August 10, 2009

Where the Middle East Fights Its Wars

Dahiyeh Rubble 2x.JPG

The Middle East is riven with fault lines. Conflicts between Israelis and Arabs, Persians and Israelis, Arabs and Persians, Sunnis and Shias, Islamists and liberals, and democrats and Khomeinists are all stuck in a holding pattern that isn't sustainable. The region is in a deadlock and will likely remain so until something big and probably violent unjams it.

Because of its extraordinary diversity, almost every major political current in the Middle East echoes in Lebanon. In the past, Arab Nationalism and Palestinian "resistance" blew through the place and left swaths of wreckage before passions cooled. Thanks to Hezbollah, the country is still a front line in the Arab-Israeli conflict -- and that's because the Iranian-backed militia is the tip of the spear in the Persian-Israeli conflict. Lebanon is also where mutually antagonistic Sunnis and Shias are more or less numerically matched and where the Syrian-Iranian axis directly confronts its resilient political opposites. Beirut, like Tehran, is where some of the Middle East's most liberal modernizers face off against committed radicals in thrall to Ayatollah Khomeini's totalitarian vision of Velayat-e Faqih.

A divided country with a weak central government can't indefinitely withstand this kind of pressure any more than geological faults can forever keep still while continental plates slowly but relentlessly collide with each other. And so Lebanon is a place where the Middle East fights itself. It is also where the East meets the West and, at times, where the East fights the West. Everyone with a dog in a Middle East fight has a dog in Lebanon's fights.

Beirut may be the best place of all to observe that part of the world. It has its own local problems, of course, but its most serious local problems are regional problems. The Syrians are there, the Iranians are there, and the Saudis are there. France and the United States sent soldiers there more than once. United Nations peacekeepers have been there since the 1970s. The Israelis barge in and out. Yasser Arafat and the PLO used the country as a terrorist base and set up their own parallel state after their violent eviction from Jordan. When Ariel Sharon drove Arafat and his gang to Tunisia, Hezbollah set up an Iranian-sponsored parallel state in the PLO's place.

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Gemmayze, East Beirut

I visited Lebanon after wrapping up my last trip to Iraq, and was pleasantly surprised all over again by how much nicer Beirut is than Baghdad despite all its troubles. It's still a mess, of course, but that's because the region it reflects is a mess.

Salim al-Sayegh, the Kataeb (Phalangist) Party's vice president, agreed to sit down with me and discuss Lebanon's -- and therefore the region's -- endlessly dysfunctional and occasionally explosive political problems. Like most parties in Lebanon, the Kataeb has a dark past, had a militia that behaved terribly during the long civil war, and has since mellowed and turned mainstream. It's a part of the anti-Syrian "March 14" coalition, and one of its members of parliament -- Pierre Gemayel, son of former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel -- was assassinated by gunmen in 2006. Tens of thousands of Christians, Sunnis, and Druze attended his funeral in downtown Beirut.

Pierre Gemayel.jpg
Pierre Gemayel, assassinated Kataeb Party Member of Parliament and son of former President Amin Gemayel

The party's vice president and I spoke before the election this summer when "March 14" beat Hezbollah. He started off by telling me just how important he thought that election was, not just for Lebanon, but for the whole Middle East.

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MJT: Tell me about the upcoming election.

Salim al-Sayegh: We are fighting to preserve human rights in this country and the state of freedom despite all the terror that has been organized against us. The project of "March 14" is very simple. It is the building up of a modern democratic humanistic society in this country. An attack against "March 14" is not an attack from a loyal opposition. The state has to be sovereign, has to be independent. On the other side we have the negation of the state.

Of course we did not achieve all our objectives even though we still have a majority in parliament. Despite this majority, with the use of weapons of terror, and of the ideological opposition to the West and to Israel, Hezbollah is impeding the majority from exerting its strength. But still we are here. We are not letting Hezbollah impose its will on the country. We have succeeded in putting the international tribunal [to indict the assassins of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri] where it is. Sooner or later, it will come to a conclusion and justice will be made.

If we do not win the elections, it is not a collapse of a party. It is the collapse of a sovereign, free, independent Lebanon. This is the problem. And this is why I consider these elections essential. The international community, the United Nations, have so far tried everything possible to preserve Lebanon. If the majority fails, it means Hezbollah will be in power in Lebanon. It would mean another Gaza.

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Kataeb Vice President Salim al-Sayegh

We have pluralism in Lebanon. The Christians will still be here, but the Christians have no weapons, no funding, no backing. The only party with foreign backing, Syria’s backing, is Hezbollah. Hezbollah has Iranian and Syrian backing. It's the strongest force within the country. The build-up in this country for the last 20 years has enabled Hezbollah to take over the state. To take over the state.

This is an ideological party. For Hezbollah, anti-Americanism is ideological. Anti-Westernism is ideological. But our identity in Lebanon is a complex identity. We all speak foreign languages. We are all inheritors not only of the Persian Empire and the Arab world. We are also children of the Roman Empire, of the Western tradition. All of this mixes in Lebanon. And therefore we will never accept an identity change. We do not accept any community that is saying it’s anti-Western, that it's against Western values, that it's against the Western way of life. For them, democracy is relative. Human rights are something that is a Western concept, an imported concept.

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Shia mosque, Baalbek, Bekaa Valley

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Roman Empire city of Baalbek, Bekaa Valley

So all of this will be threatened in Lebanon regardless of the constitution. These guys do not respect the constitution. They do not respect the institutions.

For all your readers who think democracy is only letting the population vote, that it means majority rule: Democracy is voting, but it’s something else, as well. It’s a respect of human rights. Let’s not forget that Hitler came to power after elections. Fascism rose at the same time in Italy. Hamas took over Palestine after elections, okay, but what about respect for human rights? Those people do not have any track record of respecting human rights. They bluntly and publicly reject human rights values. They think there are other values they want to promote, and this is something I’m not going to accept here.

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Le Rouge, Gemmayze, East Beirut

If we rule, if we reach power, we’ll be preserving these values, not imposing them. Preserving them. Because these are constitutional. If the others reach power, there will be nobody guaranteeing the respect of these values.

Lebanon provides a real chance for dialogue between civilizations and cultures. If there is a collapse of "March 14" in the next elections, this collapse will inevitably lead to a clash of cultures in Lebanon. This will not be between Islam and Christians. It will be between communities.

It means -- and this is a threat -- not only the collapse of our formula for co-existence, which should be preserved for the sake of humanity. It will mean a threat to stability and security in the whole Middle East. Again. And this will be the last time we will ever dare speak about democracy and human rights in the Middle East. It will be finished. It will mean the American model, the Western model -- which has become a universal model now which people aspire to all over the world -- all of this will be pushed aside for another model, which was exported by the Ayatollahs in Iran.

Hezbollah rejects all of this. They say "no, we know our limitations in Lebanon, that there is diversity in Lebanon, and we cannot go beyond that diversity." This is what they say. The practice is something different. When they faced powerful political forces, they used their weapons. They are programmed for resistance, to impose their will over others.

This means civil war. Do we want to go back to that? The solution is the disarmament of Hezbollah. For Hezbollah, no defense strategy can be discussed if, as an end result, Hezbollah is asked to hand in its weapons.

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Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea (left) and Future Movement leader Saad Hariri (right) comfort former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel at his son Pierre's funeral

MJT: Do you think it will ever be possible to convince Hezbollah to give up its weapons? I don’t see any way of talking them into it.

Salim al-Sayegh: The problem of Hezbollah is the same as the problem of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. It is the same impossible question. You’re asking Lebanese: "How are you going to handle the Palestinian refugees?" Palestinians are about ten percent of

Posted by Michael J. Totten at August 10, 2009 12:51 AM
Comments

"West has to do this", and "Israel has to do that", and ...

Every time I hear these guys speak I get pissed off. Why the hell they think I owe them anything at all?

Lebanese allowed to turn their country into big dump and not expect somebody else to clean it up.

"Hezbollah got weapons, blah-blah-blah". And what have you got, nothing? You got weapons, you need determination, bunch of whiners.

If Hezbollah is willing to die for their ideals and Valentinos are not then why would they even hope to have any kind of success?

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at August 10, 2009 9:01 AM

"now expect" that is.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at August 10, 2009 10:21 AM

Smart and interesting.

The way to crack Syria, in my opinion, is consistent economic, political, and military posturing combined with persistent negotiations.

In addition, I'm less afraid of bombing Syria than I am of bombing Iran. Syria has less money, less ideological loyalty, and an even more fragile popular base than Iran. They have altogether fewer cards.

The problem we have right now with Syria is that their price is too steep. As the guy says, they want to be Libya. They want to be paid for lifting their foot off the throat while continuing to hold it over the throat. They're extortionists (not that this makes them in any way unusual).
We shouldn't be trying to change the regime all at once - although a replacement of the Alawites with Sunnis would give the country at least the potential for a long-run slow democratization. Right now, the system is controlled by a small and hated ethnic minority. Letting go will give them severe problems.

Nevertheless, if we didn't have so many problems on our hands, I'd say that we should be stepping up the pressure on them, notch after notch after notch, until they agree to the various behaviors we want from them. Then we pay them, and then we start to reapply the pressure notch by notch until we get the next agreement. And when they backslide, you hit them at the mid levels of their security instruments and gradually weaken their internal enforcement capabilities.

Translating that into operations is hard, but that's the strategy. Unfortunately, we have all the stuff on our hands with iraq and afghanistan that we can handle. Osama Bin Laden and George Bush have cost us the kind of freedom of action needed to turn the important people in the ME for three decades.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at August 10, 2009 10:52 AM

The comments section was broken earlier, but seems to be fixed now. The formatting for this post was also screwed up, and is also fixed.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at August 10, 2009 8:09 PM

Jeez, I feel like I've been taken on a tour of the Gordian Knot. Made me seasick, getting sloshed from one curb to the other and back. I'm with Leo.

I know it feels much the same talking with Israelis these days, in terms of urgent directionless desperation, but they don't demand of the Western world 'wave your magic wand, froggy.' They have a pretty cold read on who's going to be picking up the tab, one way or another.

Posted by: AZZenny Author Profile Page at August 10, 2009 10:13 PM

Great interview (and pictures). I was in Baalbeck this time last year - I missed the photo of the mosque because I was too busy taking a shot of the one camel I'd seen in Lebanon.

Al-Sayegh says:

In Saudi Arabia they have a regime that is even stricter than the Muslim Brothers. Yet we are coordinating ourselves very well with Saudi Arabia and with the oligarchy of the Emirates.

then he says:

What Syria would do is say "I’m coming to control terror in Lebanon." Fatah al Islam, al Qaeda, all of this. "Listen guys, you have Sunni extremists over there and we are gonna uproot them."

Since these Sunni extremists are supported by Saudi Arabia and the oligarchy of the Emirates, I'd guess that Lebanon may not always be coordinating itself very well with the Saudis and the UAE.

Lebanon is being held hostage by a number of terrorist states, including (but probably not limited to) Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE and Syria. By allying with the Saudis and by reinforcing the idea that the center of gravity in the Middle East should be located in the hub of worldwide terrorism, Saudi Arabia, the US is not really helping the situation.

In part, we support the Saudis because our alliance with them helps us (indirectly) intimidate economic and political competitors like the Russians. The Russians ally with Iran because this alliance helps them intimidate us. The best way to deal with the Iran/nukes issue is to ignore the gangster regimes in Iran and Syria, and to deal directly with Russia. If a Russian-built Iranian bomb falls on Tel Aviv, we could promise to hit Moscow in response. In that way, MAD could work. The Russians, who are comparatively rational actors, are pretty good at controlling their flunkies.

During the golden age of piracy, the leaders of nations used pirate proxies to (indirectly) fight their wars. They abandoned the tactic when well-armed pirates began to threaten the careers, security and the lives of their leader/benefactors. I think we're all at that point with our proxies now.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at August 11, 2009 9:37 AM

Mary, I love your comments.

Posted by: AZZenny Author Profile Page at August 11, 2009 2:09 PM

""West has to do this", and "Israel has to do that", and ...

Every time I hear these guys speak I get pissed off. Why the hell they think I owe them anything at all?"

....I agree with leo's thought I copied here.

The Celt in me reveals my blue tattoos which appear when the tide of media blather rises with yet more emphasis on the places where the United States must send yet more of our precious lives to temporarily alter many centuries of butchery.
I've mentioned before that Arab/Persian Asia should be contained much the same way we contained the vast area of the Soviet Empire. We can't say that the area threatened by radical/ primitive Islam is too widespread.
[Our present use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles shows great potential. This last thought comes from from a former USAF Radar Intercept Controller.]

Posted by: Morningside Author Profile Page at August 11, 2009 5:45 PM

Interesting interview. leo, your sentiment is shared some of the time by a lot of people. Then we wake up in the morning ;-)

Why can't the March 14th coalition, peal off Amal from Hezbollah? Wouldn't that be the best way to contain Hezbollah?

maryatexitzero, Russia's policy is be an ally of both Israel and Iran. Russia wants to use Israel to obtain military technology and hardware; as well as cooperate on technology collaboration and trade.

Russia sees Iran as natural allies with it against Takfiri extremism, Chechnya, the Taliban, and AQ linked networks. Both countries are also publicly self proclaimed strong backers of the Afghan government.

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at August 11, 2009 5:56 PM

....hasty correction...delete one of those "from"'s in my next to last line.

Posted by: Morningside Author Profile Page at August 11, 2009 5:58 PM

Have others looked at this poll:
http://pewglobal.org/reports/pdf/264.pdf

52% of Palestinians have a favorable view of Osama Bin Laden. Palestinians are by far the most anti American people on earth, even more so than Pakistanis. However, Palestinians don't like the UN, China or EU either.

Why are Lebanese Sunni Arabs so much more pro American and pro Obama and Lebanese Christians?

Why are Lebanese Shia less pro American than Iraqi, Indian, Afghan, Pakistani or Iranian Shia?

In pages 20-21, I noticed broad support for the war on terror, including for one's own country playing a larger part in the war on terrorism.

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at August 11, 2009 6:08 PM

MJT, why can't the US use all its influence to get Syria to give the Shebaa farms to Lebanon? For that matter, couldn't Russia, China, EU, India, Indonesia, Japan, Turkey and other countries help bring this about? Many countries have close ties with Israel, and have a vested interest in solving this situation.

On another note, I suggest looking at this poll:
http:/
/pewglobal.org/reports/pdf/264.pdf

52% of Palestinians have a favorable view of Osama Bin Laden. Palestinians are by far the most anti American people on earth, even more so than Pakistanis. However, Palestinians don't like the UN, China or EU either.

Why are Lebanese Sunni Arabs so much more pro American and pro Obama and Lebanese Christians?

Why are Lebanese Shia less pro American than Iraqi, Indian, Afghan, Pakistani or Iranian Shia?

Off topic:

In pages 20-21, I noticed broad support for the war on terror, including for one's own country playing a larger part in the war on terrorism. One exception to the rule is Lebanon, where by 62% to 32% they oppose playing a larger role in the war on terror. I guess Lebanese enjoy free riding off the sacrifices of others?

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at August 11, 2009 6:55 PM

anand: "leo, your sentiment is shared some of the time by a lot of people. Then we wake up in the morning ;-)"

I do not particularly care about Lebanese or Palestinians. I have no reason to love either. But I have selfish reasons. I wish well for Israel and as result I believe that happy neighbor is good neighbor or at very least neighbor who got something to lose. Therefore I do not mind Israel helping them. But I expect to see genuine and tangible effort on Lebanese side first and foremost. So far I only see them sitting on their asses, honing their complaining skills and waiting for grants.

As to tearing Amal off Hezbollah. First, they are not that close to begin with. Second, they will never go against Shia public opinion, which is currently with HA. It would be easier to tear off sizable number of Aounies from Aoun instead.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at August 11, 2009 7:37 PM

"I guess Lebanese enjoy free riding off the sacrifices of others?"
...quoting < anand > just above...

...that, anand, is a whopping, wonderful, big leading comment which should be carved into each of the lintels at the UN. I love it. And, it ain't just the Lebanese...I'm veering off of the M.E., but it's only such a slight detour that our host won't mind.... because it (...and that UN membership) leads right back into our area under discussion here. All of the factions and nationalities who've been pushing and shoving in Lebanon since its borders were drawn have an eye cocked toward America to see what's in it for them from America.
I'm wondering how long we can last at this pace.

Posted by: Morningside Author Profile Page at August 11, 2009 7:43 PM

"why can't the US use all its influence to get Syria to give the Shebaa farms to Lebanon?"

It may sound as a surprise to many, but Lebanon never requested Syria and/or UN for SF being recognized as Lebanese. My bet, Syrians do not let them to and never will. Syria needs status of SF stay ambiguous. They still hope to get it back along with Golans and it helps to maintain reasons for harassing Israel via proxy into agreeing. I say, fat chance.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at August 11, 2009 7:44 PM

Leo, what do you make of the Russian help to unmask Israeli spies in Lebanon using advanced equipment? Do you think this is a major escalation coupled with actions in Georgia and threats to Ukraine? I guess Russia won't be getting those Israeli drones anytime soon. (if anyone wants a laugh, google Russia and new space defense missile. Putin seems to think Obama is planning missiles to rain down on Russia by 2030, hense the need for their new Star Wars program).

hxxp://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/08/11/the_new_iran_sanctions_worse_than_the_old_ones

I don't agree with everything from FP, but I think Hizb'Allah, Syria and Iran are hoping to find some daylight by 2010. Meanwhile advanced weapons from Iran appear to be pouring ton Lebanon.

Some might find this interesting when review the prospects for peace:

"DEBKAfile's analysts note that while fervently promoting the "right of return" for the 1948 refugees, the 2,300 delegates to the Fatah conference elected only one overseas member out of the 18 Central Committee seats up for election; Fatah delegates from Jordan, Syria, the Persian Gulf, Yemen, North Africa - and even the Gaza Strip absentees - did not get a look in past the solid phalanx of West Bankers.

A Fatah source in Gaza bemoaned the fact that not a single Central Committee seat was reserved for members whom Hamas barred from attending the convention.

The event has consequently deepened the West Bank-Gaza Strip divide and perpetuated the Fatah-Hamas feud, another major obstacle for President Barack Obama's Middle East peace program.

As for outside Palestinian communities, the only delegate elected to the ruling body was Sultan Abu al-Einen, Fatah commander in Lebanon. The Palestinians of Jordan, Syria who outnumber the West Bank population are not represented.

After days of vicious infighting and factional horse trading, the convention confirmed Mahmoud Abbas, 74, as leader and awarded the hardliner Abu Maher Ghneim, 71, his chosen first lieutenant and successor as chairman of the Palestinian Authority, the highest number of votes to the new Central Committee. The transition will take place over a period of time.

The Netanyahu government allowed Abu Ghneim to enter the country from Tunis at Abbas' urgent request (channeled through Cairo and Washington) and is therefore responsible for an opponent of the Oslo partial peace accords and advocate of armed resistance, who denounces the two-state concept, taking the reins of government in Ramallah.

Once in the saddle, he will present a major obstacle to any peace-making initiatives.

The resident West Bankers filling the other seats include Jibril Rajoub from Hebron, Mohammad Dahlan, strongman of the Gaza Strip during the terrorist uprising order by Yasser Arafat, who is now accused of losing the enclave to Hamas, Hussein al-Sheikh, Marwan Barghouti, who is serving a life sentence in Israel for multiple terrorist attacks, and Tawfiq Tirawi, another engineer of suicide attacks on Israel as a key member of the Arafat regime.

DEBKAfile"s Palestinian sources report that, outside any other considerations, the rise of Dahlan, Hamas' sworn enemy, puts the lid on any imminent burying of the hatchet between Fatah and Hamas or the reunification of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

None of the new leaders argued in favor of abandoning Fatah's traditional support for "resistance," amending its charter which like that of Hamas calls for Israel's destruction, or relinquishing any part of Jerusalem.

Final results of the Central Committee vote are expected Wednesday and of the 129-seat Revolutionary Council by the end of the week."

Posted by: maxtrue Author Profile Page at August 12, 2009 11:57 AM

It is very telling that the whole gist of this interview is that Israel has the whole obligation to solve Lebanon's own unresolveable problems for it, by disregarding Israel's own security concerns - which Salim al-Sayegh frankly confesses he does not care about at all - and conceding all rights and claims, handing victory to Syria and Hezbollah. Effectively, he wants the victim to help out by committing hari-kiri, and for his part refuses to accept any obligation on his party to resist Syria, reform his own society, or even to make peace with Israel even after Israeli concessions for peace. That is irrational rubbish, pure scapegoating side-stepping.

And of course it will not happen. So the whole interview shows yet again what a crazy, self-harming and hateful place the Arab Middle East is, if we are to accept Totten's view that Lebanon is the Middle East in miniature.

Posted by: Tempered Author Profile Page at August 13, 2009 2:31 AM

Good grief, Tempered. Try to read between the lines a little. He said explicitly that if he publicly called for negotiations with Israel that he wouldn't make it home that night, acknowledged that his party is a former ally of Israel, has the same list of enemies as Israel, and says Syria and Iran and Hezbollah has a gun to his head.

I assure you that Hezbollah and Syria knows how to interpret all this correctly. Why do you think his colleague and former MP Pierre Gemayel was gunned down in the street?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at August 13, 2009 10:20 AM

Tempered's opinions arn't very tempered...

Posted by: A-Squared Author Profile Page at August 13, 2009 4:35 PM

maxtrue,

Regarding your question about Russia's involvement in those spies case. I do not think we have enough information to draw reliable conclusion. I hope, Israelis know how to deal with Russians. They were doing it successfully for at least 4 decades and at times when Russia was much more formidable opponent than today. About drones, spy business will not be a deal breaker simply for the reason that when it comes to spying all sides tend to keep their mouths shut and are acting like nothing happened. Think of it this way, there are usually number of spies caught from both sides and it is always embarrassing to all - to be caught and to be duped. Besides, Mossad might catch few Russians elsewhere just for the heck of it and then run quiet exchange.

Regarding, Fatah conference and Fatah big talk. I think it is too early to tell. It is in their job description to talk tough, plus they would risk being accused of being Zionist stooges otherwise. Let's wait and see whether its real McCoy or just a show.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at August 13, 2009 6:56 PM

Thanks Leo, hopefully Israeli spies in Iran have learned some lessons. I suppose Israel can present some problems for Putin in other places of the world and there has been a rumor circulating for some time that the IDF has cracked the S-300 air defense system and will sell the solution should Russia deploy them to Iran or Syria. On another deffense related note the ABL successfully tested all systems in flight on August 10th against a live missile. Boeing deployed a lesser laser in this test which hit the missile. Although a full test is to be run later this year, Obama has planned to end the program which would cost less than his new helicopters he promised to cut from the budget when debating McCain during the primaries. Sorry for the information conflation.

Michael, you are certainly correct about "tempered". At the moment, a car bomb is in the back of everyone's mind. I think Fatah and Hamas present more intractable problems as two newly appointed Palestinian leaders are either terrorists in exile or in an Israeli jail. I do expect a tad more moderation from Palestinians as they know the international community is impatient for signs of a credible peace partner before offering more economic aid. Obviously may Palestinians are looking over their shoulder too.

It was surprising to read that the King of Saudi Arabia told the Palestinian Conference that Palestinians "leadership" has done more harm to their community in the last several months than Israel has caused since 1948. Now that is one angry and powerful statement. I suspect many in Lebanon feel the same about Hizb'Allah and Syria over the last few years in regard to the national aspirations and security of the Lebanese.

Posted by: maxtrue Author Profile Page at August 13, 2009 9:40 PM

Anand, recent polls in Pakistan indicate that 59% of men and 61% of women there think the US is the greatest threat to Pakistan. That is, the US is a greater threat than the Taliban or OBL. I suspect the same sentiment exists in Afghanistan.

Presently, there is a fight between Western Intel and Pakistan regarding attacks which happened near or on facilities storing Pakistani nuclear weapons. Counterterrorism.org has a recent article that probes the dangers of nuclear programs in States with terror proxies such as Pakistan. It is a very interesting topic because many assume that proxies working for Pakistan or Iran will never get their hands on nuclear materials. The last known attack in Pakistan happened almost a year ago as one Democratic candidate here declared he would bomb Pakistan as President and was rebuffed by another candidate for telegraphing strategic policies. The former candidate responded by declaring it was his top priority in the name of honesty (suggesting the other candidate was less than honest) to tell Americans what our tactics and policies are so they can decide our course of action. In regard to Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Israel, I am still waiting for this candidate, now President, to deliver on that frank discussion to a much greater extent than he has so far. I rather doubt that will be forthcoming any time soon.

Of course our policies regarding Iran, Syria, Israel and Gaza/West Bank play a role in how events in Lebanon play out.

Posted by: maxtrue Author Profile Page at August 13, 2009 10:11 PM

MaxTrue, Pakistanis have been deeply anti American for many decades. The US embassy was torn down by a Pakistani mob in 1979.

Afghan public opinion is very different. In the Feb 9, 2009 public opinion poll:
-91% had an unfavorable view of the Taliban
-92% had an unfavorable view of the Osama Bin Laden
-91% had an unfavorable view of Pakistan.

In fact, the single greatest cause of anti American sentiment among Afghans is a fear that America secretly backs the Taliban, Al Qaeda linked networks and, or Pakistan against them. Many Afghans really believe this.

It is important to remember, maxtrue, that tension between Afghans and Pakistanis are more intense than tensions between Pakistanis and Indians. Maybe not more intense than tensions between Israel and Palestine though, since that seems to be scientifically impossible ;-)

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at August 13, 2009 11:22 PM

anand,

I recall in the past you were mentioning connection between Hamas and Al Qaeda and the need to sever it.

I think you will find these two links interesting:

www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3761965,00.html

www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3762066,00.html

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at August 15, 2009 7:07 AM

I want to disagree with you on America's stomach for a war with Iran. I believe Americans are still hawkish, they are engaged on this issue, and that the American people will not tolerate a nuclear Iran. If Iran goes nuclear under an Obama administration, it will destroy the Democratic Party for the next twenty years. You are right about this year though. It's all about the economy domestically this year and Obama also has to keep his campaign promise of negotiations. But negotiations are going nowhere fast and I think American policy toward Iran will change harshly in 2010. And anyway, I was led to believe by the 2007 NIE that Iran was actually still years away from a bomb, hence Americans casual attitude toward Iran since its release.

On a separate issue, I noticed Hezbollah has managed to convince everyone in the Middle East that it really is strong enough to take on Israel. But of course Hezbollah cannot "destroy Israel with missiles". Hezbollah can only destroy Lebanon.

Posted by: jachapin Author Profile Page at August 17, 2009 1:45 AM

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