The War with Images

My article at Opendemocracy on the use of images in war situations.

Iraq’s occupation: the role of the UN

There is a very interesting article in Al Akhbar on the role the UN (along with the US and UK) plays in crystallizing the division between executive and legislative powers in Iraq (empowering the former, and bypassing the constitutional rights of the latter, a constitution they not only imposed on Iraqis but are happy to violate). The examples include the decision to keep international forces (mainly American) in the country, something Parliamentary members whether Kurds, Arabs, Sunnis, Shi’as and what have you have dominantly voted against but was rejected by executive power and sanctified by a UN resolution.

The difference between ideology and reality

Even Iraqi officials acknowledge it:

Mowaffak al-Rubbaie, Iraq’s national security adviser… called on Washington to engage with both Damascus and Tehran, warning that security in the Gulf was interlinked and “you cannot stabilise Iraq and destabilise Iran”.
Speaking at a conference in Bahrain, Mr Rubbaie sought to assuage fears that Iraq faced the threat of falling under Iranian dominance, saying that Baghdad was working on a long-term strategic agreement with the US that would underline its outlook towards the west.

Some Lebanese are still fantasizing nonetheless (in awful terms):

America has instigated democracy lovers in Lebanon. Yet now that they have stood up, America seems willing to stand down. It’s taking the easy way out by talking to weakened Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and rewarding him with a free hand in Lebanon to finish off the freedom fighters.

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…

A bit further to the right

Slowly, but surely.

Brammertz’ surprises

Gee.. I wonder why is it that the countries not cooperating with Brammertz investigation on the Hariri assassination are mostly those who back the ‘we want the truth’ camp or are in one way or another under the same sphere of influence?

According to the latest Brammertz report countries not cooperating are: USA, UK, France, Brazil, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Iraq, and last but not least, Israel.

Addendum: The same newspaper reporting that a diplomatic source said that the above mentioned countries were not cooperating says today that actually they are cooperating. So either Brammertz wants to cool things down and presents a clean report, or Al-Akhbar got it simply wrong.

The Future …

Sharon did, however, make one of his beliefs very clear. Whatever the United States did or didn’t do in the Middle East, he said, it would eventually leave — and Israel would be left behind, forced to deal with the consequences.

Take Down …

A must-read on former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld’s career (among other things) — part one and two. It’s long and at times and in places unfair, but it is a very well-researched polemic.

Some highlights:

Henry Kissinger came to think Rumsfeld the “most ruthless” official he had ever known …
In this way, Rumsfeld and others, including Gates and his slightly mad patron Casey at the CIA, would all, in some degree, become policy godfathers of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran as well as of Hezbollah…
To a blight that Charles de Gaulle once deplored in his French army as “solely careerism”, the post-Korea US military added the fetish and pseudo-science of “management” – warriors astride desks, commanding paper flow and brandishing the numerology of budgets with ever more expensive weapons systems…
With Vietnam lessons unlearned and careerist blight as well as contract pillage uninterrupted, the military system’s answer – already emerging as orthodoxy under Rumsfeld in 1976 – would be the simplistic, foolproof dictum, claimed by Colin Powell but hardly his originally, of fighting only with overwhelming forces, crushing firepower, and uncontested air cover (and even then having a precise “exit strategy” in place). This was, in sum, a version of General Taylor’s “deter and win quickly”. (As a “doctrine”, it was as if the army or navy football team would only go on the field with its own rules, its own referees, and a 33-man team in the latest equipment to face an opposite 11 without helmets, pads, or the ability to pass.)

Read it.

Deliberate Delirium …?

Sure I’m crazy,
But it ain’t easy.

— Theodore Roethke (unpublished).

With bombs exploding in Iran and the US seemingly on the war path, it might be useful to pause and consider what one author has called “irrational compellence:”

In any case, I suggest a third and more likely reason for Bush’s ambiguity: he is and has been embarked on a deliberate course of projecting his putative irrationality through threats or hints of using military force in order to instill uncertainty and fear among his adversaries. It is, in other words, a coercive strategy directed against Iran and other states, such as North Korea, but also Syria, and perhaps, indirectly, China. Other small states are, of course, also supposed to be intimidated.

It is actually a clever strategy, if it is in fact being employed, in that Bush’s domestic and international opponents end up doing most of the yeomen’s work of telling the world that this administration is capable of anything, even a pre-emptive nuclear assault. No doubt, this would be evidence that Kissinger does indeed have the President’s ear. It would also help explain why the shaped-charge presentation in Baghdad last week and its aftermath were so bizarre.

So when military and intelligence, current and former, start chatting up reporters like Sy Hersh on US war plans, is it all just a psy-op program or is it a genuine backlash? I would assume that it is like most things: a bit of both. Stay tuned, but remember what Marvin Gaye said: Believe half of what you see, and some of none of what you hear.

The Blame Game …

“Across Afghanistan last year, the number of roadside bomb attacks almost doubled, direct fire attacks on international forces almost tripled, and suicide bombings grew nearly fivefold,” Mr. Bush said. “These escalating attacks were part of a Taliban offensive that made 2006 the most violent year in Afghanistan since the liberation of the country.”

Is honesty part of some new policy at the White House?

No, this is the blame game, DC-style. Afghanistan will fall to the Taliban in two years. Europe will be blamed for not contributing enough troops, and US diplomats will resume their talks with Taliban leaders over the proposed trans-Afghanistan pipeline. (For the record, the Soviets sent over 100,000 troops into Afghanistan; NATO: 35,000.)

The same trap is being laid for Democrats over the Iraq war. Disingenuous right-wing freaks are all but threatening the equally ridiculous Democrats to cut the purse strings for the Iraq war, hoping for a similar scapegoat for another lost war.

Meanwhile, the body count rises …

PS: For any law types, John Yoo just might be evil incarnate.

Pax Americana …?

A total of $21 billion in arms sales agreements were signed from September 2005 to September 2006, compared with $10.6 billion in the previous year, according to new data compiled by the Pentagon. Foreign military sales agreements have typically ranged from $10 billion to $13 billion a year since 2001.

Iran Watch …

Suddenly, having U.S. troops next door in Afghanistan didn’t seem like a bad idea. American and Iranian officials met repeatedly in Geneva in the days before the Oct. 7 U.S. invasion. The Iranians were more than supportive. “In fact, they were impatient,” says a U.S. official involved in the talks, who asked not to be named speaking about topics that remain sensitive. “They’d ask, ‘When’s the military action going to start? Let’s get going!'”

I loathe NEWSWEEK, but this article is fairly interesting on US-Iranian negotiations after 9/11. I must also admit that I am starting to like Javad Zarif, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations:

But who can forget that Saddam Hussein used the very same scare tactic, invoking the “Iranian threat” to extort money, loyalty and military hardware from the region and the world, only to turn them later against his suppliers? Who cannot remember that to contain the supposed “Shiite Crescent” after the 1979 Iranian revolution, the extremism of the fundamentalist Salafi movement was nourished by the West — only to transform later into Al Qaeda and the Taliban? Why should the same policy in the same region produce any different result now?

How great would it have been if we could have seen him squaring off with Israel’s ambassador last summer on CNN’s Larry King.

US preparing to fight Iran

It seems that the US is up to something with Iran (and I don’t want to contradict my fellow blogger apokraphyte here):

The United States could be using its two air force bases in Bulgaria and one at Romania’s Black Sea coast to launch an attack on Iran in April,” the Bulgarian news agency Novinite claimed. Commenting on the report, The Sunday Herald wrote that the U.S. build-up along the Black Sea, coupled with the recent positioning of two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups off the Straits of Hormuz appears to indicate that U.S. President Bush has run out of patience with Tehran’s nuclear misrepresentation and non-compliance with the U.N. Security Council’s resolution.

Another story (sorry no link this time), says that American planes have entered the Suez Canal area along with nuclear submarines, warships, and other evil doers.

Now all this could be at best theatrical, but with the US, you can always expect the worst.

Reduced to Incoherence …

Does this make any sense? To anyone?

I get the feeling the White House is not a happy place these days, so keep your eye on the exits, especially once Republican presidential aspirants start “talking Iraq.”

Re-raising the Middle Finger …

Obviously, very few individuals probably really know the details of the poker game between the Iranians and the Americans over the last three and half years, but it seems clear that neither side will accept a public shaming without a quick, humiliating response.

Thus, it is not surprising that just a couple of days after the WaPost revealed a Bush order last fall to target Iranians in Iraq, the Iranians trotted out their ambassador in Baghdad for a little oneupsmanship.

Iraq is a losing game for the Americans, and they Iranians know it, so expect much of the same over the next two years. Will Cheney’s ego be able to tolerate the slow taunt? I, and the rest of the world, should hope so, but it does not augur well for the future that daughter Liz felt it necessary to send an early Father’s Day card