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.