November 25, 2006

Childish Foreign Policy

Lebanese blogger Tony Badran is not too impressed with the New York Times lately.

The NYT editorial board amassed the entirety of its impressive foreign policy genius, and came out with this terrifyingly awesome statement:

Damascus must also be told that it will pay a high price — in scorn, isolation and sanctions — if it is found to have ordered Mr. Gemayel’s death, or the deaths or maiming of a half-dozen other anti-Syrian politicians and journalists. Hezbollah must be told that it will be shunned if it tries to grab power through further violence or intimidation.

Did they just say "scorn"? Oh snap! Wait, and they got away with "shunning" Hezbollah?! They could do that?! Damn... that is cold! Take that Nasrallah and Khamenei! How you feel about that?!

This is what a friend of mine calls "the kindergarten school of politics." Bad boys to the corner! No friends for bullies! This editorial might as well have been written by a grade-schooler.
Tony is on a roll lately, and there's plenty more where that came from.

UPDATE: Mustapha at Beirut Spring concurs that the New York Times is "infantile" and suggests Jim Hoagland as a man who "gets it." (And he's right, Hoagland does get it.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at November 25, 2006 02:37 AM
Comments

They could also "strongly caution them that they will get upset". Darn, I can hear them quacking in their boots.

We owe luminaries like this the continued assassinations. The more you "engage" those thugs, the more they will "respond"

Posted by: Jeha at November 25, 2006 04:06 AM

MJT
As I have said before, the language of outrage and the look of outrage are often used effectively to absolve one from taking any action. The French have perfected this technique for deflecting moral responsibility in Lebanon for several decades now. I am afraid the whole world is using the language of outrage today about Darfur. Everyone is soooo outraged, but no one does anything.

If you are disappointed with the editorials of the NY Times, all I can say is what did you expect? I am surprised that you are surprised. Other parts of the paper can be good, but the editorial page has been hopeless for a long time.

Posted by: NoSleep at November 25, 2006 04:19 AM

MJT
In my previous post, I wrote "If you are disappointed...", I didn't mean you as MJT, I meant "if one is disappointed..."

Posted by: NoSleep at November 25, 2006 04:21 AM

Wait, I think I hear one coming ... a UN Security Council Resolution, condemning them!
Like one of the 16 given to Saddam, which he ignored.

Or like the one given against N. Korea, oops, China didn't agree; nor did China agree to comdemn Sudan.

Of course, the NYT is waiting to pull out the Big Guns --- NO INVITATIONS to the best parties!

(Michael, can I start laughing at the NYT = Dem Party infatilism that your support for the Dems signifies, yet?) Ever since the election I've been feeling better and better about the Dems "in control" in Congress. Of course, I've been feeling worse about Iran getting and letting terrorist use nukes.

I'm sure some Dems would oppose any pre-emptive actions before they get nukes; though many would support something. I hope to produce a self-negating prophecy about it.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at November 25, 2006 04:22 AM

Tom
WOWOWOW... No invitation to the best parties? Don't you think this is an overreaction? All they are trying to do is destroy a whole country and a people's dreams for a few generations.

We haven't seen the worst. If Syria and Iran are helpful in calming Iraq, Assad and Ahmedinejad will be in Oslo soon getting the Nobel Peace Prize. Of course they can stop the Iraq massacres, since they started them.

Posted by: NoSleep at November 25, 2006 04:40 AM

Worrying if true

Hizbullah 'plans to start street protests next week'

By Nada Bakri
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Hizbullah and its allies will take to the streets next week to force the government's resignation, political sources told the Reuters news agency on Friday, a move that will likely fuel already simmering tension. The protests, which had originally been planned for this week, were postponed following Tuesday's assassination of anti-Syrian Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel in a northern suburb of Beirut.

Hizbullah and its ally, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) have been demanding a bigger say in Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's Cabinet, dominated by members of the March 14 Forces.

The anti-Syrian coalition has rejected the demand, claiming Hizbullah's real aim is to block the formation of an international court into the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

"We are heading for a confrontation," a senior political source close to the opposition said. "The room for a political solution is very, very tight. There is no room other than going to the street," he added.

The source said the protests would take place in several parts of Lebanon, not just Beirut.

Posted by: NoSleep at November 25, 2006 04:53 AM

Ths most dismaying thing about today's situation is that the leader of the only country on earth that can really do anything about Syria and Iran agrees with that New York Times editorial -- and is dedicated to following its prescriptions.

Posted by: Michael Smith at November 25, 2006 05:19 AM

At least the NYT spared Damascus the dreaded "strongly-worded memo".

Posted by: Immolate at November 25, 2006 07:16 AM

I used to read the NYT's religiously. I haven't for some time because they just don't seem to get it, and I learn nothing of value. It's editorials like the one's Mr. Badran quoted that have driven me away from the Times over the years... and, of course, the Internet!

Posted by: Zak at November 25, 2006 09:12 AM

Thomas Friedman from the NYT understands Lebanon very well. He coined the phrase "Hama rules" to describe how things are done in Syria and Lebanon and generally in the mid east. It is interesting that he is quite about all this. Perhaps he will write something this Wednesday. The NYT editorial page should read more of Friedman's coloumns and books...

Posted by: e at November 25, 2006 09:34 AM

Friedman's book (From Beirut to Jerusalem) is pretty good, and does indeed show an understanding of how things are done in our neck of the woods. However, he's been a proponent of the Baker approach (talk to Syria, etc.) for some time now, which makes me wonder if he's been away from the region a bit too long. After all, his book dates back to the late 80s. Things have changed quite a bit since then.

Posted by: bad vilbel at November 25, 2006 09:53 AM

Syria's been bad, they need a 5 MINUTE TIME OUT!! That'll teach 'em!

Posted by: Greg at November 25, 2006 03:01 PM

It wouldn't be so bad if the world didn't also expect the US and Israel to fight their wars like boy scouts too! Their enemies don't.

Posted by: Abu Nudnik at November 25, 2006 04:03 PM

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Posted by: Lou Dobbs 2008 at November 25, 2006 04:14 PM

This is just face saving.

Never let it be said that America doesn't have a "face saving" culture.

I think some of the other "face saving" cultures are much better at it than we are though. When we lie to cover the shame of our selfishness and project our faults on our political opponents, it is NOT the case that everyone knows that a lie is a lie.

We're not lying with a wink. Quite the opposite, we get ourselves completely convinced that we're saints, that we're Jesus on the Cross, every single one of us...

Posted by: Josh Scholar at November 25, 2006 06:34 PM

Stupid cheap shots. So everyone not in favor of shunning Syria is ready for an invasion? Or, hey, how about some random bombing! That had a history of working great in persuading Iraq to play ball!

Unserious sniping from the same kind of exiles that put us on our ss in Iraq. When Syria counters whatever stronger measures you're thinking about, whatever they are, by making a *really serious attempt to set Lebanon on fire, compared to their hide-and-go-seek right now, will you call it creative destruction?

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Posted by: DemocracyRules at November 25, 2006 08:13 PM

"... put us on our ss in Iraq."

What does this mean? "Put us on our ss?"

The first time I read it I thought you were calling the American army, the "SS" (which was Nazi Germany's security force).

Posted by: Josh Scholar at November 25, 2006 08:58 PM

Not even the imposition of Times Select could get me to start reading the opinion section regularly. Too much fluff.

But all the tough talk here is fluff, too. We're not in a position to be moving towards more military action. You can't blame that on the Democrats, Liberty Dad. Bush Baby, "undisclosed location" Dick and Rummy got us to this point with the Dems acting mostly as lame cheerleaders. Humpty Dumpty is broken and he's not going to be put back together again. Been there, done that. Our national attention deficit disorder compels us to move on without cleaning up the pile of tumbled building blocks called Iraq that already bores us. It was fun at first but now it's not fun anymore. Time for a "fresh start." (Can you tell I'm being sarcastic? I hope we "stay the course".)

No, I agree with talking to Syria and Iran. Talk to them the way Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush Sr. (did I miss someone?) talked to the myriad of faceless, two-bit dictators who ruled the Soviet Union until the Soviet Union collapsed, undermined by its own stupidity and brutality. Contain them. Roll them back through tactical manoeuvre if we can. If they attack militarily, crush them. But no more Yaltas, no more lazy compromises that cede territory and momentum to the enemy. Because, no matter how long we talk to them, until they change their systems and their behavior, they are our enemies and we should not forget that.

With appropriate, steady opposition, it won't take long for a substantial majority in the region to tire of these jive turkeys. The alternatives (Beirut hopping!) are just too appealing to most people. The sourpusses and control freaks are not going to win.

Anyone remember that essay that came out in the Sixties or early Seventies "Can the Soviet Union Survive until 1984?". Well, the writer was only five years off: 1917-1989 RIP. 1979-2051 RIP? Let's talk about it.

Posted by: Karl B. at November 25, 2006 10:07 PM

Ah, Karl, while I can see some sense in what you're saying I have to admit that I have to spit that through my teeth after you just insulted everyone who doesn't want to see Lebanon crushed or fall into civil war as silly "sourpusses and control freaks."

Really a man has to have an absolutely iron will to fairness and honesty to cede anything to someone as obliviously, self centered and uncaring about human suffering and dignity as you are.

I don't want to see democracy crushed, I don't want civil war, what a silly! I'm not worth listening to to at all, obviously. And Lebanese should just welcome their new Syrian overlords. Freedom is for their betters, like you. They should know not to hope.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at November 25, 2006 10:59 PM

A thought or two about "realists" at Reason magazine.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at November 25, 2006 11:28 PM

You talking to me Josh? Not clear, because nothing you said had anything to do with what I wrote. But I guess that's what these kinds of comment threads really are for, dislexic reading, talking past one another, and personal attack to make oneself feel grander. Check your medication levels and try again.

(Oh yeah, did you notice that I wrote: "If they attack militarily, crush them."?)

Silly me for thinking that the comment section of a blog might be for reasoned discussion. You gotta be fur it or agin it. Ain't no inbetween.

Posted by: Karl B. at November 26, 2006 01:27 AM

Yes, Karl, I suppose you might not have noticed that in arguing that everything will turn out for the best in a century or two if we don't do very much, you're also saying that some fall of Lebanon in the near future is of no great importance.

I imagine that Lebanese people might not be so happy to take your long view.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at November 26, 2006 03:04 AM

But I see that you are right that I took "the sourpusses and control freaks are not going to win" out of context, having noticed and reacted to it before I read the rest of your comment.

It did not, as I assumed, refer to your domestic poltical opponents like the rest of us... Still you should choose much more specific, meaningful and more serious language if you're attempting to make an arguement rather than just sticking your tongue out.

Bashir is a sourpus, who knew (or cared)?

Posted by: Josh Scholar at November 26, 2006 03:13 AM

Karl,
I'm not convinced that the control freaks won't win. I think the National communist-Socialists of China are providing a more attractive model for Putin than America with Dem Party opposition to Bush.

It's also not clear what course of action you're arguing for with "containment" -- since we're actively engaged in Iraq & Afghanistan; and the UN & Israel are active in Lebanon. Do you mean run away? (perhaps confusing them?) You don't say.

China and Russia are going to again be two non-democracies on the UN SC against pro-democracy action. The envy-filled Bush/America bashers of France & Britain will be happy to see America fail, even it takes Israel down, too (or first).

"We're not in a position to be moving towards more military action. You can't blame that on the Democrats,"

Actually, I think that being out of position was far more true with corrupt Reps in Congress and a stubborn but compromising Rep Bush in the WH -- almost-as-corrupt Dems "in control" might well push the US to take MORE action, in Darfur for instance. (Is this really only a dream? I see US supported Indian/ UN peacekeeping troops stopping genocide and ask, Why Not.)

The non-Hez Lebanese must be fully ready to fight the civil war against Hez -- in order to avoid the fight. If the non-Hez folk are too weak to fight, they'll be "forced" to surrender.

They don't have to "beat" Hez, just be willing to fight enough defense so that a fighting Hez cannot beat them.

Will Hez start up internal active hostilities? It's not clear.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at November 26, 2006 05:15 AM

Perhaps "Peace thru strength", the old Reagan ideal, is what Lebanese pro-democrats need.

Alliances with pro-democrat and secular/ modern Shia in Lebanon would be good, too.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at November 26, 2006 05:24 AM

When are you coming to Lebanon, Michael?
Sooner rather than later, I would suggest...:(

Posted by: oberon at November 26, 2006 06:04 AM

Stupid cheap shots. So everyone not in favor of shunning Syria is ready for an invasion?

The alternatives are not limited to "shunning" and invasion. And in any event, "shunning" is not an appropriate response to murder and the attempt to impose a totalitarian regime over another country.

Or, hey, how about some random bombing! That had a history of working great in persuading Iraq to play ball!

What random bombing? Random bombing would have struck hospitals, schools, mosques, oil fields and power plants with the same frequency as Hussein's palaces and military bases. Is that what you think happened?

In fact, the bombing of Iraq during the war was carefully aimed at regime targets only -- as anyone who watched television could clearly see.

Yes, there is much to criticize about the US attempt to remove the Hussein regime and its key players -- but the accusation of "random bombing" is absurd.

Posted by: Michael Smith at November 26, 2006 08:07 AM

With apologies if I'm a bit late to the party, but why is Syria willing to risk so much for Lebanon? I can see the more obvious reasons: buffer zone, proxy for taking certain actions, resources (some), power, land and other typical reasons for conguering a neighbor country.

Surely Syria/Assad have a more strategic purpose? Risk/Reward ratio seems a bit askew in that (one can only hope) Assad may be putting his life and his countries independence on the line.

Posted by: Ron at November 26, 2006 10:15 AM

The Syrian Ba'athists, and other Syrians for that matter, believe that Lebanon belongs to Syria and that the modern borders, drawn up as they were by the French and British, are phony. Sort of akin to Saddam coveting Kuwait.

That might be part of the rationale for wanting to control Lebanon.

Posted by: Zak at November 26, 2006 11:38 AM

Zak
Only problem though is Syria's borders are also phony and drawn up by the French and British. So are Iraq's and Jordan's.

Posted by: NoSleep at November 26, 2006 02:16 PM

NoSleep, either all boarders in this world are phoney or none are. Maybe the word your reaching for is "arbitrary". When have boarders ever been otherwise?

Posted by: Josh Scholar at November 26, 2006 02:20 PM

When have boarders ever been otherwise?

Borders are established at the limits of power to keep out raiders and theives. Tribes have borders, so do more modern states. And they are often fought over. There is nothing sacrosanct about borders, they aren't engraved in the land, but they do tend to follow defensible barriers like rivers and mountains. So, while created by man, they aren't totally arbitrary either.

Posted by: chuck at November 26, 2006 03:21 PM

Not many defensible barriers to easy movement in the Middle East, chuck. In fact, the present-day borders were established by British and French imperialists (with a little help from the occasional German, and some American kibitzing) in the early part of the Twentieth Century. They are the result of people in cozy drawing-rooms in London and Paris poring over maps whilst the servants brought brandy and cigars. Some of them were drawn after rather more brandy than was really advisable. The reason there is no "Kurdistan" owes more to WWI-era European politics than to any facts on the ground in the Middle East.

East of the Nile (or, rather, the Red Sea) is one place, "Arabia", going all the way to the Persian Gulf and mountains; beyond that is Persia ("Iran"). There are centers with names and associated tribal/ethnic areas, but they shouldn't be associated with hard borders. It's a matter of shading. Close to Damascus it's clearly Syria. As you go toward Baghdad it imperceptibly changes, until by Ramadi or so it's distinctly Iraq. Nowhere between is an identifiable natural border.

Travel there is relatively easy. People do it, or did it, all the time without much attention to abstractions like citizenship. Once upon a time almost all the population centers had kings or equivalent whose rule extended fifty or a hundred miles around the centers, and most of those were named "Hussein" somewhere in the list. When the Brits decided that the Husseins weren't cooperative (for which read obsequious) enough, they promoted Abdulaziz al-Saud and set him down in the middle of Arabia like a turd in the butter dish, and the tensions and vibrations resulting from that decision show no indication of relaxing any time soon.

Since then the ex-imperialists have been promoting the notion of nation-statehood while ignoring any and all ethnic divisions that might make such an idea reasonable, and the oil money has been rolling in. The result is various jumped-up "parties" which are really the tribe(s) most intent on meanness, dictators, and other charming adjuncts of the early stages of statehood. We Europeans have been finished and done with that stage for so long we've forgotten it ever existed. For the Arabs it's as shiny-new as a Lexus limo. It's as if there were still an Acquitaine, and its Prince wanted a UN seat -- and a chance to conquer the filthy Lorrainis.

If we could seal the whole region in a bubble and go away, in about two centuries we could open it and find an Arabia with a population around twenty or thirty million, with an average annual income of $200 (equivalent) or so, loosely ruled by a bunch of people called Hussein but generally without much identifiable as "government". Force fields being lamentably absent from our stock of techniques, we will have to do something else. What we're trying to do at the moment is define the "something else", hampered not so much by the self-interests of the population of the area as by the dogma of the reactionary pseudo-Left. It's gonna be a long slog.

Regards,
Ric

Posted by: Ric Locke at November 26, 2006 05:24 PM

Interesting article. It sucks being a barometer.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/27/world/middleeast/27region.html?

Posted by: mike at November 26, 2006 09:37 PM

I can hear them quacking in their boots.

That's how you get your ducks in a row.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at November 27, 2006 01:44 AM

Lebanon has a greater claim to nationhood than most countries in the region. It has a distinct identity with a significant Christian population. It also has a unique geography with mountains and snow. It has an openness to the world that others don't have. There are a lot more descendents of Lebanese outside Lebanon than in Lebanon. What is the difference between Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Saudi? They're all deserts with 95%-100% muslim populations.

Posted by: NoSleep at November 27, 2006 02:25 AM

Yes, there is much to criticize about the US attempt to remove the Hussein regime and its key players -- but the accusation of "random bombing" is absurd.

Allow me to clarify "random" here as an editorial comment on the detachment of our tactical decisions from observation of the effects of those decisions. Not our target selection per se.

Posted by: glasnost at November 27, 2006 10:19 AM

Y'know, I kind of agree with 'glasnost' on this.

We need to be a lot more consistent about the whole "being an @sshole results in JDAMs falling out of the sky" thing. The arbitrary approach we've been using is just confusing people.

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