Monday, July 31, 2006


Juan Cole on Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Sistani's recent condemnation of Israel's bombing of Lebanon and demand for an immediate cease-fire. Moqtada al-Sadr has already indicated his willingness to send Mahdi Army fighters to join with Hezbollah, and as Cole notes, Sistani needs to proect his flank from the steadily growing power of Sadr.

The Sadr family is originally from Lebanon, and Moqtada's cousin, Sayyid Musa al-Sadr, is one of the pivotal Lebanese Shi'a leader of the twentieth century. It was Musa al-Sadr who issued a fatwa (religious legal decision) in 1974 declaring Syria's Alawites to be Muslims, a decision which is still considered controversial among mainstream Sunnis and Shi'as.

It's important to place the current conflict within the context of the rising tide of Shi'a political activism in the Middle East, which the invasion of Iraq threw into high gear. The fact that the most effective Arab military organization in the modern era is Shi'a cannot be overlooked or underestimated, nor can the fact that Hezbollah is also solidly Khomeinist in its ideology. Sadr is a professed Khomeinist, Sistani is not. Given this connection, along with the resonance of the Sadr family name in Lebanon, it's quite clear that Hezbollah's success benefits Sadr at Sistani's expense, and thus makes it somewhat more likely that the United States will have spent trillions of dollars and suffered thousands of casualties (and inflicted hundreds of thousands) in order to transform Iraq into a very hardline conservative jurisprudent-dominated state, instead of merely a moderately hardline conservative jurisprudent-dominated state.

Further reading: A very good New Yorker essay on Hezbollah from a few years ago.

Friday, July 28, 2006


This past Wednesday was the 50th Anniversary of Gemal Abd al-Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal, a pivotal moment in the modern Middle East. Via an approving link in NRO's The Corner, I came across this Weekly Standard article by Arthur Herman. In it, Herman makes a number of startling claims ("Even more than the Cold War, the Suez crisis has shaped the world we live in." Huh?) but I'm more interested in the overall tone of the piece, which neatly displays your basic conservative refusal to recognize that colonialism was hell for the colonized. For example, Herman insists that Nasser's takeover of the canal amounted to theft, but makes no mention of the over 125,000 Egyptian conscripts who died while digging the thing, let alone acknowledge that this, along with the fact that the canal was, you know, in their country, may have given Egypt a legitimate claim.

I'm not interested in defending Nasser, who was, by most accounts, a pretty brutal authoritarian dictator (Though, of course, conservatives have no problem with authoritarian dictators whose brutality is employed to defend the privileges of colonial elites and the holdings of Western multinationals, but I digress...) Regardless of what one thinks of Nasser, the fact is that he is still greatly respected by many in the Middle East as having stood up for the Arabs against a vastly more powerful Western oppressor.

It seems that this same phenomenon is taking place in regards to Hezbollah. Hezbollah is the most effective Arab military organization of the modern era, and they're representing for the Arabs in a way that no one really has since Nasser. This isn't to suggest that people are embracing Hezbollah's program, I think it's clear that a majority of people in the Arab world would not want to live under a Hezbollah-type government, just that after decades of being confronted with news and footage from the occupation of Palestine, many are impressed to see someone finally standing up to Israel. The fact that Israel has persisted in it's crushing bombing campaign ,even as it admits that the stated goals of that campaign are unattainable, also strongly works in Hezbollah's favor.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Stanley Kurtz, shaking his tiny fists at parody:

On the one hand, Iran is cooking up dreams of regional domination, which a bomb would be necessary to secure. On the other hand, with so many enemies alerted and pressing, Iran's regime has got to fear for its survival. A bomb is also a solution to that problem (from Iran's point of view). Given the stakes, no strictly economic carrots or sticks will work. (Well, a total oil/economic boycott might work, but that will never be imposed.) So either we destroy Iran's nuclear program by force, or Iran is going to get the bomb, likely provoking nuclear proliferation throughout the region.

That means a whole lot of Islamic bombs floating around the Middle East for the indefinite future. It would probably take another terrorist strike to move the American public in the direction of a more hawkish approach.
Over the long term, in the absence of greater national unity and more decisive American military action, you'd have to say the odds of nuclear terror within the next decade have risen substantially. Should we blame the president for this? I don't think so. To a degree, I blame the dovish Dems. Without a national consensus, the country can't take decisive action.

Leaving aside Stanley's not-so-vaguely fascist assertion that the country is being weakened and left vulnerable by the disunity caused by "dovish Dems," let's make this pure and sparkling clear: George W. Bush has never shown the least bit of concern for "consensus." As he's told us many, many times, he knows what's right, he goes from his gut, he's the decider, he's already had his accountability moment, etc., so the idea that he would be constrained from taking decisive action by something as morally un-clarifying as " the lack of consensus" (which is, after all, just another way of saying "the New York times doesn't like it," right?) is ridiculous on its face. Indeed, wouldn't the sort of leader that conservatives imagine Bush to be take whatever action he deemed necessary, regardless of the political consequences, to defend Amurca? I mean, this is Churchill, Jr., we're talking about, yes?

Now, if Stanley thinks very hard, he may remember that Congress passed a resolution authorizing the use of force against Saddam Hussein with little to no substantive opposition by so-called dovish Dems. Bush wanted a War on Terra, he got it. He wanted a Patriot Act, he got it. Really, other than the Bolton nomination, which the president got anyway through recess appointment (a mechanism which Republicans whined about endlessly when President Clinton used them), and which was only held up because of a Republican Senator's misgivings about Bolton, which of the president's foreign policy initiatives have the Democrats really tried, let alone been able, to block? While it is true that those initiatives have, almost to a one, proven absolutely disastrous, arrogantly conceived and incompetently executed, and it is true that more and more conservatives are edging away from the Bush Doctrine like guys in wigs and hastily-applied makeup trying to slip into lifeboats on the Titanic, pinning the blame for this on "dovish Dems" is tranparent nonsense. Blame Congress as a whole? Sure. They have oversight authority which, by any measure, they have abdicated, so they share some of the responsibility for the tragic mess that's been created, and which is getting worse. But the man most responsible is the man at the top: George W. Dick Cheney.

But wait, here's where the wheels really fly off Stanley's argument.
There is one great hope, however. And this is something that, for all the problems, our ventures in Afghanistan and Iraq have already won us. The other side knows that direct strikes on America unite the country and produce tough military action. For all our success at breaking up terrorist plots, I've got to think the terrorists have been intentionally holding back out of worry that strikes on American soil would lead to radical American action. Why haven't Hezbollah's sleeper cells hit us yet? Because they know the U.S. would then green light an Israeli attack of indefinite duration. Why hasn't al-Qaeda released to sort of cheap, easy suicide terror in the U.S. that the Palestinians use in Israel? Because they fear it would provoke a U.S. takeover of their sanctuaries in Pakistan.

I'd say it's more likely that al-Qaeda has learned that if they attack the U.S., the U.S. will respond by invading random Muslim countries with whom al-Qaeda has no meaningful relationship, thereby transforming that country into a militant jihadist jamboree, increasing al-Qaeda recruitment and training opportunities significantly. States like Iran, on the other hand, have probably concluded that not having WMD and not having ties to al-Qaeda simply cannot provide the sort of insurance against U.S. invasion that a shiny new nuke can.

Stanley undermines his entire "toughness" argument with his reference to Israel. He claims that tough U.S. action has deterred the sort of attacks that Palestinians use in Israel, that is, the sort of attacks that Israel hasn't been able to deter with the most powerful military in the region and a nearly 40-years-long military occupation. God help Stanley if he doesn't think Israel has been "tough" with the Palestinians.

Finally, in regards to Iran's status as a regional power, which is, after all, what Kurtz is on about in the first place, let me put it this way: At this point Iran is pretty much done "cooking up" dreams for regional domination. Those dreams are fully cooked, out of the oven, and cooling on the window sill. Let me put it another way: Had Iran somehow won its war with Iraq in the 1980s, it could not, in its wildest, wettest, regional hegemonic dreams have hoped for nearly as complete and sweeping a victory over its foe as the United States provided for it, gratis, in 2003. The idea that we can solve this problem with just more "decisive action," i.e. more things that go boom, strikes me as the definition of insanity.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


I've seen more than s few conservatives over the last few days getting indignant over UN Resolution 1559, which calls for the withdrawal of non-Lebanese forces from Lebanon, and for the disarming and dsibanding of all militias within Lebanese territory. I'll say this for them, they have a point.

While they're appealing to UN authority, though, here are a few (dozen) other resolutions they may want to peruse.

Monday, July 24, 2006


Some arguments are so hacktacularly inept that they don't require comment:
Laura Ingraham this morning played a bite of Sen. Christopher Dodd saying on one of the weekend talk shows that he will not vote to confirm John Bolton (as Sen. George Voinovich has now decided to do) because so many other ambassadors at the U.N. don’t like Bolton.

Perhaps Dodd forgets: Those other ambassadors don’t represent America’s interests. Bolton does—effectively.

One might ask: Whose interests is Dodd representing? Do the people of Connecticut really want the Syrian, Saudi, Russian, and French ambassadors to have a veto power over our choice of an American envoy?


Saturday, July 22, 2006


A few weeks ago, NR's Rich Lowry posted this column after returning from an American Israel Education Foundation-sponsored trip to Israel. In it, Lowry gravely reports that a "grim realism" has set in amongst Israelis, which has caused them to abandon the twin illusions of a Greater Israel and a negotiated peace with the Palestinians. That Lowry would speak this way is unsurprising, given the nature of the "educational" junket of which he was a part.

The AIEF is closely affiliated with AIPAC, and trips like these have proven a very effective way of maintaining support in Congress for hardline Israeli policies. American legislators, their aides, and credulous journalists like Rich Lowry are flown to Israel, set up in nice hotels, taken in helicopter rides over the ever-expanding Jewish settlements, and spoon-fed hardline revisionist talking points for hours a day, talking points which many of them then dutifully regurgitate upon returning to the U.S. "See? Israelis are just like us: They eat pizza! They swim in pools! They shop in malls! Palestinians, on the other hand, worship Allah. Enough said."

Of course, such trips always steer clear of the Palestinian slums, the bulldozed Palestinian homes, the uprooted Palestinian olive groves, the shelled Palestinian schools, the razed Palestinian playgrounds, the long lines of Palestinian elderly, men, women, and children baking in the merciless Mediterranean sun at Israeli military checkpoints as teenage IDF troops leisurely thumb through their identification papers and make humiliating jokes about them, or anything else that might puncture the lie that it is Israel who is under siege.

In my view, the illusion that has been shattered in these last weeks is the notion that Israel can achieve anything resembling normalcy or stability in the absence of a political process, in the absence of negotiations with its enemies. As Daniel Levy, guest-posting at The Washington Note, points out:
Israel withdrew from the Sinai in the context of a negotiated peace agreement with Egypt and from parts of the Arava in a negotiated peace treaty with Jordan, results: quiet borders, no military exchanges since, solid if cool peace. Israel withdrew from South Lebanon and Gaza unilaterally without agreements...enough said.

After the latest events avoidance of negotiations with the Palestinians and pursuit of a unilateral convergence on the West Bank, or re-alignment, or disengagement or whatever new name is found is a joke in poor taste.

The unilateral paradigm has ill-served the US and Israel, bury it.

Repeat: The idea that Israel can unilaterally impose a solution, or achieve security simply by the might of its military is the illusion here. It has not worked in Palestine. It will not work in Lebanon.

I'd like to quickly mention one other thing. Today marks the 60th anniversary of the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem by the Zionist Irgun organization. Demonstrating once again the grace, sensitivity, and good sense for which he is unknown the world over, former PM Binyamin Netanyahu attended a celebration of this event. You read that right: A celebration. At the very moment that Israel is raining bombs down on the Lebanese in response to the capture of two of its soldiers, Israelis are celebrating the death of 92 people by Zionist terrorism. Words simply don't begin to do justice to the staggering moral relativism at work here.

Speaking of AIPAC-funded trips to Israel, here's Jacob Weisberg in Slate, reporting that it's everybody else's fault except for George W. Bush and Israel. I'm curious how much of this he wrote himself, and how much was simply cut and pasted from AIPAC materials. Super-plus-mega-bonus-doo-doo points to Weisberg for repeating the tiresome Myth of Arafat's Rejection of Israel's Generous Offer at Camp David, which has earned a place alongside Reagan Won the Cold War as a Self-serving Political Storyline of Yesteryear Which is Seriously Perverting Our Foreign Policy This Year.