June 11, 2008
Al-Sharq, babe, has such teeth, dear: Lebanese Big Shots Interviewed
(Apologies to Bobby Darrin and the Three-Penny Opera.) On what seems like the ultimate Summer Vacation for MENA nerds, a student provides extremely useful and interesting account of meetings with the pezzonovantes of the Lebanon. Via Col. Pat Lang, via commenter duaneg. Below, some choice excerpts....
After about 20 minutes of somewhat unproductive Q&A (we had not yet learned the art of simply interrupting longwinded and off-topic answers) [Samir Geagea] veered off into a discussion of his spirituality, which seemed genuine if bizarre, talking about how he "lives in the second dimension". I suppose he did spend 11 years in solitary confinement.
The same day we went from Ms. Hariri's palace in Sidon to the Ain al-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp outside the city. . . . There was a real sense of fragmentation, of one bit of the camp belonging to one faction and one bit to another, as we were handed off from one set of gunmen and officials to another as we passed from alley to alley. My conversations in Arabic with various people in the camp impressed on me just how much the return to Palestine is a cornerstone of their worldview.
After three hours [Bashar al-Assad's] wife Asma showed up. If they were not in love it was a hell of a good act. After chatting informally for a bit and taking photos he left, and she sat in his place. She . . . had a remarkable grasp of the minutiae of domestic social and economic policy that he himself did not exhibit. It occurred to me that a woman in her position may be in effect a second president. She discussed the importance of education as the key strategic domestic issue. She also mentioned that she was personally key in shaping the new companies law, which aims to shift the emphasis from the development of existing large enterprises to small and medium businesses, including startups.
We later met Saad Hariri at his Qoreitem palace, who, when I asked why he did not take the premiership, replied that he could do much more outside the government. He somewhat gauchely added, "Siniora is me!"
And other stuff, especially an overall sense that The Attack on Iran is coming.
Posted by Matthew Hogan at June 11, 2008 06:30 AM
Filed Under: Economic Development , Foreign Policy & MENA , Levant , Political Development , Religious Minorities , Society & Culture , US Foreign Policy
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Cheap copy/paste from my comment at SyriaComment when Josh Landis posted this "travelogue":
On Jumblatt’s "defeat" during the "events" I find it funny that people still see it that way, as the Shuf was the only place where Hizbullah and its allies didn’t make much ground and had to retreat, with some of Talal Arslan’s people turning against their M8 allies. (And yes, I have this information from good sources, Nicolas Blanford and other reputable journalists, NOT the M14 propaganda machine ;) )
On Duktuur Bashar: Nothing particularly new. His answer re: nuclear projects will have to be checked viz-a-viz the rules and regulations of the various nuclear treaties Syria has signed. Of course he is right in saying “The US attacked Iraq regardless of inspections” but that doesn’t mean that Syria could just breach int’l agreements.
(Insert long-winded caveat that US/Israel/bad-Western-imperialists breach treaties/UN-resolutions all the time etc.pp.)
I found Kieran’s observations of the Lebanese leaders most interesting. Geagea is scarred from 11 years in solitary confinement, gone 120% neo-con, and “spiritual”. Amin Gemayel is broken (well, his greatest hope, his son, did get assassinated). Seniora is a dull technocrat without any charisma whatsoever. Hariri is a Saudi playboy. Junblatt is a stoner.
This must really rile Nasrallah and Aoun: They can’t even beat such a motley crew of weak have-beens ...
M14 is, like Amal & FPM, plagued by the fact that its various component parties are still run by the Civil War generation or (in the case of Mustaqbal) a younger leader who is bad at politics. (Apparently his elder brother Bahaa, who was supposed to take the leadership of Mustaqbal after Hariri Sr's assassination ... "politely declined".)
Posted by: MSK at June 11, 2008 10:20 AM
MSK: I don't suppose you'd care to actually link to the syriacomment thread in question?
Posted by: Tom Scudder at June 11, 2008 12:46 PM
I got it via The Yorkshire Ranter, to add another link in the citation chain.
And I'd also like to read the SyriaComment thread, MSK...
Posted by: duaneg at June 11, 2008 04:36 PM
Here it is: http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=733
Posted by: MSK at June 12, 2008 03:05 AM
Choked on my morning smoothie when I read the title. Whatever you're getting paid Matthew, I'll quintuple it.
Posted by: Bint at June 12, 2008 04:36 AM
He is sick and demented genius when it comes to such titles.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at June 12, 2008 01:02 PM
MSK, thanks. Could you check what color the sky is on your planet? 'Cause I can't figure how anyone on this one could see the events of this spring & summer as anything but a victory for Nasrallah. (Aoun, not so much, since he missed the only thing he really wanted.)
(insert a long-winded disclaimer that Hizbullah broke its promise never to turn the weapons of the resistance inward and may pay a political price etc blah)
Posted by: Tom Scudder at June 12, 2008 01:18 PM
Thanks for the ad hominem ...
If you'd be here in Lebanon, maybe you'd be less boisterous. Of course Nasrallah and his allies "won" a victory with their take-over of West Beirut. After all, they got the blocking third in the new government.
But at what price?
HA crossed the one red line that, for many Lebanese, is unforgivable to cross: using HA's weapons against fellow Lebanese. The communal trenches are deeper now than at any time since the civil war, and HA's Christian allies (i.e. the FPMers) were quite shocked by this.
The question of HA's weapons and its state-within-a-state is on the table, it's even part of the Doha Agreement. In the medium and long term, HA's "victory" might very well turn out to be a Pyrrhic one.
HA's behavior during/after the take-over is actually quite interesting in that regard. They went all the way to Hariri's and Junblat's residences, but didn't have a game plan what to do then. Storm the palaces & kill the two? Not an option. "Arrest them"? Not an option either. They let the SSNP take out its venom at the Mustaqbal offices - which backfired at HA.
Brilliant "victory" that is.
Posted by: MSK at June 13, 2008 02:50 AM
The victory or loss both of you are referring to is perception based on your worldview.
As for the reality ... well, just flip a coin. This story isn't over yet.
Posted by: M. at June 13, 2008 08:21 AM
Of course the story isn't over yet. Which is why I am loathe to say that one party has "won" and the other "lost". Short-term it's clear, but medium- and long-term ... not so much.
The question is: What are HA's, Amal's, FPM's, Mustaqbal's, LF's, Phalange's, etc. medium- and long-term goals and have the "events" of early May worked for or against them? As nobody but the respective parties' bosses know the goals ... we can't really make any call on that. Yet.
That has little to do with anyone's worldview.
Posted by: MSK at June 13, 2008 08:39 AM
Your narrative is clearly a very M14ish one. I understand Tom's point, because the picture you get is definitely different when you talk to not only the M8 folks, but also to the sober ones among the M14s.
what color the sky is on your planet?
Whatever the disagreement here, judging by the discussion from whichever side, clearly it would have to be a class M planet. (reference: Star Trek TOS)
Posted by: matthew hogan at June 13, 2008 11:28 AM
MSK -- In the medium and long term, HA's "victory" might very well turn out to be a Pyrrhic one.
But in the short term it was a huge win, no mights or maybes about it. Not only Doha, but it also put an end to all that fuss about their communications systems and effectively established a new (or clearer) red line around their state-within-the-state. For comparison, witness how Hamas has managed to bounce back in the polls after their Gaza coup, just by digging in and waiting, while people watch the Fatah moderates being publicly sodomized by the U.S.A. & Israel and beg for more. Plus, unlike Hamas (with boycotts etc), Hizbullah in is a comfortable internal position. So, yes, Hizbullah exposed themselves in several ways, but will a humiliated & weakened M14 be able to capitalize on that effectively? Unlikely.
On Lebanon and Hizbullah, people seem to consistently overestimate post-war victory posturing. Look at how Hizbullah themselves pranced around and gloated about their "divine victory" after the 2006 war, when what happened was essentially that they were bulldozed into the ground, although it took slightly longer than expected. Israel's problem then was that they had set non-achieveable goals for the war, publicly, and so realized half-way that they would never be able to declare victory short of by occupying Beirut. Even so, they exited the war in a rather comfortable position, with Hizbullah pushed away from the border, and a U.N. buffer zone doing what the S.L.A. had done for them before. Since then, not a whisper of a threat has been heard on the northern border.
Now, March 14 are trying to do the same, claiming that Hizbullah didn't really win, in some metaphysical sense. Meanwhile, as anyone can see, they're still crawling around on all four looking for their teeth.
Posted by: alle at June 14, 2008 04:19 AM
Dear Shaheen & alle,
I do talk to all sorts of folks here, from M8 to M14, sober or not ...
My own view is medium- to long-term. I didn't say that HA did not achieve a victory in early May. Of course they did.
But re: HA's comm system and their weapons -- nobody truly thought that the pre-Doha Leb government could ever do something about that. I am loathe to speculate why the government took those decisions (about the comm system & the head of Beirut airport security). All I know is that they debated it for 11(!) hours. Did they want to bait HA into using its weapons against fellow Lebanese? Did they think the US would come to their rescue? Did they think the army would step in? Did they just flip a 500 lira coin? Nobody knows.
All I am arguing to be careful with our judgements.
I also do not agree with alle about Hamas in Gaza - the way they treated & continue to tread Fatah-niks in Gaza does not particularly help them to come across as the "national unifiers" they portray themselves to be.
Re: post-war posturing ... I take it that you've seen/read HA's/Nasrallah's post-"events" statements. "I am proud to be a member of the party of the velayet-e faqih" - that's the kind of posturing that doesn't go over too well with non-Shi'a (and a lot of Shi'a) Lebanese.
Re: Israel/Lebanese border -- HA has replenished its arsenal and its fighters are in the UNIFIL zone. Where they are come across by UNIFIL patrols, the latter do not dare to challenge them. HA won the 2006 War (where all they had to do to win was not to get obliterated) and is probably able to repeat that performance.
Posted by: MSK at June 15, 2008 07:45 AM