Democracy Arsenal

August 15, 2006

Middle East

A Few Modest Proposals
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

While everyone's catching their breath post-cease-fire, here are a few initiatives I'd like to see:

1.  A bi-partisan initiative to rebuild Lebanon.  Lebanese-American GOP Senator John Sununu and Democratic Rep. John Dingell (whose district includes one of the biggest Lebanese communities in the US) should jointly take the lead in directing the State Department to open the floodgates of not just humanitarian assistance but real aid in rebuilding all the infrastructure Lebanon just lost, to help put its economy and tourism industry back on track.

1a.  Public diplomacy around a bi-partisan initiative to rebuild Lebanon.  That's a greta example of a substantive policy that might go some tiny way toward repairing the pr disaster this conflict is for us in the Arab world.  Democracy Arsenal's favorite Under Secretary of State Karen Hughes should be up on the Hill full-time trying to make it happen.

2.  Charles Krauthammer explains it all to you.  I want the conservative columnist and his neo-con friends, especially Dick Cheney, to tell me why it's good for right-wing Israelis and their American supporters to criticize their government's conduct of the Lebanon war but unpatriotic for US Democrats to criticize our government's handling of the Iraq war.

3.  Come to think of it.  Perhaps some of our readers and bloggers who live in the region will  correct me, but it sure looks from here like the Israelis are doing an excellent job of having a fierce, existential debate about the use of military power and the threat they face while not actually weakening their ground position in any way.

4.  And one for the home front:  could Tom Mazzie at MoveOn.org please check the authorship of his talkingpoints before suggesting that progressives write letters to the editor telling their fellow Americans how much less safe we are than before 9-11?  Last I recall, that's Karl Rove's playbook.  That stimulus of fear is well associated with conservatives, and as Rove has said over and over this year, it'll work... for conservatives. 

Well, enough dreaming on a sunny day.  Back to work, all of you.   

August 14, 2006

Middle East

After the Ceasefire: Winners and Losers
Posted by Shadi Hamid

So we have a ceasefire. As the ashes settle, we do, indeed, have a “new Middle East.” Some quick, initial observations:

  1. I had thought that Hezbollah would come out of this conflict the biggest loser. If the US and Israel had approached things in a different way, then that might have happened. But it didn’t. Hezbollah comes out as a winner, not because it won, but because it wasn’t defeated. The Arab bar for military victory is, as Michael Totten notes, so “pathetically low” that almost anything is a victory. Perception is more important than reality and the perception among 300 million Arabs was that Hezbollah heroically resisted Israel’s advances.
  2. Despite Hezbollah’s PR victory, its military capabilities and strategic reach are undoubtedly diminished. It will take years for it to rebuild its arsenal, if it ever does.
  3. Southern Lebanon has been reduced to rubble. Someone is going to have to fill the vacuum and, most likely, it will be Hezbollah. 
  4. One of things fueling Hezbollah’s growing popularity both inside and outside of Lebanon was a feeling of Arab solidarity in the face of the Israeli offensive. Without pictures of innocent civilians dying flashing on their TV screens and as emotions hopefully cool down, Arab support for Hezbollah will diminish (but likely remain quite high). 
  5. Ehud Olmert finds himself in the unenviable position of selling and explaining a war that almost no one in Israel - either on right or left - considers a rousing success. Olmert's conduct over the course of the conflict provides innumerable lessons on "how not to prosecute a war against a non-state actor."
  6. The US, as is almost always the case with the current administration, comes out of this conflict a loser, but, then again, this should not be a surprise to anyone.

Continue reading "After the Ceasefire: Winners and Losers" »

August 13, 2006

Middle East, Weekly Top Ten Lists

You Say You Got a Resolution: What's Next in Lebanon
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Tomorrow morning the UN negotiated ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon will enter into force.  This represents a long-awaited milestone, and yet leaves open as many questions as it answers.  We've talked before about how these much-heralded international agreements sometimes wind up doing little more than paper over differences that just burst back open as deeply as ever.  Will that happen here?  Here are some signs to watch for in the coming days and weeks:

1.  What will Israel do with its forces currently in Lebanon - The idea behind the ceasefire resolution is that Israeli troops will end offensive operations, and gradually withdraw as international peacekeepers and the Lebanese army take their place.  But with intense political pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert after an operation that's seen at best as a partial victory, will the post ceasefire period be sufficiently free of provocation that Israel's guns stay quiet, and will the international force be mobilized quickly enough so that the motions of withdrawal can start?

2.  Will Hezbollah comply with the resolution's requirement that it disarm south of the Litani River - Sheikh Nasrallah has said he will comply with this only once Israel leaves Southern Lebanon (including Shebaa Farms) and is replaced by the Lebanese army and an expanded UNIFIL.  A dispute over this point led to impasse at a Lebanese cabinet meeting this morning, because Israel will not leave with an armed and ready Hezbollah still unchecked in what is to become the buffer zone.  If not solved, this gap could yield a stand-off that quickly turns violent.

3.  Will the Lebanese government be able to coopt Hezbollah into rejecting violence - As long as Hezbollah remains a guerrilla state-within-a-state in Lebanon, even if there's a semblance of partial disarmament in the south, the organization will be poised to regroup and restart its attacks.  The only way to stop that is for Hezbollah to disband, or to transform into a legitimate political party.  Some suggest that a package of incentives - control over ministries and resources, perhaps - might lure Hezbollah into such a conversion.

4.  How quickly does an international force get mobilized - There is no agreement on when the 15,000-strong international force will be deployed, nor who will lead it.  France, Italy, Turkey and others have said they'll contribute troops.  The UN, largely for reasons outside the organization's direct control, is notoriously slow in getting peacekeepers out into the field.  Having witnessed the US's experience in Lebanon in 1982 and in Iraq, other governments will naturally hesitate.

5.  How well can a UN force rein in a terrorist group - I posed the same question some weeks ago in pondering the viability of an expanded UNIFIL as a route to resolving the conflict.  If Hezbollah stands down, that's one thing.  But unless they abandon or put on hold their raison d'etre of returning the region to its 1948 borders (minus the State of Israel, that is), the UN force will be faced with trying to contain an aggressive, well-armed, and sophisticated guerrilla group, something both the US military (in Iraq) and the Israel Defense Force (in Lebanon in recent weeks) have failed at.  This could be a humiliating defeat for the UN, or potentially a triumph that shows the organizations relevance in an era of terror.

6.  How does Hezbollah approach the arrival of a beefed up UN force - This brings up the directly-related question of how Hezbollah deals with the UN troops:  in its heretofore skeleton-staffed and weakly mandated form, UNIFIL seems to have been largely ignored by Hezbollah fighters.  But the augmented force will be far more heavily armed and have robust rules of engagement.  Will Hezbollah want to be seen as cooperating?  Will their quiescence mask behind-the-scenes plotting and rearmament? 

7.  What kind of mettle will the Lebanese army show - The abject failure of the Lebanese army to exert a monopoly on force in Southern Lebanon is at the root of Hezbollah's opportunism and the skirmishes that erupted into this (thus far) mini-war.  Now the world is relying on Lebanese soldiers to play a major role in retaking and securing the country's Hezbollah-ridden border areas.   If past is prologue, this is a recipe for continued Hezbollah infiltration.  If that happens, its a matter of time before Israel comes back in in some form.

8.  Do Syria and Iran still want to rumble with the world - Both governments, known to be political, financial and military backers of Hezbollah, have announced their opposition to the ceasefire resolution.  Both are assumed to have been behind Hezbollah's initial provocations.  In the face of UNSC unanimity and an international peacekeeping force, do they decide that the optics of trying to spoil the deal are untenable?  Or do they see this as some sort of epic battle against the West that they're bent on fighting until Israel returns the Golan and the UN backs off Tehran's nuclear program?

9.  What's next in Gaza - Before this last round started in early July, the big worry was friction between Israel and Gaza, brought to a head by the abduction of an Israeli soldier, subsequent military retaliation, and exchanges of rocket and missile fire.  Before that, the big worry was a restive population as a result of a starved Palestinian authority that could not pay its civil servants because the flow of funds had been cut off after Hamas' election.  The situation could easily boil over if subsequent international efforts are not made to extend the ceasefire to Gaza in some form.

10.  What level of engagement in the conflict will the Bush Administration sustain - The speed with which the international force is mobilized, the pace at which Israel withdraws, and the role the Lebanese government plays will all be influenced by the degree to which the Administration - and others, including notable the EU and the other Permanent UNSC members - continue to pressure the parties.  With an election coming up, will Bush - as never before - be willing to tie his fate to events in the Mideast he cannot control? Truth is he's tied to them like it or not.

August 11, 2006

Middle East

128 More Nasrallahs on the Streets of Egypt
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Even if Nasrallah is killed, there will, apparently, be hundreds more. This, from the newspaper Al-Masri al-Youm (translation of the first sentence):

Health offices in Alexandria (Egypt) found that 128 newborn babies were given the name "Nasrallah."

Don't worry guys. These are the birth pangs of the "new Middle East."

August 02, 2006

Middle East

The Shifting Tide of Arab Public Opinion
Posted by Shadi Hamid

As I discussed in a previous post, when the current Mideast conflict first began, many Arab intellectuals, liberals, and even some Islamists were critical of Hezbollah's provocation along the Israeli border. Well, so much for that. If there was ever a time to try to start convincing Arab (and particularly Lebanese) moderates to distance themselves from the self-destructive posturing of Hezbollah, this was it. For a brief moment, Hezbollah could and should have been revealed for what it was - an organization which had chosen to sacrifice Lebanese prosperity and propel Lebanon into war for its own warped, perhaps even messianic ends. But the opportunity was lost. Today, three weeks into the current conflict, such is the tide of Arab public opinion that no one dares criticize Hezbollah. This from the AP:

And where [Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad] Saniora initially was critical of Hezbollah, he is now praising the militant group and its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, for helping to defend Lebanon.

That pretty much sums it up. And this is not just a "Muslim thing" anymore:

Egypt's Copts have hailed the Lebanese resistance movement Hizbullah and its chief Hassan Nasrallah as a source of pride to Muslims and the Arab world... "All Arabs must be proud of Hizbullah's gallantry," Bishop Rafiq Gris, the spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church, told IslamOnline.net.

And this from Youssef Chahine - Egypt's most famous film director, a liberal, and usually an outspoken opponent of Islamist radicalism:

Chahine said Nasrallah is a "source of pride to Islam." "Hizbullah is a symbol of Arab dignity," he told Reuters on Sunday, July 30.The Cannes-awarded director said he hoped to shake hands with Nasrallah in a visit to Beirut earlier this year. "Nasrallah welcomed my visit…I'm really proud of him," Chahine added.

August 01, 2006

Middle East

Hosni Mubarak, Deep Thinker
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I just stumbled upon a copy of today's Daily Star (Egyptian edition). Headline: "President warns Mideast peace process could collapse." Hmmm....really? What a pessimist!

We are, of course, referring here to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the self-proclaimed bearer of good, seemingly infinite, wisdom. May God grant him continued health and prosperity.

July 31, 2006

Middle East

The Anti- Hezbollah Backlash that Never Came
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Part of the US and Israel’s strategic calculation, thus far, has been that the Lebanese would lay most or, at the very least, some of blame on Hezbollah - rather than Israel - for their suffering. Same goes for the Palestinians blaming Hamas for the deteriorating situation in Gaza. Michael Walzer explains in The New Republic:

Reducing the quality of life in Gaza, where it is already low, is intended to put pressure on whoever is politically responsible for the inhabitants of Gaza--and then these responsible people, it is hoped, will take action against the shadowy forces attacking Israel. The same logic has been applied in  Lebanon, where the forces are not so shadowy.

There is a catch, though, since

No one is responsible in either of these cases, or, better, those people who might take responsibility long ago chose not to.  

Normally, it might sort of go like this. Hezbollah attacks. Israel responds. Lebanon gets caught in a war zone. The situation in Lebanon gets worse. In turn, the Lebanese people and, to a certain extent, the rest of the Arab world hold Hezbollah (at least partly) responsible for starting this mess and playing to Iran’s self-serving agenda with little to no gain to Arabs. At the start of the recent conflagration, Dennis Ross predicted an anti-Hezbollah backlash:

Only this time, with Hezbollah, they may have miscalculated. Hezbollah does not command an instinctive following throughout a largely Sunni Arab world… We want models of success on the non-Islamist side, and it may be that Hezbollah's action, so clearly serving a non-Lebanese agenda, is a wake-up call for a large part of the Arab world.

I wish Dennis Ross was correct on this score – that Arabs would acknowledge the stupidity of Hezbollah’s actions. I, in an initial bout of misguided optimism, suspected as much, but over the course of the last two and a half weeks, I’ve realized that I was wrong. So far, I have yet to meet anyone in Egypt – liberal or Islamist, rich or poor, angry or happy – who blames Hezbollah for unnecessarily plunging Lebanon into conflict. Not one. As the conflict has escalated, pro-Hezbollah sentiment has risen quite dramatically. It is (or was) true – Nasrallah’s reach in the mostly sunni Arab world has traditionally been limited due to the longstanding sectarian tensions. But, now, Nasrallah is increasingly becoming a folk hero, a larger-than-life hero of the "resistance," an Arab poor man’s Che Guevara. He is quite possibly the most popular man in the Arab world today. This is not a good thing - not for the US, Israel, and certainly not for Arabs themselves.

At the start of this conflict, as Abu Aardvark has shown, there was an evident, if exaggerated, split in Arab political discourse on the Hezbollah question. The Saudis – with their relatively extensive media apparatus – led the way (for their own cynical reasons of course), condemning Hezbollah’s initial operation along the border. But, as the situation in Lebanon got only worse the last two weeks, Arab public opinion began to unify behind Hezbollah pretty much across the board. For all his folly and seemingly self-destructive behavior, Nasrallah is winning the hearts and minds of Arabs and we are losing them (but, then again, they were lost long ago).   

July 28, 2006

Middle East

States and Non-States
Posted by Michael Signer

At a Truman Project dinner the other night at an apartment in Woodley Park, over Armando's pizza and beer, we debated the Israel-Lebanon conflict.  We mirrored the country in our conflicting views.  Some agreed with Nancy Pelosi and other members of the Democratic leadership that Israel's response has been disproportionate.  Others felt that Hezbollah got what they deserved.

At some point in the discussion, it occurred to me to ask -- what is the difference between what Israel is doing now and what America did in Afghanistan?  Our national memory -- indeed, our history -- will be defined by Iraq, which happened only after a massively successful invasion of another sovereign nation.  We reflect too little on Afghanistan (this amnesia is another casualty of the rash and ill-planned venture in Iraq).

So let's talk about Afghanistan, vis-a-vis Israel's approach to Lebanon.

Continue reading "States and Non-States" »

July 27, 2006

Middle East

Who Fears Chaos More?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

This morning, my old colleague Rob Malley said something that crystallized thoughts I'd been having around the Middle East fighting:

"The question is, who is going to fear instability more, who is going to fear chaos more, and who can sustain violence longer?"

This is exactly the problem with the neocons' "creative chaos" theory that got us into all of this, because, of course, it turns out that we fear instability and chaos more, even -- or especially -- the chaos we helped create.  We mind if oil prices go up; we mind the deaths of our own soldiers, and we sporadically mind the gratuitous killings of civilians.

He might also have asked:  who is best positioned to benefit from chaos?  The answer, as we have seen clearly in Iraq, is:  not us, and not our secular, moderate, embattled friends.  The forces that benefit in times of chaos are those that have strong networks and reliable ties (kinship or faith or ethnicity) already in place; who know the terrain thoroughly and who are known to the people they are trying to coerce/recruit.

Hezbollah has us, and the Israelis, and Lebanon's forces of moderate authority, thoroughly beat on all of those counts.

Why is this fantasy that we benefit from chaos so persistent?  It reminded me of something, so the other day I went and dug through some college textbooks and pulled out the following set of ideas:

--accentuate the contradictions already existing in corrupt, unjust societies;

--expose the weakness and even hypocrisy of governing "moderates;"

--empower the average individual, or forces representing him/her, in the name of democracy and justice.

Sound familiar? 

Continue reading "Who Fears Chaos More?" »

July 24, 2006

Middle East

Dust Yourselves Off, and Get Up
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I spoke to a friend over the phone last week, as the Middle East was coming apart. He was incredibly pessimistic about the future of the region, almost to the point of despair. We are losing the Iranian people, he told me. The gains of the Cedar Revolution have been lost. The democracy promotion agenda has been tucked away in a lockbox. I tried to counter some of his points, but I found it rather difficult. Because, no matter what way you look at it, it really is all quite depressing (see my previous post). I remember the burgeoning optimism of last year. 2005. I really did think, then, that 2005 would stand decisive in the unfolding story of the Middle East. It was an exciting time, where things, for once, seemed alive. Of course, this is the Middle East where nothing turns out quite the way you hope it will. Perhaps I should have known better.

This morning, trying to remember how I felt back then in the heady days of early 2005, I reread an article I had written for The Jerusalem Post (2/1/05). It was titled “A Democratic Moment.” And it was, as the title suggests, a rather optimistic piece - except for a short cautionary note:

This, however, is a different time, a time when 'democracy' is on the lips of millions of Arabs who have never tasted it. There is cause for hope, but it would be dangerous to see this as a harbinger of great things to come. This is not Ukraine, where hundreds of thousands rallied in the icy cold in jubilant solidarity.

Yes, this is not Ukraine. It is the Arab world.

We are, however, at a turning point. And we are faced with a couple different choices. We can accept defeat, and let the Middle East continue being what it has been for the last several decades – a dangerous powder keg, which explodes every couple years (or months). Or we can dust ourselves off, get up, and regroup.

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