/she will have a heavy burden to bear. And no, it’s not “Palestinian Terrorism”; it’s Avigdor “Yvette” Lieberman. His rise to kingmaker has two main implications for the region, both of which are far reaching.

In the Immediate...

Whatever his merits(?), the home-made brew that this guy’s spewing is far more toxic than Kahane’s. Yes, the language is milder, but the undertones are the same, and worse, the whole venom is now accepted discourse in Israeli politics.

Such venom has a uniquely corrosive effect; ever since its establishment, Israel claimed some form or moral right. Whatever the merits of the Zionist cause, this gave Israel a boost, especially considering the dismal record of the regimes surrounding it. Today, this may well be all unravelling; by welcoming their own Ahmadi-nut-job within mainstream politics, Israelis are losing whatever moral high ground was left.

Even the stupid Gaza campaign does not carry the same cost. As Lieberman’s stature and influence grows, expect more comparisons to be made with Le Pen or Haider. And expect some unwelcome reactions.

Externally, the rise of such right-wing racists will only feed western anti-Semites. But those nut-jobs hardly need an excuse anyway. The larger danger is Internal. Those being constantly accused of being a fifth column may finally decide to become one, especially as the Settler movement continues to act with impunity. And then Israel will find that a home-grown Intifada is a far harder challenge to face, an inconvenient “fact on the ground” that no “security fence” can hide away.

On the Long run

An additional effect of Lieberman’s rise would be on the regional “peace process”, whatever that still means.

The current Israeli leadership will have to contend and growing dissent among Diaspora Jews, most of whom are not really too far from Hannah Arendt. In addition, the current Obama administration is far less Likudnik than the previous one.

However, that does not mean that the current Obama administration will be much less tone-deaf than the previous one. As a result, the new Israeli government will be pressured to show some progress on the “peace track”. And rather than choosing the Palestinian track, it will buy time and "keep Obama busy" on the simpler "Syrian track", where it finds a far more accommodating partner.

...And so, for Lebanon...

Interesting times, Ahoy!

Update/Modification: It seems I'm not the only one feeling uneasy about Ol'Yvette, as there appears to be a similar mood south of the Mason-Dixon line.  The video is therefore more fitting than the one I had previously selected...


Excerpt from Yvette's speech (H/T Lisa Goldman):

Good Morning, Israel, Citizens, second-class citizens, third-class citizens - and Arabs. I declare the founding of a Jewish state called Yisrael Beiteinu. 

Applause.

The elections were a marvelous experience and they were also a final experience. There will be no more elections. Mina [a famous pollster], your next poll will be called, ‘What do you think of the leader?’ And the answers will be: 

(a) He is excellent; 

(b) He is great; 

(c) He’s totally hot, I’d leave him nothing but his socks and do him right here and now;

(d) All answers are correct with the addition of coconut oil. 

Applause plus whistles.

Regarding the rest of the choices, I decide as follows. 

On planes, regarding chicken or beef - beef. 

For weddings, garden or indoor event space -  indoor event space. 

On Galgalatz (army radio), Madonna or Shakira - Madonna. 

Regarding leftists: If you voted Hadash, you will receive a new (hadash) passport [the leftwing party’s name is an acronym for the Democratic Party for Peace and Equality, but it also means ‘new]

Applause. 

Now lower the volume of the applause. Raise it again. Now applaud according to a jazz rhythm

...May the farce end here...

אף פעם לא