Winter of our Discontent

BEIRUT — Anyone paying any attention to al-wada (the situation) in Lebanon knows things ain’t good. The weather is affecting everything, from food deliveries to electricity. Skiing’s good up in Faraya, I hear, though.
Last weekend’s unrest was extremely unsettling. Seven people were killed and now Hezbollah and Amal are calling for revenge against the Army. March 8 — the Hezbollah-led opposition — is looking more and more intransigent, and unwilling to come to any solution other than a complete caving of the government to their demands: veto power in the cabinet, picking the president and a lock-in to the Syrian orbit.

Of course, the pro-Western government of Fuad Siniora is unwilling to do that, creating a situation that is ripe for explosion. The atmosphere is tense, and Lebanese are jumpy. Already there are small daily clashes and assaults on Army positions. Lebanese media are rife with reports that Syria now opposes Army Chief Michel Sleiman for president (not sure why, really; perhaps he’s not so in their camp as they thought he was?) and prefers former Foreign Minister Fares Boueiz for the post.

Mrs. Back to Iraq, a better observer of Lebanese politics than I am, doesn’t think last week’s protest-turned-street-battle was spontaneous. The dahiyeh, she said, is like Syria. Not much happens there without Hezbollah’s notice and approval. They’re trying to discredit the proto-presidency of Sleiman before it even happens. I agree with her, but I wonder if the protests really did start spontaneously and Hezbollah, recognizing an opportunity, allowed them to balloon into a confrontation with the state. At any rate, “Black Sunday” has led to a predictable amount of finger-pointing and blame-shifting.

My friend, Mitch Prothero, has a good piece in Slate on last weekend’s violence.

Most people I talk to think the al-wada will go on until 2009, when there are parliamentary elections. Then Hezbollah and the rest of the March 8 folks will likely win these and that will be the end of the so-called Cedar Revolution. Lebanon will return to the Syrian fold and politicians like Walid Jumblatt and Saad Hariri will be spending a lot of time in Paris and Riyadh.

That’s Hezbollah’s real goals, I think. Not to take over the country and install an Islamic state. Hezbollah is at heart a revolutionary movement and they’re smart enough to know that their popularity comes from that mystique as well as their social services that operate separately from the woefully inefficient Lebanese services.

If they “took over” and became the government, they would lose the revolutionary aura. From Hezbollah’s point of view, It’s much better to be a network of guerilla commanders in southern Lebanon fighting Zionist occupiers than to be in charge of fixing potholes and making sure the electricity is on. Because they don’t get blamed for the screw-ups then. (And Lebanon is nothing but one big screw-up when it comes to basic infrastructure.)

It works like this: If Hezbollah gives up its weapons — as every other militia in Lebanon did at the end of the 1975-1990 Civil War — they lose their value to Iran and Syria as a force on the northern flank of Israel. They would be just another political party in Lebanon. Without that firepower, what reason is there for Syria and Iran to continue funneling money and matériel to the group? And without the money, those much-admired social services will come to an end. Lebanese are easily bought, frankly, and their loyalties are not usually so ideological. They follow leaders who deliver on patronage, jobs and services. Without the loyalty of the Shi’ites, primarily bought and paid for with those services — not, as is claimed, because of an inborn revolutionary mindset — Hezbollah would quickly fall apart.

That’s what’s at stake here. That’s why Hezbollah must have veto power and control the presidency — to prevent any decision regarding its weapons; to remove UNIFIL as an irritant in the south; to prevent the Lebanese government from extending authority to south Beirut and other areas of Hezbollahstan.

Samir Geagea, a March 14 leader, said the goal is to so paralyze Lebanon that Syria will be asked to intervene again, as it did in 1975, but he inflates the issue, I think. I think Syria very much wants a return to preeminence in its tiny neighbor, but troops are not in the cards. The plan is to return to the 2004 status quo ante, as Condoleezza Rice intoned so often during the Israel-Hezbollah war. They want to get back to a protected status in the south, being a free-range guerilla movement. They want to preserve their weapons, which is their real constituency.

Hezbollah’s plan, when it comes to Syria and its weapons, is to paralyze and protect.

Iranian Hegemony: What’s Not to Like?

This week’s kerfuffle over Iranian President Ahmadinjad’s speech to Columbia University and his request to go to Ground Zero indicates that we, as a country, have indeed bought tickets to absurdistan. I was in New York City for the dustup, rousting editors from their desks and pitching stories, so I got to see the crazy headlines and massive mediagasm.

“The Evil Has Landed” screamed the New York Daily News. “NYers In Rage over ‘Tehran’ting Lunatic” exclaimed the New York Post. (Why not “‘Iran’ting Lunatic”?) Overall, it was a week of ugly intolerance for even the idea of discussion. Apparently some things are out of bounds even to talk about, and allowing the Iranian president to present his views was well beyond the pale.

Which is a shame, considering how necessary Iran is to the United States’ plans in the Middle East. Iran is a major power that has its own interests which could be brought in line — a little, at least — with America’s. So, just to be a little bit naughtier than the New York tabloids, let’s talk about an idea that’s probably beyond discussion. Given the charges that Iran is on the march across the Middle East, is looking to “take it over” and drive the United States back into its own hemisphere what’s so bad about Iranian hegemony?

Continue reading “Iranian Hegemony: What’s Not to Like?”

Latest IraqSlogger: Chalabi’s back

My latest for IraqSlogger is up, and there’s a howler of an op-ed in today’s _Wall Street Journal_. As I wrote for the Slogger:

Melik Kaylan writes a fawning piece on Ahmad Chalabi for the _Wall Street Journal_’s op-ed page, calling him the “nearest thing Iraqis currently possess to a genuine walk-and-talk democratic politician.” For many Americans, that may be hard to stomach, as the guy has been roundly criticized for peddling false WMD information to eager listeners at the Pentagon. (He once said, “As far as we’re concerned we’ve been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. … We are heroes in error.”) In Chalabi’s views, everything would have been hunky-dory in Baghdad if the Americans had just let the Iraqis run the show, presumably with him in charge. (Which was pretty much the plan until those meddlin’ State Department kids showed up.) Furthermore, without once mentioning that Chalabi is Shi’ite himself, Kaylan says Chalabi recognizes the realities of Iraq and its ethnic makeup, admitting that Shi’ites will be dominant. Well, other than Sunni insurgents, does anyone really dispute that? Kaylan seems to have been snookered by Chalabi, who thrills Iraqis by wandering amongst the people. Admirable yes, but Chalabi has almost zero support in Iraq and perhaps the reason he’s able to walk and talk relatively safely in public is because no one takes him seriously anymore.

The quote from Chalabi that I reference can be found here, way back from February 2004.

There’s Competence and Then There’s “Competence”

I’m coming a bit late to this because of server problems, but it’s something that’s been bugging me about the whole Reid-Pace “competence” imbroglio.
The question nagging at me is not who called whom incompetent or whether Reid was wrong or right to do so. I mean, Pace had just been fired, so Reid’s not that far off calling the former chair of the joint chief’s abilities into question.
No, what I wonder is why Reid’s comments didn’t get picked up by the bloggers in the conference call.
Why did the almost all of the liberal bloggers deny he said that Pace was incompetent when from the “transcript posted on Talking Points Memo”:, he did, and it appears pretty clear he’s talking about Pace? Did they screw up or are they trying to cover Reid’s ass, since he’s “on their team,” so to speak?
Now, I say this as a blogger with both indy cred — you’re reading it — and strong ties to the so-called MSM. But if bloggers are supposed to be an alternative/side dish or even an antidote to the excesses and failings of the mainstream press, why did they miss this? It’s a genuinely Big Deal, so was it a miss or a willful omission?
If it was a willful omission, it’s a horrible one. And it would prove that most liberal blogs — or conservative ones — shouldn’t be considered credible alternatives to anything if they can’t step up to their responsibility and report on newsworthy items even if it might get “their guy” in hot water. The right-wing blogosphere has had this problem for years now. Has it infected the left side as well?
On the other hand, if it’s a mistake, it’s a doozy. Any reporter who missed that would be tarred and feathered by editors. (And it’s significant that mainstream reporters in were the ones who broke this story, even though bloggers had every opportunity to break it.) So, why are the bloggers given a free pass on this lapse?
Indeed, it was Talking Points Memo itself that in 2002 was instrumental in bringing down another Senate majority leader. The mainstream press was heckled and criticized for missing Lott’s noxious comments. (And rightly so, in my opinion.)
But shouldn’t bloggers — in a friggin’ conference call with the current Senate majority Leader, for crissakes — need to be held to the same standards of accountability and, dare I say it, competence, that they hold the MSM to? Why the double standard?

White House criticizes Democrats, gives GOP a pass

BEIRUT — U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi came under fierce criticism from the White House for her proposed trip to Syria tomorrow, but, oddly, a Republican congressional delegation yesterday to Syria was given a free pass by the same White House.
As Dana Perino, White House spokeswoman, “said”:

I do think that, as a general rule – and this would go for Speaker of the House Pelosi and this apparent trip that she is going to be taking – that we don’t think it’s a good idea. We think that someone should take a step back and think about the message that it sends, and the message that it sends to our allies. I’m not sure what the hopes are to – what she’s hoping to accomplish there. I know that Assad probably really wants people to come and have a photo opportunity and have tea with him, and have discussions about where they’re coming from, but we do think that’s a really bad idea.

Fair enough. But Reps. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Joe Pitts, R-Penn., “met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday.”:
The Republicans released a statement that said, “We came because we believe there is an opportunity for dialogue … We are following in the lead of Ronald Reagan, who reached out to the Soviets during the Cold War.”
_Quelle horreur!_ Dialogue? Crickets were the only response from the White House.
Again in fairness, I spoke with a source at a Western embassy in Beirut about this, and the source said the Republicans had been discouraged from going, just as Pelosi and her delegation had been. But, the source said, if a Congressional delegation is determined to go to Damascus, the U.S. embassy in Beirut would help them out. (He asked for anonymity because he’s not authorized to talk to the press — he also committed the unpardonable sin of calling Congress a “co-equal branch of government.”)
Pelosi is the highest U.S. official to visit Syria since President Bill Clinton in the mid-1990s.