Across the Bay

Monday, January 31, 2005

JuanColelogy

Juan Cole's sad ramblings on the Iraqi elections have got him rightly smacked around in the blogosphere (see also my post, "A New Beginning" below). But, as I've shown time and time again, the Professor's worst enemy is himself, and the best rebuttal against his statements, are his own statements! Here's an example to illustrate what I mean.

Yesterday, Cole simply went bananas at the positive reactions people had to the Iraqi elections:

    I'm just appalled by the cheerleading tone of US news coverage of the so-called elections in Iraq on Sunday.
    ...
    [T]his process is not a model for anything, and would not willingly be imitated by anyone else in the region. The 1997 elections in Iran were much more democratic, as were the 2002 elections in Bahrain and Pakistan.
    ...
    With all the hoopla, it is easy to forget that this was an extremely troubling and flawed "election."
    ...
    This thing was more like a referendum than an election. It was a referendum on which major party list associated with which major leader would lead parliament.

You can read criticism of this nonsense at Belgravia Dispatch (including Greg's post on the reactions of the Arab press) and at Belmont Club. But you could also read the transcript of Cole's appearence on The NewsHour this past Friday:

    MARGARET WARNER: Professor Cole if the long-term object here is a free and independent Iraq, how significant a step on that path is the Sunday election?

    JUAN COLE: Well, it's a very significant step. It's the first time that the Iraqis will have an elected government rather than an appointed one for some time.
    ...
    MARGARET WARNER: What would you set the threshold for success?

    JUAN COLE: I agree that something like 40 percent or more would be a success. I fear that less than 40 percent would be a problem because they're going to write a constitution as well.
    ...
    JUAN COLE: Well, the Shiite political leaders have indicated that they will try to draw the Sunni Arab politicians into the constitution making process, into government.
    ...
    MARGARET WARNER: And when you say brought into the government, you're saying, for instance, they could be appointed to some of these appointed posts, the presidency, the prime minister, the cabinet.

    JUAN COLE: The cabinet. And also the entire parliament is not going to write the constitution. So there will be a constituent assembly, some kind of a committee and Sunni Arabs can be appointed to that.

You get the drift. On PBS, he's Dr. Cole: a moderate, soft-spoken expert. The minute he gets in front of his PC, he becomes Mr. Juan: a wild conspiracy theorist, a prophet of defeatism, a nasty source of innuendo and baseless accusations, a biased ideologue and demagogue masquerading as an expert, a cheerleader of anything anti-Bush, and overall, a pissy sourpuss.

Of course, you can't escape a repetition of some of his stupidities like: "In a way it is more of a referendum than it really is an election in the traditional sense." Read this comment by Thibaud to Greg's post on Cole:

    A referendum asks for a Yes/No vote on a specific proposition; no candidates are involved. The result of the referendum is a specific legislative directive on a specific issue to an existing legislature.

    Obviously, this election is just the opposite: it is designed to create a legislature where none exists; to grant constitutive power on a variety of issues to that legislature, not to direct it to act on a single issue; the vote is for legislators, not for a particular piece of legislation.

    Furthermore, party lists are a standard feature of elections in many parliamentary democracies in which parties, not individuals, are the key organizing force in the government.

    I cannot believe that the head of the Middle Eastern Studies Association is ignorant of the difference between a referendum and a party-list election for a constituent assembly.

Another reader (mhw) of that post by Greg coined (as far as I can tell) the term "JuanColelogy." Just like you have "Fisking" now you have "JuanColelogy" ("JuanColelogize," "JuanColelogical," etc.). Indeed, you just witnessed a prime example of JuanColelogy.

Update: Michael Ledeen sheds some light on the comparison between the Iraqi election and the Iranian election of 1997 which Cole thinks was more democratic:

    When he says: " (the Iraqi election) is not a model for anything, and would not willingly be imitated by anyone else in the region. The 1997 elections in Iran were much more democratic..." he has really disqualified himself from being taken seriously. The 2005 Iraqi elections were wide open. Anyone could form a party and run. The 1997 elections in Iran were a sham. The government decided who could run. The guy who "won," Khatami, was "cleared" by the mullahs after they had purged more than three hundred other candidates.

    And this is the president-elect of the Middle East Studies Association! Pfui.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Beyond Bias

Speaking of irrelevant pundits, take a look at this repugnant piece by John Burns of the NYT. I don't have time to comment on it now (I'll come back to it later), but this thing is a jaw-dropping beauty.

Addendum: Add this piece to Burns'. To be perfectly frank, this stuff strikes me as thinly veiled, unreconstructed Sunni Arab nationalist propaganda. It's amazing to hear this stuff uncritically regurgitated like that. This is a redux of the worst prejudices related in Kaplan's The Arabists. It's precisely this nonsense that cost the Iraqis 12 more years of horror. It's this nonsense that sanctioned tyranny and oppression of Shiites and other minorities, and casting of suspicions on minorities (which led, e.g., senior Shiite cleric Fadlallah, in response to Abdullah's remarks, to reassert the Shiites' allegiance to Arabism, etc.). It's this nonsense that has maintained the grip of that poisonous ideology (Arabism) and the ensuing pathologies that dominate the ME and its discourse.

Update: I don't have time to edit this, so I'm posting my critique of Burns' piece in the form of bullet points. Bear with me as I scroll down the piece.

- How does one evaluate Burns' position on postponing the Iraqi elections, which he masks as native opinion? How many people did he ask that didn't share that view, especially that cheap bit about them being held under occupation. Needless to say, it turns out that it was 8 million!

- What was this paragraph all about:

"Many Iraqis, interviews in recent months have shown, do not accept that fundamental choices about the shape of their future political system should be made by a foreign power, particularly one they regard as a harbinger of secular, materialistic values far removed from the Muslim world's."

That's as dishonest as anything I've read on Iraq.

- Then again this quote:

"But questions over the election go far beyond the American stewardship, to issues that touch on whether it was ever wise or realistic to think that Jeffersonian-style democracy, with its elaborate checks on power and guarantees for minority rights, could be implanted, at least so rapidly, in a country and a region that has little experience with anything but winner-take-all politics."

Are you serious?! That's the worst attempt at covering up a misrepresentation.

- Keep scrolling:

"Compounding those objections, the elections are being held in the grip of a paralyzing fear that many Iraqis see as inconsistent with a free vote. A savage insurgency, and the harsh measures America's 150,000 troops have taken in response, have angered and terrified Iraqis, who now face election conditions that have made an obstacle course of the process, at every stage."

Paralyzing fear? We saw that didn't we!!?? Of course, it's all about the "harsh measures" by the US, right? Why not say the truth, that the entire country was silent as the US pummeled Fallujah. Sistani gave the green light and left to London while the US smashed Sadr. Do you think the US does this on its own!? Dishonest, again.

- Then that one guy he quotes about the Shiites being chameleons. That was simply revolting.

- The very best one: The anonymous Sunni guy who wanted Saddam back! Burns never says where he's from, if he's a Tikriti, a former Baathi... Who is this guy? Burns presents him as a faceless "average Iraqi."

Same for the Abu Mustapha guy who for Burns is the final arbiter on what Iraqi "tradition and culture" is!! Notice how Burns fills that caveat for his readers! Repugnant. And notice the division of Shiites and Sunnis, with the Shiites being "chameleons," and the pro-Saddam Sunnis coming across as adherents to the tradition and culture! Spare me.

- He again returns to postponing the elections!! Unbelievable. That's reporting!? Write an op-ed. Don't camouflage this position under the guise of a report.

- The other shoe drops on the Shiites: the threat of theocratic rule by clerics loyal to Iran! This is precisely the bogeyman of Sunni Arab nationalist propaganda. And of course the bit on how the Iranians are the winners. The "cunning" Iranians (not the "stupid" Bush).

- Then the jab at Bush being "rigid" put forth as an Iraqi complaint, while it's clearly an internal issue in the US. Cf. the reference to the Taliban as the cherry on top!

This is a piece unbecoming to Burns.

A New Beginning

I will not say anything about the Iraqi elections that just took place, not because I think they're irrelevant (I don't), or because I think the constitution drafting that follows matters more, or any of that stuff. I won't say anything because nothing I can say can match the pride and joy and courage of the Iraqis who are given the chance for the first time to shape their own future, and they're seizing it snubbing all the death threats and the carnage. All the power to them. In fact, even this piece by Michael Ignatieff, while making some good and gratifing points (though not without its share of paradoxical nonsense, such as how Bush managed to turn democracy into a "disreputable slogan"), somehow rings hollow.

For firsthand reactions, see for instance this post by the guys at ITM. See also their brother's post over at "Free Iraqi." For more, click on the various links on ITM's Iraqi blogroll. See also this story about the experience of an Iraqi-Israeli who cast his vote in Jordan (Pssst, Juanito! Here's your in to claim "Neocon/Likudnik" meddling in the Iraqi vote!). Then, if you must, compare that determination (people walking for miles, some on crutches, many senior citizens, defying terrorist threats and bombings, etc.) and how the Iraqis view these elections and what they mean to them (the emotional reactions, etc.) with Juan Cole's characterization of the elections as "a joke." I would like to see how "the Iraqi mainstream" that Cole supposedly knows inside out, feels about that statement. Needless to say, everyone knows who the real joke is, "expertise" and all.

Addendum: See the nice round-ups by Arthur Chrenkoff and Jeff Jarvis.

Meanwhile, what does the Nutty Professor have to say? "[I]f the turnout is as light in the Sunni Arab areas as it now appears, the parliament/ constitutional assembly is going to be extremely lopsided. It would be sort of like having an election in California where the white Protestants all stayed home and the legislature was mostly Latinos, African-Americans and Asians."

This is either a stupid statement, or a dishonest one. Cole knows that there have been extensive talks (see my "Iraqi Sunnis and the Lebanon Model" post) about a post-election Sunni participation in the constitution drafting process, regardless of the turn-out in the elections. Furthermore, the major two communities (Shiites and Kurds) have reached out to the Sunnis with all kinds of offers and guarantees (set-asides, etc.) to make sure they participate and feel that they have a say and a stake in the future of Iraq (among those making efforts to bring in the Sunnis is Chalabi). Also, the motion first fought for by the Kurds to get a veto to counter a possible tyranny of the majority will now benefit the Sunnis as well (see again my above-mentioned post and the links therein). Furthermore, according to this NYT story, the Sunni turn-out in some districts with large Sunni populations exceeded expectations:

    The figure [57%] was based on national returns, Mr. Ayar said, and included the provinces of Anbar and Nineveh, which have large Sunni populations. The predicted low turnout in Anbar, a hotspot of Sunni resistance to the American occupation, was exceeded to such an extent that extra voting materials had to be rushed to outlying villages, where long lines were formed at polling stations, Mr. Ayar said.

So once again, move along folks, nothing to see here, just a rambling sourpuss poseur.

Update: Greg Djerejian resolves to delete Cole from his blogroll after reading his latest "sour drivel":

    [H]is quasi-pathological distrust and hate of the Bushies has greatly reduced his credibility. Why? Because he too often appears to be rooting for this Administration's policy objectives to fail.
    ...
    Believe it or not, some of his policy moves can and do advance the cause of human liberty every now and again. Today was such a day. Cole would have done himself a favor by showing some magnanimity and judiciousness by acknowledging that. Instead, he's further embarrasing himself by penning such sour drivel [quote from Cole's latest post: "I'm just appalled by the cheerleading tone of US news coverage of the so-called elections in Iraq on Sunday."]
    ...
    How shabby, ungenerous and low. Meanwhile, I would look forward to an explication of Cole's methodology regarding how each of the Pakistani election of 2002 and the Iranian one of 1997 were "much more democratic" than today's in Iraq. Regardless, read all of Cole's post to get a full flavor of the hoops he will jump through to deny Bush any credit at all for what took place today. It's quite, er, breathtaking.

Be sure to read in the comments section the one by Thibaud. Here's a slice:

    I cannot believe that the head of the Middle Eastern Studies Association is ignorant of the difference between a referendum and a party-list election for a constituent assembly. Or that he is not capable of calculating that California white protestants are not 20% of the state's population but 50%.

    Cole is a small, mean-spirited little man whose hatred for the Bush administration is distorting his judgment. We expect better of a leading scholar.

Also, make sure to read the link in Greg's post to David Bernstein's piece on Cole's "Likud-Baiting" (which I commented on in my "JC Spreads the Love" post below).

Jumblat's Sarcasm

I just saw this piece in the Lebanese An-Nahar (Arabic). It includes some statements by Druze leader, and member of the opposition, Walid Jumblat. One section was of particular interest as it related his position on the Shebaa Farms and Israel.

You need to understand a couple of things before reading this. Jumblat, while a pragmatic politician, is also the product of an era and its ideology (he's a faithful reader of The Nation for instance!). So naturally, based on both these points (ideology and pragmatism as a politician concerned with internal coalition and survival), he will not go out on a limb for Israel. At the same time, if you read the statement carefully, it's quite a departure from his earlier rhetoric. Here's my translation of the relevant sections:

    I wonder what harm it would bring if the Syrian government approached the Lebanese government and together drew the borders and presented a document to the International Court or the UN stating that Shebaa is Lebanese? Sure it's Lebanese, however if you go back to history, in certain circumstances, perhaps political and military, the Syrian authorities seized Shebaa in the 50's and 60's and since then it remained without clear borders. [emphasis added]

    Today we're facing the UN and we want together to protect Hizbullah in its principal fight [which is] to liberate Shebaa. However, in order to protect that position, we have to assert and draw the borders for Shebaa and Mkhayleh and other areas so that the aliby of reclaiming Shebaa, peacefully or militarily, would be a logical aliby, no more no less. [emphasis added]

    We've not attacked the legitimacy of Hizbullah['s attempt at] reclaiming Shebaa in the past and we won't in the future, nor have we attacked the right of Hizbullah or others to resist. However, we are entitled to ask, after Shebaa, where to? If, as official propaganda puts it, as in the case in the president's response to Gebran Tueini's op-ed in An-Nahar, that Shebaa is a stage on the way to the Golan then Palestine, then fine, and I've called in the past to open all borders and fronts and to unify all military and political currents from Naqoura to the Golan to the Jordan to Rafah. However, then each one of these countries -- Syria, Jordan and Egypt as well -- should bear the burden and consequences of an Arab-Israeli struggle. I don't accept that Lebanon alone should bear it Lebanon was in the frontline, and that was an honor, since 1968, since the days of "Fatah Land" in 'Arqoub. They want to continue? Fine, no problem, but let all the borders be open to the fighters from Hizbullah and its likes, in order to have a logical, objective, military and political continuity with those in captivity and under Israeli occupation, i.e., our brothers in Palestine. [emphasis added]
    ...
    In order to liberate Shebaa, we need to prove that it's Lebanese or else it will remain under UN resolution 242 and will not be under resolution 425. [emphasis added]
    ...
    I don't think that you [his audience] would accept, under the slogan of the continuation of the Arab-Israeli struggle, to cancel the Lebanese national identity, and for the country to be squandered. [emphasis added]

    I will not accept to compromise on Lebanon's independence and sovereignty, as well as proper and healthy relations with Syria, and there can be diplomatic ties. However, to stay under the thumb like this, that I won't accept. At least out of faithfulness to the legacy of my father, Kamal Jumblat [assassinated by the Syrians]. [emphasis added]
    ...
    Look at the ME ... Lebanon was an oasis of freedoms and breathing lungs, why cancel Lebanon? What's the use?
    ...
    As for President Assad's claim that Syria has institutions, that's fine, and we know that. However, if he'd allow me to say so, Lebanon had institutions as well, but the common secret services [i.e., Syrian with its Lebanese cronies] wrecked these institutions. I can't stay silent on that issue, because Syria's people in Lebanon, who were brought to power by force, have destroyed the institutions.
    ...
    Now all of a sudden they remembered the issue of the status of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. That's been a reality since 1948, and it will continue to be until there's a viable Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, which I doubt. We should therefore remove the chains and racist laws against the Palestinians, which prevent them their basic dignity and livelihood, of course, without naturalizing them. In return, it's our right to ask, "what's the use of the Palestinian arms, and against whom are they pointed?" The South has been liberated, and Shebaa will be liberated, so against whom are these arms? Unless of course, some cadres in the intelligence apparatus want to use it against the Palestinian refugees in the camps and against some Lebanese parties. [emphasis added]
    ...
    Let us remain, as Lebanese, free. We don't want to be bossed around by a security officer. The finest Arab elites are migrating to the West and in my opinion they will never return home, because they don't want to go back to prison.

The funny thing reading this from my perspective is how much, in several instances, it echoes the rhetoric of the Christians since the 50's and on throughout the war! To see that Jumblat has come full circle, while encouraging, is also sad on one level. Why didn't you see and say this way back when?

Nevertheless you can see the sarcasm and cynicism when it comes to a pan-Arab unity and struggle against Israel. He said that until you achieve that consensus and decide to open fronts against Israel from your own countries in unison, leave us the hell out of this nonsense! Of course he knows this will never happen. Jordan and Egypt have already signed the peace, so this is a jab at Syria and its aliby for staying in Lebanon and maintaining Hizbullah as a pressure card against Israel without having to open a front from the Golan. There's also a jab against Hizbullah, although it's very politically shrewd as it doesn't burn the bridges. However, when you compare Jumblat's statements on resistance and the Shebaa Farms to Hasan Nasrallah's statements (Arabic) you'll understand the message. Nasrallah, trying to salvage or revive a lost golden moment, says he's open to dialogue with any internal party on any issue save for the resistance and the disarmament of Hizbullah! Like I said before, the clock is ticking for this kind of rhetoric, and the cards are slipping one by one. This is more a statement to the Shiite community in order to maintain a constituency for the upcoming elections: we're the resistance party, don't forget that! Oh, it's Israel that's behind UNSCR 1559! Furthermore, Jumblat's point on the Palestinian refugees is also a jab, as Nasrallah raised the demagogic (and sectarian) point of the Palestnians being naturalized and staying in Lebanon, instead of going back to a liberated Palestine. Overall, Nasrallah was calling for blood and resistance, and Jumblat was saying "you want to do that, fine, but then every Arab state should be involved, including Syria, from the Golan, and not just Lebanon." This kind of rhetoric is very hollow now in Lebanon. This is an inter-Shiite fight over constituency and relevance than anything else. Also, the defensive tone is indicative. That's how I read Jumblat's dismissal in his statements of a Christian-Druze-Sunni alliance that will leave the Shiites out in the cold. I had made reference to this in my post "Word to the Wise." He's making sure his hand remains extended to include Hizbullah in the process so that they don't get used by Syria to thwart a united national opposition. These are very tricky times for Hizbullah. They need to tread very carefully and juggle several balls: the Shiite community and their relevance there in the face of other Shiite parties, the broader Lebanese society and the Lebanese political game and their relevance there in the face of formidable Shiite opponents, and then regionally vis à vis Syria (but also Iran). Let's wait and see.

Jumblat's talk had a lot of references to his dead father, who was killed by the Syrians in 1977. All of this is innuendo against the Syrians and, I think, a real personal issue that has surfaced in him and converged with his political decision to oppose Syria's interference in Lebanon (not just in political and military institutions, but also in the judiciary, the business sector, the education sector, the entertainment sector, the media, etc.). As he himself says, he's fed up with the nonsense, and he's using the opportunity to vent, among everything else, about his father's assassination.

Finally, à propos the Shebaa Farms, a UNSCR drafted by France and co-sponsored by the US, Britain, Denmark and Greece just came out deciding that the Farms belong to Syria and not Lebanon. Therefore, Israel has fully complied with UNSCR 425 which called for the withdrawal of Israel to the UN-delineated blue line border. This is what Jumblat was talking about with regard to the applicability of UNSCR 425, and now it's been settled internationally, and Syria lost another card, theoretically at least. Let's he how this translates on the ground.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Missing the Point in Iraq

Michael Young discusses some of the issues I've touched on here in my post "Iraqi Sunnis and the Lebanon Model":

    This focus on the U.S. seems to me basically irrelevant to gauging a successful election or not. The real issue is how the Iraqis, who don't give a damn about how the whole thing plays out in Kalamazoo, will interpret their election--I repeat, their election. How many Iraqis vote is far less important than the fact that a truly Iraqi parliament will emerge from the process to write a constitution (which will indeed spur the "insurgents" to escalate their bloodletting, since nothing worries them more than the threat of a potentially legitimate Iraqi--not U.S.-appointed--authority).


    Yes, Sunni participation is an important issue, but not in the way people presume. If a post-election regime can shape a compromise system that gives all Iraqi communities a stake in the new political order, then two things may well happen: the aftereffects of a low participation level may soon be erased by the more urgent matter of communal compromise; and the fearful Sunnis may begin disagreeing with themselves over how to deal with the new authority. Already there are several reports of Sunni election boycotters who have made it clear they intend to negotiate with a new post-election parliament and regime. America, for them, is completely secondary at this stage.

Couldn't agree more.

Update: Martin Kramer shares his cautious and sober thoughts on the Iraqi elections. The way I read his post, it really dovetails nicely with Michael's comment above with regard to this being the Iraqis' time to take charge, and that the real deal (as I said in my "Iraqi Sunnis and the Lebanon Model" post) is the constitution drafting process, where the communities will have to sit down and decide what kind of country and coexistence they want for themselves. (By the way, this is by no means a call for a "timetable" for a withdrawal or any of that stuff.)

This has been the position put forward by Michael (followed by me). While we knew that the Iraqis themselves wouldn't have been able to gain their freedom by themselves, the ensuing post-Saddam narrative was theirs and theirs alone to write. That also means not drowning once again in the sewer of the Arab nationalist narrative, but forging an Iraqi one. But this means, as Michael recently pointed out, that the "Iraqization" policy floated early on by the INC (and voiced by Makiya and Chalabi -- the "Pentagon man") wasn't just a load of hot air. Just to be clear.

Fresst Mich!

OK, this kind of nonsense irritates the hell out of me for its incredible self-importance and self-centeredness, let alone is dishonesty. The fact that Tom Friedman is entertaining this garbage as "words of wisdom" or "legitimate grievances" is even more annoying. Here's what I'm talking about:

    Tim Kreutzfeldt, the bar owner, said to me: "Bush
    took away our America. I mean we love America. We
    are very sad about America. We believe in America
    and American values, but not in Bush. And it makes
    us angry that he distorted our image of the country
    which is so important to us. It is not what America
    stands for - and this makes us angry and it should
    make every American angry, because America lost so
    much in its reputation worldwide." The Bush team, he
    added, is giving everyone in the world the impression
    that "somebody is coming to kill you."

I can't find any other way to describe this pile of Eurotrash except as self-centered bullshit. Here's a slice of reality to Herr Kreutzfeldt: you are not the center of the universe. No one cares about "your" America. You have been living free of dictatorship and totalitarianism for close to twenty years now. The Iraqis don't get to experience that so that "your" precious fantasy of America doesn't get ruined? Here's a news flash: the "new" America that "makes you angry"? Well it's that America that the Iraqis, and as Mr. Friedman pointed out last week, the Iranians are looking up to. It's that America, and that Bush, that brought to the Iraqis what it brought you, and what the Iranian people are hoping it brings them as well (again, I refer you to Mr. Friedman's op-ed from last week).

The Iraqis don't seem to share that cretin's assessment on how "the Bush team is giving everyone in the world the impression that 'somebody is coming to kill you.'" No, that was the impression the Iraqis lived with for thirty years under Saddam before the US took out that regime.

So, in the end, excuse me if I don't give a hoot about Kreutzfeldt's fantasy land being defiled! Have a Weissbier and go to bed in your lovely free country courtesy of the US (but apparently, a courtesy that should only be extended to Germans!). The Iraqis and the Iranians and ME liberals think that this is precisely what the US should stand for. Exactly what Bush outlined in his speech. They've been waiting for that to become reality and not mere rhetoric for decades. Who cares if that bothers some shithead in Berlin? I'll be damned if our freedom should be stalled so that he can enjoy his wet dream!

If that's not enough, there are the words of wisdom from a certain Herr Elfenbein:

    We had hope that Kerry would win and would make a
    statement, 'America is back to what it was four years
    ago.' We hoped that he would be the symbol, the
    figure who would say, '[America] is the country that
    welcomes everybody again.' [But] now we have to
    wait four more years, hopefully for somebody to give
    us back the country we knew and liked."

This guy is apparently clueless about the change 9/11 brought. (It's arguable that Kerry is too, but that's another story.) The notion that we can "go back" is a hilarious utopian fantasy. But that's it isn't it? The entire Old Europe is in fantasy land. But once again, "going back" is precisely what every Iraqi (and Iranian and ME liberal) hopes the US does not do! Can you imagine the fantasy of an Iraqi being to "go back" to a policy of status quo that keeps Saddam's boot (and his torture chambers) over their necks!? Would any Lebanese want the US to "go back" to a policy of appeasement and status quo with Syria, keeping the moukhabarat running their country and their lives? Are you kidding me?!

Finally, if you'd allow me, I would like to use an old parable to make a point. In the Gospel of Matthew, there is a story of a landowner going out to hire workers to work in his vineyard for the day, at the rate of a denarius per day. However, he doesn't hire them all at the same time. Some are hired early in the morning, others in the third hour, the sixth, the ninth, and others in the eleventh. Then at the end of the day, he summoned the workers to pay them, and paid them all the same amount. Those who had worked longer were upset, expecting more money. They grumbled against the landowner: ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us.'

“But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”


The sin, so to speak, of the disgruntled and ungrateful workers is that had it none been for the sheer haphazard choice of the landowner, and not their own merit, they could have stayed out there waiting for work all day (like those who had to wait till the eleventh hour not knowing whether they would get hired, and thus get to eat). The landowner didn't pick them based on some inherent quality or previous knowledge. So for them to be disgruntled that others got the opportunity they got (instead of rejoicing with them and for them), reveals their internal ugliness.

So in the end, the only thing I can say to these fellows is, fresst meine Lederhosen, meine sehr geehrte Herren!

Addendum: Reason's Charles Paul Freund once commented on the dishonest "lost admiration" of Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine. Much of the same nonsense. For the same kind of Occidentalist drivel as Chahine's, see this piece of junk by the overrated Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish.

Addendum 2: I forgot to include what I think is a crucial point and that is *US Policy*. What the US did with Germany under Reagan was a policy based on *US interests*, not pandering to some fantasy. Similarly, what the US under Bush is doing today is a policy of democratization in the ME based on *US interests*. Let's never forget that.

Addendum 3: You think these German dudes were bad? Take a look at these lovely Spaniards.

So let me get this straight. People in the West wanted to send human shields to effectively keep Saddam in power, but they're demonstrating against Iraqi elections!? The last will be first, and the first will be last.

Friday, January 28, 2005

JC Spreads the Love

Juan Cole had an orgasm today when he heard that Doug Feith won't be serving in President Bush's second term. Of course, JC couldn't leave well enough alone, so he went on one of his world-famous rants. Here's a slice of the action:

    Having a Likudnik as the number three man in the
    Pentagon is a nightmare for American national
    security, since Feith could never be trusted to put US
    interests over those of Ariel Sharon. In the build-up
    to the Iraq War, Feith had a phalanx of Israeli
    generals visiting him in the Pentagon and ignored
    post-9/11 requirements that they sign in. Israeli
    Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was a vocal advocate of
    a US war against Iraq, who "put pressure" on
    Washington about it. (If Sharon wanted a war against
    Iraq, why didn't he fight it himself instead of pushing
    it off on American boys?)

So, according to the Nutty Professor, the Iraq war is really the result of pressure by Sharon and Israeli generals, who managed to pump false intelligence through that treacherous "Likudnik" (whatever the hell that means), Doug Feith! Beside the fact that this means that Cole and Sharon actually agreed on going to war in Iraq, the fact of the matter is that there's evidence that contradicts the theory (prevalent in conspiracy circles and the Arab world) that the Israelis were really the puppet-masters in this war (leaving aside the variation on the ancient stereotype of Jews pulling the strings behind the scenes, especially to conduct wars). But had JC bothered to care what the Israelis were actually saying, he would have come across, for instance, this story by Barbara Demick in the LA Times (back in Oct 2002!) which quotes, among others, Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon who said that he "[doesn't] lose any sleep over Iraq" as he believes that "Iraq's offensive abilities have been reduced since the Gulf War." Moshe Arens agreed.

The story goes on to quote Brigadier General Aharon Levran:

    "Saddam Hussein, a weakling as he is today, is in
    Israel's interests," said Aharon Levran, a brigadier
    general in Israel's reserve army and author of a book
    about the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Levran, one of the
    more outspoken Israeli critics of Bush's policy on
    Iraq, says Baghdad is no longer capable of anything
    more than a border skirmish.

    "A war against Iraq will divert the United States from
    its clear-cut campaign against Islamic fanaticism,"
    Levran said. "And if it fails, we in Israel will pay the
    price."

That sounds more like Ted Kennedy, or the post-flip flop JC! The story goes on to confirm this basic line: "Several high-ranking Israeli military officers have voiced doubts about American and British assessments of the threat posed by Iraq and in particular how quickly Iraq could develop nuclear weapons."

Then there's Barry Rubin. Rubin, who had written a piece in the Jerusalem Post entitled "U.S. Attack on Iraq: Good or Bad for the Jews?" cited three reasons why an attack would not be good for Israel. (This is an assessment that I've heard from several of my Lebanese analyst friends, who are not under the spell of Saidian stupidity). Nevertheless, the LAT story goes on to say, "[t]here is no doubt that Israel would be delighted to see the last of Hussein. The Iraqi leader has been an unwavering archenemy of Israel's, unleashing fierce rhetoric against the "Zionist entity," as he calls it, in nearly every speech." But wait a minute, once again, this was also Cole's position! Back in February of 2003, Cole wrote:

    I am an Arabist and happen to know something
    serious about Baathist Iraq, which paralyzes me from
    opposing a war for regime change in that country.

Furthermore, he shared the exact same concern as most average Israelis:

    [T]he possibility that Iraq will develop enough in the
    way of weapons of mass destruction to break out of
    containment and to attempt to gain popularity by
    attacking yet another of its neighbors, perhaps
    Turkey or Israel. The aggressive, militaristic nature
    of the Saddam Hussein regime makes such a
    scenario, however unlikely, at least plausible.

However, Cole seems to have been more concerned about this than the "Israeli generals" that supposedly were lodging in Feith's office! One wonders what the hell kind of information they were "feeding" him!

In fact, the story shows that the real concern for the Israelis (as it is today for the rest of the world) was Iran. But have no fear, Cole has that covered! True to his stereotype that Jews control US policy, Cole wrote that "if Sharon and AIPAC decide that they need the US government to take military action against Iran, it is likely that the U.S. government will do so."

Sure, why not!? It'll give Sharon an opportunity to send "American boys" to do his dirty deed for him as he supposedly did with Iraq! Only Cole thought that all the sacrifices made in Iraq were worth it!

But putting the insanity aside, Cole is once again freely accusing people of treason and dual-loyalty. Furthermore, he's hiding bigotted stereotypes under a thin veil of political categories ("the Likud" and "Neocons"). He once howled at those who "have attempted to argue that the very term 'Neoconservative' is a code word for derogatory attitudes toward Jews." He contended that "this argument is mere special pleading and a playing of the race cared (sic), however, insofar as only a tiny percentage of American Jews are Neoconservatives, and only a tiny percentage of Neoconservatives are Jews." (Emphasis added.)

Proving that this is a dishonest attempt at backtracking is very easy, since before making that statement, Cole had already written how Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin, who although he himself "is not Jewish" (imagine that!), had "strong association with the predominantly Jewish neoconservatives." (Emphasis added.) Once again, as many times before, Cole is caught with his pants on fire, and his foot in his mouth.

But the funniest part is his conclusion where he "reminds" his readers how not all Jews support the Likud, and not all Jews support the Iraq war. What is this? A fatwa to his faithful followers: "kids, we shouldn't detest and suspect all Jews, just those who support the Likud and the Iraq war! Keep the love!"?

This dangerous dichotomy is one among several that float around in the propaganda of groups like Hizbullah and Hamas. The variation there is that Hizbullah has no beef with Oriental Jews, just the European and Russian ones who "don't belong here." (A more dangerous corollary is that any Israeli who supports the Likud, and thus voted for Sharon, is somehow "fair game" which is another argument floated around by terrorist groups in the ME.) But more than that, to appreciate the preposterous nature of Cole's statement, simply translate it into the American context and you'll have something like "not all Americans deserve to be despised or distrusted, just those who vote Republican (not to mention the 51% who voted Bush) and the majority that supported the Iraq war." (Of course, that latter group included at one point the professor himself!)

You simply gotta love this crazy dude!

Addendum: See this old piece by Lee Smith on the subject.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Syria and the Iraqi Elections

Here's a piece on Syria and the Iraqi elections. One thing that's not explicitly stated is that the Syrians don't want a system that legitimizes ethnopolitics nor do they want to see the elimination of the idea of minority rule over a clear majority. Both scenarios put the Alawites in charge in a tight spot. To better understand the Alawite dilemma (vis à vis the Sunnis), read these two pieces by Josh Landis. I am currently thinking about a post on the issue of minority rule in the ME. It'll be based on this excellent presentation by Martin Kramer and this summary of the presentation by his co-panelist, Syrian intellectual Ammar Abdulhamid. The post will hopefully also take into consideration some of the issues raised in Amy Chua's book World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability (New York: Anchor Books, 2004), especially the concept of "market-dominant minorities."

Young on Iraqi Elections

Michael Young writes on the Iraqi elections in today's Daily Star, and echoes some of the points I raised in my previous post ("Iraqi Sunnis and the Lebanon Model"):

    Legitimacy will also be drawn from the fact that
    governing institutions, regardless of how many
    people approved of them or not, tend to develop a
    credibility over time that confounds those focusing on
    the fine print. The new Iraqi parliament will write a
    constitution, name a new government and prepare for
    elections next December. Over time, self-
    marginalized groups will see the escalating dangers
    of remaining outside the game. Indeed, some Sunni
    representatives have already expressed such fears.
    The Sunni dread of falling afoul of the insurgents will
    hit up against a realization that the community should
    avoid deleting itself from Iraq's future.

Furthermore, Young, in what can be dubbed a political credo of sorts, hands it to finicky Arab liberals and pseudo-liberals (and Western Leftists):

    What happens this Sunday will be a test for Iraq and
    the U.S., but it will also be a test for those Arab
    liberals who cannot find a nice thing to say about the
    American presence in Iraq. The elections are not
    about the Bush administration and its
    neoconservatives, or about American neo-imperialism
    -- to apply the catchphrases of the day; they are
    about whether an Arab society can engage in a more
    or less democratic endeavor against the will of a
    hardened minority of cutthroats playing off Sunni
    fears, and against the preferences of the autocratic
    regimes that pullulate in the Middle East.  Unless
    Arab liberals grasp this straightforward reality, they
    will continue to miss the point in Iraq and, worse,
    remain utterly irrelevant in their own struggles
    against homegrown despots. Many have made the
    issue the U.S., when it has always been about how
    Iraqi Arabs and Kurds could exploit inside and outside
    pressures to improve their foul situation. Most Iraqis
    have no intention of becoming Washington's puppets,
    but unlike a majority of the diffident liberals in Arab
    societies, early on they realized they could use
    American power to their advantage without
    succumbing to it.

Amen. Now you understand why I find the framing of the debate in the US in terms of how one feels about Bush so irrelevant.

Addendum: Wretchard touches on the internal debate in the US in this very interesting post.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

WWJD?

Juan Cole is attempting a career change from hysterical blogger-professor-activist to fantasy speech writer with lame rhetorical techniques. In this recent post, rhetor megas JC employs his rhetorical skills to construct the speech that "Bush should have given." If your eye is twitching à la Chief Inspector Dreyfuss of the Pink Panther series, do not be alarmed. It's a perfectly normal reaction to extremely annoying lameness.

But instead of constructing a Bush speech out of sheer fantasy, I thought it would be better to see WWJD? What Would Juan Do ... in his own actual words.

Instead of...

    Then, this Iraq War that I want you to authorize as
    part of the War on Terror is going to be costly in
    American lives. By the time of my second inaugural,
    over 1,300 brave women and men of the US armed
    forces will be dead as a result of this Iraq war, and
    10,371 will have been maimed and wounded, many of
    them for life. America's streets and homeless
    shelters will likely be flooded, down the line, with
    some of these wounded vets. They will have
    problems finding work, with one or two limbs gone
    and often significant psychological damage. They will
    have even more trouble keeping any jobs they find.
    They will be mentally traumatized the rest of their
    lives by the horror they are going to see, and
    sometimes commit, in Iraq. But, well we've got a
    saying in Texas. I think you've got in over in
    Arkansas, too. You can't make an omelette without
    . . . you gotta break some eggs to wrassle up some
    breakfast.

... how about JC's own words from March, 2003?

    I remain convinced that, for all the concerns one
    might have about the aftermath, the removal of
    Saddam Hussein and the murderous Baath regime
    from power will be worth the sacrifices that are about
    to be made on all sides. The rest of us have a
    responsibility to work to see that the lives lost are
    redeemed by the building of a genuinely democratic
    and independent Iraq in the coming years.

Or, instead of this pathetic paragraph...

    So why do I want to go to war? Look, folks, I'm just
    not going to tell you. I don't have to tell you. There is
    little transparency about these things in the
    executive, because we're running a kind of rump
    empire out of the president's office. After 20 or 30
    years it will all leak out. Until then, you'll just have to
    trust me.

... let's hear it from JC himself why we went to war:

    The risks of peace therefore include: continued lack
    of good security in the Persian Gulf region, imperiling
    both the people who live there and the assured
    access to energy supplies on the part of the US and
    its allies; the continued brutalization of the Iraqi
    population by a totalitarian regime that has conducted
    virtual genocide against Kurds and Shi'ites; the
    continued demonization of the United States in the
    region and in the Muslim world for the negative
    effects of the sanctions regime; the possibility that
    Iraq will develop enough in the way of weapons of
    mass destruction to break out of containment and to
    attempt to gain popularity by attacking yet another of
    its neighbors, perhaps Turkey or Israel. The
    aggressive, militaristic nature of the Saddam Hussein
    regime makes such a scenario, however unlikely, at
    least plausible.

Well that takes care of uncle Dick and aunt Condi, and that ever-so-sinister Jew, Paul Wolfowitz! (Notice he left out uncle Colin. He's kosher, ooops, er, he's good people.) Oh, and that "aggressive, militaristic" regime? That's the same "secular Arab nationalist" regime that was supposedly so loath of Salafist elements, or, according to Cole's definition, religion in general. Of course, "secular" and "nationalist" sound much better! The conventional "expertise" of JC aside, some see it quite differently, including one specialist on Syria's Baath known as Joshua Landis. (See also this earlier post of mine with its comments and quotes on Arab nationalism and Islam.)

To say that Cole is a pathetic, hypocritical, dishonest lamoid would be a futile excercise in tautology, as we've grown quite accustomed to his insane musings and his cheap shrill demagoguery. As Wretchard (Belmont Club) recently put it, JC's site is:

    [A] reliable thermometer of Leftist temper ... It
    should be the website of a respectable academic but
    it's a shrine to half-forgotten causes and a casket of
    exorcisms against half-apprehended devils.

So I guess the best advice to give JC (aka "the thermometer") would be to simmer down, lest he blows ... hard.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Wheels of Inevitability?

Check out this excellent post by Wretchard of Belmont Club.

Iraqi Sunnis and the Lebanon Model

Is anyone really surprised to hear this? Not if you were a Lebanese.

Back in the early 90's, in the heyday of Syrian hegemony, the Aounist faction decided to boycott the elections due to the Syrian presence. Guess what? The elections went ahead and the Aounists found themselves out of the government and irrelevant. They then realized that they had to join in if they were to have any influence, and they did, and their candidate almost won in one instance in Baabda where the victory would have been highly symbolic. At the time Walid Jumblat's influence in the Chouf was the only reason why they lost. But now things have changed and the Aounists and Jumblat are part of the same opposition, and now even the government is trying to cajole Aoun (whom until recently it wanted to prosecute for treason!) in order to break the opposition! In all likelihood, the Aounists, who are by no means the strongest faction in the opposition or the Christian community, are going to be players with seats in the government via normal elections (as opposed to a sell-out deal). The same applies to the Lebanese Forces, the formidable Christian party which was banned by the Syrians.

As Fouad Ajami recently wrote on Iraq, reason will hopefully, if not likely, prevail:

    [A]fter the wrath and the terror are spent, after the
    Sunni mainstream in Mosul and Fallujah and Baghdad
    comes to a recognition that there can be no
    conceivable return to the ways of the past, there may
    come a choice in favor of sobriety and reason.

What the Sunnis will hopefully learn is what the Lebanese have hopefully learned: your country is a consociational democracy. Communities deal and bargain and manage to live together, no matter how uneasy that experience is. The difference in Iraq is that there is a clear majority, something that is alien to Lebanon. The Shiites' moderation is therefore essential in all of this, but more importantly, a consitution that prevents a tyranny of the majority is essential, which is what the Kurds have been asking for. This is why the focus is on the consitution. There needs to be a formula that accomodates all. This was the essence of the National Pact in Lebanon, and despite being criticized (sometimes rightly) for so long, it's now proving to be an enlightened formula that tried to find a balance between the communities that make up the country. That's what's being negotiated in Iraq, and suddenly the Lebanon model is not all that bad! Hell, even Juan Cole called for a "set aside," a guaranteed percentage for the Sunnis in parliament (although he wanted it to be an exceptional, one time thing, which is counterproductive in my view)! You can't get any more Lebanon than that!

The Iraqis will find their way I'm sure. Even the violence is part of the negotiation, as unfortunate and ill-advised as it is. Let's just hope the rage Ajami talked about passes soon and sobriety takes over. That would be a huge success for everyone.

Addendum: I forgot to include this piece by Michael Young on the subject. Make sure you read it. See also this discussion between Young and Josh Landis.

Update: Spencer Ackerman has a similar analysis vis-à-vis the Sunnis and the necessity for moderation on the Shiites' part. However, I'm not sure I agree with his point that "the surest way for a Shia government to win Sunni investment in the process" is to negotiate a US withdrawal. I think the Shiites are very much relying on the US to maintain order, and safeguard against an attempt by the Sunnis to retake control, for the near future. Witness how they relied on the US to smack around Muqtada and how they sat quietly as Fallujah was bombarded. But maybe I'm wrong. For more on this and related matters, see this post by Greg Djerejian over at Belgravia Dispatch.

Mother Russia, Save Me!

I'm sorry, but this now borders on the pathetic. The Syrian regime is reaping the harvest of its stupid political mistakes. Finding itself totally isolated, the Assad regime sends its resident opthalmologist to try to find a sympathetic ear ... in Russia.

The young Assad's regime in its short-sightedness has managed to alienate the EU, and of course, the US. It in fact did what most people thought impossible: it managed to bring Fance and the US to agree on an issue ... the complete withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon! So now, struggling to find a way out of the hole it dug for itself, the Syrian regime is reaching out to Russia:

    "Russia is a great power, and it carries great
    responsibilities for world affairs" ... "Thus Russia
    has to help stabilize the situation in the Middle East,"
    Assad said.

The Syrians are facing real challenges that could make them a regional nobody. The Turks already got Alexandretta. Iraq, with its 150,000 US troops, is a nightmare for them. Lebanon, while it might not be out of their orbit anytime in the near future, has launched a serious challenge -- backed by the US, the EU, and a UN resolution -- to Syrian control. This leaves the Golan. However, given Syria's extreme weakness, and its loss of important political cards, Assad is now staring at the possibility of never seeing the Golan under Syrian control again. Add to that a country in economic shambles, which, though sheer political brilliance, has managed to anger the only side willing to help it economically: the EU (namely France). Chirac has consistently lent a lifeline to Assad only to be rewarded with slaps in the face on economical deals and in Lebanon. So now Assad gets the shaft.

With a decrepit economy and a joke of a military, Assad finds a partner in Putin:

    Putin further underscored the importance Moscow
    attaches to Damascus by saying Russia planned to
    "use the Syrian route" to influence the Middle East
    peace process.

More than that, the Syrians are trying to get the Russians to help with the debt, the economy, and the military (considering that under Hafez Assad, and the "good old days" of the Cold War -- where people like FM Farouq al-Sharaa seem to be stuck mentally -- the Russians were the main source for all three).

They're not likely to get anything militarily, the US is apparently making sure of that:

    [A]n Israeli official said U.S. pressure has prompted
    Russia to reconsider plans to sell the missiles to
    Syria.
    ...
    Whether Russia intended to sell the missiles is
    unclear but analysts agree now the deal is unlikely
    to go through.

But like I said, this is apparently a mutually convenient opportunity:

    Kommersant said Moscow was ready to write off $10
    billion of that debt while retaining its Syrian military
    port that now serves as Russia's only foreign naval
    outpost in the world.

    Analysts say Moscow is most concerned about
    keeping its communication lines in the region open
    and Syria presents the best viable option.

    Some analysts said Russia fears Syria is slowly
    warming up to the United States, and that its main
    Middle Eastern contact will be lost down the line.

The return to the old Comrades for help is completing a full-circle! But how much the Russians can do remains to be seen, and I'm not sure it amounts to much. Putin has just come off a defeat in Ukraine, and I'm not sure he wants to have another confrontation with the Bush administration on Syria. Sure the Russians have interests in Syria, but it all has to weighed properly. They might help with the debt, and get something back for it, but I'm not sure if they'll be able to ride it for regional relevance.

Speaking of which, the regional relevance of the Syrians is quickly shrinking, which is why Assad is begging to start negotiations with Israel. However, he also wants Lebanon. He's unlikely to get his wish, if the current international position holds. What the Syrians want is to buy time. There's no better way to do that than with "negotiations" and "peace talks." As Michael Young put it (see my "Word to the Wise" post below), they should not be allowed to maneuver this way. Their withdrawal from Lebanon should be the condition for the resumption of talks (and not a final agreement) with the Israelis on the Golan. The old Cold War days are over, no matter how many trips to Russia they have planned.

Farouq al-Sharaa still doesn't want to accept this change. But he's getting a taste of it. He recently went on CNN and for the first time gave a timetable (not really!) for a withdrawal of the troops (nothing about the intelligence and security apparatus of course) from Lebanon. The Lebanese opposition, which until recently was begging the Syrians for precisely that timetable, gave him a mouthful! It's no longer enough. The Taef is all of a sudden no longer the standard: UN resolution 1559 is now the starting point! Witness opposition member MP Nassib Lahoud's statement:

    Metn MP Nassib Lahoud also commented on Sharaa's
    statement, saying that Syria's real problem was with
    the UN.

    "The UN has issued its decision (1559) so let Sharaa
    act as he sees fit," Lahoud said.

Or note Jumblat's remarks that "it changes nothing." Behold the brilliance of the young lion cub! He practically undid everything his father carefully constructed in Lebanon! Needless to say, the change in US policy and its war in Iraq are directly responsible.

While I maintain that maybe the change will not be all too drastic in Lebanon in the near future, the Syrian edifice there is being seriously challenged. The puppet government in Lebanon is trying to break the opposition but it's being forced to concede lots of ground. Recently, Jumblat threatened to take the government to reckoning at the UN if they try to tailor the election law to their advantage. Furthermore, the international community keeps reminding the Lebanese and the Syrians that it will be monitoring the elections closely, and that 1559 is not going away.

So, to save face, the Syrians need the Golan. But like I said, this hinges on two things: 1- abandoning Lebanon to a large degree (they won't be able to fully abandon it anytime in the near future. Too much is at stake, financially and in terms of regional relevance.) 2- Israeli interest.

The worst case scenario would be a serious blow in Lebanon and Israeli intransigence on the Golan. The clock is ticking and the cards keep slipping away. At that point, Mother Russia can do nada, and young Mr. Assad, and his ridiculous FM, will have to bend all the way backwards to their uncle, Sam that is.

Update: Please make sure to read Rich Anderson's comment in the comments section. Rich considers the Palestinian and Iranian issues which I've left out. I would also add that Hizbullah is also no longer a secure card. It's been paralyzed. Its recent strike in the south was met with severe criticism from the Lebanese opposition. It realizes that its heyday as a "resistance" movement is gone. It needs to readjust to the changes in order to maintain relevance on the Lebanese scene, but also on the Shiite scene. It has a growing opposition to Syria to worry about. It has parliamentary seats to worry about. It has the internal Iranian scene (and the outside pressures on Iran) to worry about. It has the changing Syrian role to worry about, etc.

As for his question at the end, I'd say the US has already said it. Remember President Bush's statement that Syria must wait for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement first? "Now Assad needs to wait" I believe were the exact words! Not quite "the beatings will continue until morale improves" but close enough!! For the first time in a while, time is not on their side.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

More on the Armanios Murder Case

Just to show how murky and inconclusive this whole affair is -- and how there's a lot of embellishment and speculation -- here are a bunch of additional reports on the murder.

First, Jihad Watch now claims that "the Hudson County Prosecutors Office has stated that the tattoos were in fact not defaced." This story in the NYT confirms this. Although it must be pointed out that the County Prosecutors Office has not discounted a religious motive either. The NYT story also made the same point I made in the N.B. in my first post on this story:

    Egyptian Muslims often provide a different portrait of life in their homeland,
    characterizing the complaints of Copts as far-fetched or exaggerated.

A lot of this is a carry-over of old-world tensions, due to the incredible discmination faced by Copts in Egypt, as the NYT story makes clear. Another beleaguered Christian minority, the Assyrians, reacts in a similar fashion, as this story in the Assyrian International News Agency shows:

    All the victims were bound before being killed by knife wounds, including
    apparent ritualistic cutting of the throats. (Emphasis added.)

Our impulse shifts to automatic on this issue, again, based on old-world experiences. Recall my point on the Lebanese War of the Mountain. Unfortunately, the US (and the world) is now familiar with this practice from the murders of hostages in Iraq.

But apologetics have already started flying about even when the case remains obscure. There's a bizarre twist that happens in the West in cases of Muslim-Eastern Christian tensions, where -- since we're talking about impulses -- the Western impulse is to immediately assume, based on guilt baggage (that I still can't understand), the victimhood of the Muslim side, and that imparts on the Eastern Christian all the guilt and issues of the Western Christian. This is, in a nutshell, what you'll see in my critique of Dalrymple. Reader Trance pointed to this story where echoes of the kind of quasi-justification seen in the aftermath of the van Gogh murder are detected. For those, see this pathetic piece of junk penned by Issandr el-Amrani of The Arabist Network:

    [T]he incident was blown out of proportion by many on the blogosphere and
    elsewhere, particularly on the right but also on the left. I also did not feel
    that sorry for Van Gogh, who was after all a racist, and did not think he
    deserved the martyr status that many have now bestowed upon him. It’s
    rather strange that Americans, who live in a country with one of the world’s
    highest rates of homicides (and inter-racial gang violence), are so passionate
    about this one.

Similarly, the piece in the Ledger has this quote, pointed out by Trance:

    "His name in the chat room was 'I love Jesus,'" says a man who will identify
    himself only as Aran, although he says he is a cousin of Hossam Armanious'
    and a Coptic Christian as well. "You make people angry that way, but he would
    not stop. It is easy in these rooms to find out where people live."

The story continues to show how the chat rooms are "scary!" But that's the whole point! Just because someone got offended by someone else's view on religion, doesn't mean that the latter person ought to be killed, or worse still, that the said person should "know better!"

But back to my point about the reversal of roles. This piece takes the cake. A Coptic family was slaughtered, and it may very well be for religious reasons, but according to this story the scared victims are the Muslims! No such story would be complete without the most cliché line of them all: "Is Islam on trial?" Or this one by Suzanne Loutfy, a Muslim leader of the Egyptian-American Group, who asked people not to blame Islam if the killers are found to be Muslim:

    "People are so willing to condemn an entire religion," she said. "That's what the
    big problem is. People commit crimes; religions don't. I hope we can be intelligent
    enough to separate those two."

What kind of beside-the-point nonsense is this?! "Religions" can indeed inspire crimes, and (religious) people motivated by religious reasons commit crimes as countless examples show! This dichotomy of theory and praxis runs deep in Islamic intellectual history as has been summarized by Adonis under the categories of "Fixed" and "Variable." What people don't understand is that there is no such Platonic distinction. Religion, as Muslim thinker Soroush once put it, is religious interpretative history. Religion is not a static, stable, unchanging phenomenon, even if Muslims (and others) believe that their scriptures are perfect and immutable and eternal. A religion can be coercive and conservative, backed by a legal tradition that further constrains the subjects -- thus making the perception of unchangeability more convincing -- but religion is dynamic. Religion is the ever-changing history of interpretation. Now, a particular trend or tradition can dominate a religion for a long time (as is the case in Islam) and that tradition can be restrictive and very conservative with problematic results. So please, don't let your intelligence be insulted with these kinds of fake dichotomies. If, as a reader put it, the religions were reversed, we wouldn't have heard the end of it. I mean, even when the victim is not Muslim, victimhood is bestowed on them and the "bigotry" of Christians is chastized!

These groups have a long history of animosity, so spare me the Western guilt. Just because you perceive Western Christianity as "oppressive" to Muslims, it doesn't give you the right to extend that to Eastern Christians. This attitude, as we'll see in my critique of Dalrymple, has condoned a lot of ugliness in the ME. Let's not have it condone them in the US as well, regardless of the identity of the killers.

Update: Rich Anderson shares his thoughts on the matter from Beirut. (Scroll down to the January 22 entry)

Update 2: Here's an interesting piece (hat tip Trance) featuring a brief forensic analysis of sorts by FBI profiler Gregg McCrary:

    Each family member's bound body was found in a different room of the Oakland Avenue home.
    Each bled to death from stab wounds to the neck and had suffered other knife wounds. There
    was no cash in the house, and someone had rifled through drawers and a purse. A "significant"
    amount of jewelry, however, was left untouched.
    ...
    Other elements of the publicly released information also point away from robbery, McCrary said.

    "If we are talking a robbery motive, it would be very uncommon to have such extreme violence
    attached to it," he said. "Killing everybody in a family during a robbery is not common."

    Another factor pointing away from robbery is that all of the family members died from knife
    wounds, which McCrary said is "extremely rare" in a robbery. Most robbers, both experts said,
    prefer the use of firearms because guns allow robbers an easy tool with which to control a
    situation.

    "Knife killing is very close and very personal," McCrary said. "And to do it four times is very cold."

Friday, January 21, 2005

Galloway's Pole

Here's a partial reply to Dr. Emile of the OTR Chronicles. Dr. Emile wrote:

    [W]hen Iraqi bloggers or many pluralists in the entire
    region are casting about for real allies, they find that
    very often the American Right and the Neocons are
    frankly there for them in a way that the left simply is
    not.
    ...
    To people risking their lives, the American Right has
    said YES! and the American Left has said little to
    nothing.

    The reason for this, of course, is that the left and
    liberals in the US are locked into an ideological battle
    with a very powerful and unhinged administration,
    and see everything through that lens. I can't blame
    them for that, really, but I think it's shameful when
    they take it out on Iraqi bloggers.

That's unfortunately not the whole truth. Truth of the matter is that the so-called Left has not simply sat on the fence while the sinister righties lent a hand to the Iraqis. No, the Left, in its (hardly laudable) zeal to oppose anything the Bush administration says or does has actively aligned itself with the worst forces of fascism, totalitarianism and fanaticism. Take for instance this piece on George Galloway. I have featured other such pieces criticizing some truly repugnant statements by Naomi Klein and other luminaries of the Left (see also this recent piece in TNR). (That's why, by the way, I respect people like Paul Berman, and the person who wrote the piece on Galloway linked above.)

"What did you bring me, my dear friends, to keep me from the Gallows Pole?"

You didn't just sit on the fence. Rather: "you laugh and pull so hard and see [us] swinging on the Gallows Pole..."

A "Theo Van Gogh" Case in Jersey City?

Here's a very disturbing story that you might not have seen: A Coptic Christian family was found stabbed to death in its Jersey City home on Friday. It's been alleged that the wife was particularly mutilated, and that a tattoo of the Coptic cross on her wrist was carved out (although that seems to be a fabrication).

While nothing has been concluded with certainty, there seem to be indications pointing to a religious hate crime. Jihad Watch claims to have some inside information from a friend of the slain family that would supposedly further confirm the nature of the crime:


    The Armanious family had inspired several Muslims
    to convert to Christianity — or thought they had. These
    converts were actually practicing taqiyya, or
    religious deception, pretending to be friends of these
    Christians in order to strengthen themselves against
    them...
    It was these "converts" who knocked on the door of
    the Armanious home. Of course, the family, not
    suspecting the deception, was happy to see the
    "converted" men and willingly let them in to their
    home. That's why there was no sign of forced entry.
    Then the "converted" Muslims did their grisly work.


Robbery has been all but ruled out as apparently no jewelry was stolen (but again, nothing is certain yet) As well, the style is eerily reminiscent of the religious cleansing campaigns in the Lebanese War of the Mountain, where families were slaughtered, literally, with knives and axes.

There was one line in the Jihad Watch piece that caught my eye:


    The oppression and harassment you thought you had
    left behind in Egypt has now come to you.


If indeed the family was killed due to its position on Islam, that's exactly why the reformation of Islam and the democratization of ME societies is an imperative for American security. You see, the people who did this (assuming it is indeed a religiously motivated hate crime) are challenging the US constitution and the norms of this society (exactly as with the van Gogh murder). That's why there must be a decisive response to this case if the motives are established. The worst thing would be a whitewash. So, let's hope that the media silence is cautious journalism and not a form of apologetics (as we saw in some instances in the van Gogh case) or, worse still, a warped form of Islamic exceptionalism.

What is often missed is that if we foster Islamic exceptionalism under the guise of multiculturalism, we would inadvertantly be strengthening the worst anti-Englihtenment, intolerant elements of Christianity, and thus be undoing the secular space provided by the constitution, let alone the basic rights and freedoms of speech (contrast with the proposed law in England whereby making jokes about a religion could land you in jail!) This was what the Armanios family took for granted in the US, and if indeed they were killed for it, their murder is a direct attack on the constitution and the protected freedoms that make this country great. If that is the case, then the pathologies of Araby would indeed have "come to us" just like they did on 9/11.

I must say that it's common to see the mistreatment of "minorities" in the ME ignored in ME studies circles, and even in older Arabist circles in the State Department (see Kaplan's magnificent book, The Arabists). You'll get a glimpse of that when I address William Dalrymple (which I'm now leaning toward posting it in increments so as to finally put it out after talking about it for so long!). Meanwhile, I'll remind you that proselytizing to Muslims can get you, and the convert killed in the ME (and now appararently in Jersey City), and in Egypt, Copts have to go through hell to get permits to build (or renovate) houses of worship (as was the case in Turkey, which perhaps now might change its laws in order to enter the EU). In other countries like Saudi Arabia, Churches and Bibles are banned altogether! Why bother with the headache!?

Let's see how this story unfolds, and I hope that I'm wrong.

N.B. Arab Muslims tend to deny and downplay the tensions between Copts and Muslims in Egypt. They did it in the aftermath of the story of the kidnapped wife of a Coptic priest in Egypt. In the Lebanese An-Nahar, the Mufti Muhammad Ali al-Jouzou called it a case of Coptic "coquetterie" and that the Egyptian state is "blind" to religious differences between Muslims and Copts. Yeah... In this case, the NY Post has an interesting section:


    Osama Hassan, director of the Islamic Center of Jersey City,
    described the relationship between Copts and Muslims as
    cooperative if not friendly.

    "I think there might be people that can get into physical fights,
    but not to the point of murder," Hassan said.


So they are friendly, but they sometimes come to blows! But murder?! Naaaah!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Young on Iraq "Strategies"

Here are a couple of pieces by Michael Young on some of the current chatter (all of a sudden becoming conventional wisdom!) on Iraq and the need for a US "exit strategy."

Michael ends one of the pieces with the following important questions:

"There is probably no magical solution in Iraq; only a long hard slog. Opponents of the war who demand a quick pullout must maneuver their arguments over the piles of prospective victims this option would surely produce. However, it is among the supporters of the war, conditional and unconditional, that the transformation has been truly dramatic, and where acceptance of defeat is suddenly so widespread. But are they right, or are they just victims of the latest Washington fad—the pull of irrevocable doom? After watching the Iraqis written out of their own narrative for so long, are the doomsayers now prematurely writing America out of the Iraqi narrative?"

These points echo IraqPundit's lamenting on his site of what he calls "The iron triangle that consists of power and polls and the press":

"I wonder how the situation would change if Iraqis (you remember them?) were allowed to compete in this Washington contest. Letting them be heard clearly could certainly change the meaning of banner headlines about the "Impact of Insurgents."

In an alternate universe that included Iraqis (and not just the disappointing raw security recruits), we might, for example, have the occasional headline about their "resolve." Fallujah's thugs have had "resolve" attributed to them in front-page headlines, but never ordinary Iraqis.

Yet ordinary Iraqis seem to be showing a great deal of resolve in the face of murder, and a great deal of commitment to the coming elections. I have discovered evidence of this in an obscure publication called The Washington Post, in a dusty edition that originally appeared on Monday, December 20, 2004. It may be unreasonable of me to expect the Post editors who wrote the "Impact" headline for the Tuesday Post to take into account what the paper had to say about Iraqis in the Monday Post (the same day these editors were composing the Tuesday front). I'll just reproduce the evidence here.

In a lengthy account of the weekend's horrific bombings, Post staffers and stringers gathered Iraqi reaction to these attempts to intimidate them. Here's one example:

"'These attacks aim to destroy the country and the holy sites. This is terrorism against Shiites,' said Fadhil Salman, 41, the owner of the Ghufran Hotel in Najaf. 'They want to foil the elections, but this won't deter us.'"

Here's another:

"'God saved us,' said Abu Ahmed, an employee of Kawther Transportation Co., whose office was just 10 yards from the blast. He was cut by flying glass.
'All the dead and wounded were civilians,' he said by telephone. 'But this won't stop the people from returning to their normal lives.'"

Here's a third:

"'I swear to God, even if they burn all the elections centers, we will still go and vote,' said Ali Waili, 29, a taxi driver reached by telephone in Karbala. 'We have been mistreated for a long time, we have been tortured for a long time.'"

Here's a fourth:

"Those responsible [for blasts at a mosque] 'must be trying to incite sectarian strife, but this will not happen,' said a mosque caretaker, Ali Mashhadani.

There's more in the same story. What then is the "impact" among Iraqis of the campaign of murder and terror being directed against them? Based on the Post's own evidence, it appears to have been to strengthen Iraqi resolve, restraint, and commitment.

The Post is quite interested in acknowledgements, so perhaps the Post will acknowledge the Iraqi resolve that its own staff has observed, and then place the U.S. effort in that context. I'm waiting for the big banner headline about it.
"

I'll have something similar to say in my response to Dr. Emile and the really annoying Left vs. Right face-off that dominates the talk about Iraq in the US.

Word to the Wise

I wanted to post this a couple of weeks ago but never got around to doing it.

Ghassan Tueini of the leading Lebanese daily An-Nahar often annoys me beyond words. However, he wrote a remarkably forthright op-ed (Arabic) in which he basically tried to spoon-feed the Syrians and their Lebanese cronies the changes in US ME policy. As reader/blogger Richard Anderson pointed out in a comment to my previous post, it's bewildering how the Syrians don't seem to get it. I've been talking to people around here in Beirut and it's always the same reaction: can they really be this blind (or, as Walid Jumblatt put it, "stupid")?

Part of the dynamic in this instance is the Lebanese being accustomed to a wily and iron-fisted Hafez Assad, who had an aura of extreme intelligence and political calculation. This is all but shattered now with the cub Bashar, as the Syrians are cleary being challened in Lebanon, which was considered their backyard, as never before. If nothing else materializes, the shattering of this myth is the most significant outcome of the current developments. The other element is the history of previous US administrations eventually cutting a deal with Syria, leaving its grip over Lebanon intact. This was always rationalized along specific points. It is precisely these points in political history and the reading of the current policy shift that Tueini is addressing, in what can really be read as an open letter of advice to the Syrians, free of charge! What follows are some translated excerpts for you to get an idea:

"Clinton's current "mission" [to the ME] is an assertion that the American position on the ME, and on foreign policy in general, is not partisan, but bipartisan. Therefore, those who thought that ... it would be beneficial to wait for the results of the [US] presidential elections ... have invested in vain.

On this basis, you hear in Europe the echoes of US comments that former President Bill Clinton will not visit Syria (and consequently, and only consequently!!!) Lebanon so that Damascus and its Foreign Minister [who thinks in terms of Cold War logic] won't think that they can play the card of a US political party in the opposition against the ruling president.
...
And they say to anyone who asks that part (perhaps the most significant part) of the mistake of the Syrian-Lebanese policy lies in that we didn't believe what the mixed delegates from Congress were saying when they asserted that there was no partisanship in the US foreign policy, rather, there is one near-unanimous position that has been ratified by acts in Congress which bind the White House ... most significant of which is the Syrian Accountability Act.
"

I slightly disagree with Tueini here, as I think there was significant tension in the administration itself as to how to deal with Syria, which sent mixed messages to the Syrians prolonging their hope that the US would eventually cut a deal. But as we'll see from Tueini's piece, the US has basically cut off any and every wiggling room the Syrians traditionally relied on. For instance, there was the issue of providing intelligence in exchange for being left alone. That line was shut down and deemed insufficient. Then there was the Iraq border issue. The US gave it time, but it seems (see my previous post: "Syrian Mugshots in Iraq")) that the US is this close to losing all patience and it's considering options of a hit (see Josh Landis' Syria Comment for more) to see what ensues in terms of internal reaction. Then there was the issue of redeployment in Lebanon. That was not enough. Then there was the issue of Hizbullah, but the Syrians haven't budged on this because it's their last card. This is also tied with the issue of Lebanese chaos in the aftermath of a Syrian withdrawal, a point that Tueini also addressed as we shall see below. Then the Syrians tried the Golan card and now they're practically begging to resume talks with the Israelis, and Bush said they'd have to wait till after the Palestinians are taken care of. Also, no deal in terms of an exchange: Lebanon for the Golan. On these last two points Tueini wrote:

"If anyone asks Europe -- and not just France -- they would be surprised just from reading the papers and hearing the radio commentaries or the "Salon" commentaries that Europe is convinced that the US this time around is not the US of the era of Cold War compromises, and that it is therefore serious about separating and distinguishing between "ME issues," so no offers on the central theme, i.e. Palestine, would push the US ... to pay up on another issue like Lebanon, Iraq or the Gulf region.
...
Based on this view, Washington is set to handle the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations separately from any other issue. That is the meaning of its rejection of an "international conference" i.e., "Madrid 2" which its closest British ally Tony Blair is marketing. This is also the explanation for it not pushing Israel to accept the overtures of Damascus for a resumption of direct talks, be they unconditional or based on where they last left it.
"

This is a very interesting reading. For one, it runs counter to the propaganda bought (and further propagated) by the MESAns that Sharon runs US policy and that Sharon doesn't want peace which is why he's not participating in the international peace conference or opening up to Syria. The alternative put forth by Tueini is that the US is seeking to disentangle the Palestinian issue from the broader Arab context (or should I say quagmire, as is now fashionable). Frankly, the Palestinians should thank the US for doing them this favor, as they sought independence from Arab interference for decades. The Israelis solve their problems with the Palestinians on their own, and in the proper local context, not in a broader Arab context. Those, we deal with each on their own. No cards, no games. This is why Tueini wrote:

"Palestine is on the path of electons, and it seems that no Arab or non-Arab state will be able to create something that would give it a Palestinian 'card' for it to use to improve its standing as a "regional player" or "regional power" ... This is what Turkey understood and it came to tell us precisely that. As for Iran, it's busy with its nuclear negotiations with the US and Europe and won't do anything that would weaken its strategy. Suffice it to fortify its position in Iraq ..."

Obviously then, the only "Arab state" Tueini is referring to is Syria. He goes on to say:

"Why this attention to the Palestinian and Lebanese elections? The answer you hear is the following: more than Iraq and Afghanistan, the Palestinian and Lebanese societies have an old democratic 'yeast' (as is the case in Syria, but the topic of its elections seems to be postponed, or rather, far away, and must be preceded by 'change' promised by President Bashar, but the 'reformist march' seems to be stumbling for mysterious reasons, and no one particular explanation seems to be gaining consensus!!!)

Lebanon then, like Palestine, will be a 'lab' to establish democratic regimes, fed by a heritage of an internal culture of democracy which the revolutions and the wars could not sacrifice on the altars of expired 'ideologies.'
"

Tueini then addresses the myth of the Lebanese being ready to pounce on each other if not for Syrian tutelage. So he tells the Syrians:

"The imposed regimes in Lebanon attempts to divert attention with electoral calculations which aim to show democracy as a matter of fraudulent numbers and geo-demographic mathematics.

The government -- not just the opposition -- needs to say out loud and with conviction that an attempt to manufacture an explosion in Lebanon will lead to an implosion in Syria and its "Iraqization"... So don't play with fire.
"

The Americans have in fact warned sternly against any such playing with fire on the part of the Syrians or their cronies. So no more attempts on the lives of political opponents will be tolerated. Which brings us back to what is perhaps the greatest stupid error made by young Mr. Assad: he internationalized the Lebanese file, and now all eyes are on Syria.

Lest we lose touch, it's unlikely that the upcoming elections will achieve too much. The Syrians aren't going to pack up and leave the golden goose behind for free. However, they have been seriously challenged like never before. Many of the myths and building blocks they've carefully built over 30 years have collapsed. Among those myths is the ability of the Syrians to thwart any cross-sectarian opposition to the Syrian order. That, is perhaps the most significant point in all of this.

Beside that, the other crucial element is the change in US policy. That's what Tueini was at pains to emphasize, and what the Syrians (especially Farouq al-Sharaa) don't seem to fathom, or aren't willing to admit to themselves. I mean, if a French-US alliance against you doesn't make you understand that the rules have changed, then I don't know what will. This is why Walid Jumblat is making the moves he's making. It's now or never, and the attempt on his co-religionist MP Marwan Hamade was the straw that broke the camel's back. Jumblat read correctly the US and European stance, and, more importantly, realized that the way forward is in fact to reestablish the only functioning system in Lebanon: consociational democracy. I.e., Lebanon is a balance of communities with no one community having any real sense of majority. Therefore, the democratic political space is one of deals between communities. That's why anyone who talks about a "Muslim majority" or "Christian minority" in Lebanon doesn't know the first thing about the Lebanese system. There is no such thing. All the communities are "minorities"! Not one community cracks the 40% mark! Moreoever, each community is internally divided. So, that's why you have a classic Druze-Christian-Sunni alliance going on right now with Jumblat, the Christians, and (the weakest link) former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The Shiites are divided as to how to proceed, and Hizbullah has kept all its options open holding talks with the Aounist opposition and other players. I.e. it realizes that the jig is up with its "resistance" card (and hence, its Syrian patronage), and that it needs to play the Lebanese game if it hopes to maintain domestic relevance.

But that last point concerning Israel is crucial: can Syria afford to lose its footage in Lebanon, and lose the Golan (having just recently conceded Alexandretta to Turkey)? Or, as Michael Young recently put it:

"They won't readily surrender a country that, because it is a front line in the conflict with Israel, bestows regional relevance on Syria and is a buffer to its southeast. Lebanon also provides the Syrian elite with myriad financial benefits, offers Syria a wedge into Palestinian affairs and gives work to hundreds of thousands of Syrian laborers who send remittances home."

So what can be done? Michael suggests the following:

"[T]he United States and the United Nations should consider pushing for a resumption of Syrian-Israeli negotiations over the Golan Heights, which were occupied by Israel in 1967, and link that resumption (not the outcome of negotiations) to Syrian implementation of Resolution 1559. In that way, Syria would be offered an incentive, but also a stark choice: Does it want Lebanon or the Golan?

The 28-year-old Syrian presence in Lebanon has lasted long enough. That's why Syria mustn't be allowed to circumvent Resolution 1559. However, it can be offered something to make fulfilling the resolution easier to swallow. Then Damascus might be better able to face its problems to the east, in Iraq.
"

Let's wait and see.