July 19, 2006
America, the land of bizarro-world MENA commentary
I sometimes wonder what it is about American media that leads to quite such utterly delusional commentary on the Middle East. Following up on my initial gut reaction, some more thoughts on the utterly surreal American whanking. (see also Lounsbury)
The New York Times reports that America has granted Israel one more week to achieve its aim of "severely weakening" Hezbollah.
"For Israelis, fighting back made all the difference. We’ve taken Hezbollah’s best shot and we’re still standing. 'We will win,' Mr Olmert told the Knesset on Monday, and this simple assertion became an instant headline and a rallying cry," writes Zev Chafets in the newspaper's comment pages.
The Washington Post asks whether this how the summer of 1914 felt. Charles Krauthammer says the crisis "represents a rare, perhaps irreproducible, opportunity" to eliminate Hezbollah: "The road to a solution is therefore clear: Israel liberates south Lebanon and gives it back to the Lebanese."
Another week to achieve objectives.
But the Op Ed is just bizzare - as frankly is Olmert's comment. It's a bloody guerilla movement, not Syria, mate. If you're proud to have 'taken Hizbullah's best shot" and "still [be] standing" your country (or you) has more neuroses than anyone ever suspect. As for winning.... well in a tactical sense, yes. Strategically, not the way you're going. Israel might profit by studying the lessons of Pyrrhus.
But my real scorn is saved for Charles "Mr Delusional" Krauthammer. Mate, if 90-00 - a good fucking decade - with a native militia backing them up and many boots on the ground did not allow Israel to break Hizbullah, border raids and air strikes are not going to. At best a short-term tactical degradation of Hizbullah capacity might, might, be achieved. That's trivial. However, as any short little trip around the American media, and even the commentary I saw when I was back in the land of brainless rarara in person, will demonstrate, Krauthammer's delusional commentary is hardly atypical.
Eerie earlier drew my attention to this note at what I believe is some silly US lefty site, but regardless is an intelligent note for all that, CNN's Lebanon Problem. Having had a sample of US domestic media as this crisis ramped up, and being a regular consumer of the Arab and Euro sat TV, it's stunning how... well Israel centric US media is. That's not healthy. Sympathy for Israel, the ally, is fine. Blindness is not.
At least The Washington Post has the self respect to publish a rather more rational piece that echoes some thoughts I have, asking, "if this is how the summer of 1914 felt." Indeed. Of course, we are not in the same situ - that is even the worst case (excepting utter madness of nuclear exchange which is a near but not zero likelihood, and I have a new respect for small probabilty events post-a rare cancer) will not generate a world war.
There is a fine take-away from WWI in re this conflict, one that is perfectly applicable: Never write an "ally" blank checks. NEVER.
Both Israel and Hizbullah are cashing checks that the drawn on parties are likely to regret paying, even if the Krauthammers of the world (on both sides of the equation) are blissfully oblivious to their own utterly magical and delusional thinking. Reread above about giving Israel another week as a blank check, think about military machines and the difficulty of winding down escalating tension.
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Posted by: Frandroid Atreides at July 19, 2006 09:18 PM
No no, mustn't interfere with an artist in the midst of frenzied inspiration!
He has a phantom proofreader, but she's packing for her vacation right now and can't be bothered to fix his goofy little mistakes.
Posted by: eerie at July 19, 2006 09:40 PM
That's just the tip of the myopic-lunacy iceberg.
Have a look at sodding Gingrich upselling it as the beginning of "World War Three". (It's almost worth watching for the map of "Islamic Radicalism".)
Posted by: blue92 at July 19, 2006 10:12 PM
Oh the best NYTimes Op-Ed of them all was from Thomas "The Mustache of Understanding" Friedman.
Aptly titled "Not So Smart," it includes such gems as: "Yes, yes, I know. I am a too-rational Westerner. I don't understand the Eastern mind."
The Gingrich thing is purely domestic political gimmickry, it shows just how desperate the GOP is getting to avoid the electoral beating they have waiting for them in Nov. I love how he claims this is a HUGE problem that the president has failed to deal with, and so Bush should address the nation in a joint session of congress in....the first week of September. Perfect timing for election-time fear mongering, does fuckall for anything else.
Posted by: Djuha at July 20, 2006 01:23 AM
To their credit, the Post has Anthony Shadid out there.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at July 20, 2006 01:48 AM
If you really want to see troubling US commentary, forget the far-right nuts like Gingrich - check out the so-called "liberals." Incredible intellectual laziness there, NBC had headlines of "Israel under attack" and even CNN, after a fairly decent report by Nic Robertson, added some ridiculous comment about how Tyre has been a conflict zone since the time of Alexander. The old tired cliches about dealing with terrorists and guerrillas who use civilians as shields are being trotted out too, this is just another episode in Good Democratic Israel Doing What Must Be Done to Protect Itself vs.Savage Arab Terrorists Who Started It.
Posted by: SP at July 20, 2006 10:00 AM
I am in a self-punishing mood, Tom. Can you share the full text of Moustache?
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 20, 2006 10:26 AM
Oh, did Mr. Flat Fucking Earth weigh in? Wonderful.
Posted by: eerie at July 20, 2006 10:39 AM
Wasn't me that posted re: friedman. I don't have a pay-NYT account, and googling doesn't seem to have turned up a pirated version.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at July 20, 2006 10:49 AM
Ask and you shall recieve all the Moustache you can handle:
Not So Smart
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: July 19, 2006
Profiles of the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah always describe him as the most "brilliant" or "strategic" Arab player. I beg to differ. When the smoke clears, Nasrallah will be remembered as the most foolhardy Arab leader since Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser miscalculated his way into the Six-Day War.
Yes, yes, I know. I am a too-rational Westerner. I don't understand the Eastern mind and the emotional victory that Nasrallah will reap from all this pain. It isn't whether you win or lose; it's whether you kill Jews. Well, maybe — but, ultimately, wars are fought for political ends. An accounting will be rendered, so let's do some math.
First, Nasrallah has set back the whole fledgling Arab democracy movement. That movement, by the way, was being used by Islamist parties — like Hezbollah and Hamas — to peacefully ascend to power. Hezbollah, for the first time, had two ministers in the Lebanese cabinet. Hamas, through a U.S.-sponsored election, took over the Palestinian Authority. And in both cases, as well as in Iraq, these Islamist parties were allowed to sit in government and maintain their own militias outside.
What both Hamas and Nasrallah have done — by dragging their nations into unnecessary wars with Israel — is to prove that Islamists will not be made more accountable by political power. Just the opposite; not only will they not fix the potholes, they will start wars, whenever they choose, that will lead to even bigger potholes.
Does this mean Hamas and Hezbollah will never get another vote? Of course not. Their followers will always follow. What it does mean is that if the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, or Islamists in Jordan or the gulf, had any hopes of taking power through electoral means, they can forget about it. I don't see their governments ever allowing elections that might bring Islamist parties to power, and I don't see the U.S. promoting any more elections in the region, for now. The Arab democracy experiment is on hold — because if Islamist parties can't be trusted to rule, elections can’t be trusted to be held.
All Arab dictators say, "Thank you, Nasrallah."
On the peace front, let's see, Israel gets out of Lebanon and Gaza, and what is the response of Hamas and Hezbollah? Build schools, roads and jobs in their recovered territories? Nope. Respect the border with Israel, but demand that Israel continue to withdraw from the West Bank? Nope. The response is to shell Israel from Gaza and abduct Israeli soldiers from Lebanon. Hamas and Nasrallah replaced the formula "land for peace" with "land for war," said the former Mideast envoy Dennis Ross.
In doing so, they have ensured that no Israeli government is going to unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank and risk rockets on Tel Aviv. Nasrallah and Hamas have brought "strategic territorial depth" back to Israeli thinking. All West Bank Jewish settlers say, "Thank you, Nasrallah."
But let's assume Nasrallah doesn't care about democracy or a Palestinian state. He has to care about his own standing. His adventures have led to the devastation of his people — what is happening to Lebanon is a terrible tragedy — with relatively little damage to Israel. He launched a war on behalf of Iran that ruined his people, and the best outcome he can expect is a cease-fire that requires Hezbollah to move away from the Israeli border.
Moreover, Iran gave Nasrallah missiles to deter any Western or Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear program. By frivolously playing their missile card now, Hezbollah and Iran have exposed and weakened Iran’s deterrent. Really dumb.
Can America capitalize on Nasrallah's foolishness? To me, the big strategic chess move is to try to split Syria off from Iran, and bring Damascus back into the Sunni Arab fold. That is the game-changer. What would be the Syrian price? I don't know, but I sure think it would be worth finding out. After all, Syria hosts Hamas's leadership in Damascus. It is the land bridge between Hezbollah and Iran, without which Hezbollah can’t survive. And it is the safe haven for the Baathist insurgents in Iraq.
Yes, we have a lot to discuss with Syria. And so do the Saudis, the Egyptians and the Jordanians, who are worried that Syria is paving the way for an Iranian-Shiite takeover of Arab politics.
I'd sure be interested to know if Damascus would respond to a U.S.-Saudi overture, like the one that got Libya to give up its nukes, and come over from the dark side. Unlikely, to be sure, but if the Bush team had the smarts to pull it off — also unlikely — it would be the mother of all defeats for Iran and Nasrallah.
Posted by: Djuha at July 20, 2006 11:49 AM
I recently heard that back in the 1980s Thomas Friedman who wrote the superb "From Beirut to Jerusalem" was made to disappear and a mindless robot was installed at the New York Times, with a groucho mustache, to take the place of that author. Anyone else heard this?
Posted by: matthew hogan at July 20, 2006 12:16 PM
Hamas had a peaceful ascension to power? ::rubs eyes::
I don't think Friedman understands hate. Too many try to understand this from a rational point of view.
Posted by: Klaus at July 20, 2006 12:40 PM
He's trying to understand the dynamic naively as an outsider using his preferences and valuation.
Hizbullah calculations are perfectly rational from the point of view of its own position, goals and valuation given to outcomes.
This is not something irrational like wanting to install a Caliphate. No, it's very rational goals.
I wonder how I can successfully get that into people's heads.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 20, 2006 03:06 PM
Why did you guys decide to put the Moustache on here but somehow shaved my comment?
Posted by: Oryx at July 20, 2006 03:10 PM
Lounsbury: that assumes Nasrallah calculated on the ridiculous Israeli overreaction that we have seen; I don't think he did. I doubt anyone did. But point taken.
If Friedman wants to focus on irrational action, he should talk about Israel, not Hizbullah. And maybe Hamas, too.
Posted by: Klaus at July 20, 2006 03:50 PM
First re Onyx: No one shaved your comment. I have no idea what the bloody fuck may have happened, but probably you or the spam guard fucked up and it went to la la land.
Klaus: eh? What are you on about? I presume nothing of the sort, I assume the blow up started more or less accidentally, but that the decisions taken along the route have been rational within the bounds of Hizbullah objectives.
And yes, Hamas' actions are of a very different order than Hizbullah's.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 20, 2006 07:17 PM
This is perhaps another case of the clash of rationalities. I can see people years from now debating who won or lost this war (hopefully nothing like the debate about the 1973 war; this is very different).
Some would argue that Hizbullah has already won, for the simple reason it's still standing as a credible fighting force after 10 days of Israel's merciless pounding of the whole country.
However this war ends, you won't see Nasrallah signing surrender papers onboard an Israeli destroyer (assuming he survives all bunker-busting bombs dropped on him). Israel can deal a sever blow to his party, but there is just no way to crush it, and it knows it.
I watched Nasrallah's AL Jazeera interview very late last night and to the best of my very tired mind at that hour he seemed less pissed and more confident than I ever saw Olmert and certainly making a bit more sense than Mr. Moustache up there.
Israel will likely measure its victory by how much it can disrupt Hizbullah’s structure, reduce its fighting capability, strike at its leadership, and push it away from the blue line. The icing on the cake will come in the shape of a UNSC resolution that will implement 1559; the US and Co. will weigh in heavily to enforce this plan, their plan.
Hizbullah and many Arabs and others could see in all this some sort of victory, especially if it brings the release of their prisoners and an Israeli withdrawal from Shebaa Farms (the official objectives of the Hizb's attack). They're not going to be counting the destroyed bridges and buildings and take stock of the death toll (they'll leave this to Mr. Moustache). Their calculus is different. The value of standing up to Israel and hurting its military in an unprecedented way is in itself not a small victory.
In contrast Israel may get its tanks to Beirut and beyond plus a satisfactory political deal but still be split on whether to see this war as a painful victory or a hollow one. It will very much depend on the blunders and the losses. Some people might be asking, why didn't we hand in the 3 prisoners and leave the Shebaa Farms before all of this? To use the Moustache's phrase, why did you drag us into an unnecessary war?
Not only this, but really a whole set of questions that the Moustache answers with such confidence can be asked and answered completely differently from a different perspective or mindset:
- Who actually started this war?
- How similar is it to the 1967 war?
- Who started the 1967 war?
- Can Islamists be democratic creatures?
- Is it only Islamists who "use democracy" to achieve selfish or poorly calculated goals?
- Is it only Islamists who can drag their nations to "unnecessary wars" (remember Iraq? but I guess since Bush is not Adbullah then his war must be necessary?!)
- Did Israel actually "withdraw" from Gaza and ceased hostilities so that Hamas can start building Gaza into a Mediterranean paradise?
- Did Israel resolve all issues with Lebanon after retreating to the blue line in 2000?
- Who else besides the Moustrache takes Dennis the Menace Ross seriously?
I just hope people don't start writing epistles trying to answer all these questions!
Posted by: Oryx at July 21, 2006 12:30 PM