A visit to the Levant – Kieran Wanduragala

Kieran sent me this letter account of his travels in the Levant some days ago and has today allowed me to post it.  pl


53668sb1 "Recently I had the opportunity to travel as part of a student-organized delegation of 30 Harvard graduate students (mostly from the Kennedy School, though I’m at the Center for Middle East Studies) to Lebanon and Syria. We met with most of the major players, with whom we engaged in generally quite freewheeling debate. I imagine that the kind of discussions we had were quite rare simply because students have a certain freedom (and allow a certain freedom to the other party) that politicians, diplomats, journalists, and certainly citizens of the countries concerned do not. We were also there at a very historic time for Lebanon (May 19 – June 1), just after the Doha agreement. I thought you might be interested in hearing a few of my impressions.

Samir Geagea, the head of the Lebanese Forces and a key figure in the March 14th coalition, was the first person we met. The extent to which his discourse mirrored that of the most extreme elements in the Bush administration surprised me. His talk was full of references to the Global War on Terror, Good versus Evil, Light versus Darkness, and such. After about 20 minutes of somewhat unproductive Q&A (we had not yet learned the art of simply interrupting longwinded and off-topic answers) he veered off into a discussion of his spirituality, which seemed genuine if bizarre, talking about how he "lives in the second dimension". I suppose he did spend 11 years in solitary confinement. None of the LF people were happy about Doha and they seemed to be looking forward to the day it would fail. By chance I ran into Geagea’s foreign policy advisor, Elie Khoury, in a cafe. I asked him whether the LF were not placing all their eggs in a very dubious looking basket. He responded that his consultations in Washington convinced him that the next administration would end up pursuing a similarly confrontational policy in the region, whether the president is Obama or McCain. Overall, I was impressed by the LF’s PR machine and the way in which their ‘youth movement’ escorted us around touristic sites in Christian regions while subtly pushing the virtues of their leader and movement. Nonetheless, there was something a bit Lyndon Larouche about the whole setup.

Our next meeting was with Bahiya Hariri, the sister of Rafiq. She was her brother’s favorite and apparently wields a great deal of behind-the-scenes clout in the Sunni community and with her nephew Saad. She was not very forthcoming about anything, but I found what she did not say more interesting than what she said. I prodded her with a question designed to unleash a tirade against Syria, but she responded that she felt the way was now open to restore normal ties. Perhaps this is a long shot, but in the context of the Doha agreement and the near-simultaneous announcement of Israeli-Syrian negotiations, I hypothesized that a broader short-term Saudi-Syrian-Israeli patchup was in the works to save the Levant from whatever transpires with Iran, tying Hezbollah into the Lebanese government and taking the heat off Syria.

The same day we went from Ms. Hariri’s palace in Sidon to the Ain al-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp outside the city. The camp is outside the control of the Lebanese army and as soon as we entered through the gates we were surrounded by an escort of dozens of gunmen from various PLO factions – predominantly Fatah but also the DFLP and PFLP. The sense of danger was palpable – there were clashes a few days before we arrived and again days after we left, involving Islamist groups in the camp. Conditions in the camp were unsurprisingly bad, though children were running around smiling, laughing, and practicing their few words of English on us. There was a real sense of fragmentation, of one bit of the camp belonging to one faction and one bit to another, as we were handed off from one set of gunmen and officials to another as we passed from alley to alley. My conversations in Arabic with various people in the camp impressed on me just how much the return to Palestine is a cornerstone of their worldview.

A couple of days later we travelled to Damascus to meet Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma in the visitors’ palace on a mountain overlooking Damascus. Bashar spoke with us for three hours, all Q&A. He impressed the whole group with his willingness to actually answer the questions asked, his ability to provide logical defenses of his positions, his command of English, and his forward-looking mindset. A number of anti-Syrian Lebanese in the group walked away shaken by the experience. We were furthermore surprised that, in contrast to almost every other politician we met, we were not searched or put through any kind of physical screening. Only one (massive) bodyguard attended him and he seemed to be present more to pass the microphone around.

I asked him why he had not allowed the IAEA in to inspect the ‘nuclear facility’ in order to disprove US-Israeli allegations. He responded that there was no use – Saddam opened his sites up to inspectors but the US attacked anyway. He indicated that he does not believe in dignifying these kinds of allegations, or in setting the precedent of allowing weapons inspectors to run around his country. I told him I thought he underestimated the value of public relations – he was standing on a point of principle, but this would have real costs in terms of Syria’s image in the media. He replied that he did not think so: the Western media would paint him as a bad guy in any case, and moreover in his view the key strategic decisions are taken without regard to public opinion (he again used the invasion of Iraq as an example).

Someone else asked him about his worst and best case scenarios for the region during the next 5 years. He said that the worst case scenario was a US or Israeli attack on Iran, which would have repercussions everywhere. The best case scenario was a US president committed to seeking peace accords with Syria and the Palestinians ("a genuine commitment, not like Annapolis"). I got the impression from this (and later from a sly ‘yes we can’ from his wife) that they saw a significant difference between Obama and McCain. Nonetheless, when explicitly asked about this, he replied that his country had learned to be skeptical of US campaign rhetoric.

As to the Syria-Israeli talks Assad said that the intention was genuine but that he doubted Olmert’s ability to actually reach an agreement.

On Lebanon he was reluctant to discuss the details of Lebanese politics, though he was clearly pleased by the Doha agreement. He was ready to establish normal ties in principle (embassies and border demarcation) but sounded reluctant to do so with the government of Fuad al-Siniora. We (especially the Lebanese among us) pushed him hard on this issue, but it was not clear whether or not he appreciated the importance of Syria making a symbolic gesture of reconciliation. He considers Walid Jumblatt an enemy of the state.

The only point at which he became emotional was in discussing the regime’s fight against Islamists during the early 80s, responding to a question about Hama. He talked about the various atrocities committed by the Islamists, then saying "what would you do with these people?"

When asked about Alawi dominance of key levers of power and the impact of that on political reform, he responded obliquely, talking about the new party law designed to end the Ba’ath Party’s dominance of political life. When we pointed out that the problem was not just in the Party but in the military-security apparatus, his response became vaguer still. It was clear we were not getting anywhere on this issue.

Overall, Assad performed extremely well. Still, he could get off easy as the darker side of Syrian involvement in Lebanon is (somewhat) plausibly deniable. It struck me that one reason he may have consented to such an extended discussion in such a freewheeling format is practice for him in the hope of eventually making the transition to a more conventional or at least Western-style politician, giving press conferences and such.

After three hours his wife Asma showed up. If they were not in love it was a hell of a good act. After chatting informally for a bit and taking photos he left, and she sat in his place. She is beautiful, charming, and thoroughly English. She is also extremely intelligent and had a remarkable grasp of the minutiae of domestic social and economic policy that he himself did not exhibit. It occurred to me that a woman in her position may be in effect a second president. She discussed the importance of education as the key strategic domestic issue. She also mentioned that she was personally key in shaping the new companies law, which aims to shift the emphasis from the development of existing large enterprises to small and medium businesses, including startups.

After our return to Lebanon we met with Walid Jumblatt, who frankly appeared to be somewhat in pieces. In addition to a generally stoned demeanor, he gave answers which ranged from completely inscrutable to impolitically frank to obviously evasive. I tried hard to pin him down on the issue of the impact of US domestic politics on his ‘bets’ in Lebanon. After interrupting him about four times, steering him back to the issue from long lectures about nothing in particular, I asked him "do you think the US will trade Lebanon? [to Iran and Syria]" and got what I think was an honest "I don’t know." He pushed what I find an implausible conspiracy theory of Syrian involvement in the death of Mughniyeh. His old dog lay loyally -or listlessly- at his feet the whole time. He said that Nasrallah and Hezbollah are fascist organizations and drew tired comparisons to 1930s Germany. His position towards the opposition was uncompromising, though I personally wouldn’t be surprised to see him back as a Hezbollah ally in a few years if the US does not continue its strategy of confrontation in the Middle East. He was very pessimistic overall, though it was not clear if this was due to the broader strategic situation or the very humiliating defeat he had recently been handed by Hezbollah.

We met for two hours with Siniora, who seemed to be genuinely excited to see us but unfortunately proved to be very boring, lacking charisma or a sense of interactivity and choosing to lecture us about Lebanese history despite our protestations that we were familiar with it. He confirmed his technocrat image. In contrast to other March 14th figures he seemed quite optimistic and full of energy. He admitted that he personally had been against the two decisions that precipitated the crisis of the last few weeks, confirming reports that it had been Jumblatt behind them. Of all the orange juice served to us by the various figures we met, his was of the lowest quality.

We later met Saad Hariri at his Qoreitem palace, who, when I asked why he did not take the premiership, replied that he could do much more outside the government. He somewhat gauchely added, "Siniora is me!" When asked, he said that he did not believe the US would strike Iran, but that there would be a war perhaps 5 years hence, much bloodier than that which could be had now. Another question centered on his role in SecurePlus, a private security company that effectively constituted a militia, which was routed a few weeks ago. Saad admitted his connection to the company but denied that it was a militia. Saad had the demeanor of the playboy, lacking in finesse and genuine charisma, but full of confidence regardless. His orange juice was the highest quality. The security surrounding his palace was incredible, consisting of multiple checkpoints, barricades, and armed men everywhere. Pictures of Rafiq Hariri were displayed in abundance, including, as usual, in the central chair during the meeting.

Amin Gemayel was not particularly forthcoming, and seemed badly out of touch. When pressed for details on a number of points he was completely at a loss. He seemed to resort to stock politician phrases even in personal conversation. My impression was of a man losing vitality. I tried to push him on the question of what a real ‘national defense strategy’ would be, seeking some common ground between him and Hezbollah. He replied that he envisaged a ‘Swiss model’ of every citizen owning a gun. Incredulous, I asked him if that would really deter Israeli or Syrian aggression. He responded evasively, citing the importance of various UN resolutions. When I cornered him privately after the session, he said that in the 1970s they had tried to acquire Crotale air defense systems but were thwarted by Israeli pressure, indicating that similar factors were at play today.

Overall, none of the March 14th figures seemed to think there was any realistic prospect for Hezbollah’s peaceful disarmament in the short to medium term. Geagea seemed to be the furthest from admitting this fact, while Jumblatt, Siniora, and Hariri were closest. Only Siniora and to some extent Hariri seemed upbeat about the Doha agreement, which struck me as odd considering that the agreement effectively redistributed seats from Sunnis to Shiites and Christians. This reinforced my feeling that the Doha agreement represented some kind of Saudi-Syrian reconciliation, considering Hariri’s (and by extension Siniora’s) very close ties to the Saudis.

The March 14th people unanimously condemned the actions of Hezbollah and its allies, and the phrase ‘attempted coup’ popped up repeatedly. Nonetheless, the general mood amongst the population was upbeat. There was broad satisfaction at the election of Michel Suleiman as President and the formation of a unity government. There was happiness too at the return of normal life to downtown Beirut, with the removal of the opposition protest camps. I had the feeling that Hezbollah and its allies could translate these developments into major political gains if they take the initiative to sustain political movement after a year and a half of paralysis. The upcoming elections in summer 2009 are the major political event towards which all the parties are working. 

We spent two days with Hezbollah. The first day involved being shown around the south by various low-level Hezbollah people. We were shown various scenes of Israeli atrocities (Qana, Khiyam) and presented with the families of martyrs at Bint Jbeil. The quality of the PR was exceptionally low and the propaganda exceedingly unsubtle, although our guide was a very lively and interesting woman with a show on Al-Manar. The reaction of our group was overwhelmingly negative, many feeling that the various tragedies and massacres were being very callously exploited.

The second day began with a tour of the Wa’ad rebuilding projects in the Dahiye. We were shocked by the speed and scale of the project – dozens of large residential buildings at various stages of construction, where last summer I saw only rubble. More than one person in our group contrasted the Hezbollah program with the US government’s response to Katrina. People passing in cars and minibuses honked and cheered when they saw our group checking out the construction sites. [An aside to show just how out of touch the diplomatic community is: at a diplomatic party the night before a number of embassy people from various countries were assuring me that Hezbollah was not doing much construction.] Seeing the "Hezbollah stronghold" in person dispelled for many in the group the images the phrase conjures. There were no gunmen in the streets and many women walked around in tight jeans and revealing shirts. We met for several hours with Nawaf Musawi, Hezbollah’s ‘foreign minister’ and a member of the politburo. He was very impressive – fiercely intelligent, an excellent debater, and a flexible thinker. While speaking formal Arabic, he understood our questions in English and frequently corrected his translator (as did those of us in the group who speak Arabic), who endured so much abuse from both sides that he eventually cried, "give me a break!" The event started badly, with a number of the Lebanese in our group attacking Musawi, and him clamming up in response, but we soon ‘warmed up’ to each other in the sense of frankly exchanging views. He thought that a US/Israeli attack on Iran was probable in the short term, partly in order to install McCain as a war leader (rather interestingly indicating that he saw genuine differences between McCain and Obama). He promised that such an attack would mean "Hell" for the region. However, he indicated (though not in so many words) that Hezbollah would not initiate hostilities with Israel even in the event of a US/Israeli strike on Iran. He did however believe that an Israeli strike on Hezbollah would be virtually inevitable in the event of a strike on Iran, as Israel could do what it wished while the world’s attention was on the Gulf. On the question of peace with Israel, he was relatively uncompromising, but indicated that Hezbollah would accept an agreement ratified in a referendum by all the Palestinian people – inside and outside the occupied territories. On domestic issues he was very hostile to the March 14th people, calling them traitors and singling out Jumblatt as "a liar! a big, big liar!" Disarmament would be impossible with the present government, which represents US and Israeli interests in Lebanon, but would be possible in the context of a government seriously committed to a strong national defense. When pressed on Syria, he criticized Ghazi Kanaan and Abdel Halim Khaddam – not exactly controversial targets nowadays – for their misdeeds in Lebanon.

I came away from the trip with a heightened expectation of a US/Israeli strike on Iran or other associated step to increase tension in the region. People on both sides seem to be openly placing their bets on that basis (Geagea) and fearing it as a serious possibility (Hezbollah and Syria). Jumblatt and Hariri were more cagey on the issue but my impression was that they are hoping for it, possibly expecting it, but politically smart enough not to openly indicate as such. My assessment of the broader situation is that hard-line elements in the West have only a few months to change the domestic and international political map by escalating US involvement in the Middle East. Otherwise there is a strong, and I believe for them unacceptable, danger of an Obama presidency that could reduce US involvement in the Middle East. This in turn could precipitate a collapse of the imperial system they are working so hard to implement, based around networks of individuals and interests binding the US, Britain, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and their more minor pawns in the region. They will surely do everything in their power to avoid this scenario. "  Kieran Wanduragala

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52 Responses to A visit to the Levant – Kieran Wanduragala

  1. rjj says:

    Question: is this inferred [apparent or suggested or indications of or hinted at] approval of Obama based on what they’ve heard of his campaign speeches?

  2. zanzibar says:

    Thanks for your first hand report on the region. It seems Doha is just a temporary truce and each party is preparing for a major conflict.
    Your report just goes to show what a piss poor job our corporate media is doing in informing the American people. The caricatures they sell us!!!

  3. condfusedponderer says:

    Kieran, Col,
    thanks for sharing this very interesting account.

  4. jonst says:

    “My conversations in Arabic with various people in the camp impressed on me just how much the return to Palestine is a cornerstone of their worldview”
    (Deep sigh)Then this is never going to go away. As to Assad….it is too bad he is under the impression that the majority of Americans did not support the Iraq invasion. That is a fundamental misreading of history. I wish he had been right about that. His mistake shows me the does not understand the dynamics of the ‘game’ here. Or some of the dynamics, anyway. That is not meant as a criticism of him. He certainly knows more about us than our ‘leaders’, present leaders, know about Syria.

  5. JohnH says:

    Wow! Thanks!

  6. Peter says:

    Thank you Kieran and Mr. Lang
    I found your account very informative and well written.
    Even if this implementation of a new imperial system fails, it’s hard to believe that the people in the region might finally get the opportunity
    to actively shape their own future without corrupt elites in league with outside forces continuing to successfully be able to hinder true independent paths of development that benefit more than a tiny minority.

  7. Terrifically insightful post. Hope the open source scholars at the DNI and 33 other intelligence orgs in Executive Branch read this blog. Thanks for posting in its entirety. Insightful nuances also. I read big trouble in little Lebanon down the road.

  8. Mad Dogs says:

    Hmmm…based on Kieran’s most interesting travelogue, I may not be crazy after all. *g*

  9. Great reporting. Thanks! (Interesting– and enviable– degree of access you guys all got!)

  10. Walrus says:

    Wow! Thank you Col. Lang and Kieran for sharing this with us!
    What concerns me, since I know so little about the region and it’s politics, is the sense of fatalism, inevitability and complete lack of trust towards the United States and Israel.
    This is the stuff – a series of miscalculations and preconceptions, that starts wars.

  11. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Veritas! Go Cantab!
    Kieran writes: “My assessment of the broader situation is that hard-line elements in the West have only a few months to change the domestic and international political map by escalating US involvement in the Middle East.”
    Looks like the Wurmser option is still the name of the game. O7NIE caused major problems as how to execute the option. Odds increasing that step one of the three steps may materialize as some type of economic warfare, including a naval blockade of Iran, with the neo-pundits drawing a historical comparison to Cuban Missile Crisis to sell to Am. Public. (I believe C. Krauthammer has already laid the pipe for such an analogy in an earlier screed).
    I agree with Mad dog and Arbogast in another thread. All moves by US and GOI appear consistent with implementing the Wurmser option or a variation thereof. The intent is to make everything as stable as possible with other neighbors before the big scha-bang.
    It’s fantastic that Sic Semper Tyrannis is moving among Harvard grad students like a fish through water. Betcha’ Ruth Wisse would not like this extraordinary report from Kieran.

  12. arbogast says:

    Required reading.
    Kieran should become a journalist, possibly for Le Monde, more likely for either The NY Times, Washington Post, or The Guardian.
    It does look as if the McCain Presidency will be sealed with a major military move into Iran.

  13. Mad Dogs says:

    Laura Rozen over at her blog War and Piece, has excerpts from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s remarks on Iran at the AIPAC conference here in the US:

    The most serious and imminent threat to global security and stability is undoubtedly Iran. Iran is the world’s largest exporter of terrorism, a fundamentalist dictatorship, motivated by utter contempt for the values represented by the free world and an uninhibited ambition to achieve military superiority and regional hegemony. It openly calls for the elimination of Israel and actively seeks nuclear capabilities to enable it to translate its sinister plans into action. Iran’s fingerprints are evident in almost every terrorist organization across the Middle East, from Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip to Hizballah in Lebanon. Hizballah, Iran’s major protégé, receives its directives, ammunition and finances directly from Tehran, with the help of Syria, and is actively engaged in torpedoing any chance of calm in Lebanon. Its long-standing record as a ruthless terrorist organization has earned Hizballah a place of honor on almost every list of global terrorist organizations…
    …Israel and the United States have long understood the acute danger embodied in a nuclear Iran, and are working closely in a concerted, coordinated effort to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear. Israel will not tolerate the possibility of a nuclear Iran, and neither should any other country in the free world.

    In addition, Laura also references the primary reason for Olmert’s trip to the US in addition to cheerleading the AIPAC crowd, which is Olmert’s meeting with Bush on Iran strategy per this from Ha’aretz:

    “Olmert will try to convince Bush to set aside the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program in favor of data presented by Israel, and determine the administration’s policy on Iran accordingly.”

  14. arbogast says:

    Actually, taking into account the former press secretary’s book and Sanchez’ book, the likelyhood of a strike against Iran before November 5 is overwhelming.
    But the economic waters are lapping around the gunwales and are getting much higher. The American public is very tired of this war that has lasted longer than WWII. The trick will be to avoid making the Iran strike the final straw that, in fact, elects Obama not McCain.
    If I were the Bush Administration, I would sit tight and let AIPAC’s fear of Iran mount to such a degree that Obama is creamed.
    Or I would concoct a casus belli (cf. Sidney O. Smith III)
    Obama really has put a spanner in the works of AIPAC. They had Hillary all set to go: the illusion of change, etc.
    Shut down the Internet?

  15. arbogast says:

    What you need to know about Mark Penn is that he started out in Israeli politics working for Begin. He is the Voice of AIPAC.
    Former top strategist Mark Penn, reviled by many on Hillary’s staff but still an important voice in the candidate’s ear, has emerged (to no one’s surprise) as the strongest advocate of her remaining in the race regardless of what happens in the next 24 hours, according to sources inside the campaign.
    In contrast to the “realist faction” (which reportedly includes Penn’s replacement Geoff Garin, communications chief Howard Wolfson and others), Penn is advising the Clintons to remain in the race through the convention — just in case another Rev. Wright-type scuffle breaks out.
    His argument: Suspend the campaign if you must, but don’t end it, because all those Obama supers will flock to Hillary if more dirt on O emerges before the convention.

    Wright-type scuffle? Does that include the Bobby Kennedy scenario now drawn twice in public by Clinton?

  16. Many thanks Kieran, for a fascinating report. I have taken the liberty of copying a hunk onto my blog. I hope other members of the trip will write up their impressions as well.
    Best to you both and thanks again for an excellent blog and fine writing.
    Best, Joshua

  17. David Habakkuk says:

    Absolutely fascinating — a first-class piece of reporting.
    ‘An aside to show just how out of touch the diplomatic community is: at a diplomatic party the night before a number of embassy people from various countries were assuring me that Hezbollah was not doing much construction.’
    If our diplomats are so ignorant and incurious that, although they live in the country, they cannot find out crucial information available to a group of inquisitive Harvard graduate students, one’s heart really sinks.

  18. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Helpful reporting, many thanks.
    This piece by Anthony Sullivan resonates with Kieran’s.
    “A recent extended visit to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt leaves little room for optimism about the geopolitical stability of the Levant or the likelihood of Middle East peace. Most Arabs believe that more bad times are coming to the region, including another Israeli-Hezbollah war, which many now expect to erupt as early as the summer of 2008….”
    I spoke with Tony at a conference this past weekend. He is concerned about an Israeli attack on Lebanon-Syria.

  19. Paul says:

    Thanks to Colonel Lang and Kieran we are current with some of the thinking in the Middle East. Many Americans do not understand that situation and this blog is the only one that offers cogent thought on the difficulties there.
    There is a long history in that part of the world and we are late players who threw away history books. The U.S. seemingly ruined every chance it had to make a meaningful difference in the lives of ordinary Arabs and Muslims. The huffing and puffing over Israel clouded our path. Lieberman’s admonition of “shared values” with Israel is sickening to hear. Strafing Gaza with F-16s one of them, Joe?.
    Does anybody in the “Middle Eastern Hands” community believe that a father with young children in Kansas City gives a crap about events in the Levant? What about the real estate agent in Modesto who witnesses multiple foreclosures day after day? How about the unemployed textile worker in Henderson North Carolina? How does the Middle East “play” with ordinary Americans? Results in November will surprise a lot of “experts”.
    Wall Street, OPEC, AIPAC, Multi-national corporations and the DOD are feeding at the public trough as never before. The rape of the lower and middle classes that began with Reagan and continues unabated to this day has created a never before seen rage with the common man and woman. That rage continues to manifest itself.
    Who is going to pay for the continued adventure in that part of the world? Where will the troops and military force come from? The Army and MarCor are worn down and yes, beaten; the Navy is clueless, and the Air Force, if called upon in a large scale way, might bombs the wrong places given their relatively poor state of readiness.
    Americans are, by and large, lazy and ignorant about the rest of the world, but they do understand that $10/gallon of gas results from chicanery in the Middle East, and they are upset by the foolishness of putting so much money into Iraq and Israel’s infrastructure ahead of their own. Though they may be a bit dense, they are flexible. New sources of energy will be developed by the will of the people and not by government fiat. It’s only a matter of time.
    It is my belief (and hope) that the still unwashed populace of this weak country will rise up against their empty-suited masters.
    Though it is important to understand the history of the Middle East, this blog has convinced me that an “eye for an eye” mentality reigns supreme and it will not change anytime soon. Let them kill each other if they are worried about the slights of the past.

  20. Martin K says:

    Sir, now that Obama has won, do you agree that its time to work on that project? I would really like to hear an endorsment from you to the democratic candidate, out loud & clear, even if I understand that it may be a bit galling. You are one of the few beacons inside the mil/intel blogsphere, and your voice is heard quite far, so in the name of all that is good & constructive, I would urge you to do this.
    This is on-topic, because a lot of scenarios in the ME are hanging on the outcome of the US election, and if I had been allowed into your country I would have gone over and worked volunteer. Unfortunately, visas are not allowed for folks who have been arrested in passive demonstrations outside the US embassy. As can be seen from al- Assad, at least the Syrians are rational actors, not evil fanatics. This needs to be heard all over the USA, because the ME is going to have a unprecedented effect in this election.
    Over at Abu Muqawama I suggested some democratic veterans sit down and write “The Middle East for Dummies: As authorised & written by certified US veterans”. With maps, easy pictures and some statistics that you yanks love. I would repeat that idea here, something to slam on the table and say “read this, and then well talk” to those facing the haters in the workplace.

  21. Patrick Lang says:

    Martin K
    I would have no “problem” with the election of Obama to be president, but I am not much of a “joiner.” I joined something once and do not intend to repeat the experience. I have no interest in becoming one of his supporters. I also have no interest in becoming one of McCain’s supporters. I do not wish to be a part of any “project.”
    The wave of support for Obama may well be a passing phenomenon. European sttitudes toward him are largely irrelevant to his possibilities for election. Obama finished the Democratic Party internal struggle on a descending note of declining support in polling across the country. This was within the Democratic Party. Obama has not yet met the Republicans. The polling data shows that there is still little support for him among white American workers, white women and Hispanics. One or two more incidents involving U-tube videos could be devastating to his prospects. pl

  22. Alex says:

    What is meant to be so ridiculous about a Swiss militia system? It strikes me that Hezbollah and the other parties down south successfully executed exactly that in 2006. It would also be an effective figleaf for the parties to retain their own forces whilst binding them into a national command structure.

  23. david says:

    Excellent, Kiernan. And thanks for sharing. Please let readers know if at some point we can find our way to other reports of the project/trip.
    A word of caution, however, with respect to your conclusions (and please don’t take offense as you seem quite knowledgeable on Lebanese affairs). In my opinion, the Lebanese do place ‘bets’ on the outcomes of regional power plays, but one should never underestimate the myopia of the Lebanese political class. Alliances there — be they domestic, regional or international — are highly ephemeral transactions. Thus, it is relatively unimportant whether Geagea thinks the US/Israel will or won’t attack Iran and/or Syria. What matters is that Geagea thinks there are short-term political benefits, financial or otherwise, for staking out such a position. Geagea repeats WH talking points because it helps him raise money in the US, gets him access to USG funds, and resonates with part of his base. Geagea’s enemy is not Iran, Syria or darkness or evil or terror, it is his Christian rivals (here Aoun, there not Aoun).
    To be sure, the Lebanese have perfected the skill of telling foreigners want they want to hear (HA is stumbling to sound ‘anti-colonial’ notes to a global audience). But I remain convinced that Tip O’Neill was right on Lebanon: all politics are local.
    Indeed, if you spend extended time with any Lebanese politician, you will see that the vast majority of their time and energy is spent navigating local quarrels, whose complexity and minutae are mind-numbing to those who do not know the ‘village.’ This is, of course, a bit strange, because on first brush (be it hours, days, weeks or even months), Lebanese pols when given a foreign audience have a strong prelidiction for waxing on world affairs. Such is the fate for those in a small, weak country, but the bizarre quality of their formulations on such matters belie the fact that it is something of a sideshow for the ‘real game.’ Some may find charm in this kookiness (think of any Western journalist having lunch at Mukhtara); others may find it dangerous. But it is a fool’s errand to underestimate the political judgment of the local players. To a certain extent, we all change, but they stay the same.
    Some say Lebanon has always been a staging ground for regional competitions, but I think more accurately it is a place where regional competitions die ignominious deaths in the mud of an abiding feudal system. This, for me, above all else, is what is meant by ‘resistance’ in Lebanon. And in this sense, I do not fault the Americans for always having a poorly calibrated policy in Lebanon. It is literally beyond their managerial capacity from a cost-benefit perspective. Even those with a more preferential balance sheet — the Israelis and the Syrians — have found stable profits hard to come by.
    Thanks again for sharing your astute and insightful analysis. It pleases me to see that some latter day Harvard grads know that the ‘great university of the West’ finds an educational rival in the ‘East.’

  24. Jose says:

    I got a different impression form reading the article by the fact that the pro-West forces were preparing for war and not fighting.
    To me it shows how weak the American influence in the Middle East has become because Lebanon settle it’s problem via the Arab League, Israel is negotiating with Syria via Turkey and Iran is negotiating a settlement between all the Shiite factions in Iraq.
    In none of these places is America leading.
    Once America adopted the Neo-Conic view of the world, America suffered from an isolation and resentment that has spread across the world but most severely in the Middle East.
    On Mark Penn, Obama could not have done it without you even more than the damage done by Bill.

  25. Cloned_Poster says:

    Great post. Kieran manages to display all the subtleties that Bush II thinks will be solved by a Bud and clearing scrub in a ranch in Texas.

  26. m savoca says:

    Col Lang, thanks for this outstanding report from Kieran Wanduragala. Appears that Assad is an intelligent and dynamic leader.
    i read many years ago that he had told his father in no uncertain terms he was dis-interested in following in the footsteps of leadership thus his brother was groomed to follow their father.
    then with Basil’s untimely death, Bashar evidently, reluctantly agreed to come forth, (from England where he was a student?).
    the apparent emotional instability of several other players in the arena is frightening
    this post, (your entire blog for that matter) should be required reading at state department..(maybe it was already!)

  27. Ajit says:

    This report is one of the best I ever read on any region. I prefer this kind of reporting by people who knows the region, Language and are honest about what they say.
    One can easily see the guy who wrote this report is intelligent and humane and honest about what he is talking about.
    This is a million times better than being lectured by the morons in Corporate Media who don’t know a thing about what they are talking about and care even less. I remember it was Katie Couric who blathered “Navy Seals Rock”.

  28. Curious says:

    That is some ground reporting being posted at this block. Thank You.
    Anyway, it’s still too early to say about president Obama. I will put it at around 50-60% likelihood. But by september/October we should know better.
    Next month would be interesting. Any major attack preparation would start then. A single big ship showing up at wrong schedule, oil price will jump like crazy. ($123-ish, right now)
    But my general sense, nobody in the mood for major war. Iranian blockade talk also isn’t in the media. (They should have started doing it before Aug-Oct, attack right?)
    Me, personally, the entire idea of Iran/Syria-Israel war is pure fantasy and waste of money. It won’t change a thing meaningfully. Few dead people, that’s it.

  29. Adnan Husain says:

    It is amazing that a delegation of Harvard students would have such access to political leaders in the Lebanon and Syria–how’s that for US Empire? Having noted this, I want to thank Kieran Wanduralaga for a fascinating and insightful report–really astonishingly good and possible only as a result of thorough preparation and background knowledge, clearly. I would suggest writing this up in a more organized and analytical way as a short article on how the principals view the consequences of the Doha accord and perhaps developing further the collapsing influence of the Bush doctrine.

  30. Marion says:

    “I spoke with Tony at a conference this past weekend. He is concerned about an Israeli attack on Lebanon-Syria.”–Clifford Kiracofe
    After reading his piece, which started out good and than basically went into what I would call an anti-Hezbollah propaganda piece with no facts to back up all of his claims, I think Tony should be more concerned about his credibility….
    While I really appreciated the insight the piece “A visit to the Levant” gave, I found it strange that it didn’t cover interviews of important figures of the March 8th group such as Michel Aoun and Nabi Berri…

  31. Charles I says:

    Arbogast, where is this spanner you speak of.
    Debkafile’s top story today on the spannerist:
    “Obama: The danger from Iran is real and my goal is to eliminate this threat”
    The Big O just promised Israel another $30 Bn – chump change for your grandkids what with the tax cuts, the war, the rebate they’ll be paying off – but there it is right out of the starting gate.
    The only spanner I see is the one he tossed into the “peace process” – the immediate promise of an undivided Jerusalem.
    Erekat is quoted at Debkafile characterizing the APIIC grovel as Obama “shutting the door on the peace process” Ditto Abbas: “we will never surrender Jerusalem”
    I know Debkafile is a bit over the top in their breathless, urgent pronouncements (my favourite is a constant theme: “. . . and the military may have to act if the government is too distracted to deal with this urgent threat. . .harumph ) and scoops, but how does any of that forgo any adventure?
    January 20th is a long way away. I’m sorry to say “yeah what Paul said” re ignorance. Obama may be eaten alive for all we know, it seems fairly easy to manipulate the public with the grossest of lies and delusional imperatives. Rich must have tax cuts while poor pay for war as the constitution is pissed on for good measure.
    Until the disencumbered New Day Paul predicts above, America is in it hook line and sinker.It is a long way from “rage” over gasoline and endless political bullshit – even rape – to overthrowing the present order. Electronic voting, demonstably effortlessly hacked(when it works, that is) is sold as a hanging chad cure-all while a court endorses voter disenfranchisement, er, I mean, voter ID.
    Until somebopdy says Hmmm, Iran is pretty far away, and far from deliverable capability, Israel looks pretty bulletproof, maybe we should try a new tack, give all that aid to the Pals until Israel sues for peace, might not take 60 more years. Or spend it on healthcare, New Orleans or some other folly. Let them kill each each other, as Paul suggests,they gotta sell the gas to get the big guns anyway.
    But no, its sickening to hear the obeisient mantra, even if its mandatory tribute to a noisy and greedy censor, the’re both on the news just now.

  32. Kieran says:

    Thank you all for your kind comments. Posting the story here was the least I could do after so many years profitably lurking.
    The Obama issue is one with which I am still grappling. His speech to AIPAC today left no doubt that he is no foe of the ‘new Middle East’ or whatever you wish to call the agenda pursued over the last 7 years. However there is a difference between failing to oppose something and positively working for it. My perception is that he is not positively working for it.
    Could this difference matter at a moment when the project looks precarious both strategically and domestically? The project seems to require some offensive action to sustain it. A period of benign neglect may see it collapse. To put it another way, I have a feeling that so much of present US involvement in the ME involves deception (of others and our own population), willful refusal to deal with rational actors, and the exploitation of a particular set of political networks, that a solidly pro-Israel but relatively straightforward President would catalyze major changes in policy.
    Returning to the question as to why Obama may be going along with the tough rhetoric, there are a few possibilities. He may truly believe the rhetoric. Or he may have some bold new foreign policy ideas but think they cannot win him the election. Alternatively he may have no particular ideas on foreign policy, willing to be carried by the current. My money is on the last of these options. Unfortunately, that will make him easy to ‘lock in’ to the project with an escalation in the next few months.
    Keep in mind that an event like an Israeli strike on Iran or US-Iran conflict, even if limited in scope, is likely to severely damage Obama. He will be caught between the need to appear tough and pro-Israel on the one hand and his antiwar base on the other. As this would hardly be an issue about which he could be ambiguous, it is likely that he would lose a chunk of his supporters no matter what. McCain supporters would rally.

  33. Cieran says:

    Excellent work! Excellent name, too!

  34. Mike Adams says:

    I could read 20 Mainstream Media articles and not get this much information.

  35. zanzibar says:

    Now that each of the Presidential candidates, Olmert, etc have paid homage at the AIPAC shrine I am convinced there is no “change” coming.
    Neo-conism is too deeply embedded in the American political landscape.
    This means that Bush and Cheney and Olmert get to have their last fling with shiny objects and fireworks. McCain will then try and squeeze Obama into the triangulation vice. I am afraid Mr. Change will get caught in the sticky trap of same story different cover.

  36. JE says:

    Thank you Mr. Lang for posting the letter, and thank you Kieran for writing it.
    I have a question to Kieran. Why did you not visit General Michel Aoun who has the largest support within the Christian community and has made an understanding with Hezbollah?

  37. Kieran says:

    What I found absurd about the ‘Swiss model’ proposed was that, as far as I understood, it would involve basically dismantling Hezbollah’s militia and taking away their heavy arms while ensuring that every male citizen had a gun. I don’t think Lebanese would have fought very successfully in 2006 without rockets, mines, AT weapons, C4I, training, and esprit de corps. If you are allowing them to keep all that – well then, what is the difference from the present situation? The only solution that I can see is a state military that does what Hezbollah can do (perhaps incorporating some of its elements) in terms of resistance and deterrence, plus air defenses, while following the legitimate chain of command. This is exactly what Gemayel was refusing to address.
    Thank you for highlighting that important perspective on Lebanese politics. It is certainly true that the bottom line for these people is their position on the ground in Lebanon – politics is local in that sense.
    However, I don’t agree that the parties’ external alliances are ephemeral and insignificant – I think that is a caricature of sorts that Lebanese history does not actually justify. Look at how long some of these relationships have been in place: Hezbollah has been with the Iranians since 1982, Amal with the Syrians for even longer, Geagea and Gemayel with various Western powers for a similar length of time. True, people like Aoun and especially Jumblatt appear to have successfully navigated shifts. Aoun’s switch came after a 15 year absence from the political scene and at a tumultuous time in Lebanon. Jumblatt’s case should be seen in the context of a wider power struggle in both Lebanon and Syria between Khaddam, Kanaan, Shihabi, and Hariri (the ‘Lebanon wing’ of the Syrian regime, if you like) and the Assads.
    Without committed and powerful allies one lacks finance, weapons, and diplomatic support without which one’s local position will fast be undermined. Perhaps some of this is not always visible. I don’t believe that the ‘local politics’ you refer to is autonomous or sustainable, as though it were the usual old village politics with the benefit of some occasional manna from clueless foreigners. This ‘local politics’, murky and parochial as it seems, is still very much a product of external powers and their struggles, and as such the players in Lebanon have to watch those powers and struggles very closely. Their bets on these issues and obvious preoccupation with them are not just hot air for the benefit of visiting Westerners but matters of life and death (truly!) for them. Look at the number of high profile assassinations in Lebanon over the past few decades. How many do you imagine were homegrown?
    The fact that players in Lebanon may be expecting a strike on Iran does not mean it is going to happen. But those who have placed bets on that basis will have hell to pay if the alternative scenario of collapsing US power in the region transpires (and I have come to think that the choice is coming or being pushed to such a duality.)
    We were originally scheduled to meet with both Aoun and Berri. However, the chaos in Lebanon, the negotiations in Doha, and the subsequent politicking threw a spanner in the works. I am not one of the organizers so I can’t tell you definitively, but I understand that the two of them (particularly Aoun) were not very flexible with scheduling.
    I have been thinking about the contours of a possible US/Israeli war with Iran. It occurs to me that both sides may be able to keep the violence from escalating too far, accomplishing a kind of negotiation through violence – you lose your nuclear sites, we start heading for the exit in Iraq.
    I have also been thinking about the consequences of no US/Israeli strike. My take thus far has been that US power in the region would decline precipitously. Bush and Cheney are holding things together because everyone worries they might be crazy enough to push the button. People are not going to feel the same way about Obama, and the fear that is now keeping Iran and co. in line (and the trust that is keeping Israel/the Gulf on board) will dissipate.

  38. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    At the conference, Tony’s presentation was focused more on a general assessment of the regional situation with some critique of US policy in the area rather than Lebanon specifically. The danger for war, Israel attack scenario, was highlighted.
    The information presented on Hizbullah in the Sullivan piece, irrespective of any slant one way or the other, indicates the powerful capabilities, sophistication, and effectiveness of the organization. To me, this ties into Kieran’s observations on the ground and helps make the case that the US should engage Hizbullah (and Aoun) rather than attempt to isolate them (and the Opposition). I think Col. Augustus Richard Norton’s new book on Hizbullah is quite useful for overall context.
    Per Aoun, I found the recent interview with him in L’Orient Le Jour (thanks to Friday Lunch Club posting) revealing. Particularly Aoun’s revelation that US Ambassador Feltman “offered” him the presidency if he would break with Hizbullah.
    How do you assess General Aoun and the March 8 opposition coalition?

  39. Jean says:

    Great account of your meetings with different politicians, thank you for sharing it with everyone!
    I however have a question about your trip: how come you did not meet with General Michel Aoun, Geagea’s archrival on the christian scene in Lebanon? His insight on the situation would have been really interesting given his current alliances and stances about Lebanese and foreign politics, and given that he was one of the main architects of the Doha agreement.

  40. david says:

    Thanks for your response (again astute). In some ways, I was merely trying to ‘temper’ the ever constant need to see all things Lebanon as a function of regional power plays (so in some ways, my comment was directed to some of the commenters here rather than you). Part of this effort on my part stems from my sense that US policy in Lebanon is often a lost cause because it refuses to account adequately for the domestic motivations of the parties.
    I do not for a second discount the importance of external parties, but I would insist that all alliances (domestic, regional and international) be viewed as transactional in nature. Perhaps ‘ephemeral’ was a poor word choice, but I believe that all of these ‘alliances’ must be seen as ‘transactions’ located in their particular context, which like any marketplace evolves and changes over time due to the interaction of endogenous and exogenous factors. Even HA’s relationship with Iran is very contextual and subject to political contingencies and some of that reality is lost if one only considers them ‘allies’ moving in lockstep or allows the political rhetoric to obscure the political economy of the relationship, which is a more complex affair.
    To flesh this out a bit in another context as I am not privy to the fleshy details of the HA-Iranian ‘alliance,’ consider the M14 coalition. Its cohesiveness as a political faction is very much a function of external benefactors, but its weakness stems from its own divisions, which are a (largely) a function of domestic realities. Thus its constituent parts come together for a transaction they see beneficial, but other transactions are impossible due to fundamental antagonisms within its moving parts. They are ‘allies’ in an extended anti-Syrian information operation, but there is little else to their political agenda. Indeed when pushed by the US decision to twin the removal of the Syrian presence with HA weapons, the coalition fell apart, quite literally on the streets of Beirut. If some exogenous force alters the dynamics of the market place (an attack on Iran), M14 may or may not be able to agree to a further transactions, but that to me is idle speculation as the Lebanese are quite good at rearranging the deck chairs when need be.
    Similarly, the Syrian role in Lebanon is often subject to gross distortion by simplifying the matter. Even the loudest anti-Syrian barkers in the M14 coalition have maintained ties to elements in the Syrian regime or circles of influence in Syria. Close family ties and business relationships often survive the political calamities of the day. Indeed, the Israelis probably failed in Lebanon because they did not marry in, metaphorically speaking, to Lebanese scene (for some obvious reasons).
    Am I trading in cliches with respect to Lebanon or dabbling awkwardly in the good Col.’s least favorite science? Yes, to a certain extent (merchant republic, etc.), but it is only an effort to provide an additional (and necessary in my book) analytical perspective to understand the Lebanese scene. To answer your question and provide an example, consider assassinations in Lebanon. When they happen, I begin a five-step analysis: personal, local, national, regional, international. And then when I am done, I reverse the order to see what I have missed, and then apply Occam’s razor to the more unsightly possibilities.
    Anyway before this gets to long, let me say I agree with you in the main and applaud your insights. Again, well done.

  41. Jay McAnally says:

    Once again, thanks for a hugely insightful piece of reporting.

  42. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    <..."paid homage at the AIPAC shrine I am convinced there is no "change" coming.">
    Zanzibar makes a realistic point. What the American people want in terms of foreign policy is not relevant to the political elite. The elite sees its role as providing foreign policy “leadership” for the masses.
    The signficant issue is the foreign policy of the dominant political elite in this country as expressed through the White House and Congress. This is what the outside world must contend with.
    Obama’s public statements on Israel, and on what his policy will be, have not varied significantly from Clinton’s or McCain’s. The world, particularly the Arab and Islamic worlds, no doubt will draw the conclusion that it will be business as usual inside the Beltway with no changes in the Israeli-American “strategic” partnership/alliance/axis or whatever.
    One could posit more of the same for the next 4 years with McCain and sort of more of the same with Obama. Thus, by 2012, this republic will be in a bigger pickle than at present. Perhaps if the situation then is catastrophic enough in terms of body counts, price of crude and refined hydrocarbons, US economic downturn (stagflation or whatever) some changes might be possible. Or maybe by 2016.
    The establishment foreign policy consensus for the next Administration, whichever, seems to be embodied in the Princeton Project for National Security headed by George Shultz and Tony Lake. Its reports were online for a while. McCain’s “League of Democracies” outside the UN was one of their ideas, for example. Sort of warmed over British Liberal Imperialism of the 19th and early 20th century. Some “bi-partisan consensus.”

  43. jon says:

    Thank you Kieran for some great and timely reporting. In a remarkably efficient post you’ve been able to convey the essence, nuance and dimension of some of the region’s key players, far better than we have been served by our professional media.
    My take away from this is that the US and it’s allies are in some disarray, and rather unfocused and half hearted in their efforts. Also, that Lebanon is gathering itself together and sintering itself back together with a fair amount of success.
    I was a little surprised at your reaction to people’s point of view in the Palestinian refugee camp. Their passion and desire to return to their former homes seems entirely reasonable.
    Your conclusions, however, don’t seem to flow from the body of your report, particularly in terms of US policy and actions.
    Also, any new US president will be probes and tested by other nations generally. It’s not just about Iran or other adversaries. Obama doesn’t project strength in the way that McCain does, but he might also be less brittle, more resilient and nimble, and more clever in strategy and negotiation. Obama is ultimately a center-right Democrat, cut from the same cloth as Hillary. Don’t mistake him for a lost ing the ’60’s, wooly headed sociology prof.

  44. frank durkee says:

    As one who has done it, let me point out that any one who actually is able to organize a portion of a community to produce change that engages the full spectum of the power in that community has to be a deep realist. Has to be thoughtful, and has to be able to have a genuine sense of the possible [ not the usual ], a steady nerve and the capacity to generate both trust and enable others to be clear about their self interest. Obama has done that and I see clear signs of it in his campaign so far. He is not perfect by any means and he is probably more different than many of us either recognize and/or wish to acknowledge. The difference is not rhetorical so much as of temprament and modes of action. He may lose but he did take down one of the premier establishment political organizations of our time. I would suggest that he not be underestimated.

  45. sophia says:

    The author should work in the lebanese press – this is a perfect example of the mondanite-type of coverage, packed with the yawn-provoking cliches: appearance over substance, little historical perspective and absolutely no analytical skills.

  46. Youssef Haddad says:

    Did Kieran and his friends ask Bashar, the dictator, about his jails full of prisoners of conscience?
    Instead of admiring Hezbollah’s “reconstruction” efforts did they ask the party’s leaders why they could trigger a devastating war at will in a sovereign nation?
    Did they know that Hezbollah’s mission statement includes a clause for turning Lebanon into an Islamic state if the “majority wants to do so”? Would they wish for Lebanon to become a mini Iran?
    These young people should be the first to expose the criminal beliefs and actions of the Syrian regime and of the Iranian Hezbollah instead of trying to find the silver lining in their evilness.
    Regretfully, another bunch of well meaning Americans have been manipulated by the well prepared public relations machines of a dictator and a totalitarian party.

  47. Kieran says:

    I agree with your basic perspective. The transactional nature of alliances is something I will have to think carefully about (the nature of the transaction is sometimes opaque.)
    I think we probably disagree slightly as to how simple rearranging the deck chairs is going to be for some of these M14 people. There could be a very bitter climate with different people jumping ship at different times.
    You’re quite right. I didn’t write this as analysis, just as a snapshot of my impressions.

  48. Kieran says:

    Youssef, I find your lack of faith…disturbing. You think we were manipulated by ‘well prepared PR’? The PR machines of Syria and Hezbollah do not compare to those of the March 14 people, as you would have understood had you read the article properly. I have some Hezbollah leaflets to hand at the moment. They would be genuinely comic if they were not so sad.
    Of course we asked about those things. We interrogated Bashar about Michel Kilo in particular, and a great deal if not the majority of the conversation with Hezbollah revolved around the issue of their weapons. However, you don’t establish much by going into a conversation hoping to establish the other party’s “evilness”.
    Regarding Hezbollah and the Islamic State, that is a canard. The Higher Shia Council has rejected it. Nasrallah himself has said it would take ‘not just a majority, but an overwhelming majority.’ Hezbollah clearly and publicly recognizes an Islamic State as an unrealistic goal.

  49. Rex Brynen says:

    Great trip report, Kieran (and thanks, Pat, for posting it)

  50. harper says:

    Kieran, Just curious: Did you not meet with Aoun or his people? If not, I am curious why not? Seems this would have been a useful addition to your picture, and would have added one further note to an excellent tour d’horizon. Thanks.

  51. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Here is a useful interview with Dr. Franklin Lamb, an American observer who resides in Beirut:
    “Franklin Lamb: I don’t believe Hezbollah achieved a ‘total victory’ as the question suggests, but its achievements were certainly strategic and that sets outs the future in many respects. As you rightly imply, Hezbollah’s emphatic statement by its quick move into the March 14 areas was aimed at Israel, the Bush Administration and their agents and allies in Lebanon and the Middle East.
    What provoked the precise timing of the action was the fact as Sheik Naim Qassim, Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General told this observer and a former American Ambassador and other US citizens who met with him on Monday May 10 in Dahiyeh was a 10 hour “series of conference calls” from the Welch Club to the Serail (Government House) that immediately preceded the Siniora government decision to move against Hezbollah, its vital optic fiber phone system and the Airport security office. According to Hezbollah sources there were other US planned assaults on the Opposition which have not been made public.
    According to Qassim during this frenetic series of conference calls involving several countries, the decision was made in Washington to move against Hezbollah. Hezbollah believes the Lebanese government is virtually occupied by the Bush Administration and all substantive decisions now announced in Beirut come from Washington…..
    Question: Are the prospects for peace in the region better or worse with a well armed Hezbollah?
    Franklin Lamb: Better in the sense that there is for the first time in modern history an Arab/Muslim deterrence to Zionist and Western colonialism. Worse in the sense that the US and Israel are rapidly losing influence and viability in the Middle East and may once againresort to war to stem the breach.” http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20084.htm

  52. tigermarks says:

    Very interesting, though I found you too eager to make March 14 politicians look insincere. Assad certainly got off too easy. In any case, opposition types will love this stuff as indeed they have already shown all over the blogosphere.
    Question: why did you not meet Aoun or Berri or Nasrallah? What about Frangieh? I think some more nut cases from the opposition side would have been fair to counter the nutties on the pro side, don’t you think?

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