Impressions, views, and steam-blowing by a lonesome cowboy.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Two Good Reads

A couple of good opinion pieces I just read.

First, Amir Taheri makes the point that interrupted wars can be worse than the alternative, by prolonging the conflict for years.

Full article: The Myth of Hezbollah Victory. Excerpts:

One British newspaper speaks of "a convincing victory" for Hezbollah while another claims that Israel "won by achieving most of its objectives."

When all is said and done, however, such claims and counter-claims are irrelevant. The reason that the protagonists know in the heart of their hearts, what the real situation is. Even those who are delusional genetically know, deep down, whether they have won or lost.

The first point that merits consideration is that the world today seldom allows war to do its job to the full.

War occurs when two or more adversaries realize that there are no other means of resolving a political conflict. The task of war is to help the adversaries discover each other's threshold of pain. Once one adversary is pushed to that threshold he would surrender, allowing the war to end with a clear winner and a clear loser.

Nowadays, however, war is not allowed to continue until that threshold of pain is discovered. In most cases, the so-called "international community", symbolized by the UN, intervenes to stop war before it has done its job. As a result, in the past five or six decades, the world has become full of inconclusive wars each of which has bred an even bigger conflict. The mini-war fought between Israel and Hezbollah is no exception.

That, however, is not the case with the people of Lebanon who will have to pay the price of the conflicting claims of victory made by the various protagonists. They did come close to their threshold of pain and were clearly not prepared to see the war continue much longer.

That may well be the only good news to come out of this tragedy. Those who wish to plunge Lebanon in another war for whatever reason may have to think twice before they pull the trigger.

The most pain in this last war was, of course, inflicted on the Lebanese. I am still hoping that somehow that pain will be translated into a debate on the madness of the internal situation in Lebanon and on resolving it. However I must say my hope hangs on little, if any, evidence so far.

Ralph Peters has a good summary of where we are now in the Middle East and in the war on terror, and what to expect next. New York Post piece: Moment Of Truth, some excerpts:

Lebanon, the region's other "almost" democracy, is in shambles, thanks to Hezbollah's ruthlessness and Israel's misjudgments. By failing to take Lebanon's complex group psychologies into account, Israel's air campaign converted Hezbollah opponents into Hezbollah supporters.

Syria escaped the recent fighting with just a few tactical nicks. Now Bashar Assad appears stunningly unaware of his odious regime's vulnerability. And over-confident dictatorships do very stupid things.

[Paging Ammar Abdul-Hamid, you there?]

The region's Sunni- Arab autocracies - on which we have relied, to our great shame - are terrified and unstable. Egypt, the Gulf city-states and even Saudi Arabia expected Israel to make short work of the Shia-Hezbollah problem. Instead, Hezbollah won - and the subjects of those sheiks and kings and eternal presidents have been cheering.

Crucial oil producers on the Arab side of the Persian Gulf grow more vulnerable each day. Iran intends to exert hegemony over the region through nuclear threats and the exploitation of Shia discontents. The world's worst real-estate investment is luxury property in Dubai.

Both articles are worth a full read.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Risky Fad: Siniora is a Star

In the past few days, PM Siniora* stopped impersonating a "caracon" sergeant, who merely reports the number of dead and wounded, and said "no" to Condi Rice and later went on to shed a few tears during an emotional speech before the useless meeting of useless people (Arab Foreign Ministers) from the useless Arab League.

And now bloggers, friends and family, and political commentators are all fawning about an "emerging leader", a "wise man", an "historic PM".

I think these words are at the very least premature, if not plain wrong. Bloggers know I have dubbed him "Milquetoast" Siniora.

Don't misunderstand me. I believe PM Siniora is a decent man in a very tight spot. I believe PM Siniora is well intentioned and that his tears were heart-felt for the plight of his fellow citizens. However, that can be said of most Lebanese and is not enough to make one a historic leader.

What is needed from a leader in times of war, is bold action, strong words, and vision. None of which appear forthcoming. The government is now talking about sending the army to the south, a welcome move but a move that is a year too late.

When the Iranian and/or Syrian Foreign Ministers contradicts, from Lebanese soil, the Lebanese government's view on a cease-fire resolution, I don't want to hear it's "over the limit". I want my PM to kick their butts out (sorta like Rice).

Siniora, at least, ought to have had the Iranian ambassador recalled. What could happen? Iran might stop shipping us rockets? Nasrallah is going to howl? Even better! Embarrass the crap out of him by looking strong, and taking the initiative. That is how people rally around you.

Siniora has yet to be clear on his government's position on crucial matters, including Hezbollah.

I understand the need to be cautious with Hezbollah, but Lebanon got in this mess by having an incoherent policy, and won't get out of the mess by remaining incoherent.

Here are a few notes from the Charlie Rose interview (Aug 4 show) and his "tears" speech at the Arab League meeting (paraphrasing):

- Siniora: The core problem is/was Shebaa, prisoners in Israel and the mines. That is disingenuous, as he knows Hezbollah is on the record saying that that is not enough, and the Jewish State has no right to exist. I never heard Siniora or Hezbo say "solve these and we have no problem". Siniora may have wanted to, but did not do it. So spare me.

- Siniora: Hezbollah did not tell the government about the attack, so the government cannot be held responsible. Ok Fouad, you are a 4-year old, I am three, and it's all one big joke. (????)

- Siniora: We don’t want Lebanon to be the punching bag for all the regional causes. Then he rants about the Golan Heights and Gaza and the 1967 territories. You don’t want to be a punching bag? Use your head and disengage yourself from the regional issues (to the extent you can). The Golan is a bigger problem for Syria. Why are Syria's' bridges still standing?

-Siniora: Our "Ourouba" [Arabism/arabness] is not conditional. What the hell does that mean? I say it should be EXTREMELY "conditional". Maybe it should be on OUR own terms. That's exactly HOW we became the "punching bag", Foufou. All others are "conditional" Arabs. We're the only unconditional buffoons, with results before our very eyes. A connection there? Ya think? Naahhh!

- Siniora: Let's solve the Lebanese problem (Shebaa etc) and then we can solve the regional problem and have peace. Seconds later. It’s the other way around: Solve Palestine, so Lebanon can have peace. OK I am lost. Which is it?

- Siniora: The protection of Lebanon is the job of the government. Thanks for the news flash Fouad. When is that job going to start? And do you still need Nasrallah's OK for this?

- Siniora: Let's have land for peace (in the region) and solve the whole mess, then Lebanon will be the "last" one to sign peace with Israel. Fine, so it's not just about Shebaa and the mine map, is it? Apparently there is a list of countries, and we are at the bottom of it. (Fine, I don't care, but let's be clear as to why.)

So in my "summary": If not Shebaa-etc then we are linked to other problems. And if we are, then we are likely to become the punching bag, especially if the government is not in charge, which it wants to be, but can't really because of Hezbollah…

Do you get the sinking feeling there is no coherence and we are going in circles trying to catch our own tail?

Coherence and honesty are NECESSARY for a sane successful policy (i.e. where people are not killed). We are not there yet.

And no, Siniora is just a decent man, an incompetent PM who is still spewing deadly inane cliches. By hailing mediocrity and dereliction of duty we perpetuate both.

I hope Siniora does grow quickly into the leader some bloggers "see", though time has almost run out. In the meantime, the stage is still hogged by Nasrallah and his mad agenda.

*or Saniora or Seniora or Sanioura.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Here Comes Fatfat!

These are the people in charge of Lebanon. Oh mighty God, have mercy on all of us.

Ahmad Fatfat is the interim Interior Minister. Word in Beirut is that he is one of the smart ones in the current government. I'll give him credit for showing his face on TV, which is more than can be said about PM Milquetoast Siniora and AWOL Defense Minister Murr. During the first week of the war, the champions of TV appearances were the Minister of Culture and the Minister of Sports. The Minister of post-Um-Kulthum Tarab Music was a close third.

It was all very reassuring not to hear form the top brass while the country was being bombed to kingdom-come.

Now to Fatfat, from an interview with the Aussie ABC from August 2, 2006 (hat tip Claire, full interview here):

WARNING! Long rambling sentences, but worth the read to gauge the depth of the catastrophic incompetence and incoherence we are facing.

TONY JONES: Why is it, Dr Fatfat, why is it the Lebanese Government and the Lebanese army have been unable to make any headway at all up to and before this offensive began in disarming Hezbollah and taking away its missiles, which are situated on your own sovereign territory?

DR AHMAD FATFAT: It's a very interesting question. Look, you have an occupied territory by Israel in Shebaa. They don't get out, they don't withdraw from it. We have three prisoners in Israel. One of them is still there for 29 years. You understand 29 years in the prison. All the days, all over the last month, the sovereignty of our space in air, in water, on the ground was affected by Israel. So why did we have to have the resistance? We not have the obligation to do the resistance to this all-Israeli aggression. If they want peace, it is so easy. They can get out from Shebaa, they can liberate the prisoner, give us the plan and the map of the mine in Lebanon they put 10 years, more than 10 years, ago and they respect our sovereignty. In this case, it is so easy to control all of the border by the Israeli army and to have a real control and real sovereignty on Lebanon. Basically, they don't want peace. They really prefer this situation because they prefer to make a war against Lebanon, than to have it against Syria or against Iran.

Is Fatfat offering "peace" for Shebaa, a few prisoners and a mine map? Of course not, Israel would gulp that offer in 2 secs. The Lebanese government is on record "last country to make peace" and Hezbo is on record "no peace ever ever never ever."

It gets better (or rather worse).

TONY JONES: Dr Fatfat, it sounds like you are in fact supporting the offensive which began with Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel. You describe that as resistance, do you?

DR AHMAD FATFAT: Sure because Israel is doing the same. Now any act of war against Israel is a act of resistance. It's a war. They impose - they want this war. We want peace, but they prefer to have war. It is a price of the war for everybody.

The meaning of the above paragraph is a fascinating mystery to me. Read on.

TONY JONES: But it does seem clear that in this case, this war began with Hezbollah bombing with its missiles Israeli cities. Now, you are part of the Lebanese Government. Under the UN Security Council Resolution 1559 under which the Syrian army was withdrawn from Lebanon, your government was obliged to actually disarm Hezbollah, but now you are telling us you actually support what they are doing.

DR AHMAD FATFAT: No, no. It is different. It is so different. We have, as I said, an occupied territory. We have a plan of seven points that our Prime Minister presents to the meeting in Rome a few days ago. It is so clear. After a complete cease-fire, we exchange prisoners, we ask Israel to go to the blue line, the border line, we can - so we stop to attack Lebanon and they have to respect our sovereignty. So we accept to have international forces. By international, what we mean is UN forces to control the zone, to protect Lebanon from Israeli attack and to respect cease-fire and the Lebanese army can have the control of all of the Lebanese territory so we can have no more attack. This is a solution to go to the agreement of armistice of 49 because this is not a war beginning now. It's a war of at least - very soon it will be for 60 years. It's a new battle.

The mystery deepens but in typical Arab fashion, after a devastating loss on the terrain, Fatfat thinks he can go back to the status quo ante. (You know like: hey dude let's go back to 1948 borders or 67 borders, it'd be cool)

TONY JONES: Dr Fatfat, do you agree Hezbollah, and their missiles, should have been disarmed in southern Lebanon or do you think they are in fact part of a resistance movement of which your government is part? It is quite confusing.

DR AHMAD FATFAT: No, no, no, not confusing. Until now - until we have occupied territory in Shebaa and we have prisoners, we have the obligation to have resistance. We cannot dismiss like that. We can not resign. What you are asking me is that you resign occupied territory with prisoners in relation to our space, of our water every day? It is not admissible. No one can admit this situation. If they respect the Lebanon territory, they respect Lebanon independencies and leave the Lebanese territory in Shebaa, they leave our prisoner, so no need to resist us or militia or anything. Now we can not except the nomination of militia to Hezbollah. It is a resistance and we need peace. We are working for a package deal and this package deal, this agreement, Hezbollah has partly accepted. So we present it to the international community in Rome and our friends in the Arab world and in Europe accept it. We have only now to convince the American diplomacy so we can have a lot of pressure on Israel to stop this war and have cease-fire. Then we are going to a real package deal to have real peace in our region.

Is he intimating that before July 12, life in Lebanon was terrible and conditions intolerable? Well thanks Hezbo and Fatfatian "tolerators", you took care of that.

You can read the whole thing if you are into masochism. And if you can make sense out of any of it, I'll nominate you for the 2006 Nobel in Logic.

For my part I'll say: this is what happens when you try to entertain a major contradiction on important matters: You sound like a fool and your policies lead to disaster. Maybe after all Fatfat is not as smart as Murr and Siniora who were in hiding the first 2 weeks and are keeping their mouths shut (for the most part).

Those are the people in charge of Lebanon. Lord have mercy.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Circus of Irrelevance

The number of Lebanese blogs has exploded after July 12, as have the number of comments on said blogs. The quality, on the other hand, went straight down as the degree of irrelevance went straight up.

What do Israel/Bush/Hezbollah want? What were their intentions before all of this started? What are their intentions now? Who are the bad guys? Who are the good guys? Did the Qana building collapse in 5 minutes or 8 hours? How many warnings were given to the hapless UN guys before bombing? Was it a Katyusha or a Fajr or a Shahine rocket?

Who cares? So what? Those questions do not change a thing.

Rally here and rally there. Make sure you rally against war, because you know the other side desires war, and delights in killing innocent children for no reason.

Poets, songwriters and official Arab spokes-idiots are working overtime, bringing to mind the fable of the Arab Prince:

My Lord, my lord, the enemy is at the gates of our city, what shall we do? Tell the people not to worry, I have written a poem against it.

Petition this and petition that. Make sure you are on record somewhere that you are against war, and for peace. Get a clear conscience on the cheap. Lest people think you are a warmonger.

"Cease-fire Now" say the knee-jerk peaceniks who don't understand there is a connection between battlefield developments and the negotiating table. "Cease-fire Now" DEMAND Siniora and his ministers when they could not even demand a falafel sandwich from their own orderlies.

While in Beirut, with minor exceptions, I found the discourse by politicians and by TV commentators to be appalling.

One journalist-bimbo with tattooed-and-botoxed lips (like the war wasn't scary enough) suggested it was OK for Hezbo to take us to war because they are, after all, a Lebanese party with supporters and representation in parliament. It took me 5 minutes to recover my breath.

A moron on LBC (Nharkom Sa3id, not sure of his name maybe Walid Abboud)) spent an hour discussing with his guest whether Hezbo had anticipated the Israeli response or not. Yeah, the guy under the rubble really cares about that.

The same LBC guy then uttered something to the effect that "yeah there was devastation in the country but what about the honor of the Lebanese and the Arabs." I don't know if he was merely playing devil's advocate but he sounded like a fucking idiot. Again, the guy who lost his family really cares about that.

Finally that same idiot and others (and poll questions) went on to ponder: what of the timing of the operation? Do you approve or disapprove of the timing?

LOADED question if I ever saw one. See, let's talk about the timing and the screwing up of the summer season, not that this action by Hezbo was an irresponsible criminal and catastrophic decision.

Of course, other things equal, it would have been better to let the poor Lebanese make a few bucks this summer. However what kind of demented people discuss sovereignty, national security, and the long-term 30-year future of the nation in terms of a 2-month summer outlook??? Next time Israel and Hezbo, it's OK to have your war and destroy the Lebanese infrastructure, as long as it is in February not July!!!!

That's in part how we got here. Ssshhhh, let Hezbo do whatever, the tourists are coming. Ssshhhh, let Hezbo do whatever because things are quiet this week, let's kick the can up the road. Not only that, let's make sure we compliment Nasrallah and his party of crazies at every turn cuz, wink-wink, there may be a few votes for me next election.

Silly intellectuals will bore you with dates and citations and irrelevant rhetoric. Crazy ideologues want to drown the debate and hide the issue with irrelevant notions: 1948, Palestinian plight, Bush, the umma, Kuntar, Shebaa, whatever. It was hell trying to get informed in Beirut surfing the channels.

I know this: Israel had been threatening all of Lebanon with pain and destruction. It finally decided to act after Hezbo committed an act of war (killing 8 soldiers and kidnapping 2 in Israeli territory).

My own ass could have, and did, predict this catastrophe. Why couldn't Nasrallah, Lahoud, Siniora etc? And if they did see it coming they look even worse.

The main fact to focus on: Had Hezbo not crossed the Blue Line in contravention with the 1949 armistice and other resolutions, the catastrophe would have been avoided. Israel was waiting for an excuse? Don't give them the fucking excuse.

Now Hezbollah screwed up big time and it is back to: "Sssshhh" let "them" do whatever because we are under attack. NO. We tried that. It does not work.

How about this, the government denounces Israel and Nasrallah and pledges all sorts of support for the South and its population now and in the future. Also, the army moves into non-Hezbo areas and vacated Hezbo areas gradually but starting with a couple of areas NOW (not Bint Jbeil obviously). The army also announces it will do that for every vacated area and fire on anyone trespassing, including Israel (has to be done very skillfully).

No international force, no waiting for Condi, no talks with anyone and certainly not Nasrallah. Anyone against that (Lahoud etc)? Speak up and go down as a traitor (again).

PS I recognize the last part is not very well thought-out but I think something along those lines is workable. I wanted to include a potential solution to counter those who always make excuses that "nothing" can be done.