Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ads in Lebanon against Sectarianism

This ad states the case against sectarianism better than I'm capable of writing it.

We're all Lebanese and we all have to live together whether we like it or not.

Monday, November 27, 2006


Whenever the world get you down it's always nice to look at some Miro works...

Either Miro or some inexplicable YouTube video. Both do the trick.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

J'accuse - Who's doing the killing in Lebanon?

Over the past two years Lebanon has seen a surge in the number of political assassinations. The targets have all been members of the "March 14" anti-Syrian coalition and, with exception of ex-PM Rafiq Hariri, Christians from the Metn area.

The question is on most people's minds is: who is doing the killing and how can they be linked back to the Syrian Baath regime who is trying to retake Lebanon after their ignominious departure following the Hariri bombing.

Before delving further I'll state my first hypothesis: That the actors who carried out the Hariri assassination, while they be linked to, are not the same actors who killed the other politicians and journalists after that assassination.
Why? The Hariri assassination was from an operational point of view much more complicated, riskier and bigger than the ones following it.
Hariri spent a fortune on security. He had several heavily armored cars with identical license plates, signal jammers and a whole host of other high tech equipment along with a full complement of trusted bodyguards. Killing him needed coordination between a large group of people, a huge amount of explosives, technical expertise, heavy surveillance and possibly a suicide bomber. The following assassinations (like the one of Pierre Gemayel this week) have been much smaller and simpler affairs. For example: a small, pre-assembled under a car seat or a simple shooting of an unarmored car.

The Hariri assassination required operational planning on a military scale - hence I suspect that the Syrian secret police was directly involved. Circumstantial evidence points in that direction too with a truck that was used in the bombing had crossed over from Syria in the few days previous to the bombing.

The other assassination could be carried by very small cells with little training. They are completely different in character and execution.

Onto the suspects:

Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard (Pasdaran)
The Iranian contact to Hezbollah providing training and equipment. The elite of the Islamic regime in Iran.
Highly unlikely. They do not really operate outside of the Shiite areas and therefore have little contact with the Christian and Sunni communities. They try to keep as low a profile as possible and getting involved in the day-to-day operations against the March 14 group would risk blowing their cover. Their main focus tends to be Israel and America anyway.

Syrian Intelligence (aka Mukhabarat)
There is no real doubt that they have been involved on some level. They probably pick the targets and without doubt provide the material (bombs and guns) but are most likely not directly involved in the killings. They pass them off to a Lebanese sub-contractor under control and tutelage. The reason for this is simple: plausible deniability. If Lebanese get caught Syria can still deny any involvement; that would be impossible if a Syrian was caught. Additionally most of the big bombings and killings in Lebanon during the past thirty years have been carried out by Lebanese (and mostly with the backing of outside powers).
-The US Embassy and marine barracks bombing - carried out by the Mughniyeh cell, the nucleus of what would later become Hezbollah with help from Syria and Iran.
-The attempted killing of Shiite cleric Fadlallah - carried out by a Christian militia with backing of the US.
-I could go on... but why bother... lots of killing and mostly by Lebanese.

Possible subcontractors:

Lebanese Intelligence
The probability of this is next to zero. After the fall of the pro-Syrian government they are no longer trusted with such sensitive missions. Many top figures from the service were indicted for serious crimes relating to the Hariri murder; a high price to pay and one that would probably not be paid twice. While the Lebanese intelligence has been stuffed with many Syrian sympathizers over the years it contains many who have contacts with March 14 coalition. So while parts of it still carry out surveillance and such on behalf of the Syrians they won't be asked to do any of the killing.

The smaller of the two pro-Syrian Shiite parties. Led by speaker of the house Nabih Berri. Receives support from Syria and Iran but on an order of magnitude less than Hezbollah.
This party is barely hanging on. It has positioned itself as the "moderate" pro-Syrian party, acting as a buffer between Hezbollah and the other parties. This position is coming very difficult to hold as the strain between Hezbollah and the other parties increases (as it does with every assassination). The killing of opponents does not strengthen the party but weakens it. Additionally their military wing is all but defunct and they never possessed any serious special operations capabilities.

Biggest Shiite party. Founded in the 1980s under Iranian tutelage. Fought Israel for 20 years and is the only Arab force ever to force an Israeli pullback without negotiation (in 2000). Currently trying to topple the government and force fresh elections or, forgoing that, have veto power over all cabinet decisions. Biggest armed group in Lebanon and one of the biggest employers in the country.
Definitely have the motive and the means. They are trying to topple the government and every dead minister brings them closer to that goal. They have special operations capabilities (through training and armament by the Pasdaran). That said, while they may have advanced knowledge of the assassinations I'm no longer sure they really play a part in them. First of all, the discovery of a Hezbollah role in political assassinations would immediately spark a civil war something Hezbollah does not want (at least right now). And second of all, Hezbollah has zero presence in the communities and areas where the assassinations are taking place. A car full of young Shiites driving around in Sin-il-Fil (where Pierre Gemayel was killed) would attract quite a bit of attention in these tense times. Also the people who killed Gemayel knew his schedule and security precautions inside and out. This suggests long term surveillance - knowing which route he takes, which car he's in (he switched cars frequently), what his schedule is like. This kind of surveillance needs an unseen presence in these heavily Christian areas. Hezbollah does not have such a presence. Also the killing of Pierre Gemayel has hurt Hezbollah (for now), robbing them of their political momentum and forcing them to temporarily cancel street protests.

General Aoun
Christian ex-General in the Lebanese army. Spent the Civil War fighting against the Syrians and their allies. Recently returned from exile and has recast himself as a pro-resistance Hezbollah ally in a bid to become the next President.
Does have a large presence in the Christian communities of the Metn. But while the killing of anti-Syrian Christian politicians eliminates his rivals it, on balance, does not help him. After the news of Gemayel's death pictures of Aoun were burnt in the streets and his name cursed in Christian neighborhoods where he previously enjoyed some support. He is now in an impossible position of having to back the Syrians and Hezbollah while at the same time condemning actions that help them (and eliminate his sworn enemies). Has been seriously damaged by the events of the past few days. Highly unlikely that he would approve of the Gemayel assassination. Also, after such a long absence from the country and the destruction of his military forces in 1990 he no longer controls a serious armed group capable of carrying out political murders. Below you'll find a video of his posters being burned in East Beirut.

Syrian Nationalist Socialist Party (SSNP)
A Lebanese political party (despite the name). Has almost non-existent public support. Founded in the thirties, in modern times has become an extension of the Syrian regime in Lebanon. Has a very strong relationship with Syrian intelligence. Most of its members are part of the Greek Orthodox sect. Before the Cedar Revolution controlled various ministries through cabinet appointments and had deputies in the parliament. No longer present on any level in the Lebanese government - a big loser in the Cedar Revolution. The similarities in name and insignia to the Nazi party are not coincidental - the SSNP was modeled after it.
For the past years has basically been an extension of the Syrian intelligence apparatus. Has a history of being involved in the cloak-and-dagger world of political assassination (for example the killing of president-elect Bashir Gemayel in 1982 - Pierre's uncle). Its members have a strong motivation to bring Lebanon back into Syria's sphere of influence; not only it that their stated ideology of the party but it would return them to power and prominence. The party also - through Syrian training - maintains a shadow force of surveillance personnel, intimidators and the like. Additionally they are present in most of the heavily Christian areas (being Greek Orthodox Christians themselves for the most part and are based out of the Metn area) and could move around without too much suspicion. Also many of the assassin's targets have been Greek Orthodox:
Anti-Syrian politician George Hawi, ex-head to the Communist party - killed by a car bomb.
Anti Syrian journalist and politician Gibran Tueni - killed by a car bomb.
Anti-Syrian journalist Samir Qasir - killed by a car bomb.

All this leads to an obvious conclusion: the SSNP and its operatives are by far the most likely suspects in the wave of assassinations against Christian leaders.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Analyzing Hezbollah

(I hope it makes sense it was written in a haste and with probably too much passion to allow clear thought.)

Thoughts about what the $@%* they’re thinking.

I always thought that Hezbollah, at least on some basic level, was working for what they perceived to be the best interests of their constituents. It appears that either I was wrong or something has changed. The Shiite community is the backbone of Hezbollah and has paid dearly in this summer’s conflict with Israel. What is best for the Shiites now is a period of calm, rebuilding and hopefully some type of economic rebound. This will allow the pledged grant money to roll in from the outside, pay for some rebuilding and possibly pave the way to a return to normal. Hezbollah is pushing the country in the opposite direction, dangerously close to a civil war, by making unreasonable demands of the government while at the same time leveling ludicrous and inflammatory accusations at it.

Currently Hezbollah is in trouble and in more ways than one. The summer war, while providing the Party of God with a temporary boon, has created many structural problems for the group. The war has left the group in a weaker state strategically and politically.

Strategically the war, while a big propaganda victory, turned out to be a disaster in the short and medium term (how it will be viewed in the long term depends on what happens now). They lost many of their best fighters, used much of their arsenal, spent a lot of money, had many of their bunkers and other infrastructure destroyed, revealed many surprise tactics and have nothing to show for it. Actually less than nothing – they now have ten thousand international UN troops and the Lebanese army deployed in the south (previously a Hezbollah only zone). Also, while the militia can still rearm via Syria it has become much more difficult to do so with all those eyes watching every move it makes. Additionally while they don’t control the government they cannot risk being discovered bringing large amount of weapons through the sea ports via Iran.

Hezbollah’s political situation, while appearing stronger than ever, is tenuous. While their supporters are proud of the military performance exhibited this summer they are also unhappy – with homes flattened, family members dead and an economy destroyed for a purely symbolic victory, who wouldn’t be? Winter is coming soon, and with some families living tents and with others without heat and electricity it is not going to be a happy season. There are two groups to blame for the heavy burden the Shiite populace has been asked to carry; the Israeli government and the Hezbollah politburo. Blaming Israel is easy, common and frankly, quite useless. After 50 years, it’s pretty clear that the Israeli government’s behavior towards and view of the general Arab population is not going to change. But Shiites blaming Hezbollah for its major miscalculation on the other hand would be groundbreaking and a very dangerous development for the party brass. Hezbollah has been doing all it can to deflect blame. Recently the party’s public pronouncements have taken a turn to the absurd – the leaders have been suggesting that the anti-Syrian government planned the war with the Israelis and was secretly encouraging the Israeli army throughout. (In reality Hezbollah started the war with rocket fire, the killing of Israeli soldiers and the capture of others. Additionally without the hard work of the anti-Syrian coalition and their contacts with the West the war would not have ended as quickly and unfinished as it did. And, most importantly Hezbollah was part of the government, holding several cabinet positions making some kind of pro-Israeli chicanery next to impossible.) This accusation is being made to attach blame to the government and to divide the population even more along sectarian lines in what is increasingly becoming a no-holds barred struggle for the control of Lebanon. The politics of fear and conspiracy is something Hezbollah practices with aplomb.

(The absurdities are endless. They call themselves the protectors of Lebanon and accuse others of subverting Lebanese sovereignty while accepting the murder of their enemies by foreign intelligence services and their Lebanese agents. They demand veto power over the cabinet while withholding the right to drag the country into war at whim.)

So Hezbollah is trying to regain the upper hand by exchanging the loss of homes, lives, and hard won autonomy in their areas into political gains. Hezbollah is demanding a veto over all cabinet decisions (even though last year’s election results clearly do not warrant such a prize) and the squashing of the international tribunal investigating the assassination of ex-PM Rafiq Harriri by Syrian agents (which they privately applauded, and possibly had a hand in). Other demands include early elections (in order to attempt to secure control of the parliament before it votes for a new president next year) and possibly a constitutional revisal allowing a Shiite president (currently he must be a Maronite Christian).
The logic of these positions hinges on new polls (conducted by Hezbollah) showing that Hezbollah would win elections if they are held today and the fact that the Shiites are a plurality of the populations but do control the cabinet, parliament, presidency or prime-minister’s office. This all sounds reasonable unless you think about it (thinking has never been a problem for Nasrallah and the boys). Elections are held at regular intervals or when the government fails to win a vote of confidence not whenever a minority party believes it can win or the polls change (I won’t bother to point out the rest of the errors in the logical gymnastics routine that is that Hezbollah argument). In free and fair parliamentary elections held in the summer of 2005 Hezbollah and its allied parties did not win enough seats to control the government but after negotiation the ruling coalition gave them cabinet appointments anyway (but not enough to veto cabinet decisions). The parliament votes in the PM and the cabinet explaining the legitimate control of those instruments by groups other than Hezbollah. As for Hezbollah's leaders often heard complaint that the Shiite plurality is under-represented; that they, as the largest group, should rule the country - it too is fundamentally flawed. While Shiites are about 35% to 40% of the populations as long as Hezbollah cannot convince some part of the rest of the country to agree with them it is pretty unrealistic to demand control of the executive - at least without making any kind of concessions.
And meanwhile back in the real world one big problem in Lebanon is that Hezbollah and its allies (foreign and domestic) control the presidency now and are using it to paralyze the government. Maronite President Emile Lahoud is a Syrian lapdog, a holdover from the previous parliament (and from what I hear as closeted as a pair of flared slacks) and could not be more pro-Hezbollah is he spoke farsi. The real danger for Hezbollah comes next year when Lahoud’s term is up and a new president will be elected. If that election is held by the current parliament the new president won’t be as friendly to Damascus, Tehran or Hezbollah as Lahoud. This would leave Hezbollah in a weaker position but one that it could definitely recover from as a political party but it is a situation that will probably erode some of its military power.

But Iran and Syria are not interested in Hezbollah as a political party in the long term – they’re interest lies in Hezbollah the military force (a useful tool for poking the Americans and Israelis without much risk to them). They believe that the time of America’s hegemony over the Middle East is over and they want to push it out the door. A well-armed and dominant Hezbollah is key to that strategy even if it means breaking Lebanon (Shiites included) to get it. Hezbollah’s brass is emboldened by their foreign support and more than willing to play along. As long as Iran keep the oil money flowing into party coffers Hezbollah feels that it can punch above its weight in Lebanon, making unreasonable demands and spewing venomous insults. Nasrallah and company don’t care if these actions hurt their people, after all they are adept at using their supporters’ fears and prejudices to deflect attention away from unsavory party business. Strangling the last bits of progressiveness out of Lebanon and rearming to take on the their blood enemy Israel seems to be the only goal now. Hezbollah seems to be saying we're taking over and if you don't like it fight us, shut up or leave.

So that’s were we are today: a wounded and belligerent Hezbollah being encouraged by outside actors to take a reckless course to achieve unwarranted dominance over Lebanon. And so the assassinations begin anew. Today Pierre Gemayel. Tomorrow, who knows? Probably Walid Jumblatt.

And a new worrying development:

This new assassination seems different in character from the others (see 2005 below). While the others were about elimination and intimidation this seems to have the added goal of provocation. The last time a Gemayel was assassinated it caused a bloodbath (Sabra and Shatilla massacres included) that did not end for eight years (see 1982 below). It is unclear if Hezbollah is inviting reprisal in order to justify violence or just sending out a clear message that the civil war option is not one they are afraid of but either way these are bad times for Lebanon.

That’s it for now – but more soon.

FROM THE NYT (more than a few overgeneralizations but whatever):
APRIL 1975 -- Clashes that are later seen as the start of Lebanon's 15-year civil war erupt in Beirut.
JUNE 1976 -- Syrian troops enter Lebanon to restore peace.
OCTOBER 1976 -- Arab conferences establish a predominantly Syrian peacekeeping force.
JUNE 1982 -- After repeated Palestinian incursions from southern Lebanon, Israel begins a full-scale invasion. The Syrian Army is ousted from Beirut.

SEPTEMBER 1982 -- President-elect Bashir Gemayel was killed when a bomb shattered the headquarters of his Lebanese Christian Phalangist Party in east Beirut.
MAY 1983 -- Israel and Lebanon sign a peace accord detailing the withdrawal of Israeli troops.
MARCH 1984 -- Under intense pressure from Syria, the Lebanese government cancels its peace agreement with Israel.
MARCH 1989 -- The Maronite Christian leader in Lebanon, Gen. Michel Aoun, declares a ''war of liberation'' against the Syrian presence.
OCTOBER 1989 -- The Lebanese National Assembly takes a step toward ending the civil war by endorsing the so-called Taif Accord, which calls for Syria to pull its troops back to the eastern Bekaa region but does not set a date for a full pullout.
OCTOBER 1990 -- In one of the last moves of the civil war, Syria's Air Force attacks the Lebanese presidential palace, and General Aoun takes refuge in the French Embassy. Through the early 90's, Syrian dominance in the country becomes less overt.
OCTOBER 1998 -- Emile Lahoud, a general who is backed by Syria, is elected president by Parliament.
MAY 2000 -- Israel ends its occupation of southern Lebanon.
DECEMBER 2000 -- In a surprise move, hundreds of Syrian soldiers leave Beirut and settle in the Bekaa region near the border, though thousands still remain in the country.
2003 -- Syria carries out two partial troop withdrawals, in February and July, bringing its force in Lebanon to about 16,000 soldiers, down from about 30,000 troops in mid-2000.
SEPTEMBER 2004 -- Despite criticism from the U.N. Security Council, Parliament bows to Syrian pressure and extends Mr. Lahoud's presidential term by three years.
OCTOBER 2004 -- Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and his cabinet resign in protest over Syria's dominant role in Lebanese government.
DECEMBER 2004 -- A united Lebanese opposition denounces the Syrian presence and calls for a new government. Later, Syria for the first time admits the presence of its secret service in Lebanon and says it will dismantle the operation.
FEBRUARY 2005 -- Mr. Hariri and 14 others are killed in a car bombing in Beirut.
JUNE 2 -- Samir Kassir, journalist opposed to Syria's role in Lebanon, is killed in Beirut by bomb in his car.
JUNE 21 -- George Hawi, a former Communist Party leader and critic of Syria, is killed in Beirut by bomb in his car.
DECEMBER 12 -- Gebran Tueni, a staunchly anti-Syrian member of parliament and Lebanese newspaper magnate, is killed by a car bomb in Beirut.
NOVEMBER 21 -- Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel is killed by gunmen as his convoy drives through the Christian Sin el-Fil neighbourhood of Beirut.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Not toilet trained

Now this is funny. Check the link: Floor Dumper
In the age of the internet it's impossible to get away with stuff like that. Sorry Frank... it's a new world.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The greatest thing about the internet... aka the many moods of Bill Shatner

Having things like this freely available online is to me what makes the internet great...

I first saw it a few months ago and was quoting it for days afterward.

What a video. Many have seen it but for those who haven't - you must.

Just a tour-de-force in terms of obliviousness; I think his ego crashed my internet connection - it was just too big.

"I'm a rock IT MAN!"

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Mea Culpa, Conservative Style: Not good for anyone

It's usually nice to hear "I told you so." I especially love it when a pea cocking desktop warrior like Richard Perle admits he was wrong (see these exerts from a Vanity Fair article). But when good people like David Brooks give up, I start to give in to despair. As an open-minded and intelligent man I always viewed in him the best of America. He is well read without being effete (he loves the NFL and Proust), he has an intuitive understanding of theory but never takes his eyes of the messiness of the real world. Cool, funny and still a complete geek. Basically encompassing the duality and oxymoronic quality that make America so endlessly fascinating and confusing.
If Americans such as he are giving up on Iraq... God save the Iraqis and the whole Middle East because this could get very ugly.
I hate the US military occupation, I hate the Dept of Defense planning bureau, and I hate the cocksure attitude of Pres Bush in front of unspeakable violence and unimpeachable facts.
At the same time I cannot square these attitudes with a push for an immediate American withdrawal. The emerging consensus in the American center seems to be "we opened up a can of worms we didn't understand, we should get out and let them figure it out."
Unfortunately for the Iraqis "figuring it out" means letting fearsome militias roam their streets and kill civilians with impunity. "Figuring it out" means the collapse of even the hope of central authority. "Figuring it out" means a rivalry ridden and unstable Shiite theocracy in south. "Figuring it out" means the Kurdish north being used as a terrorist base against Turkey. "Figuring it out" means setting back al-Anbar (the Sunni Arab west) several centuries with clan warfare, al-Qaeda havens and a medieval and arbitrary justice system.

All of these trends are already on the march in Iraq and the question the American political class has to ask itself is "Is abandoning ordinary Iraqis to these trends the best we can do?"
I believe it's not, I still believe America is better than that (as it turns out I may be a slow learner). But my opinion is irrelevant and more and more of the relevant people think nothing more can be done. The policy papers with bold new ideas have disappeared and been replaced with articles resembling the one below; long excuses on why its OK to let Iraqis (and some foreigners) butcher Iraqis in hope that someday, somebody will take power and provide stability. Saddam 2.0 or even Ho Chi Min 2.0 - anything or anybody is better that this.
Well Iraq is not Vietnam. Today's Iraq is not 1970s Iraq. There is no large politically integrated armed force ready to take over. Iraq today resembles 1990s Somalia and if left to its own devices it will disintegrate, just like Somalia did, and ooze problems
into the rest of the region for years to come .

Same Old Demons


Policy makers are again considering fundamental changes in our Iraq policy, but as they do I hope they read Elie Kedourie’s essay, “The Kingdom of Iraq: A Retrospect.”

Kedourie, a Baghdad-born Jew, published the essay in 1970. It’s a history of the regime the British helped establish over 80 years ago, but it captures an idea that is truer now than ever: Disorder is endemic to Iraq. Today’s crisis is not three years old. It’s worse now, but the crisis is perpetual. This is a bomb of a nation.

“Brief as it is, the record of the kingdom of Iraq is full of bloodshed, treason and rapine,” Kedourie wrote.

And his is a Gibbonesque tale of horror. There is the endless Shiite-Sunni fighting. There is a massacre of the Assyrians, which is celebrated rapturously in downtown Baghdad. Children are gunned down from airplanes. Tribal wars flare and families are destroyed. A Sunni writer insults the Shiites and the subsequent rioters murder students and policemen. A former prime minister is found on the street by a mob, killed, and his body is reduced to pulp as cars run him over in joyous retribution.

Kedourie described “a country riven by obscure and malevolent factions, unsettled by the war and its aftermath.” He observed, “The collapse of the old order had awakened vast cupidities and revived venomous hatreds.”

In 1927, a British officer asked a tribal leader: “You now have a government, a constitution, a parliament, ministers and officials — what more can you want?” The tribal leader replied, “Yes, but they speak with a foreign accent.”

The British tried to encourage responsible Iraqi self-government, to no avail. “The political ambitions of the Shia religious headquarters have always lain in the direction of theocratic domination,” a British official reported in 1923. They “have no motive for refraining from sacrificing the interests of Iraq to those which they conceive to be their own.”

At one point, the British high commissioner, Sir Henry Dobbs, argued that if Britain threatened to withdraw its troops, Iraqis would behave more responsibly. It didn’t work. Iraqis figured the Brits were bugging out. They concluded it was profitless to cultivate British friendship. Everything the British said became irrelevant.

The Iraq of his youth, Kedourie concluded, “was a make-believe kingdom built on false pretenses.” He quoted a British report from 1936, which noted that the Iraqi government would never be a machine based on law that treated citizens impartially, but would always be based on tribal favoritism and personal relationships. Iraq, Kedourie said, faced two alternatives: “Either the country would be plunged into chaos or its population should become universally the clients and dependents of an omnipotent but capricious and unstable government.” There is, he wrote, no third option.

Today Iraq is in much worse shape. The most perceptive reports describe not so much a civil war as a complete social disintegration. This latest descent was initiated by American blunders, but is exacerbated by the same old Iraqi demons: greed, blood lust and a mind-boggling unwillingness to compromise for the common good, even in the face of self-immolation.

The core problem is the same one Kedourie identified decades ago. Iraq is teetering on the edge of futility. Perhaps a competent occupation could have preserved it as a coherent entity, but now the Iraqi national identity is looking like a suicidal self-delusion.

Partitioning the country would be traumatic, so after the election it probably makes sense to make one last effort to hold the place together. Fire Donald Rumsfeld to signal a break with the past. Alter troop rotations so that 30,000 more troops are policing Baghdad.

But if that does not restore order, if Iraqi ministries remain dysfunctional and the national institutions remain sectarian institutions in disguise, then surely it will be time to accede to reality. It will be time to effectively end Iraq, with a remaining fig-leaf central government or not. It will be time to radically diffuse authority down to the only communities that are viable — the clan, tribe or sect.

A muscular U.S. military presence will be more necessary than ever, to deter neighboring powers and contain bloodshed. And the goals will remain the same: to nurture civilized democratic societies that reject extremism and terror.

But the boundaries may have to change. The war was an attempt to lift a unified Iraq out of its awful history, but history has proved stubborn. It’s time to adjust the plans to reality.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Yo La Tengo

This was a good time - although I was half-asleep and left early. If you want to see a band that knows how to play, doesn't run around like innebriated adolescents and still pounds out loud ball-busting rock, this is one such group.

From the Phoenix in Toronto - "Pass the Hatchet, I think I'm Goodkind":

Robert Kagan - voice of reason

Nobody takes the long view like Kagan. Even though many classify him as a "neo-con" he is, for me at least, the best foreign policy analyst alive today. Deliberate and insightful he has a way of bringing unnoticed long term trends into sharp focus. From the Washington Post.

Staying the Course, Win or Lose

By Robert Kagan
Thursday, November 2, 2006; A17

BRUSSELS -- Here in Europe, people ask hopefully if a Democratic victory in the congressional elections will finally shift the direction of American foreign policy in a more benign direction. But congressional elections rarely affect the broad direction of American foreign policy. A notable exception was when Congress cut funding for American military operations in support of South Vietnam in 1973. Yet it's unlikely that a Democratic House would cut off funds for the war in Iraq in the next two years.

Indeed, the preferred European scenario -- "Bush hobbled" -- is less likely than the alternative: "Bush unbound." Neither the president nor his vice president is running for office in 2008. That is what usually prevents high-stakes foreign policy moves in the last two years of a president's term. In 1988 Ronald Reagan had negotiated a clever agreement to get the dictator Manuel Noriega peacefully out of Panama, but Vice President George H.W. Bush and his advisers feared the domestic political repercussions of cutting a deal with a drug lord at the height of the "war on drugs," so they nixed the plan. The result was that Bush had to invade Panama the very next year to remove Noriega -- but he did get elected.

This President Bush doesn't have to worry about getting anyone elected in 2008 and appears to be thinking only about his place in history. That can lead him to act in ways that please Europeans -- for instance, the vigorous multilateral diplomacy on Iran and North Korea. But it could also take him in directions they will find worrisome if that diplomacy fails.

There is a deeper reason this election, and even the next presidential election, may not change U.S. foreign policy very much. Historically, and especially in the six decades since the end of World War II, there has been much more continuity than discontinuity in foreign policy. New administrations change policy around the margins, and sometimes those changes prove important -- George H.W. Bush temporized about the Balkans; Bill Clinton temporized and then sent troops. Clinton temporized about Iraq and then bombed. George W. Bush temporized and then invaded. But the motives behind American foreign policy, and even the means, don't differ all that much from administration to administration. Republicans berated the Democrats' "cowardly" containment until they took the White House in 1952, then adopted that strategy as their own.

This tendency toward continuity is particularly striking on the issue that most divides Americans from Europeans today: the use of military force in international affairs. Americans of both parties simply have more belief in the utility and even justice of military action than do most other peoples around the world. The German Marshall Fund commissions an annual poll that asks Europeans and Americans, among other things, whether they agree with the following statement: "Under some conditions, war is necessary to obtain justice." Europeans disagree, and by a 2 to 1 margin. But Americans overwhelmingly support the idea that war may be necessary to obtain justice. Even this year, with disapproval of the Iraq war high, 78 percent of American respondents agreed with the statement.

This broad bipartisan conviction is reflected in U.S. policies. Between 1989 and 2003, the United States engaged in significant military actions overseas on nine occasions under Bush I, Clinton and Bush II: Panama in 1989, Somalia in 1992, Haiti in 1994, Bosnia in 1995-96, Kosovo in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq three times -- 1991, 1998 and 2003, an average of one major military action every year and a half.

The reasons for this prolific use of military force have to do with the nation's history -- Americans have been fighting what they considered just and moral wars since the Revolution and the Civil War. And it has to do with Americans' relative power. It is no accident that the United States began to use force more frequently after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Those who imagine that the Iraq imbroglio may change this approach could be right, but the historical record suggests otherwise. Less than six years after the defeat in Vietnam, Americans were electing Reagan on a promise to restore American military power and engage in a concerted arms race with the Soviet Union.

Even today leading Democrats who oppose the Iraq war do not oppose the idea of war itself or its utility. They're not even denouncing a defense budget approaching $500 billion per year. While Europeans mostly reject the Bush administration's phrase "the war on terror," leading Democrats embrace it and accuse the administration of not pursuing it vigorously or intelligently enough. Nor do leading Democrats reject the premise of the United States as the world's "indispensable nation" -- a notion that most Europeans find offensive at best and dangerous at worst.

In this respect, there is even less debate over the general principles of American foreign policy than during the Vietnam era. In those days, opponents of the war insisted that not just President Richard Nixon was rotten but that the "system" was rotten. They did not just reject the Vietnam War, they rejected the whole containment strategy of Dean Acheson and Harry Truman, which, they rightly claimed, helped produce the intervention in the first place. They rejected the idea that the United States could be a benevolent force in the world.

Today Democrats insist that the United States will be such a force as soon as George W. Bush leaves office. Although they pretend they have a fundamental doctrinal dispute with the Bush administration, their recommendations are less far-reaching. They argue that the United States should generally try to be nicer, employ more "soft power" and be more effective when it employs "hard power." That may be good advice, but it hardly qualifies as an alternative doctrine.

Many around the world will thrill at the defeat of Republicans next week. They should enjoy the moment while they can. When the smoke clears, they will find themselves dealing with much the same America, with all its virtues and all its flaws.

Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund, writes a monthly column for The Post. He is the author of "Dangerous Nation," a history of American foreign policy.

How Saddam ran Iraq

I'm back... kinda... even though close to nobody reads this... more explanation later.

- This is how Saddam ran Iraq; like a paranoid tribal sheik from the twelfth century. Western Iraq, a place with a strong nomadic tradition, was always a violent place. It's the kind of place that sharia brought brutal but fair order to long ago. Saddam expanded on that tradition - expanded in its methods and results (more violence in terms of amount and intensity) and its geographical reach (to the rest of the country). Here's a small insight into the way he thought. Whether the world likes it or not - we are seeing the fruits of Saddam's Iraq today. His legacy is going to a dominant and bloody factor for a long time.

From the BBC:

By Jeremy Bowen
Middle East editor, BBC News
The American journalist Bob Woodward, in his third book about the Bush administration at war, State of Denial, relates a story told by Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, who was the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States.

Prince Bandar recalls a conversation that Saddam Hussein had with King Fahd of Saudi Arabia after a group of extremists took over the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979.

The rebels had been caught and thrown into jail, and this was the Iraqi leader's advice: "In my mind, there is no question that you are going to kill all 500, that's a given.

"Listen to me carefully, Fahd. Every man who in this group who has a brother or father - kill them. If they have a cousin who you think is man enough to go for revenge, kill them.

"Those 500 people are a given. But you must spread the fear of God in everything that belongs to them, and that's the only way you can sleep at night."

That seems to have been the tactic that Saddam Hussein used at Dujail in 1982, when - after an attempt to assassinate him - 148 people were killed. It is the crime for which he has been sentenced to hang.

Perhaps Saddam Hussein will accept his fate on the gallows as an occupational hazard of being a despot. Or maybe he never intended his own rules to apply to himself.