Things May Be Getting Nasty in Washington …

They need to be out run, embarrassed, exhausted, pushed out of the room, or crushed.

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Unsustainable …

Global imbalances were projected to stabilize in 2007 and 2008, but were still very large, he said. The United States deficit had increased to $860 billion at the end of 2006, and was expected to fall to $800 billion in 2007. That deficit was basically being financed by surpluses in the developing and oil exporting countries, as well as some major developed countries, in particular Japan and Germany. The European Union,at large, was projected to continue to have a slight deficit on its current account. United States debt, which had now deepened to well over $3 trillion, might turn out to be unsustainable in the rest of 2007 or next, putting further downward pressure on the United States dollar, he said. Since its peak in 2002, the dollar had depreciated vis-à-vis the major currencies by some 35 per cent and by 25 per cent against a broader range of other currencies.
With that increased debt the risk of a sharp depreciation of the dollar continued, he said. If countries willing to invest in United States dollar assets expected further depreciation, they might be less willing to hold dollar assets, triggering a much sharper fall in the United States dollar. The risk of disorderly adjustment and the steep fall of the dollar existed. The policy challenge was how to prevent a hard landing of the United States dollar and forge a benign adjustment of the global imbalance.

Yawn …

It seems someone woke me up from my nap with news from New York. Why do they do that? Be a dear and close the door on your way out … Thanks … zzzz ….

For Any Paranoid Types Like Myself …

Let me offer the following.

For now, I take the USM airlift to be largely a symbolic act, but make no mistake this is all about Hizbullah such that support for the GOL (and M14) is merely functional toward other ends. It is not difficult to get small arms into Lebanon, so don’t lose your breath over the ammo shipment, because there are easier ways. That being said, this will be a real test for Hizbullah’s intelligence operations both within the LAF and at the points of entry, especially if the care package from the US includes unenumerated goodies.

I am still of the position that the US, the Saudis and their Lebanese allies do not intend to go for broke, but REAL danger lurks where their interests diverge. So expect some amount of the military aid to be diverted to the most obvious sources. That being said, Hizbullah (and its allies) would be wise not to make fuss over that, as they would only be playing the Americans’ game of baiting them. For now, this is a just pyschological operation (a kind of trial balloon) and should be treated as such.

I believe the Americans are aware that Hizbullah cannot be defeated in any military sense, so they will be attempting the lesser strategy of boxing them in, while at the same time trying to keep Lebanon from slipping into the abyss. Most likely, this strategy will target HA’s strengths (the national legitimacy of its weapons) through its weaknesses (the security, political and financial needs of its current domestic allies). Here, I would add that the Israeli bombing pattern last summer may be worth a rethink — it was senseless in terms of military objectives, but if viewed in light of certain political objectives, it might have been all too clever (how do they just always know how to whet the appetites of Lebanon’s cannibals?).

As it is impossible to know American intentions toward Iran, it is equally impossible to know how hard the Americans will push, i.e. they may well let developments on the ground determine their course of action and a political defeat that neuters their military threat may be enough (keep your eyes on Geagea and Aoun, as there once again will be the rub).

Regardless, it is a highly dangerous course of action due to the schizophrenic nature of Lebanon’s dueling coalitions, the country’s worsening economic miseries and the very serious policy battles occuring in Washington. All should hope for the best.

Self-Doubt …

Sometimes I wonder if I am completely wrong, but then I come across something like this and I remember that things could be worse. Such work suggests that it is indeed possible to become completely detached from reality (of course, having motivation$ for such is another matter). And so for my threadbare tethers, I am eternally grateful, compassionate for the further lost, and confident in final victory, by which I mean something other than the total defeat of unannounced dispatch into oblivion.

Enter the Jackals, Stage Right …

“Khaddam hired the good offices of Sandra Charles to lobby for him and obtain access for a high profile visit he’d like to make to Washington.
Sandra Charles is on a substantial retainer with the Hariri family (from father to son) Her group has one of the more potent rollodexes in Washington, and she was amongst Brent Scowcroft’s most able advisers (she sat on G W Bush’s NSC) She also does limited work for Bandar .She is friends with Amal Mudallali, a Hariri, who is Saad’s point woman in Washington, having served his late father.
If our government (US) chooses to work with this slug, I believe that we have slipped to a level I did not think possible. Perhaps we should grant citizenship to the assassins of Ambassador Francis Meloy and Economic Counselor Robert O. Waring!”

From the Friday-Lunch-Club, an “interesting” little blog.

The Americans … And Other Mysteries …

Readers of this blog know that I have serious doubts about the US ability to maintain its position in the Middle East and across the globe. While I usually explain this “management crisis” in the context of the “collapse” of the Soviet Union, it is important to remember that when it comes to public affairs, resource allocation is almost never logical or rational because it is largely reactive (e.g, the Pentagon is the largest band-aid dispenser in the world and US immigration policy is largely a response to what happened 11 years ago). In truth, the private business world is most often the same (boo hoo to any free market know-nothings out there), but I want to pause here and let you consider a particular manifestation of this problem.

Critics of the US administration, especially US Democrats, like to argue that the Bush White House has prized loyalty over competence (see: the continuing Alberto Gonzales saga). This, to my mind, is wishful thinking in the extreme. The simple fact of the matter is that nature and structure of US politics (both at the elite and mass levels) lack sufficient incentives to identify and pursue quote, unquote national interests. See this:

Patrick Lang told a hilarious story the other night, for example, about a job interview he had with Douglas Feith, a key architect of the invasion of Iraq.
It was at the beginning of the first Bush term. Lang had been in charge of the Middle East, South Asia and terrorism for the Defense Intelligence Agency in the 1990s. Later he ran the Pentagon’s worldwide spying operations.
In early 2001, his name was put forward as somebody who would be good at running the Pentagon’s office of special operations and low-intensity warfare, i.e., counterinsurgency. Lang had also been a Green Beret, with three tours in South Vietnam.
One of the people he had to impress was Feith, the Defense Department’s number three official and a leading player in the clique of neoconservatives who had taken over the government’s national security apparatus.
Lang went to see him, he recalled during a May 7 panel discussion at the University of the District of Columbia.
“He was sitting there munching a sandwich while he was talking to me,” Lang recalled, “ which I thought was remarkable in itself, but he also had these briefing papers — they always had briefing papers, you know — about me.
“He’s looking at this stuff, and he says, ‘I’ve heard of you. I heard of you.’
“He says, ‘Is it really true that you really know the Arabs this well, and that you speak Arabic this well? Is that really true? Is that really true?’
“And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s really true.’
‘That’s too bad,” Feith said. The audience howled.
“That was the end of the interview,” Lang said. “I’m not quite sure what he meant, but you can work it out.”

For the record, I disagree with many things Colonel Lang has to say about “Arabs,” but it is impossible to imagine the US military producing someone more astute or informed as to the issues of the region (disagree with him at your own peril). So yes, it is true that guys like Lang do seem, at times, to suffer from a small Lawrence of Arabia complex, but this says less about their intelligence than it does about the mental dexterity of the dimwitted troglodytes they have to deal with back at home. I should pause here, however, and offer a small caveat. However, idiotic Feith may be (Tommy Franks thought him to be “the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth,”), it is not for nothing that he reached to No. 3 spot at the Pentagon, whose annual spending tops “the combined GDP of all 47 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa and oil giants Nigeria and Angola, in 2005, according to the World Bank.” One might very much to say that the current neoconservatives in the US represent the classic spoiled child syndome, in which ease at home breeds difficulties further afield.
Now, of course, the Americans are a particular concern for Lebanon watchers, but explaining the American role poses signficant analytical difficulties. There is perhaps no better illustration of these difficulties than the work of Sy Hersh. The national security state, established at the end of WWII, poses real challenges for any journalist seeking to elucidate some of its more hidden operations. Hersh and others and the quality of their work are almost entirely dependent on the reliability of their sources, because they simply do not have access to the information required to verify what their sources tell them. I would add here that even the sources, especially the more honest ones, will admit to a similar information deficit. Anyone who knows how governments process information and the role of bureaucratic boundaries in the flow of information would accept this as nothing less than a truism. And when we are talking about issues and policies that cross national boundaries, things only get messier.
Having laid out some of the basic difficulties, let me turn to the eternal question: what is to be done? Well, I would argue that Hersh is to be read, but read carefully. His work is positively invaluable, but not because I agree with his particular narratives on international events or believe that he captures the full reality of any particular situation. No, instead, I believe it is invaluable because it speaks directly to some portion of the policy and political debates over a particular issue. [To be continued … ]