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July 21, 2006

$400 Cab Rides to Beirut
Posted by Shadi Hamid

This may seem somewhat inconsequential in light of other more pressing concerns, but it is disturbing nonetheless. It is also emblematic of not only the Arab world's obvious political crisis, but a moral one as well: 

Lebanese streamed north into Beirut and other regions, crowding into schools, relatives' homes or hotels. Taxi drivers in the south were charging up to $400 per person for rides to Beirut — more than 40 times the usual price.

One would have liked to think that in responding to a humanitarian crisis, there would be more evidence of a spirit of self-sacrifice. I hope, however, that this is the exception rather than the rule, as a tragedy unfolds.


National Security Index
Posted by Michael Signer

I haven't posted about the Democratic Policy Committee's National Security Index for a while -- a new one just came out and it has some stunners.  Among the most depressing (and not offered in the spirit of schadenfreude, but rather in the spirit of realism, apparently newly popular among Republican Congressmen who actually have to face the electorate this fall):

Number of Iraqis who had access to potable water before invasion: 13 million
Number of Iraqis who have access to potable water, according to the April 2006 SIGIR report: 8 million
Number of the planned 142 health care clinics that actually will be completed under the Army Corps of Engineers $243 million program: 20
Number of the planned 136 sanitation and water projects that will be completed:  49
Number of Iraqi physicians registered prior to the invasion: 34,000
Number of Iraqi physicians who have been murdered or fled the country since the invasion: 14,000
Infant mortality rate in Iraq: (Middle East average is 37, sub-Saharan Africa average is 105):  102

Not fun reading.  Click on the report for more -- especially about our military readiness and North Korea.  I keep thinking back to an SNL episode during the 2000 campaign where they imagined George W. Bush as President and the world basically completely falling apart -- the funniest image was of Bush under his desk as objects fell from the sky outside the window.  Funny scary, that is.

July 20, 2006

Behind Hezbollah's Self-Destruction
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Ok, I’m gonna have to backtrack a little bit. I’m still having trouble understanding what Hezbollah’s strategic calculations were as they launched their initial attack on Israel last week. I’ve heard a number of explanations so far, none of which I find particularly compelling. Well, yes, Iran and Syria may have played a hand in pushing Hezbollah toward the current confrontation but this does not explain why Hezbollah, with its considerable autonomy, would choose to go along with it.

Hezbollah knew that any attack on Israel would elicit a forceful response, particularly in light of Israel’s sustained efforts to recover abducted soldier Gilad Shalit the previous week. Any intelligent person could have predicted that Israel would do everything in its power to destroy Hezbullah infrastructure if provoked along the border. Sure, there are short-term strategic gains which may yet accrue to Hezbollah, but in the long run, the group’s organizational capacity has been severely hit and, now, its continued existence as the second strongest political force in Lebanon (along with coalition partners Amal) is a big question-mark. If Hezbollah's goal was, in fact, to force Israel into a prisoner exhange, then killing eight soldiers makes absolutely no sense. Nasrallah might very well be a raging megalomaniac but I'm not sure that, by itself, explains Hezbollah's strategic self-immolation.

Some Egyptians I have spoken to here, in between tiresome praises of Nasrallah, claim to understand it quite well – that Hezbollah did this for karamah, to reclaim Arab world’s dignity (the destruction of one’s country would seem a rather exorbitant price to pay for regaining one's “dignity”).  Or, as someone else suggested – it's every militant Islamist group's dream to drag the world into some kind or regional conflagration, where Arabs will be forced to get up or sit down (although the vast majority of Arabs have been sitting down rather consistently for the last five decades). Read Michael Doran’s “Somebody Else’s Civil War” for a sense of how this set-up might work. (Interestingly, Doran is now the point-person for the Middle East on the National Security Council).

Ultimately, it’s hard to know for sure what goes on in the minds of Hezbollah leaders, since very few American scholars are Hezbollah specialists. There are probably only a handful of them and even the few who do know something are likely at a loss to understand the internal dynamics and the decision-making process within Hezbollah. Same goes for Hamas. It would have been nice to have a few Hamas experts on hand who could have shed some light on things after the group unexpectedly rose to power in January. Instead, the State Department (as always?) was caught by surprise, leading Condi to get a bit miffed at her underlings. I can’t think of many Hamas specialists in academia either. So, anyway, there’s been a pretty serious internal struggle going on between Khaled Meshaal and PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh the last few months, but it has been tough to go beyond superficial analyses, since very few American scholars or policymakers have a good grasp of how Hamas's internal organization actually works.

July 19, 2006

Middle East

Katrina Style Government for Lebanese Americans
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Why is it that other countries are or have already evacuated their people from Lebanon but the USA is just getting around to it? Australia had close to the amount of people in Lebanon that we have...and they are all out. Sweden can do it, Italy can do it, Greece can do it, why even a small place like Peru has gotten their people out. ...why can't the US?

Senators Levin, Kennedy and Reid wrote  to Rumsfeld and Rice yesterday on stepping up evacuation efforts:

While we're at it. What has taken us so long to drop everything and get the hell over to the Middle East to stop this violent escalation? Our president too busy giving creepy frat boy massages  to female heads of state? (advice to Ms. Merkel: um. RUN! He will be gone in two years).   
Thousands and thousands of Lebanese refugees now exist--fleeing a country that was (hopefully still will be) our friend, that was trying to be democratic. Yes, Hezbollah is horrid. But we are going to have to learn to deal with non-state groups that we don't like (and groups that are democratically elected that we don't like i.e. Hamas) in our post 9/11 world.  Everyone from the Marine Corps to Peace Studies Departments is trying to figure out the art and science of stability without mass violence. Of calculating ill- consequences into decision making when it still matters.  Of avoiding that CIA thing called blowback.

Hezbollah did instigate this round of violence, but Israel's response, overwhelming city-destroying bombing campaigns, is a long-term strategic mistake.  If ours and Israel's regional grand strategy, from Iraq to Lebanon to Iran is helping individuals choose citizenship over extremism, responsibility to society over violence-defined identities, then we are driving them in the exact opposite direction. Airpower is an over-hyped idea leftover from World War II.  It seems as though the myth would somehow be busted by now: that peoples suffering the ruination of their cities and death will somehow get organized and overthrow their leaders? WHAT?  Doesn't work. Never has. Why? Not because the people are stoic, not because they like their leaders. Its because THEIR LEADERS DON"T CARE WHAT THEY THINK. The leaders of Germany, Japan and Italy didn't care in the 1940's. Hezbollah doesn't care today. They have other priorities. They are obviously willing to risk collective punishment of the Lebanese citizenry.

Why? Because right now, Israel is recruiting the ranks of Hezbollah for years to come. And we're helping.

State Dept.

Scorn the Past, Repeat it Twice as Hard
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Condoleezza Rice should be muttering two words to herself:  Madeleine Albright, Madeleine Albright.

When you're a celebrity Secretary of State, you get strange fan mail, and while I worked for her Albright received a letter from the husband of a woman who, late in pregnancy, had been working a crossword puzzle with the clue "first woman Secretary of State."  She couldn't recall the name.  But something about going into labor later in the day tripped her memory, and she was wheeled into the hospital shouting "Madeleine Albright, Madeleine Albright."

Touching, no?  Rice has never given birth, of course, but with all the calls for her to head to the Middle East this week she ought to recognize the feeling.

Albright has publicly and privately been giving Rice, and before her Colin Powell, advice she learned the hard way:  you think, as Secretary of State, you can avoid getting sucked into painful Middle East shuttle diplomacy.  But you can't.

And if that isn't enough, today we have Newt Gingrich offering a comparison to another of Albright's unlovely second-term assignments:  "Is the next stage for Condi to go dancing with Kim Jong Il?"  I wish I were skilled enough in computer graphics to create a photomontage of that. 

Newt does have a way with a phrase, and he puts his finger on a nasty little reality here:  the next stage is for Rice to talk to Kim Jong Il's representatives; and, however long they postpone it in (misguided) hopes that Israel's military strategy can produce something other than the pro-Hezbollah alignment that it already seems to be ratifying, Rice will eventually have to go lead a press for a cease-fire.  Why?  Because we've let years go by without helping Israelis, Palestinians and their other neighbors build machinery that could do it without us.  Because we can't afford to have Iraqi Shiite extremists taking actions in support of Hezbollah.  Because we ought to care about the fate of Lebanese democracy, as this Arab blogger wisely points out.

The Bush Administration is about to learn, considerably later than its predecessor, that "creative chaos" is best kept inside the Administration.  The rest of its tenure will be spent trying to tamp down the fires that they either allowed to spring up (North Korea, which figured out a "good" way to get our attention after this Administrration determined to ignore it in 2001-2) or deliberately unleashed (an Arab power vacuum which Hezbollah is hoping, by new feats of ugly attacks on civilians, to spring). 

So stock up on support stockings for the plane ride, take a cushion for the hard chairs outside the Syrian president's office... and think of it as prep for dealing with all those NFL owners when Rice becomes commissioner.

July 18, 2006

Hamas and Hezbollah: One Strategy or Two?
Posted by Gayle Meyers

Here in the Jerusalem office of Search for Common Ground, I work with Palestinians who have family in Gaza, and we have one staff member in Beirut. My Israeli relatives live in the south, within the range of Qassam rockets fired from Gaza by Hamas, and in the north, within the range of Katyusha rockets fired from Lebanon by Hezbollah.

The Re’ut Institute, an Israeli think tank run by an advisor to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, poses two questions about Israel’s decision to treat Hezbollah as a rogue organization separate from the Lebanese government (even though it holds seats in parliament) while simultaneously going after Hamas by attacking Palestinian government buildings in addition to military targets.

Re’ut asks two questions:

  • What is the organizing idea behind the differentiation between Hamas and Hezbollah?
  • Does damage to the Palestinian political address serve Israel's strategic interests; or, alternately, does the 'protection' of the Lebanese government serve the battle against Hezbollah?

There is a related debate about what the policy should be toward states like Iran and Syria that use groups like Hezbollah and Hamas as proxies.

These are important questions for U.S. policy as well, both in the current crisis and in its approach to the “Global War on Terror.”

The Bush Doctrine makes no distinction between terrorist groups and the states that harbor them. This logical in some cases, as in the decision to wipe out Al Qaeda’s sanctuary in Afghanistan, but it has also lead to a confusion and misplaced use of force, as in the decision to pursue Saddam Hussein in lieu of Osama Bin Laden.

I believe that treating states and non-state actors interchangeably represents wishful thinking. States are easier to confront, both politically and militarily. As signatories to treaties and members of international organizations, they are tied into the international system and can be reached by both carrots and sticks. As entities with territory and borders, well, they don’t move. Someone wanting to bomb them can always find them. On the other hand, terrorist groups are elusive, with fewer assets, fewer channels for reward or punishment.

To answer Re’ut’s questions, there is a clear distinction between Hezbollah and Hamas at this time. Despite its close alliance with Syria and Iran, Hezbollah is acting as an independent militia, without the approval of the Lebanese government. Israel’s fight on its northern border is with Hizbullah. The strategy of “protecting” the Lebanese government is correct and should go even further. Broad strikes against the infrastructure of Lebanon, which have destroyed the country’s ports, airports, and roads, will only lead to the death of civilians and further embitter the conflict.

The issue of Hamas is much more complicated, not only because the organization has now been elected to lead the Palestinian Authority (through the Palestinian Legislative Council; rival Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas still holds the presidency) but also because it is just one facet in the problem of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I propose that anyone devising national security strategies for the U.S. and its allies needs to develop new approaches for dealing with non-state actors that go far beyond emotional responses to terrorism and sweeping linkages between states and other actors. Serious questions to answer include the following:

  • What tools are available other than force for influencing the behavior of non-state actors?
  • Does force in fact work? Do concepts such as deterrence and coercion have merit?
  • Given that they cannot sign international treaties, how can non-state actors be held to their commitments (e.g. to ceasefires)?
  • When should states be considered responsible for the actions of non-state actors?

I’m sure there are more questions, and I look forward to my colleagues’ responses. In the meantime, I suggest that non-state actors should be dealt with on their own terms—friend or foe. In confronting them, strategies should be designed to avoid punishing innocent civilians and to limit escalation to state-to-state conflict.



When Things Fall Apart
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Michael Totten makes an interesting point:

Israel and Lebanon are the two freest countries in the Middle East. They are the only countries, aside from tortured Iraq, that hold unrigged elections for parliaments and heads of state. The tyrants to their east have pulled quite a coup, haven't they? The two countries friendliest to America and to liberal Western values are now shooting each other. (The Lebanese army, which has cooperated with Israel in the past behind the scenes, is now firing anti-aircraft guns at Israeli planes.)

Tyrants do get away with murder, especially here. Syria and Iran will emerge from this mess relatively unscathed. On the other hand, Lebanon is the most democratic country in the Arab world (I know, that's not saying much, but it's something). There was so much hope and optimism in Lebanon 16 months ago, as close to a million people rallied in the streets of Beirut for self-determination and against Syrian control. The possibilities for a country which had suffered more than its share seemed endless in the heady days of March 2005. So much for that. This is what happens when things fall apart. 

July 17, 2006

Middle East

The US, Israel and the 'Democratic Dilemma'
Posted by Shadi Hamid

The pro-Palestinian protest I mentioned in my last post ended up taking place. Eventually, close to 150 people gathered on the steps in front of the Doctors’ Syndicate. This (Egypt) is a police state of course, so the protestors were not allowed to spill onto the street or even the sidewalk. Security forces easily outnumbered the protestors and boxed them into a rather small area. There were also two rows of hired thugs across the street (usually a grilled chicken lunch and 10 LE will do the trick) to provide additional “security." I asked one of them how much he got paid. He flashed a big smile. He certainly seemed like he was in a good mood.

Img_1617flagThe protestors were mostly of a Leftist/liberal persuasion, with a good number of Kefaya supporters. Americans have a tendency to think that leftists and liberals are more “moderate” on Arab-Israeli affairs than their Islamist counterparts. This is not necessarily the case. The crowd chanted in support of “resistance,” bombing Tel Aviv, and other such things. They expressed strong support for Hamas and Hezbollah. For example: "Nasrallah [our] loved one, hit hit Tel Aviv” (it rhymes in Arabic). Or “martyr martyr, Haifa and Yaffa are the land of our country.” Two Israeli flags were burned. And the American ambassador was requested to leave Cairo. There were, to be sure, no Sadat posters in the crowd.

The protestors kept their focus on the current crisis, but every now and then they would break out into pro-democracy chants. It was clear that they saw a clear link between the lack of Arab democracy and the deterioration of the situation in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. For them, President Hosni Mubarak is a dictator. America supports him and, in exchange, he acquiesces on US regional interests. He is dependent on the good graces of those above him – an agent, a lackey, so on and so forth.

On the other hand, so the argument goes, Arab democracies – boasting a popular mandate and popular legitimacy – would be more willing to stand up to Israel and stick up for the Palestinians (i.e. the vast majority of Arabs are hostile toward Israel, so a democratically-elected government would adopt a more “assertive” foreign policy, reflecting the will of said majority). This line of argumentation is not entirely new, but the last couple days, I’ve noticed Egyptians using it more often. A Muslim Brotherhood leader who I spoke to earlier today said that if Arab governments were independent, democratic, and “strong,” Israel would not have attacked Lebanon, because of the deterrent effect of more equally matched adversaries.

Continue reading "The US, Israel and the 'Democratic Dilemma'" »

July 16, 2006

Middle East

Lebanon - UN to the Rescue?
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

I've been quiet the last few days, silenced by shock and by uncertainty over what to say about a Middle East spiraling out of control.  I am also no expert of Lebanon's complex and deeply distorted politics, and have spent quite a bit of time trawling in search of a handle on what's going on and what might happen next.

In doing so, I came upon this highly detailed UN account of the organization's own mission in Southern Lebanon, which has existed from 1978 to the present day.   Right now the UN has 2,000 international troops deployed in Southern Lebanon to enforce and patrol the the border established when Israel withdrew in 2000.   The document recounts in depth much of what's happened since then.  I am sure many would dispute aspects of the account, but taking it at face value here's what's salient:

- The Lebanese government has persistently refused to take control over its Southern border, taking the position that absent a permanent peace with Israel its army would not serve as Israel's border guard.  In report after report and resolution after resolution, the UN Secretary General and the Security Council have implored the Lebanese to get a handle on this most volatile swath of land, but to no avail.

- Since the withdrawal 6 years ago, there has been a steady stream of violent flare-ups, including deadly missile and mortar attacks by Hezbollah that have provoked Israeli retaliation.

- For its part, Israel engaged in no violent provocations but ignored repeated entreaties by the UN to cease flyovers into Lebanese territory that were prohibited under the terms of their withdrawal.

Reading this, a few things grow clear:

- It's easy to understand why the Israelis insist that an immediate ceasefire and return to the status quo ante is unacceptable.  They have been dealing with deadly Hezbollah attacks from So. Lebanon every few months for 6 years.  The UN report vividly recounts the nasty festering on the border, showing the uselessness of international efforts to stop it.  With Syria and Iran apparently seizing on Southern Lebanon as a proxy struggle for their own battles against the US, comforting though it might be to hope for a quick deal to return things to "normalcy", that may may well not be possible

- In its current form, the UN role in the region is failing completely.  And yet, I also find myself thinking that when all is said and done here the UN - meaning some form of UN peace enforcement - may be the only hope for an answer. 

Continue reading "Lebanon - UN to the Rescue?" »

Middle East

The Implosion of the Middle East?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

While the Middle East was coming apart at the seams, I was not present. It was as if I was in a parallel universe, one which had defied both time and circumstance. The last few days, I was on vacation in Egypt’s North Coast. I was staying at a resort “village.” I was in Egypt to be sure, but I might as well have been in France, for that’s how remote the tragic events unfolding in Lebanon and Israel seemed.

I will, however, save my discussion of the Egyptian “liberal elite” – and the cloistered universe to which they belong – for another, less consequential day. I know that Lebanon and Israel are on everyone’s minds right now, as they should be. I didn’t think it could get worse, but this region never fails to amaze. It at once defies expectations and shatters them. This is what great tragedies are made of. And they have been in the making for some time now. It is, after all, not as if the region began its implosion today, or yesterday. Away from the glare of an impatient, attention-challenged Western press, the situation here in Egypt has deteriorated markedly the past year. The same can be said for Jordan (and for Yemen, Algeria, Tunisia, Algeria, and so on).

Five long years have passed. The Bush administration’s record in the Middle East has proven to be a total, colossal failure. You name it, and it has gone wrong. The Arab "spring" is no more. Arab dictators have redoubled their efforts. And of course there's Iraq. The Bush administration’s baffling unwillingness to play a more active role in mediating the Arab-Israeli conflict has also been particularly destructive. There is “constructive instability,” and then there is plain old “instability.” Bush and his wonderful set of foreign policy advisors appear to have a propensity for the latter.

In any case, I am still trying to take everything in and catch up with the "facts" on the ground. I will hopefully have more to say by tomorrow, once everything is sufficiently digested. Today, I will be covering a pro-Palestinian protest at the Doctors' syndicate here in Cairo (“in solidarity with the Lebanese and the Palestinians” according to the Arabist). Abu Aardvark notes that this time around in Jordan, anti-Israel protests are morphing more easily into criticism of regime oppression and the lack of democratic reform. I have never been a big fan of “combining” the problem of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the problem of Arab democracy. There is no necessary link and there is no reason why democratic reform should be held hostage to a peace process which shows little sign of picking up. Which is why I’m interested to see how demonstrators will frame the issue tonight. We’ll see.

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