Monday, July 31, 2006

How many dead children does it take to make a Liberal Muscle flex?

At a sitting, (Titus Andronicus reference not wholly unintended), 34 apparently.

Colonel Blair was however quick to remind his supporters that, should the children killed be Iraqi children, rather than Lebanese, different multiples would apply...

Meanwhile, carrying a report from New York Times reporter Neil MacFarquhar in Damascus, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports on another of those apparently unintended consequences of this apparent attempt (or 'opportunity' in Condi-speak) to re-draw the map of the Middle East. MacFarquhar tells us that Arab leaders change tack as public supports Hezbollah - all bringing Mr Gingrich's Third World War that little bit closer [see references to Kurt Andersen's New York Magazine article in my posting last Friday, below]

Qana, as we all know, is famous for two things. It is supposedly the site of the miracle in which Jesus Christ turned water into wine (John 2:1-11) . It was also the site of a massacre of civilians sheltering in a UN Compound in 1996, during a previous war which Israel was fighting in Lebanon. It is unclear quite what miracle those who bombed Qana this weekend were trying to perpetrate, perhaps something to do with restoring the power of sight to the international community after the collective blindness of the last two weeks. George Bush and his Israeli friends may not be squinting in the new-found light but it appears that the muscular Mr Tony might just be about to blink.

Of course, as he talks NATO buffer forces, the families of military men across Britain will be pondering how many middle eastern wars we wish to be caught in the crossfire of at one time - and how many more of these we can start before they cease to be viewed as independent wars and become just one big war - not so much 'on Terror' as Of Terror.

In an article entitled Days of darkness Gideon Levey writing in the Israeli paper Haaretz states, "Lebanon, which has never fought Israel and has 40 daily newspapers, 42 colleges and universities and hundreds of different banks, is being destroyed by our planes and cannon and nobody is taking into account the amount of hatred we are sowing." He concludes, "Long before this war is decided, it can already be stated that its spiraling cost will include the moral blackout that is surrounding and covering us all, threatening our existence and image no less than Hezbollah's Katyushas."

Haaretz also reported, as early as the 23rd July, on an Anti-war Tel Aviv rally drawing a Jewish, [and] Israeli Arab crowd referring to this as 'the first cracks in the consensus', and reflecting that in the 1982 war with/in Lebanon such 'cracks' had taken ten days to emerge, against slightly less than a week in this case. The article also ponders the apparent start of an anti-American flavour in this incipient Israeli anti-war movement. That would indeed be a crack, or at any rate it might be if it ever amounted to more than the current coalition of the politically isolated.

It is disgusting to speculate about anything good coming out of Qana 2006 but it might just shine a bloodstained light into that crack.

Friday, July 28, 2006

And the beat goes on - on and on and on - It's all Just a little bit of History Repeating

Your choice: Jim Muir of the BBC in Tyre (title link), saying very much the same thing that I was two weeks back (below), or the Propellerheads and Miss Shirley Bassey

For other perspectives on the systematic destruction of one of the Middle East's emergent democracies, here's a piece from New York Magazine talking to people including Anthony Bourdain the media chef and author of Kitchen Confidential who was in Lebanon when, as he puts it, George Bush-style, "in a moment, it turned to shit." It also tells us that at this point a notice went up on the Time Out Beirut Website saying: "Beirut's favourite entertainment and listings magazine is now suspended. Lebanon is being, once again, used as a battleground for a war that neither its government nor its people want. They are killing our city."
Read the article: Life in Beirut Before Wartime -- New York Magazine

Also from New York Magazine, Kurt Andersen gives a slightly more nuanced take on the situation's 'insane duality' in What We Won't Talk About in the Israel-Lebanon Conflict including the following paragraph which manages both to accuse Newt Gingrich of being a Manichean dualist heretic (if subtly) and to point up the onanistic approach of Fox News to other people's war's as their newsreaders use Israel's incursions into Lebanon as a sort of Chris Morris-style psychic dildo, after such rhetorical fireworks Mr Andersen ends soberly by considering Austrian Archduke's in the Twentieth Century,

"So at this time of staggering new complexity comes a two-front Israeli war - which temporarily serves, like all wars, to make a complex situation seem simple. Some on the right are pleased because (like Islamist radicals) they are bloody-mindedly eager for a wider war. The Weekly Standard suggested last week that the U.S. should use "this act of Iranian aggression" - that is, Hezbollah's attacks on Israel - as a pretext for "a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait?" "It's World War III," Newt Gingrich declared, a wishing-for-1914 mantra that half the Fox News stars masturbatorily repeated. And Gingrich, shrewd and frank, was clear about his rhetorical intentions in painting a stark, black-and-white, Manichaean picture. "The minute you use the language," he explained, the discussion becomes, "Okay, if we're in the Third World War, which side do you think should win?"

Andersen continues, "To insist wishfully that World War III has started - to try to recast a trope as a fact - is hideous. However, that such a proposition can be bandied about on network TV by a national politician (and former historian) gives even sober people the willies. Might the Israeli soldiers' capture turn out to be our century's assassination of an Austrian archduke...? "

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Price of Freedom from Syrian Occupation...

The rewards of freedom eh?

A few short months ago, many in the West, not least those camp authoritarians the self-styled 'muscular liberals', were celebrating an apparent popular uprising of the Lebanese people which led to the final withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country.

The country had been significantly rebuilt under former President Rafik Hariri, and the Syrians apparent assassination of 'Mr Lebanon' had been the final straw. Just as he stood poised to lead a return to power for the band of practical men and women with whom he had played such a key part in reinvigorating the Lebanese economy and creating a climate fit for inward investment. Hariri's achievements saw the country feted by publications as diverse as the Wall Street Journal and Wallpaper as the next big thing in investment terms. A colossal missed opportunity was once again open for business. Then someone blew him up.

But the Lebanese people stood firm, revolted by this act of barbarism - whether perpetrated in fact by Syria or by its increasingly unruly proxies in the South of Lebanon - or indeed by other factions altogether.

This was a process of re-birth. It was a case of tentative steps on the path toward a new democracy. Even the muscular liberals raised their T-Shirts in glee and gazed lecherously at this sexy new member of the progressive club, while talking fantastically, ar at any rate with forked tongues, about 'Region change'

After decades of civil war and occupation Lebanon was starting to rise again.

The link at the top of this post is to a Harry's Place comment on this period - it appears that the answer to the placard in the doctored photo asking 'Syria, Who's next?' is 'YOU ARE'

And the price of freedom from Syrian occupation is apparently Israel destroying your state infrastructure (and in particular your civilian transport infrastructure) just as you struggle toward becoming an independent state.

Lebanon never got the chance to control Hizbollah because Israel destroyed its authority first.

Yes it did not have the authority now, but it had only just thrown out a foreign occupier for the first time in over 20 years.

It was given no time to become a viable state.

Walid Jumblatt is a man of Lebanon no less bloody than some of the men of Israel with whom he has shared several decades of mutually destructive conflict, he is also no friend of Syria - in fact in 2005 US and muscular liberal critics were holding him up as middle eastern democracy's latest herald of change - see Jumblatt: Iraq is the start of a new Arab world

But this morning Jumblatt was drawing different parallels, between Israel's treatment of Lebanon vis Hizbollah and of the PLO and Fatah vis Hamas and then most recently of the Palestinian Authority vis Hamas. Jumblatt argued that Israel's key interest was to destroy any regional authority other than its own. The Palestinians must be kept from maturing toward responsible democracy, Lebanon must be stopped in its economic tracks, its EU-funded infrastructure destroyed, its reopening US investment banks scared off. What asked Jumblatt would anyone else in the region do except seek to make Israel pay a similar price?

Let us be clear, the bombing of Lebanon's ports, viaducts, highways and international airport are nothing to do with two captured soldiers. This was a plan that was ready to roll, awaiting a trigger, the most tenuous of justifications which could offer the hypocritical grandmasters of the Great Game a last shot at changing the balance of power in the middle east.

The key question now has once again become, what will Syria do? Is Syria strong enough to act or will it feel rather that its long-term power and viability as a state and regional power-broker is enhanced by staying its hand.

The logic says Syria will wait - sit back saying 'we told you so' as Israel writes a harsh message for Lebanon - 'without a powerful occupier, you are nothing'. But a shocked Arab and wider Moslem world is hearing that message too. The notion that Syrian inaction should be praised is a horrible folly, for all that Syrian action would ignite World War 3 - or at least Gulf War 2.5

To praise Syria inaction is to tell the Lebanese that they have no right to independence, to legitimise the failure of their state. It is neither accidental nor ironic that it is in Israel's interests to make Syria the arbiter, for by doing so Israel asks the question, of America and others, 'When will you deal with Syria?' or as George puts it 'get Syria to stop (Hizbollah) doing this shit'.

This is a high stakes game and it is by no means certain that Syria would not consider an attack on Israel were it not for internal dissent and a percieved lack of Arab League backing -motivated not least by self-interest - as noone wants Israel bombing their infrastructure and civilian population next. This is fine for the Grandmasters, this is fine for the despots - this is the brutalised realpolitik that keeps people's enslaved to despots and stifles democracy in the middle east. How ironic is it that Israel has just attacked the region's only two other peacefully elected democratic governments - for all that the Palestinians will correct us by pointing out their (mutual) state of war.

Tony and George's inadvertently overheard conversation tells us one thing only- that the people of the middle east don't matter and that the Great Game is still just that.

The Lebanese I have spoken to this week take a different view and are disgusted that the first reaction of the British government was not to call for a ceasefire and for Israel to stop killing innocent civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure but rather to talk of evacuating another generation of those who can leave Lebanon - so that Israel's morally repugnant promise to knock the country back 20 years can be allowed to come to pass.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


A friend was talking about a recent visit to Kenya and the tension there between Africans and Asians. Whatever the rights and wrongs, it struck me that much of the blame actually lay at the door of the colonial administration, which had "imported", for want of a better word, a ready-made middle class from its subcontinental possession. The colonial elephant may now have left the room, but it had certainly broken the crockery and someone was going to have to get a shovel.

I had a similar feeling on my recent visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Christian NGO-working friends we were staying with were, rightfully, highly critical of the brutish Israeli treatment of the Palestinians and their church was busy organising a boycott of the company that produced the bulldozers destroying Arab property.

But although I could recognise the many wrongs perpetrated by the Israelis and reinforced by our stateless, Islamist taxi driver who despairingly pointed out the settlements encroaching on Palestinian land and the wall dividing families, I could not bring myself to condemn them. After all, they had been persecuted with even greater severity for 2000 years, culminating in an orgy of butchery which left 6 million dead. They had learned the hard way that might is right, brutalised for millennia by us, the Christians.

When the Christians wrested Jerusalem from the Muslims back in the 12th Century, they slaughtered every living thing in the city - Jews, Muslims and even their own kind. A few centuries later the Muslims took back the city and gave its Christian occupiers safe passage out. This was the end of meaningful Christian occupation of the Holy Land, but their brutal legacy remains the source of the suffering we see today.

They left their mark - Crusader crosses etched into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Gruesome Twosome Two?

A slightly perplexed Washington Post columnist reports that British Foreign Secretary Makes No Waves in Visit Across the Pond.

Where there were some clear differences, Beckett was almost apologetic. Asked about a U.S.-U.K. extradition treaty, which Britain has implemented but the Senate has failed to ratify, she said that she could "understand and accept" that it isn't an American priority. On the U.S. military prison, she asserted that "we would like to see Guantanamo Bay closed" before quickly adding: "My understanding is President Bush has said he would like to see Guantanamo Bay closed."

It was an impressive show of deference, even for a British government that has been famous for such behavior. Prime Minister Tony Blair followed Bush into Iraq so eagerly that he has been called Bush's "poodle" at home. Rice got so close to Beckett's predecessor, Jack Straw, that she gave him the bed in her cabin on a flight to Baghdad and slept on the floor in the aisle. The two visited each other's home towns, and Fleet Street hinted at romance.

Eeuuuwwww... well that last bit didn't get into the British media! Does Mrs Straw know? What Popbitch would call a "gruesome twosome" if ever there was one...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The elephant in the living room

What changed between the 2002 Government Energy Review - which nixed nukes on grounds ranging from vast cost, to vast risk, poor safety records and long (very very long) term waste problems...


The new 2006 Government Energy Review, which backs nuclear as an answer to carbon emission targets we've been missing, capacity we'll be needing and something called 'security of supply' by 'back in black' government minister Alistair Darling this morning on the Today programme, (something which forward thinking Mr Blair was talking about in the United States as early as 2002 incidentally) what was that thing that changed again?

WELL, I wonder...

....begins with an 'I' and ends in a 'War'; as Tony might say.

OUR................................... AFGHANISTAN

(July 3rd 2006) UK commander admits Afghan mission is 'changing' ...but denies mission creep and 'stressed that there had not been a request for extra troops.'

The next day Colonel Tony repeated the denial but admitted that the UK's
Afghanistan troops may need more resources and talked about sending 'engineers' and 'enablers' in the first instance, to make it clear that he hadn't earlier misled parliament,
among other things....

The defence minister (yet another unrelated brown Scot rather inappropriately called Des, which I'm pretty sure is neither an abbreviation completed by 'ert Fox' nor by 'ert Orchid') admitted that the Taliban had been "energised" by the British troops arrival in southern Afghanistan...

US Analysts and military officials, including the commander of NATO's Afghan force, 'merely' said that the international community's attention was diverted by Iraq, allowing power vacuums in Afghanistan that the Taliban have filled.

On Monday 10th July (Des) Browne announced 900 more troops for Afghanistan ...and some big helicopters...

Talking of helicopters in Afghanistan, these were, incidentally, recently described, with no hint of irony whatever, as 'lifesavers' by the Telegraph : "After years of suffering derision for being over budget and late into service, the Apache attack helicopter has become a vital asset on the Afghan battlefield as a life-saver for paratroopers on the ground.

For the first time the sleek gunships have been tested in a hostile environment and have performed beyond expectation, said the Army Air Corps pilots who fly it."

'Sleek gun ships', eh? ...remember those?