May 30, 2006

What Now?

Lebanon.Profile writes in my comments section:

You might want to blog for two months about quirks. They don't have to be serious.

Remember trying to send the fax, find the post office, getting pulled over at the checkpoint by the cop who wanted to see your passport (that really upset me), your neighbors, conversations with Wissam, servis, Brooks, L'O (you really should have gotten pictures of that place - it would totally surprise your audience), Patchi (although, I don't know if you remember heading over there during your first trip).

You really should write a post about all the oddball Westerners running around. Their strange need to live in Hezbollah occupied areas. Their complete lack of understanding of their milieu, and their anti-Christian sectarianism.

Most importantly, I think you should write a post on how you saw Lebanon change over the period you were there. Your understanding of the country increased greatly, but the country changed a lot: from 14 March spirit, to despondence, to building frenzies, to the party scene losing passion in coordination with political spirit.
He's right that I could spend quite a lot of time writing about this sort of thing. Do you all want to read about it?

By the way, the Lebanese/Israeli border blew up again just as the Lebanese army and the IDF told me it would. The UN blames Lebanon for starting the latest round of fighting, which is dumb. If you're going to blame a country for the behavior of locally despised street gangs with foreign policies (that would be Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command), blame this one and this one.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 30, 2006 02:28 AM
Comments

Go for it! I'll definitely be coming back to check.

Posted by: Jonathan Levy at May 30, 2006 03:34 AM

I would love to read about the oddball Westerners running around Beirut. I remember your describing a few to me over dinner in Tel Aviv and I think I said then that they were blogoworthy characters.

Posted by: Lisa at May 30, 2006 03:47 AM

I would most definitely be interested.
Sending a fax in Beirut is just that much more newsworthy than anywhere else on the planet.

Posted by: The Perpetual Refugee at May 30, 2006 04:03 AM

Absolutely, Michael! Especially "You really should write a post about all the oddball Westerners running around. Their strange need to live in Hezbollah occupied areas. Their complete lack of understanding of their milieu, and their anti-Christian sectarianism."

They must have come from So Cal?

Now where's the paypal button? I'm behind on my subscription payments!

Posted by: DagneyT at May 30, 2006 05:05 AM

This is odd. The Daily Star article says this:

"Cluster bombs, banned by international law, were found in the areas shelled by Israel."

And Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cluster_bomb#International_Legislation) says this:

"Cluster bombs are not covered by legislation banning landmines since they are not "designed" to be detonated by people on the ground. So far Belgium is the only country to have issued a ban on the sale and production of clusterbombs."

So which is it?

Posted by: Andrew Brehm at May 30, 2006 05:24 AM

Yes! Yes! Yes!

Posted by: Junge at May 30, 2006 05:58 AM

The oddball westerners sound curiously like the International Solidarity Movement groupies who need to be around the Palestinian terror groups and often seem to be into anti-Jewish sectarianism. Even though some of them are nominally Jewish. So it would be really interesting to know if there is any real similarity.

Posted by: Judy at May 30, 2006 06:01 AM

Those small insignificant quirks are what you learn when you live somewhere as opposed to going as a tourist/reporter or whatever.

I'd definitly be interested.

Posted by: John at May 30, 2006 06:51 AM

Absolutely I'd want to read it. Oddball westerners with anti-Christian sectarian impulses? Somethign special about getting pulled over at a check point? Whose checkpoint? What about your neighbors? Tell it all...

Posted by: Oceanguy at May 30, 2006 06:58 AM

Michael, I've been reading you since you subbed for Instapundit a few years back. I read you (and with delight these travelogues) because I get a precise and clear perspective of what you are talking about during your travels. A perspective, I think, similar to my own. These oddball and unique but illustrative moments and incidents are revealing. Please do write about them.

Posted by: Jogen at May 30, 2006 08:05 AM

Well, there you have it, from the first ten commenters. Actually, Michael, you know and understand far more about the places you have visited than you are aware of. Easy for me to understand how you might get a bit of writers' block thinking, "OK, I've done all the descriptions, now what?" But there's so much more--which will come back to you when you quit asking yourself "what shall I write about?" and start thinking, "so, what does it all mean to me?" You've been given plenty of starters. Good luck. I'm still wanting to find a way to support you that doesn't involve paypal--something more direct, that an old troglodyte like me would be comfortable with!

Posted by: Ken Stewart at May 30, 2006 08:19 AM

I'll be reading.

Posted by: Akiva at May 30, 2006 08:25 AM

Michael,

I want to coin a phrase "Michael Totten Withdrawal Syndrome". I am afflicted with this BIG TIME, each time there is a break of even a couple days without a post from MJT. I have dieted and successfully lost 60 pounds, no problem. Stopped drinking, no problem. BUT, when MJT is not posting, MAJOR withdrawal goin' on. So, as far I am concerned, MJT can write about whatever the hell he wants to, I NEED it.
BTW what is the term for people like myself, who indulge in MJT all the time, and (now) even comment, but don't leave a/t tangible (money) behind?

Posted by: Brooklyn at May 30, 2006 08:31 AM

another vote for oddball westerner stories!!!!

Posted by: Just a Voice (Ann Arbor, MI, USA) at May 30, 2006 08:32 AM

The UN said:
"It is the responsibility of the Lebanese authorities to...prevent any attacks across this blue line,"
which isn't exactly blaming Lebanon, and is probably international law.

Oh, and I could use some oddball westerner stories too.

Posted by: maor at May 30, 2006 09:00 AM

At least they didn't blame Israel for once. But although they should also blame Iran and Syria, still Lebanon is responsible for what happens in its territory. It is a sovereign state, after all. They can't claim that they have no control, although it can be right at the present. Lebanon cannot have an army and a militia. Israel accepts that the situation is complicated, and tries to work with the Lebanon army, but that doesn't mean that Lebanon is not responsible if the lunatics of Hezbollah start firing.

To understand what I am saying, think that because Lebanon doesn't want big problems with Hezbollah, Israel has them for her. Not fair.

Posted by: Fabian at May 30, 2006 09:02 AM

The alternative to the U.N. blaming Lebanon is for the U.N. to accept Hezbollahland as a separate country as Kofi Annan threatened a few years ago. Doesn't Hezbollah already control the borders?

Posted by: Solomon2 at May 30, 2006 09:20 AM

I think this little stuff's important, actually. Sometimes the little stuff unveils a whole host of assumptions (cultural or otherwise). And they should be entertaining in any case!

Posted by: Doug Wade at May 30, 2006 09:25 AM

"Israel used the rockets that were fired into northern Israel [from Lebanon] as a pretext to assault Lebanese sovereignty. This reveals the dangers that the Lebanese and Palestinians face from Israel," he told Reuters.

You wonder how they can say that with a straight face.

Posted by: N'miya at May 30, 2006 10:53 AM

Yes, please write about any or all of those things! :)

Posted by: Ian S. at May 30, 2006 11:43 AM

Bring it on Michael! :) Those are some of my favorite posts...the everyday peculiarities that seem so normal to someone living in a place. As my family found it incredibly odd to be literally pushed into the trains in Japan, people living there found it normal.

It's the little things in life. :)

Posted by: Megs at May 30, 2006 12:08 PM

Cast my vote among the "bring it on" crowd. Oddities are exactly what reform stereotypical thinking, and are instructive in the best possible (amusing) way. Specifics, incidents, what you thought they meant at the time, if your views changed, or why they were jarring, funny or interesting, you must have a treasure trove in your daily journals. Bring it on.

Posted by: dloye at May 30, 2006 12:24 PM

I would show up to read your grocery list. It doesn't matter so much what you write about, it is how you write that is captivating. I agree with the suggestion that you write about the culture shock you experienced when you got home. We talked about it when I last saw you and I thought it was fascinating to hear your observations. Storytelling is an art, and you do it well.
How about "Michael J Totten" as a title for your blog. It's kind of catchy ;)

Lindsey

Posted by: Lindsey at May 30, 2006 02:13 PM

Just in case you still aren't convinced, I too want the quirky untold stories from Lebanon and the region. And certainly more pictures as well!

Posted by: Kirsten at May 30, 2006 04:46 PM

Dear Mr. Totten:

Reporting on the weird Westerners, while of interest, may be hazardous. These people have a way of getting people hurt.

Be carefull.

Sincerely,

Dave Ward

Posted by: davod at May 30, 2006 05:26 PM

I would be very interested in reading about the quirks.

Posted by: markytom at May 30, 2006 05:30 PM

The UN blames Lebanon for starting the latest round of fighting, which is dumb.

MJT, until Lebanon disarms their rogue "political party" with its own "foreign policy" and "militia," it is not dumb at all to blame Lebanon.

I know you love the country, which is completely understandable, but Lebanon does not get a free pass here.

They are the country mostly at fault - even more than Syria and Iran - because they are Hizballah's host. If they don't want to be blamed for Hizballah's actions, then disarm them.

Posted by: SoCalJustice at May 30, 2006 05:42 PM

Yes, please. Oddball Westerners sounds like fun!

Posted by: BeckyJ at May 30, 2006 06:04 PM

The comment box demands oddball westerners. Feed the maw.

On the last thread somebody mentioned cats, I would like to recomend "Why Cats Paint" by Busch & Silver.

Posted by: Mike at May 30, 2006 06:33 PM

Yes, please.

Posted by: Mike Doughty at May 30, 2006 07:01 PM

SoCalJustice: If they don't want to be blamed for Hizballah's actions, then disarm them.

That would re-ignite the civil war. And Hezbollah would win. It is insanely not in Lebanon's interest to do this.

Want to get rid of Hezbollah? Overthrow its patron regimes in Syria and Iran. Lebanon is a host to Hezbollah the way a dog is host to fleas.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 30, 2006 08:18 PM

Hezbollah need not win. If you believe cutting the links to its patrons will work, then IMO the Lebanese Army possesses sufficient resources to do the job, albeit slowly and in a town-by-town, siege-like fashion.

It need not even be a bloody affair unless Hezbollah insists on it by initiating general terrorism throughout the major cities. If that happens the entire world will probably line up against them - including Hezbollah's sponsors, I think.

Posted by: Solomon2 at May 30, 2006 08:44 PM

Solomon,

It's possible Hezbollah would just cave and not want to fight a civil war. But it's even more likely the Lebanese army would cave and not want to fight a civil war.

If a fight did break out, Beirut would certainly lose. Look how long Hezbollah lasted against the IDF. The Lebanese army is an impotent pipsqueaker by comparison to the Israelis.

Lebanon has an extraordinarily weak and divided state. It's still a failed state in many ways. The country has not yet fully put itself back together after the complete and total breakdown during the war. Try to remember that in 1990 Lebanon was the Somalia of the Levant. And it was occupied by Syria during almost all of the interim.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 30, 2006 10:33 PM

MJT, if the Lebanese Army is truly that weak, then cutting off aid Hezbollah's support from Syria and Iran won't make much of a difference to Lebanon, though that would reduce Hezbollah's ability to act against other countries.

However, I have the feeling that the Lebanese Army isn't quite as weak as you say, or even as weak as the Lebanese themselves may think. Popular support for Free Lebanon has existed for over a year now. The spectre of civil war means that the Army has so far been unblooded. Yet the superior morale, once action begins, will surely be that of the Lebanese Army. A truly democratic and popular Army can do amazing things, especially when commanded by an effective (but not especially popular) general.

In my vision, small pockets of Hezbollah will be progressively isolated without logistical or popular support. They will thus surrender without much of a fight but after some noise and bluster. Beirut would be the last place to wage a battle -- and by then, no battle will be necessary.

Posted by: Solomon2 at May 30, 2006 10:59 PM

I've been reading your site for years, and will likely enjoy any subject about which you choose to write.

Posted by: Mason at May 30, 2006 11:41 PM

Solomon: the superior morale, once action begins, will surely be that of the Lebanese Army.

The Lebanese army consists mostly of 18-year old conscripts who have no training and stand around on street corners with machine guns thinking about drinking beer and chasing girls. One of my friends once said he missed boot camp. I thought he was nuts. He explained to me that their boot camp isn't like our boot camp. Their boot camp, he said, "is camping in the mountains." The last thing they want to do is shoot Lebanese and be shot at by Lebanese.

Hezbollah fighters are very well-trained fanatics who can't wait to die.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 30, 2006 11:50 PM

The last thing they want to do is shoot Lebanese and be shot at by Lebanese.

Say no more.

Posted by: The Perpetual Refugee at May 31, 2006 12:28 AM

Would I want to read your views on quirky behavior?

Would I, would I, would I!
(Buck teeth, buck teeth, buck teeth)

You're the best writer blogging, for my tastes; and I wish I had coined Brooklyn's MJT Withdrawal Syndrome.

Though I did spend a lot more time with Neo-neocon (inspired by commenting here previously) and Marc Cooper.

Yes to more quirks please.

Your comments on the Lebanon Army vs. Hezbollah is a perfect example of what could have been a great post, had you decided to double (triple?) your time and actually crafted a post about why. Especially with more asides on training, viewpoints, borders, etc.

Is it Hezbollah or Hizbollah?

Posted by: Tom Grey - Libertay Dad at May 31, 2006 12:42 AM

Tom,

Hezbollah is the usual spelling. If you want to be literal, it is Hizballah. Hizb=Party and Allah=God.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 31, 2006 01:02 AM

Michael and Solomon2,

I've got to agree and disagree with you both.

The Lebanese Army is not capable of taking on Hezbollah. The response is to strengthen the military, but Syria blocked and continues to block this. One of the arguments for removing President Lahoud is so that a massive reform of the security apparatus can come about. However, Hezbollah and Amal block this at every juncture.

Condi Rice's plan is to strengthen the government, but that can't come about without Lebanese leaders taking the matter seriously. That's the main problem.

I blame the government of Lebanon for the attacks on Israel. The government, by doing absolutely nothing, is legitimizing terror. They refuse to take the most basic steps to disarm terrorists.

One could argue, as Michael does, that they are not powerful enough to do this. Then, they should ask for help. The UN peacekeepers already present in the South could have their mandate upgraded. The Saudis and Jordanians could provide a helping hand.

The Sunni leadership needs to get serious about Hezbollah and the Palestinians. They're trying to have it both ways. That's what they did in 1969, thinking it was intelligent. They gave the entire South to the Palestinians to use as a base to mount operations against Israel. The Army was told not to put any pressure on the militias in 1973, which caused massive arms cacheing and militia training throughout the rest of the country.

Come 1975, after being attacked by a Palestinian bomb, the Phalange militia chose to do what the government wouldn't.

Could that happen again? Ghassan Tueni thinks that's exactly where we're headed.

Posted by: lebanon.profile at May 31, 2006 02:09 AM

Michael, you accomplished so much in such a short trip to Israel and Palestine, but I was disappointed that you didn't stick around for a few months to get your bearings the way you did in Lebanon.

And your descriptions of Iraqi Kurdistan were more informative that a year's subscription to the NY Times.

It's not that I want to tell you where to live, it's just that there's no one else who observes and writes about the Middle East with quite your clarity.

I realize that it's awfully selfish of me to want to put you in harms way, just so that you can report.. And of course you're much braver than I am. I wouldn't want to live the middle east at all - though I suspect it would be slightly more dangerous for someone like me who has European-Jewish features and family history - and a penchant for being preachy and offensive.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at May 31, 2006 02:27 AM

Oh, Michael. It seems lots of arabs, living with despots, would love it if the Americans cured their problems. Why just in Lebanon? Why not think Eygpt? Or Syria. And, some even in Iran?

Israel got engulfed in Lebanon in 1982. In Arik Sharon's book, Warrior, he talks about the explosion that took out the new prime minister. Leaving, instead, his brother. Who was pro-russia. Sharon said the Lebanese were gonna miss an opportunity thatwouldn't come back, again, for fifty years. AND, then PUSHED Arafat to Tunis.

Why did the Israelis agree to Oslo?

Why did Arafat get welcomed back, into Israel's territory, no less? Perhaps, hope springs eternal.

But there are lessons on the ground, too. Yitzhak Rabin was hoping that Arafat would do the dirty work. Instead, he just laughed all the way to the bank.

It's true Lebanon is weak. It's also a COUNTRY. Maybe, like an abused wife can think of no solution to an abusive husband? But lots of people know that getting involved between a warring couple is suicidal. And, the wife can turn on ya!

I don't think "trust" is a word that's working, now. And, I think Americans are EXHAUSTED! It's like there's a feeling that working with arabs and/or muslems, just doesn't work at all. And, most choices just make things worse.

Israel isn't BOMBING Lebanon. It went after Hezbollah. And, I'd guess in the raids done blew up a goodly supply of ammunition. Then, you can make anything you like of the threat. It involves the UN. And, Rice, as well.

And, most of the stuff goes on behind the scenes.

One reason the Israelis don't go back in an "occupy" Lebanon, is that they've written off the tactic. They don't want to own anything after the chaos of war settles.

Right now Hezbollah is just rattling the furniture. Whatever punches they are throwing, they are doing everything the can to hold onto the powers they have. You say the Lebanese don't want to fight them. I agree. This is true.

But the "abusive husband" isn't going to grow up and become a nice guy.

Legally speaking Israel wants the cross-border bombardments to STOP. I gather going down "south" to throw rocks at the Israelis is a pastime that no longer exists?

So, yes. Things have gotten nastier.

But there's no "democratic" outcomes in sight. Blame Iraq. And the mess they've made of things.

In Iraq, I'd bet'cha the middle class has fled. And, except for the Kurdish area there's no new building going on. Did I read a piece that says the "arab culture" is one where they have no respect for contracts?" Yes. I did. It said a large part of the problems in Iraq have come from the Americans spending large sums of money; and meeting with disappointments. LIES. I'd guess it means there's less cutting of slack.

(Adamaninadinnerjacket, just lost his dad. It's odd that during the grieving process; which lasts for muslems as it does for Jews, there wouldn't be some sort of stoppage. He just put his dad's box in the ground!)

So what's going on?

The MSM owns the FOG MACHINE.

Reality? Behind closed doors. With lots of grim faces. Because the odds of democracy flourishing in the Mideast isn't yet on the horizon.

By the way, Israel uses MEASURED STEPS! You heard of the diplomatic stuff, because they put that in gear. Not an all out attack on Beriut. What does happen if one of the Kyushkas kills an Israeli? Whoops. A whole new level. But "what" it would be, I just don't know.

I also don't know if you saw Ralph Peters' piece a few weeks ago; where he said if we go against Iran it's from the air and sea. And, we leave them devasted. NO PORTS. No planes. And, probably a crimp in their oil fields.

On some scale where we used to measure "friendship" ... between nations ... I think that's dried up. Even for the french.

What does Bush know that he's not saying? I'd bet he knows how the french, turks, russians and syrians are working overtime, with iran; to curtail our victory over the terrorists. Who do grow weaker in Iraq. (We lived for centuries with the American indians. Have all those lessons been lost?)

Posted by: Carol Herman at May 31, 2006 11:34 AM

I realize that it's awfully selfish of me to want to put you in harms way, just so that you can report.

The obvious way to fix that is to pony up a suitable donation. Click the tip jar!

Posted by: Solomon2 at May 31, 2006 08:46 PM

Solomon2, I would but I'm trying to start new business and having a hard enough time just making rent.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at May 31, 2006 09:15 PM

That would re-ignite the civil war. And Hezbollah would win. It is insanely not in Lebanon's interest to do this.

I wasn't commenting on what's in their interest, I was commenting on where the bulk of the responsibility to disarm Hizballah rests - and it rests squarely on the Lebanese government and people.

Want to get rid of Hezbollah? Overthrow its patron regimes in Syria and Iran. Lebanon is a host to Hezbollah the way a dog is host to fleas.

Then Lebanon should figure out a way to shed its fleas.

If Kach members set up their own militia in Northern Israel (or - you don't even need an analogy - look at the West Bank and Hebron) and started firing rockets into Lebanon, just because Kach has more backing from certain parts of Brooklyn and Florida than it does in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel would bear the responsibility for shutting them down.

The Lebanese government chose to allow Hizballah to participate as a "political party." They provide cover for the rest of the Arab world to describe Hizballah as a "political party" - and Hizballah - outside of Lebanon (and maybe within) in the wider Arab and Muslim world - and in the Arab and Muslim communities in the U.S., is seen not as a terrorist group but as a "liberation movement."

The Lebanese are responsible for a) changing this perception and b) doing what they can to thwart, rather than enable, Hizballah.

The U.N. will never "overthrow Syria and Iran" - and neither will we, especially after the way Bush and Rumsfeld handled this adventure in Iraq.

So short of that, who's to blame? Syria and Iran are, for sure. But so is Lebanon.

Here's an idea for the Arab league countries surrounding Israel: patriate and integrate the Palestinian refugees. It's only fair since all the Jews were kicked out of those countries anyway.

Lebanon could do that, but won't, for their larger geo-strategic shared wet dream.

After that, pass laws controlling the flow of foreign "assistance" and ban "political parties" from having a militia. Every country has the responsibility of policing its own rogues and has the responsibility of centralizing their own military/police under one authority.

Just as we wouldn't accept a Tancredo-encouraged force of "minutemen" along the southern border.

It's Lebanon's house, it's Lebanon's responsibility.

We need to stop condescending to and infantilizing Arabs and Muslims and stop assuming that they do not have the same level of responsiblity as other countries because they are Arabs and Muslims.

Maybe Lebanon should pass a law and then start arresting creeps like this so the U.S. doesn't have to.

And watch every organized Muslim and Arab group in the U.S. back Talal Chahine, as he was only allegedly assisting a "liberation movement," which is only referred to as a terrorist organization by the Zionist media and the U.S. government (did you see the Mearsheimer and Walt Kennedy School paper? wink) which has been taken over by the bulldozing Zionist lobby.

Posted by: SoCalJustice at June 1, 2006 06:56 AM

MJT,

I'm going to reprint that last post in the more recent thread - in case this one is dead.

Please feel free to delete whichever one you deem fit.

Cheers

Posted by: SoCalJustice at June 1, 2006 06:58 AM

For those who haven't seen it, the Jerusalem Post has up a nine page interview with the IDF's Halutz. The piece's reporters includes the editor, David Horovitz, himself. And, it speaks to the STRATEGY behind Israel's defense moves. Like I said, Beirut didn't get bombed. And, the Hezbollah IN LEBANON know just what the IDF chief was referring to. I found the article worth the time.

Wish I knew how to cut & Paste the link. But I don't. Tell me how, though. And, I will. I can't access my "clipboard" when I'm typing here.

Posted by: Carol Herman at June 1, 2006 02:19 PM

Just in case you didn't get enough yes votes, here's mine. :-)

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