Crisis in the group

Well that does it for me. Speak no more. I just had the confirmation for what I always thought: People at ICG (International Crisis Group) could well join the rank of the phony ‘experts’ that make a living out of writing journalistic reports about a political situation but while giving it more credibility by issuing the report with an institutional ‘think-tank’ stamp.

Check the latest report of ICG on Lebanon. That’s the title: The new Lebanese Equation: The Christian’s central role… Just read the “executive summary” to get to what corner of mental derangement the guy can take you. No need to read the rest of the text unless you are interested in curious cases of insane imagination.

Stamp it, fix it, make it an axiom: The only central role (if you want to think with such a stupid concept as ‘centrality of role’ in this case) that one can see not only in Lebanon but in the region at large is the one played by Hizbullah. They are the biggest winner, and on all fronts. Now of course, no single actor/group gained a role, the situation is just very different for everyone, and there is no group called ‘Christians’ in lebanon, there are Christians loosing and Christians winning if you want to call them like this. Likewise Hizbullah gained on levels and is constrained on others.

This ICG article triggers other open-ended questions that could be researched:

1- Journalists/producers of information, foreigners, coming to Lebanon end up
adopting the concepts used by Lebanese themselves to understand a situation (confessional concepts for example), ‘Christians’ is an entity that ‘play’ a ‘central’ role for example.

2- Think tanks and pundits adopt the Hollywood-based train of thinking that you need to find something ‘catchy’ to write an article on the ‘situation’ in a specific country. You can’t just say that the various protagonists ended up resolving Doha in such and such a way after fighting on several fronts peaking with the Beirut demonstration of force. No, you need to find something good. Something Brussels would like, in this case, “Christians” are strengthening because well it is original, it is about the Middle East and it is not about “Islamists”, plus in the backdrop of Christians ‘not-strengthening-at-all’ in Iraq or Syria or etc.

3- The explosive rate at which the general industry of producing information grows is highly alarming. More and more people are making their living out of basically producing crap. They create institutions, start ranking themselves in them, from one type of expertise to the other. Academia is basically the same thing but has much more history and has the sanctity of ‘educating’ giving ‘diplomas’, etc which basically means giving a social position/distinction. I’m sure one day, with the growing ‘democratization’ and ‘globalization’ encountered by the various human creatures of this planet there will be think-tanks, hey, even bloggers, giving diplomas and certificates!

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Hizbullah and resistance by print

Timur Goksel has a chapter on the “Implications of the July 2006 war on the future Israeli wars” in a book published by a think-tank that is affiliated in some way to Hizbullah (al markaz al Islami lil dirasat al fekriyah). Goksel, for those who don’t know, was the former official spokesman of the UNIFIL forces stationed in South Lebanon, and now teaches international relations at the American University of Beirut. The book is called “Al intisar al Moqawim” which is kind of hard to translate in English not the least because initially in Arabic it does not make much sense, but here we go: “the Resistant victory” (The aim was probably to try to get the word “victory” and “resitance” in one flashy title).

I find this book fascinating. It is an excellent sign that Hizbullah and the intellectual/ideological sphere around it reads quickly power dynamics in the West: producing papers, putting views about future policy course, political visions, etc. on print. The book exceeds 500 pages of good quality paper, with a hard cover, has a nice abstract design, and has contributors ranging from Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, to party member like Naim Qassem, to ad hoc intellectuals from several social (confessional spaces), to American leftists journalists like Frank Lamb, etc.

But I don’t want to comment on everything in this book as there is so much to note. Goksel chapter struck my attention in the sense that it has a detailed analysis of how Israel fared on the ground, and how it is probably learning from its mistakes, and what will it potentially do differently in a new incursion. And this is coming from an ex-UN military man, turned academic in an American institution based in Lebanon. That’s the most beautiful gift Hizbullah could get. And beyond this symbolic asset in the economy of knowledge, for once, it is somebody trying to learn from Israeli military tactics rather than trying to unearth Hizbullah’s strategies. Most of the time, studies are focused on how “the terrorist” think, how the “insurgent” (nicer term for terrorist) acts. The academic department I am affiliated with in London has “Counter-insurgency reading groups” and “counter-insurgency students”. Hizbullah is trying to lead the way in the institutionalization of what one would call “American and Israeli imperialist” studies. Here I use the term “imperialism” with some reserves, could not find a better one for the time being.

Where I spend my days

I intend to write much more about how the department in which I am enrolled (The War Studies department of King’s College) feeds into the overall production of knowledge for dominant power’s successful policy. But for now this is just to let you know what type of ‘job proposals’ I usually get through my university email:

Afghanistan Brief

The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating. Although some local military battles are being won and specific projects have made progress, overall, the military presence has been a disaster. It has become apparent that a military approach is unlikely to resolve the conflict. Consequently, it has been proposed that a detailed analysis of the current attitudes, behaviours, communications, sentiments, etc. be conducted so that a new approach can be communicated to the various Afghan audiences. Based loosely on a hearts and minds approach as opposed to a military approach, the central strategy would be to try to win allegiance from as many Afghan groups as possible in a joint programme of development and reconstruction. This type of “Let’s stop fighting and work together” approach is seen by many to be pointless and unworkable, on the basis that messages cannot stop wars. However, an intensive analysis of the motivations and behaviours of the different Afghan audiences might well identify the triggers and levers, which would cause change in the right direction.

The client, a global communications firm, has been asked to write a proposal for conducting this piece of work, and to present this to the UK government (at the highest levels).
We need a report/proposal writer, which can pull together all of the facts, write key elements of the report and edit the final thing into a professional 15 page document.
Date of Work:
NOW
End of Work:
14/16 Dec
Next Year:
Availability would be good
Pay will be £150 per day.
Discretion and reliability are required, however, no security clearance is necessary for this project.

Lebanese advisers to the US senate

Hey Abu Muqawama I took this from your blog. Because a point must be made. See the US does not need anymore home-grown policy advisers, they come all the way from Lebanon to offer their services.

Emile Hokayem (a Lebanese Expert on the Middle East) gives advice to the US senate not to engage Syria before taking into considerations a few things:

In examining whether the US should engage Syria, the Senate should consider why Syria has failed to cooperate with every attempt to obtain Syrian cooperation on Lebanon— some of which have offered attractive incentives. Saudi Arabia and other Arab states offered Syria reintegration into the Arab fold and much-needed investments; France has promised “spectacular returns” in exchange for a hands-off approach to Lebanon; the European Union has offered economic assistance and cooperation; and countless European officials have promised to support re-launching the peace process with Israel.

Damascus has rebuffed all offers because it is still hoping for a complete reversal of fortunes in Lebanon. One needs only to look at the delighted reaction of the Syrian leadership following the visits of American congressional delegations and European foreign ministers over the last year, or invitations to participate in Arab League meetings, and the utter lack of Syrian responsiveness afterwards.

So don’t engage Syria because these people are fickle!! It is important to bear in mind that when you advise the US on future policy course you must not at all include in your analysis of the politics of the region the actual US foreign policy approach that is already on the ground and how that could possibly influence state (or non-state) actors on the ground. This is a rule Emile diligently respect. Syria ‘behaves this way’ not because it perceives a threat (say US expansive military strategies in the Middle East, or US plans to change the regime, or complete Arab-state alliance with the US, etc.) but simply because the FINALITY, the ESSENCE of Syria’s foreign policy is to control Lebanon. This tautological argument (that there is no other rationale to control Lebanon but to control Lebanon) has erased all real and rigorous considerations of Syrian strategy-making in its region.

And here the ideological creeps in more visibly (my emphases):

The logic of unconditional reengagement carries other risks and costs that its proponents dismiss too easily. US engagement without Syrian concessions on Lebanon will hurt further US credibility in the region, jeopardize multilateral processes, alienate Arab allies worried about Syria’s alignment with Iran, and comfort Syria’s image as a tough resister that can force the United States to come to terms on Syrian terms.

Unconditionally reengaging Syria is tantamount to subordinating the sovereignty and future of Lebanon to the fortunes of the peace process, Syria’s cooperation on Iraq, or the fluctuations in the Persian Gulf, and this is after more than a million people turned out in the center of Beirut on March 14, 2005 to peacefully demand and obtain the end of Syria’s hegemony over Lebanon.

Emile is concerned about US credibility in the region. Emile is also concerned about Arabs getting more scared of Iran. See the real problem in the Middle East is the ‘rogue’ behavior of Syria and Iran. How best can you internalize dominant discourse? But also and this is the weakest part of his argument, how on earth if you engage Syria and find a constructive (of course assuming you dropped the idea that Syria has an ontological irrational drive to eat Lebanon) solution will this alienate other ‘Arabs’? Since when compromise and solution alienate?

But see here is the trick: there are “more than a million of people” that screamed ‘Syria out’ on March 14. These guys primordial worry is that the US show ethical integrity to them and only them. And the only thing Lebanese care about is not that the US show some military restraint, find lasting peace, stabilize, stop its warmongering activities (that in a way may probably change Syrian policy but that is not even taken into consideration as I explained above).

No the US must help in taming Lebanese paranoia vis-a-vis the Syrians, and restore our dignity (narrowly defined). You can continue doing your stuff in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine (and soon enough in Iran and Pakistan), but at the very least save your face in Lebanon, because we in Lebanon esteem your efforts.

This is why dissociating Syria’s foreign affairs from its obligations towards Lebanon is a serious mistake. It is ironical but only fair for Lebanon to constrain Syria’s policy options after Syria did so for so long.

Now this is expertise! And look how convincing! Did you notice what is the ideological charge in this argument? Please refer to previous posts on the moralistic in reasoning. Practical advice (constructive advice for the resolution of conflict) is based on the subjective idea of fairness, what ‘Lebanon’ whoever that is thinks is fair), meaning the abstract idea of a Lebanese nationalism. Forget about what the other half of the country think it is ‘fair’ for example (Hizbullah).

Now of course towards the end, Emile clumsily integrate all this in an overarching diplomatic argumentative twist. The idea is to propose a resumption of talks for a possible peace negotiation with Israel, stopping the Syria Accountability Act, etc. All that is beautiful (and certainly nice in wonderland), but if one cannot point out from the beginning the dynamics of Syrian foreign policy, which would involve not reading them from a Lebanese persecuted perspective, then I don’t think one can arrive at any piece of advice to be given to the US. And this my take on the subject: Any advice to the US government must include a full critique of current US foreign policy in the whole of the Middle East and beyond. Syria calculates according to that, nothing more nothing less. Follow the big fish.

Emile, I think I remember now that we were in the same class at school (I just checked your picture on google, amidst the ‘research fellowships’ you have accumulated, and yes it is certainly you). What a long way we have come to, you advising the Americans on tightening the screws on the Syrians, and me… well me… not much for now…