Pace-setter …?

Attention has been focused lately on JCS Chairman Peter Pace. First, he contradicted the White House over the role of the Iranian government in sponsoring attacks on US forces in Iraq. Now he has drawn attention to the readiness of US forces in the event of a third theater of conflict. What it means, I have no idea, but as usual, the brass is likely signalling its displeasure with elements of the civilian leadership at the Pentagon. In this context, Gates becomes an interesting character to watch, as he is likely the rope in a fairly unpleasant tug-of-war between the OVP (and its allies at the Pentagon) and most, but not all, of the generals. Rice has probably used this apparent tussle to score a major victory by getting Bush to sign off on meetings with the Syrians and Iranians over Iraq, but the picture of what is going on is likely much more complicated. Again, watch Gates. His movement one way or the other just might be the difference between war and peace in Iran.

I still think everything is in disarray at the WH and the National Security Council, but sometimes enormous difficulties have a way of forging a stronger, more realistic consensus on the forward direction of policy. Stay tuned.

Walid Bek at AEI: 10 Thoughts

1) Begging is becoming of no man.

2) I think I counted three attempts to compare the Syrian regime to the Nazis. His passing reference to the annexation of Austria was my personal fave. The hawkish pro-Israel crowd at AEI must have been delighted to discover that a Lebanese would join Netanyahu in setting the time machines for 1938. I wonder, though, if they would feel as comfortable if they knew what an anti-Semite Jumblatt is. Actually, we know such things don’t matter at all to this crowd (half of whom are anti-Semites, even if they have the good sense not to mention as much in public).

3) Jumblatt sounds more comfortable and more knowledgeable when talking about the role of “mortars” in urban warfare than “rule of law” or “democracy.”

4) For non-Americans, let me say that the comic value of hearing an institution like AEI (where pictures of Ronald Reagan french-kissing Margaret Thatcher adorn every office) introduce someone who heads a party whose name includes the words “progressive” and “socialist” cannot be understated. It is almost as funny as, I dont know, imagine — if you can — a feudal lord adopting a modern revolutionary slogan of social and economic justice.

5) Radio Farda must be stopped.

6) In truth, the questions from the audience were often more ridiculous than anything Walid Bek said (Hizbullah thugs, how did Iran kidnap Lebanon, etc.). When al-Arabiyya is the only news source asking tough questions, we are in a bad place.

7) Jumblatt was smart enough not to speak about Palestine and Iraq before this audience, lest he fall afoul of the party line.

8) It’s fun to hear Jumblatt speak of the “silent” Shia majority, but I am more curious these days about what the silent Druze will say as to his fate. I am serious on this point. If HA finds a way to cut a deal with Hariri, Jumblatt may find himself in a spot so tight that even he, a true master of reversals, cannot back himself out of.

9) Jumblatt knows the window is closing and is perhaps the most desperate of the March 14 crowd (Geagea and what he represents will live on as long as there is intra-Christian feuding, i.e. forever). Why has Jumblatt put himself so far to one side? This stands in direct contravention to most of his political career and may cost him Mukhtara if things go badly (a bit much maybe, but ??). Unwise, strange, and frankly not very Lebanese.

10) AEI is scary.

Game Over …?

American officials said Tuesday that they had agreed to hold the highest-level contact with the Iranian authorities in more than two years as part of an international meeting on Iraq. The discussions, scheduled for the next two months, are expected to include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Iranian and Syrian counterparts.

Actually, I doubt Eliot Abrams et al. will give up so easily, so let the shrieking begin, but let’s see if Ambassador Feltman starts paying fewer and fewer visits to you know who …

Hersh, Redux …

I have already posted my take on Sy Hersh’s most recent article, but I wanted to collect what others are saying with respect to Lebanon. So, from first to worst:

1) Easily the best supplement and/or critique has been the anonymous post on the Josh Landis blog (some of the comments might be interesting, too). He hits the mark by saying:

“Just a final note on Seymour Hersh: he may be very good at researching the US side of a story and exposing bureaucratic debates and infighting over important policy issues. His research and analysis on foreign countries is less impressive.”

2) Also serving as somewhat of a supplement is Bilal Saab’s post on the Landis blog and this article from Brookings. Bech finds it intolerable, but I find it interesting if you can hold your breath while reading inanities about the explanatory power of velayat e faqih, a paean to a lesser light known as Nizar Hamzeh, and a slew of rhetorical, syntactical and grammatic devices that while working contrary to the central thrust of the piece remind the reader that Hizbullah is a sinister force in the universe and that the US and Israel are blameless angels in world affairs. Some of this is downright humorous as one learns that: 1) HA is “legitimately” engaged in domestic politics — how long do you think HA has been waiting for Brookings imperial sanction for its activities; 2) HA’s victory during the war was a “self-proclaimed” one — tis funny that Israeli leaders can say they lost the war, but Brookings cannot; 3) HA poses some ill-defined “challenge” to the United States and Israel, even though the “ambitions” of the US and Israel exist only in the mind of HA and thus are always isolated in knowing and nodding “quotes.” Fortunately, the content of the piece actually runs against the form of these devices, but if you cannot stand US think tank groupspeak on strategic affairs (terror), then avoid the article.

3) Most fun is Tony Badran’s take. Tony calls Hersh’s piece “shrill” and “ideologically skewed” in a post that can only be called shrill and ideologically skewed. In fact, it is classic Tony (no, I don’t know him) in that he is right in correcting some of Hersh’s missteps but those corrections are overwhelmed by his blind fury toward any idea or possibility that will impede, even tangentially, a US-led nuclear assault on the Syrian regime. As always, Tony casts himself as a lonely muhajid against the vast Syrian propaganda machine (‘Helena Cobban, Juan Cole, Josh Landis and Imad Mustapha must be stopped before they take over the world!’). Of course, he is only armed with only the “modest” means and “scarce” political and media resources of the FDD and finds ideological concert only with some related groups whom you probably have not heard of (i.e. pro-Israel lobby, the entire US defense lobby, the vast majority of US foreign policy establishment, etc.). In truth, he is a sharp guy, but I just wonder how someone can blog on and on about Syria and Lebanon without ever mentioning the state of Israel, because the last time I looked at a map … Onward, Christian soldier, it’s truly fun to watch.

4) Some blogs, which I refuse to link to as a matter of public health, are relieved that Tony has spoken for them, and will be again when Michael Young says the same thing in the DS in a couple of days.

5) God’s blogger, The Pentagon, had a strange response:

“The United States is not planning to go to war with Iran,” (spokesman) Whitman says. “To suggest anything to the contrary is simply wrong, misleading and mischievous.”

It is strange because of the word “mischievous.” To my paranoid mind that word choice suggests that, as I have joined others in saying before, the Leeden-esque wing of the WH is actually delighted to have media reports of its recklessness in the Middle East. I would also add here that Bush is on record calling Hersh a “liar.”

I will add takes as I find them, unless I get bored with this …

Whence Fair Reader…?

Don’t get paranoid, because we don’t (and would not) spy individual ISP’s, but I find it fascinating to see from where the readers of this blog come. Indeed, I always like seeing a new country or state pop-up on our bargain-basement counter. Some basic facts:

  • About 40 percent of our daily readers come from the United States, with California and Texas doing the heavy lifting on most days (although we get periodic spikes from the DC area, New York and Illinois);
  • After the US, Lebanon, the UK, and France each make up about 15 percent on any given day;
  • Half of the remaining 15 percent come from Australia and the other half are truly spread around the globe.

For me, blogging is mostly psychotherapy (and cheaper than a shrink), but thanks for reading.

The Funny Man Strikes Again …

“One should be aware that our revolution is like a bulldozer … the enemies think by throwing a few small stones and sand they can stop this bulldozer.”

Strange choice of words for the “liberator” of al-Quds.

Liberation …

“They also have something of an equal chance to participate in the misery of a destroyed national order. A somewhat leveled opportunity to be kidnapped, to be forced into exile, to have their daughter abducted or raped, to have their father murdered, families killed in the suicide bombings.”

Osama The Wise …

“All that we have mentioned has made it easy for us to provoke and bait this administration. All that we have to do is to send two mujahideen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al–Qaida, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies.”

I don’t want to overstate the wisdom of the al-Qaeda muhajadin, as they are largely practicing the lessons the Americans, themselves, taught them. But how the Russians must laugh at all of this …

Hersh, (Sigh) …

Well, just read Sy Hersh’s new piece and must admit I was disappointed. I found almost nothing original in either content or analysis and believe the piece could have been written by piecing together already very public information.

I was not going to post on it, until I heard Wolff Blitzer call the piece “explosive” this morning on CNN. Perhaps the only gaseous discharge I heard was the allegation concerning Negroponte’s motivations:

I was subsequently told by the two government consultants and the former senior intelligence official that the echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State. (Negroponte declined to comment.)
The former senior intelligence official also told me that Negroponte did not want a repeat of his experience in the Reagan Administration, when he served as Ambassador to Honduras. “Negroponte said, ‘No way. I’m not going down that road again, with the N.S.C. running operations off the books, with no finding.’ ” (In the case of covert C.I.A. operations, the President must issue a written finding and inform Congress.) Negroponte stayed on as Deputy Secretary of State, he added, because “he believes he can influence the government in a positive way.”

This is absurd puffery and a little reverse engineering leads one to believe that Hersh completely got played by his “sources” on this issue. This is one of the two problems I have with Hersh’s work as it often takes bureaucratic infighting as evidence of the direction of US policy. The blatant ass-kissing of Negroponte suggests that the source may have been Negroponte himself or one of his close aides in Foggy Bottom or supporters on the Hill. Of course, I have no idea, but Negroponte, as the intelligence czar, likely encountered significant antagonism from the DOD and thus one must understand this “information” in this context. To go from that rather quotidian reality to the Contras is ridiculous and the ass-kissing should make all very suspicious. To be sure, many on the Hill and at the CIA and State have bureaucratic reasons to talk with Hersh, but I just wonder how far this really get us with respect to US policy in the Middle East. I agree that the Pentagon has usurped the CIA with respect to covert operations and intelligency, but this is not a new story and evidence can be gathered on this point without polishing Negroponte’s apple.

I would also say that his interview with Nasrallah was really disappointing, or at least what he chose to include in the interview. To be sure, it seems he only included quotes to fit his thesis, but this has the effect of making Nasrallah look like a wild conspiracy theorist, something he is decidedly not:

I can assure you that the Saudi kingdom will also be divided, and the issue will reach to North African states. There will be small ethnic and confessional states,” he said. “In other words, Israel will be the most important and the strongest state in a region that has been partitioned into ethnic and confessional states that are in agreement with each other. This is the new Middle East.”

For me this is inexcusable, because Nasrallah does not give interviews to American journalists, so when he does, it is an irreducible opportunity that should not be missed.

I would add that Hersh’s descision to quote Armitage and Baer on Hizbullah is a bit ridiculous as their thoughts remain haunted by memories of the 1980s and they expose themselves as idiots when talking about a Hizbullah that no longer exists. To paraphrase and answer Baer, the dog did not bark because it died over a decade ago.

I would add that one part of Hersh’s thesis makes no sense. It has been widely understood that the CIA has been deeply involved in Lebanon, because the activities have been more political and financial, than military. This reality does not fit his contention about the DOD takeover of intelligence or the reporting requirements. I would agree in the case of Iran, but in Lebanon, this seems off the mark.

Again, I would say I was disappointed with the piece. He can do and has done better. I would add that it is a bit odd that the piece works mostly as a summary of the last 10 months, when I had understood that Remnick, his editor, had wanted a more newsy Hersh for the pages of the New Yorker. The quote retread is not good enough given the rapid pace of events on the ground.

Perhaps most distressing is Hersh’s take on the militant Salafi groups in Lebanon. There is some truth to what he says here, but I had hoped that the time he spent in Lebanon would allow him to understand a bit more of the complexity of the situation (his television appearance made me cringe). Sadly, it seems he is just as susceptible to generalities and misrecognition as the Beltway bureaucrats who drive his stories. To be sure, this bit is designed for American audiences, but without the proper local context, it falls flat. In sum, imperial muckraking may be a noble profession, but the full story (elucidating domestic and international connections) is not here and thus one feels the author is mirroring his sources by engaging in a narrowly targeted polemic. Oh, well …


Bloodthirsty …?

Right now I have more opportunities than I’ve ever had to use weapons where we know there aren’t any friendly people. In combat that’s very rewarding.”

A Looming Crisis …?

In reality, though, the pool is smaller: those sons who are not genetically Arab are handicapped (at least five of Ibn Saud’s sons had Armenian mothers);

A possible succession crisis in Saudi Arabia does not get enough international attention. Too often, the House of Saud is taken as a monolith in discussions of Middle Eastern politics. Passing reference to venality and cut-throat power struggles often stand in the place of a much-needed analysis of the internal dynamics. Of course, the opacity of the regime makes such things difficult, but it is hard for me to imagine that the Saudi leadership is united behind any single foreign policy, which should, I think, force a rethink of Saudi policies in Lebanon, Iran and elsewhere. As a side note, I have been wondering what happened to Waleed bin Talal, who seemed to have gone silent after Hariri’s assassination. I saw a funny article about a hotel he wants to build in Israel, but other than that, he seems to have dropped below the radar to tend to his incomparable financial empire.

Joseph Samaha is gone

Just heard that Joseph Samaha passed away following a heart attack.
One of the few intellectuals of the Arab world is gone…
Here is Naharnet’s account, and I’m sorry but I had to link (and gladly do) from Iranian portal as there are more information.

Here is Al-Akhbar’s text.
I remember I thought it weird when Wednesday there was no Samaha editorial. We should have thought something’s wrong when the last time he wrote was Tuesday. Although he was not sick I suppose, it was probably a premonition. Just to give you a brief idea, since the founding of Al-Akhbar in the beginning of the July-August Israeli messed-up invasion, Samaha wrote everyday. Until three days ago.

Update: I was just realizing that Samaha will not write anymore… It is a stupid realization, but it is quite shocking, especially when it is someone who wrote so prolifically. Who to read from now on in the Arabic press?

Jumblatt parading in the Neocon’s nest

As sectarian tensions mount, AEI [American Enterprise Institute] will host Lebanese parliament member Walid Jumblatt, a leader of the Cedar Revolution, who will talk about these pressing issues.

That’s being held today at Wohlstetter Conference Center, Twelfth Floor, AEI
1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.
Maybe you could go Apo and tell us what absurdities our Druze ex-warlord-still-oligarch-exploiting-sectarian-divisions has to say on the “future of Lebanon”?

Flipper …?

And public attitudes in the area toward the use of marine mammals for military purposes are downright icy.

Fathers and Sons …

Notwithstanding this episode, Bush 43 still sometimes drew on his father’s wide knowledge of the world. Though he refused to read newspapers, he was aware of criticism that his administration had been excessively beholden to a particular clique, and wanted to know more about them. One day during that holiday, according to friends of the family, 43 asked his father, “What’s a neocon?”

“Do you want names, or a description?” answered 41.


“Well,” said the former president of the United States, “I’ll give it to you in one word: Israel.”

From Cockburn’s new book on Rusmfeld.

Oh Brother, Big Brother …

We just a few weeks ago, for the first time, engaged in Arabic on blogs. We have what’s called here a “digital outreach team” . . . that is actively going on the Arabic blogs and responding to misinformation and disinformation and propaganda and rumors with facts. And we’re very above board that it’s the digital outreach team of the State Department.
How many people are on the team?
I think it’s about four or five, and they’re supervised by a foreign service officer. And they are all Arabic speakers that do that. Then we have one young man in the rapid response center who goes on the Web sites and monitors and watches and surfs …

Military Revolt …?

“There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran,” a source with close ties to British intelligence said. “There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible.”

The propaganda wars are in full swing in the British press. Let the leaks continue …

ADDENDUM: It seems Sy Hersh has prepared an update on US war plans. I think I am on record here saying that Hersh sometimes gets played by his sources and cherry-picks and then over-inflates evidence to fit his particular narrative, but his work is unparalleled here in the US. If it is somewhat conspiratorial in form and content, it seems a necessary evil in the national security state. It is also a bit funny that Nasrallah says he is willing to talk to the Americans, but Jumblatt says he cannot talk to Hizbullah. I had thought Hersh was coming out with a piece on the Hariri assassination. I guess not.

Getting Ready for War …?

“A senior Israeli defence official said negotiations were now underway between the two countries for the US-led coalition in Iraq to provide an “air corridor” in the event of the Israeli government deciding on unilateral military action to prevent Teheran developing nuclear weapons.”

As I have said before, I believe the pro-war faction in the US is delighted over how its opponents insist the Administration is getting ready for just such a war. Here is military analyst William Arkin on the recent BBC report:

I have argued in these pages that that is why it is essential that we not overstate what the United States is really up to and that the Bush administration recognizes that its “planning” might be misinterpreted by Iran and lead to the very thing it supposedly is hoping to prevent.

Stay tuned …

From the Vault …

“For the U.S. to get involved militarily in determining the outcome of the struggle over who’s going to govern in Iraq strikes me as a classic definition of a quagmire.”

— Dick Cheney, 1991.

More from the Idiot Nation …

Iran is the trouble maker, trying to tip over apple carts all over Baghdad right now because they want America to pull out. And do you know why? It’s because they’ve already decided that they’re going to partition Iraq.
And half of Iraq, the western, northern portion of Iraq, is going to be called … the Iraq State of Islam, something like that. And I’m sorry, I don’t have the official name, but it’s meant to be the training ground for the terrorists. There’s already an agreement made.
They are going to get half of Iraq and that is going to be a terrorist safe haven zone where they can go ahead and bring about more terrorist attacks in the Middle East region and then to come against the United States because we are their avowed enemy.”

I give up.

Too Funny …

“I don’t think this was a waste of public money. Many people will say so, but I think it is marvellous that the Government is prepared to think outside the box.”

Believe It or Not …

I am rather conscientious about not posting something I find on any other blog, but this is really too perfect. I guess we now know why some Israeli military leaders think they dealt Hizbullah a severe blow, while others think the group is stronger than ever. I had thought the discrepancy was the result of a political squabble or one side lying. It turns out they just see things differently …

Michael Gordon Must Be Stopped …

This is getting ridiculous. Not only does he help the Pentagon prepare the American public for future wars, he helps the DOD explain ones that happened while we were sleeping.

If you think the US was fighting Al Qaeda in Somalia, come have a piece of my yellow cake and make me an offer for my aluminum tubes …

Divine Strake …

The US has called off a low-yield nuclear simulation (Divine Strake) that was set to take place in Nevada. According to a Federation of American Scientists project:

Divine Strake is neither a bomb nor conventional. Instead, the test is a detonation of a pile of chemical explosives to simulate a “low-yield nuclear weapon ground shock” effect to “improve the warfighter’s confidence in selecting the smallest proper nuclear yield necessary to destroy underground facilities while minimizing collateral damage.”

Scared, yet? If not, read more and try and guess what “alternative methods” means …

A Journey into the Interior: A Poetic Interlude …

In the long journey out of the self,
There are many detours, washed-out interrupted raw places
Where the shale slides dangerously
And the back wheels hang almost over the edge
At the sudden veering, the moment of turning.
Better to hug close, wary of rubble and falling stones.
The arroyo cracking the road, the wind-bitten buttes, the canyons,
Creeks swollen in midsummer from the flash-flood roaring into the narrow valley.
Reeds beaten flat by wind and rain,
Grey from the long winter, burnt at the base in late summer.
— Or the path narrowing,
Winding upward toward the stream with its sharp stones,
The upland of alder and birchtrees,
Through the swamp alive with quicksand,
The way blocked at last by a fallen fir-tree,
The thickets darkening,
The ravines ugly.

— Theodore Roethke.

Ludes, past:

Billy Collins, 1.
Marianne Moore, 1.
Theodore Roethke, 1, 2, 3.
Richard Wilbur, 1, 2, 3.