Walid's Wanderings

Reflections on life, good-and-evil, family, humanity, and anything else that occurs to me, usually when I travel. Right now I am on a 6-year trip through Lebanon, the homeland I had never really lived in before.

Monday, July 31, 2006

It looks like Atlanta, GA

The plane leaving today from Cyprus will take us to Atlanta, Georgia, as far as I can tell. Since I last blogged, we have spent one night on a cruise ship (4 bunks in a cabin with private shower) and two nights in a temporary camp in Cyprus (400 people in three large convention-center exhibition halls, with foldable cots, air conditioning.) For the first time in my life I have better access to the Internet than I do to a hot shower.

But we are safe and the Consular officials are doing everything they can to make us comfortable as they scramble to charter enough planes. We have food and toiletries coming out our ears, and cleaning services for floors and bedsheets, and volunteers helping out, and even a bus to town for shopping and ice cream. Many people here (but not us) have one or more members of the party with documents missing or insufficient, so the decisions are coming in all day for them as to whether they will be allowed on the plane or not.

Politically ..

I am nervous. All my high faith in Hezballahs distinctinvceness via-a-vis all the other bozos who have stood against Israel since 1948 is on the line. As long as Israel keeps air strikes suspended, as announced last night, Hezballah will have to play its trump card and demonstrate that it too can halt all missile strikes. The Western world, and especially every voter in America who plans to vote in October, must see that stopping the missiles against Israel is something that only Hezballah can deliver.
I pray that Hassan Nasrallah's policy, as I have read it, can still hold sway with the aggreived members of Hezballah's decision making body, members who may have had wives and children among the victme. And of course a postscript to my prayer is a wish that this is indeed his policy.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

There is a good chance we will be leaving tomorrow on a US evacuation boat.

I'll post again once we get somewhere. Including somewhere like right here if we do not leave.

It's not just me

The whole mood was just not as friendly, to put a kind face on it. Fewer cars in the streets, and the crazy-fast driving is back. On Monday, for the first time in my life, a car, a Lebanese taxi cab no less, stopped to let me use the pedestrian crossway (zebra crossing) before I jumped ahead into traffic to block its path. Wednesday was back to the usual disgruntlement. One newspaper today (Thursday) speculated that a misplaced optimism at Rice's visit had overcome the Lebanese on Monday, but they knew what was what before the Rome conference on Wednesday even started.

The overall mood on the unbroken part of Beirut was probably best exemplified by the soaring demand for air tickets out of Damascus, Amman and Nicosia to anywhere in the world. We'll need to wait a couple of weeks to take a commercial flight after a border run under fire. Or we'll have to wait for the next American evacuation vessel, which will appear on an "unscheduled" basis from now on.

Real people are starting to get it

But as irrational as the politicians who make policy may be, the professionals in their entourages often understand reality quite well. And in the corridors of today’s conference I met several men and women who, on background or off the record (meaning they were afraid of losing their jobs if caught talking too frankly) laid out a picture of the situation in the Middle East right now that was convincing, frightening, and seems to have escaped the notice of Dispatcher Rice altogether.

The bottom line: Hizbullah is winning. That’s the hideous truth about the direction this war is taking, not in spite of the way the Israelis have waged their counterattack, but precisely because of it. As my source Mr. Frankly put it, “Hizbullah is eating their lunch.

That was Newsweek article. Hate to say "I told you so" a week ago.
Courtesy of Tayyar.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Insomnia ...

It's finally sinking in. I am down to the level of detail where I ask questions like which American state gives the best trade-off between home prices costs employment opportunities, or which car brand gives the right trade-off between running and acquisition costs. So we are really leaving. It's pretty hard to leave a place where you have good memories not knowing when you will be able to come back. Everyone knows that. It is actually harder, in my experience, to leave a place where part of your identity was created, and then know with certainty that, even when you eventually go back there physically, it will never be the same. It will never be "home" again.

At least the sleep I'm losing over this will go towards a longer posting today.

Real Evil

It is easy to mistake ignorance for malice, I have always believed. So far in my posts, I have been analyzing what is happening in Lebanon based on a generous assumption of ignorance by the key players of each others' true motivations. This may well be a good assumption. We may still see an end game where Israel demonstrates that it does not want to geopolitically dominate Lebanon, a Lebanese consensus that includes Hezballah in some form demonstrates that it does not want to destroy Israel in the long run, and America demonstrates that the brand of democracy it wants is really one that includes everyone and not just politicians similar to George Bush and Tom Delay. Or was it Ken Lay? I get them confused.

Today, I want to focus instead on the converse assumption: that malice feigns ignorance and foments ignorance in others. A malice that can truly fan the destructive mutual ignorance of the immediate combatants in Lebanon must be something big indeed. And I have a woozie of a theory here. To mix a metaphor from Fukuyama, I am talking about no less than the restart of history. In everything from a DVD player to a printer, "restart" is the button you press to get out of "pause" mode. Usually the same button, but that's beside the point. So you might assume that, when I say "the restart of history", I must be implying that history paused when the Soviet empire folded and Fukuyama wrote "The End of History". That is not what I have in mind. Instead, I want to look back to the French Revolution in 1789.
Those of you familiar with David Brin's "Real Culture War" essay can skip the following paragraph.

The Very Very big picture

Journalists bandy about the word "empire" with ease. But who remembers what a real empire was like? Before the French Revolution, history was a tale of empire eating empire. Within each empire, there was invariably a version of monarchist France's First, Second and Third Estates. The First Estate was the aristocrats. They led armies, levied taxes, and held all manner of political power which they used to raise more taxes and fight off any rivals. And they handed power down to their offspring. The Second Estate was the clergy. They also collected wealth and were exempt from taxes. They talked about Good and Evil, but their main contribution to the structure of the empire was to convince people that it was right and good that the Aristocrats be in charge. The Third Estate, scared by the weaponry of the First and obedient to the ideas of the Second, paid all the taxes and did all the work. The French Revolution, and its close parallel American Revolution, were the first of many attempts to put into place an alternative idea. The idea of accountability of the rulers to all of the ruled equally. Liberty to criticize and equality between the critics' voices. (Fraternity was added to make the slogan more catchy.)

The old march of history, where empire ate empire, began to come to a pause in the 18th century. Both Communism and Democratic Capitalism emerged from the French Revolution, and both were aimed at stopping the past excesses and violence of the previously universal feudal system of competing emipres. Feudal empires the world over were no match for these two universally empowering ideologies. Understandably, the two eventually clashed, and in the end Democratic Capitalism proved flexible enough to survive a few decades longer. The ideals of universal economic equality that headlined the Communist model were more quickly transformed into a "Second Estate" of a new empire. Those ideals were proposed as the reason for the working majority to yield to the rule of a "First Estate" of Party Nomenklatura, who incidentally controlled the weapons and the KGB. Once that happened, it was Democratic Capitalism against just another empire, and guess who won?

Was this now the end of history? No one seems to think so anymore. In fact, it is becoming more clear to many that the Democratic Capitalist model was also susceptible to a slide into Feudalism. Perhaps less so than Communism was, but looking at what is happening inside the politics of the USA, flagship of the free world, is worryingly suggestive.

Political intrigue in the U.S.A.

Most of you know more about this than I do, but below is a summary of the points that support the neo-feudal leanings of the Bush regime:
  • Increased government secrecy.
  • Tax breaks for the rich.
  • Attempts to abolish estate and capital gains tax.
  • Rampant gerrymandering to lock in political incumbents.
  • Government borrowing on a scale that makes it potentially politically beholden to creditors.
  • Reversing gains in individual rights in favor of "group rights".
  • Adding religious rhetoric to the mix of money and incumbent power to gain future political power.
  • Monarchic powers to the President.
  • Haliburton, Diebold, Enron.
This is all domestic politics, and there are clearly forces fighting back on all fronts, in addition to forces that are clearly on the "good" side of true liberal democracy and capitalism but who have yet to join the good fight (I'm thinking of the likes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.)

On the foreign policy side, we see a more pessimistic picture. Instead of a "Second Estate" from pre-Platonic old-testament Christians, we see a much more beguiling deployment of the principles of the Enlightenment itself as a "Second Estate" to lock in power and money for hereditary elites. People are easily fooled to root for the side that would do them the most harm in the long run. Not that s easy to decide most of the time:
  • Between Putin and the Oligarchs, it's hard to figure out whom to root for.
  • Between the disorganized feudal system of the Taleban and the entrenched feudal system of Saudi Arabia, it makes sense to side with the Bush Administration and root for Saudi.
  • Between China and North Korea, it's also easy to root for the more capitalist China along with the neo-feudalists in the USA.
The evidence that really brings historical empires to mind has to do with the trend in where American force is projected:
  1. Against Al-Qaeda and the Taleban, morally reprehensible and also guilty of attacking the USA.
  2. Against Saddam's regime, morally reprehensible but not guilty of attacking the USA.
  3. Now, the Bush administration is trying to turn an easily resolvable border spat into another protracted war against a foe who is neither universally condemned on the moral front nor guilty of attacks against America.
See the pattern?

One of the scariest things about Saddam's Baath party, as described in the pseudonymously authored "Republic of Fear", was that it openly stated that "the state chooses its enemies." In other words, good behavior was no guarantee against being singled out as an example by the state apparatus. Today, guess who chooses to call an individual an "enemy combatant" or to call a group of people "terrorist organization"? (P.S. the "legal definition" of a terrorist organization I cited in a previous posting applies to some federal agencies, but for others the designation granted and revoked case by case.)

Lebanese Politics

So far I had been acting simplistically, and probably antagonizing a lot of you, by letting Hezballah as an organization be defined by the words of their head politician. But in my last post I opened the proverbial can of worms by asking what happens if we follow to a logical conclusion the notion that politicians speak to get votes. No one took the bait. (Pause to dwell the unmixed nature of the extended metaphor.) A closer observation of Hezballah, which I may no longer be able to access once I leave Lebanon, suggests that they are actually pandering to multiple constituencies. The two I want to distinguish can be given two simplistic labels which, I want to impress upon you from the outset, are not meant to be suggestive of any ethnic, political, religious distinctions. I am talking more about competing philosophies: a "Sunni" audience that sees Israel as a blemish on the "empire", and a "Christian" audience that wants to be left alone to prosper economically without outside pressure. For the "Sunni" audience, Hezballah produces images of sneering Hasidim gloating over Lebanese dead bodies, and insists that any negotiations with Israel be "indirect" (as if Israel would negotiate directly with a non-nation.) For the "Christian" audience, Hezballah refuses to parrot open rhetoric about destroying Israel, and plays up the deterrent effect of Hezballah's unique military system, as well as the dire need for Lebanon to have this protection.

Now since Syria withdrew, precious few were left in Lebanon to constitute this "Sunni" audience. In the elections, no politicians who mis-read the mood badly enough to send this message won any seats. Instead, Hezballah had to deal with two political forces, neither of whom wanted Hezballah to remain outside the Lebanese consensus. The "Christian" audience wanted to hold Hezballah to its word, and have it shed the total independence of action that was a deterrent to foreign economic investment, while maintaining its independence of deployment. Oversight by a body that represents Lebanese consensus stops war from being initiated from the Lebanese side and satisfies investors. Independence of deployment is a vital component of the strategic mix that allows primitive missile technology to evade the seeing eye of a competing supreme air force, as I said before. This was well understood by all but the second force arrayed against Hezballah in Lebanese internal politics. One apt philosophical name for this group might be the "anti-Shiites". These people held the view that, even if a deterrent was nice to have, it was better to trust the Israelis to never hurt Lebanon than to let Hezballah have any responsibility for the deterrent. Since this view is overtly racist, it was unpalatable in raw form. The "cooked" version was to insist that Hezballah integrate into the armed forces of Lebanon.

This seems like a minute distinction from the previous view that Hezballah must have Lebanese consensus oversight. But the difference in end result is vast. In the armed forces, it is impossible to keep the weapons hidden. This is inherent in the way the military operates. You train people, indoctrinate them, and give them weapons that kill and officers to whom they are accountable. You trust them as far as these officers can see the weapons. This is key. If the officers do not know where the weapons are, then we have a gang. A gang is the correct term for what we in Lebanon called "militias" during the civil war. A set of petty local tyrants only beholden to their leadership by fear. No one can stop them stealing from civilians except by threatening them with a bigger gun. The genius of Hezballah's "well regulated militia" is that the soldiers' indoctrination is stronger than a regular army's. Officers can expect complete obedience even when the weapons and the soldiers are out of their sight. And thus out of sight of enemy spies and satellites.

So if the true "anti-shiites" are so few, how come the politicians that pandered to them were able to stop Hezballah and the "Christian" audience from uniting and properly legitimizing Hezballaj's status in a way that maintained its greatest strength? My interpretation of Lebanese politics from 2005 to now is that the anti-democratic forces of the Bush administration regarded them as sufficiently like-minded and were giving them support. These Lebanese politicians were all Bush-style would-be aristocrats. Saad Hariri, Walid Junblatt, and Amin Gemayel all inherited wealth, power and influence from fathers who were, in vastly different ways, successful products of an enlightenment meritocracy. Rafiq Hariri was, as you all know, a self-made billionaire who became Prime Minister of Lebanon after he despaired from fixing it any other way, and steered Lebanon's Sunnis away from extremism. Kamal Junblatt was born a feudal scion, died leader of the Socialist movement in Lebanon, and famously referred to his own mother when she died as the last of the feudal line. Pierre Gemayel was influenced by fascism, but he can be credited with saving Lebanon from communist take-over in the days of the PLO.

These great men had foibles and differed and fought but at least had principles. Today, their children are part of the great march backwards towards the feudalism with a democratic-capitalist face for which the Bush administration is chief proponent. For example, their first act on assuming a parliamentary majority in gerrymandered elections was to sack Lebanon's Constitutional Court (local version of the Supreme Court.) No one was left to look into voting irregularities that may have reversed the majority. And until today, the newly appointed justices have yet to agree to convene.

So these are the men with whom Condi Rice is meeting in Rome to plot the next step. They will set conditions tailored to sound reasonable to the Lebanese, but which will keep Hezballah fighting to the finish. Unless someone decent-minded like Fouad Seniora discovers an allegiance to his country greater than his allegiance to his ex-employer's son, and finds a way to save Lebanon and Hezballah by making Hezballah do what it promised half its audience to do.

Politics of Israel-Arab Negotiation

I have maintained in the past, and still do, that Israel can only have lasting peace when it negotiates with an opponent that has a sense of security. This happened with Egypt in 1977 after Egypt was able to fight to a standstill in 1973. Jordan publicly made peace after Egypt signed on, but the initial and openly-secret agreement was reached after Jordan's Arab Legion was the only military left standing outside Israel in 1948. Syria has not signed a peace yet, but few people seem to know why. All rhetoric aside, and there is a lot of rhetoric coming out of those masters of the Arabic literary tradition in Syria, Hafez El-Asad was about ten feet of land away from a peace agreement with Israel before Sharon's first term as Prime Minister. Ten feet of land. The width of a strip on the northern bank of the biblical Sea of Galilee, now known as Lake Tiberias. Israel wanted to maintain sovereignty on just that strip when it withdrew from the Golan heights in exchange for lasting peace with Syria. By doing so, Israel denied Syria any legal claim to irrigation water from the lake. Syria would not have it, and Israel would not budge. Lacking any real military or political strength to push any harder, Syria left the table without a peace deal.

The irony is that there was nothing inherently zero-sum about the deal. Having once been employed by a company that built desalination plants in Kuwait, I happen to know that it takes less than half a billion dollars to build such a plant. With a billion dollar budget, one can easily not only set up a plant to make drinking water from the salty Mediterranean, but also endow a fund to pay for the fuel to run the plant. A billion dollars. How much more has been spent on weapons alone, never mind the destruction caused by the weapons, since then?

So if I were an Israeli leader who wanted peace, I would go out of my way to convince my Arab negotiating partners that they had something I feared. Even if it means pretending. If this worked, no one would want nuclear weapons programs. And if this happened, then the various politicians on the Arab side who want the peace-with-dignity vote would be free to band together and negotiate a lasting peace. The politicians who want the war vote would lose at the ballot box and abandon the idea. The true Jew-haters left standing would then be few enough to ignore or to hold properly accountable if any act on their rhetoric.

So far it has been hard to even pretend that the Palestinians had anything that Israel feared. Now Hezballah is making a bid to be a deterrent force against Israeli violence in Lebanon. The obvious and decent thing to do is to hold them to their word before the voters that they attracted with that claim. Let them be a deterrent, but one that exists within the mosaic democratic institutions of multi-sectarian Lebanon, and hence not a spearhead for initiating violence into Israel. And then, milk the feeling of security that comes with this deterrent for all it is worth. In other words, hammer out a final peace deal with both Lebanon and the Palestinians. I don't know enough about Iran to speculate, but I can only assume that the combined rejection of Iran's nuclear option by every single nation in the region, bar none, can only help the case of the US and Europe. (This would be, to those who need a crash course, the case for preventing Iran from pursuing any technical pathways to peaceful nuclear power that happen yield militarily deployable side products.)


In my mind, the real battle has yet to be joined. People the world over who want to see the final triumph of the Enlightenment ideals of democracy, accountability, rule of law, and free markets must step in to stop this restart of history. Arrayed against them, and making their move in broad daylight as it were, are the forces intent on changing these ideals into the "ruling ideology" of a new world empire not unlike everything in history before the French Revolution. An empire, it must be made abundantly clear, no more immune from invasion by other empires run by alternate hereditary elites, than any other in history. History as usual. Except with Nukes.

Can reasonable people in Lebanon, the USA and Israel save the day?

Disclaimer: Then again, maybe it's just ignorance. Condi reading the script for "birth of a chicken egg" while witnessing the birth of an elephant.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Not leaving until ...

Well, I spoke to a lot of people yesterday. Most have a cut-off date, somewhere in August, beyond which, if things are not settled, they would consider leaving. The date for us has all along been August 3rd, before we panicked a bit when the American embassy announced that they were going to stop the assisted evacuations. In reality, they will slow down the rate of assisted evacuations, while the venues for unassisted evacuations continue to open up, so there really was no reason to panic. We can stay safe and be methodical about where to go.

As I said in my last posting, we cannot stay in someone else's home for the two or three months that we may need to be there. So I want to send out another APPEAL for information about places where we can rent, without a year lease, a two-bedroom house or apartment for about $1,000 per month. It would be great if such a place could be found in Redwood City or Milpitas in California, but we somehow doubt it and are happy to look further afield. The Vermont/New Hampshire area would be a close second, but those of you in Austin, TX or Columbus, OH or Oragon/Washington should not be shy to let me know if such places might exist near you. I hope you are still reading this, but I will start asking by email over the next few days.

Back to our regular programming

The traffic to Beirut was almost normal yesterday. Having spent much of my life in commuter traffic (or so it seems), I could not help noting that the "flavor" of the commute was a bit different. Definitely Lebanese: people did not hesitate to open their own fourth lane going in the direction of high traffic on a two-lane road after the third lane became slow enough. But there was a difference. The first car to open the 4th lane did not do it at 50 miles per hour. At first I thought that this may be explained by the lack in the current mix of drivers of the super-rich punks who like to make use of the acceleration and braking power of their BMWs and SUVs for positional advantage in traffic. They would have been the first to leave. Later in the day I saw two such drivers, which would have been consistent with a strong statistical correlation between people who drive like that and people who evacuate to their second (or first) homes abroad at times like this. But of course other reasons are also likely. Such as a feeling that gasoline is to be conserved when only about a week's supply remains in the country. Or what I said on Saturday about the ambulances being too busy for road accidents. By the way I saw two ambulances on my trip, so it is clear that at least some are still assisting non-bombing cases.

For those who believe in the wisdom of the market, this conflict will not last long. I bought an HP C8727 black ink cartridge for $24, regular price. My fresh-squeezed orange juice, Toblerone bar, and gasoline were also at regular price. No one is acting as if we are really under embargo, which means no one expects it to last beyond the time it would take to empty the stocks in the warehouses. Thank goodness for inefficient supply chains! Another indication of normalcy was that most businesses had adjusted to the war-time business hours that were the norm in the last war: 8-12 for banks and 9-3 for retail. It was as smooth and universal as switching to daylight saving time. Finally, worse than being treated as a joke, the idea of an embargo had become a humorous advertising slogan. There were only two commercial on the radio (while Christina Aguillera hosted the American top-40.) One paid by the US government to tell us that "opportunities for assisted departure will diminish in the next few days". The other was "United Courier Service", a self explanatorily named business, announcing that they were breaking the embargo and accepting packages for worldwide destinations. Also accepting in-kind (no cash) donations to be delivered free of charge to devastated areas. Good on them.

There was a bit of a scare when someone on the Israeli side announced that they would fell 10 buildings in southern Beirut for every missile falling on Haifa. Some of the people in the university still had family living in the mostly evacuated suburb (think French Banlieu, not Desperate Housewives.) But I guess someone remembered an Israeli high court ruling that punitive home demolitions were more an incentive than a deterrent to terrorists, hence probably more so for a well-organized militia with missiles. It never happened.

Zoom out

I do not feel like playing at being a political analyst today. I'm just thinking. All those people that control the world, and whom we like to vilify or praise as if they were members of our household or frat. Who are they really? They are all politicians. And what to politicians want? They want votes. How do they get votes? By feel like they are just like us and want what we want, and sometimes by making us hate their competition. In combination, these two strategies have the unfortunate side effects of
  1. Making us hate the voters of the competing politicians, and
  2. Making us imagine that the politician we decided to vote against was also a member of our extended family or frat house, but one who really went astray.
Assignment: comment on how the above framework can be applied to the current conflict.

Learning outcome: none, really. Just do it for fun this time around and we'll talk about learning outcomes during the in-class discussion.

Monday, July 24, 2006


Now that the U.S. Embassy Urges Departing Americans to Proceed Directly to ... the processing center, the decision of whether to leave or not has become immediate and stressful. We are just playing at being refugees right now, while staying in the basement of the house my father built. We face some probability that food, gasoline and drinking water will run out, and an even smaller probability of being harmed by any new weapons or tactics Israel may want to use after the US declares that no Americans who "wish to leave voluntarily" are left in Lebanon. I suppose we face even longer odds that there will be looting or other forms of internal strife later on. All this we must weigh against a certainty of a tough journey with our three young boys, followed by possibly months of staying in other people's homes until we either return or find a new job. An objective assessment, uninfluenced by the stress first-hand eye-witness experience with destruction, leaves us quite conflicted. It all depends on how likely we consider the different possible next steps to be given the nature of the decision makers.

What might happen next

On the "be very afraid" side, exhibit A is the continued targeting of TV relay stations and individual press correspondents by the precision bombs of the Israeli forces. To put things into perspective, we have about 300 civilians killed out of 500,000 or more departing, and we have two or three ambulances shot at out of hundreds. But yesterday one out of the 20 or so journalists covering events first hand became a casualty, and other journalists reported warning air-to-ground missiles shot precisely to their left and to their right. What new things do they have in store once the world is really in the dark?

On the opposite corner is the convergence of the stated goals of the two chess players. From "elimination of Hezballah" to "disarming" to "20 miles of buffer" we are now down to a 3-mile buffer to be handed over to a NATO force working with the Lebanese army. This would leave Hezballah's missile deterrent to be negotiated over with a Lebanese government that has learned the hard way how badly Lebanon needs this deterrent. But it would eliminate the possibility of cross-border soldier-capture raids, for which the price would be the disputed ranch (It's not really a ranch, but a ranch-sized set of agricultural plots of land to which Lebanese villagers hold titles, but in which Syria was running the police force when Israel took it in 1967.) Meanwhile, Hezballah has already stated that merely surviving this round of fighting in any form would constitute victory in their eyes. So how about it, Condi? It's not just me saying it:

I was able to pick and choose higher-quality editorializing by looking at other bloggers' links, and in gratitude I added some links on the right side-bar, for anyone who wants a different perspective from people with a higher-bandwidth connection.

Off to work

I would have liked to spend the next two hours writing about how come I personally do not entirely distrust Hezballah, especially since so many of the other Lebanese bloggers are still expressing different points of view. But this will have to wait until tomorrow's post. I have to go down to Beirut to collect some items we need for the trip as well as information that might help us make up our mind as to whether to make the trip or not.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


Hey everyone I got the Friedman articles sent by Ichiro, Mark and Rindi. Thanks, you can all stop now :).

Yesterday we all went and got haircuts at my regular barber, in preparation for leaving. We bought lollipops and popsicles for the boys because the boys' regular barber down in Beirut used to give them out for free and the association was too strong in our pre-schoolers' minds for us to challenge. Prices were fortunately unchanged. Truck-drivers on the road were driving even more recklessly than they regularly do in Lebanon, because the rumor that the Israeli air force is going after trucks has pretty strong support. Everyone else is driving more carefully than usual because Lebanese emergency-response agencies (red cross, police, fire, civil defense) have told callers that they no longer respond to road accidents due to the higher priority of bomb victims.

Next week we will take care of dental and other routine elective medical stuff so as to reduce our exposure to the bloated medical system in the US.

Three of the eight kids in the extended household have vomited and one had diarrhea. We are not sure if it was from too many cherries or if someone slipped us some bad cheese in our take-out pizza. Most likely just a virus.

So as you can see we are not in a hurry to leave - I'm hoping something will be worked out before our turn comes.

The Meat

So what did I find in the Friedman articles? I was disappointed that there was nothing in there that I had not already covered in a previous posting:

  • conflating Hamas and Hezballah despite their different goals, methods and strategies;
  • calling Hezballah an arm of Iran as if anyone would subject their women and children to this for the $100-per-month fighter stipend reputedly funded by Iran, and
  • taking the word of the pragmatic ideology peddlers in Syria that they care about anything more than the narrow interests of the regime.
  • pot shots at Saddam
The one impression that seems to be sinking in all over is that this is an American attack against Iran. I heard Matt Frei (link, anyone?) say that the US was using Israel as a battering ram, which I had already argued was the case, since Israel's greatest advantage would be to reach an agreement with a willing opponent confident in its own security (like Egypt or Jordan) rather than one rescued by western sympathies from destruction by Israel (like the PLO). I also heard one commentator suggest that one possible end game was for the US to spare the Lebanese deterrent by letting it put itself under democratic Lebanese oversight in return for Iran yielding some points on the nuclear negotiation table. It's a bit far-fetched, I grant you that, but after sleeping on it I found that it made more sense than the other purported explanation for the current folly. In favor of the argument is the obvious lack of any leverage against Iran on the nuclear issue prior to Israel bombing our airport and highways (instead of negotiating as it had always done in the past) forcing Hezballah to show its hand. On the "against" side is the obvious question of why the Americans would believe that the Iranians would want to preserve Hezballah so badly (a whole other essay - feel free to comment). Either way, this makes more sense than either of the "they want to destroy us" arguments.

I had said before that Hezballah was not fighting the old war of Western public opinion, in part because concerted advance action by their opponents had already burned that card, and in part because they are seeking to deter Israel on their own steam and merit. But it seems quite clear that they are making a very good showing in the propaganda war for the hearts of the Arab world. Which might explain why Israel targeted Lebanese satellite transmission stations yesterday, but I'll leave that link to more conspiracy-minded commentators, because it would suggest a more coherent Israeli strategy than the current "hit everything that looks like it might be a Hezballah asset". Or that might be argued with some credibility before an future international tribunal to have looked like one.

What exactly is the advantage of winning over the Arab street? After seeing Egyptian government thugs disperse demonstrations on Friday, I would say (following the lead of Azmi Bishara ) that an obvious goal would be to sever the connection between the stated American goal of promoting democracy and the "other" American goal of promoting whatever plans the Bush administration has for the geopolitics of the region. Until now, and contrary to the insincere propaganda of Syria and her ideological twins, it was conceivable that democratically elected governments in the region could support American goals such as a stable oil supply, or a federal structure for Iraqi government. If America persists in refusing to negotiate for the salvation of Israel and Lebanon alike, then the only support it can count on in the future for anything would have to come from ugly repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Oh, and I guess Iraq, if it survives as a nation. Wait - I forgot Israel, whose voters can be relied on to continues to swallow the tale that any opponent must secretely want to kill Jews for sport.

All this is an ironic parallel to the Israeli argument that it cannot be both a Jewish state and a democracy if it allowed evicted Palestinians to return. We will not be able to have a Middle East that is both democratic and pro-American unless saner minds stop this destructive war. A war over the right to avoid negotiation with an opponent that is neither a hated dictator like Saddam nor a religiously intolerant nut-house like the Taleban and Osama. Of course in the world of international relations, no principle is strong enough to stand on its own, so we await the coming confrontation between the new American bunker-busters coming to Israel and the killing fields anticipated by Yediot Ahronot on the Lebanese side of the border.


A Lebanese newspaper mockingly reproduced an air-dropped Israeli leaflet asking Lebanese to inform on Hezballah. Yes, that's how desperate they are. If anyone wants to send hate mail, or sane advice, to the analysts on the other side, ask me for the URL on the leaflet (or find it yourself) - I will not grace it with a public posting. One upshot is that Lebanon will probably not be cut off from the Internet so I can still blog. Another is that some of the food, glass and fabric factories still being hit today may conceivably (though far-fetched-ly) have been tagged by unscrupulous competitors.

For those of you who still wonder if aspiring informants might emerge, recall (or learn about) the main wedge issue used against Hezballah in Lebanese electoral politics. They stood accused of using an exaggerated view of the Israeli threat to stick to their weapons, just as the Syrians used an exaggerated view of the threats of both Israeli aggression and a rekindled civil war to rob us blind and install incompetent sycophants on the backs (or corpses) of our half-decent statesmen. Now that Syria is out and Israeli aggression is back in our faces, we can clearly see who actually prepared for the threat. Who amassed missiles (which we had only heard about from Israeli intelligence leaked to the Western press) rather than spirit their own wives and daughters to safety. The only question remotely unanswered is whether these missiles came with a political price-tag (a hot line or trigger box in Tehran), or whether they were freely given for defense purposes as Hezballah maintain. They've been right in the past. On the other hand, we can also clearly see who used the threat as a bogeyman whose existence caught them by surprise. The ones with the mansions and bank accounts. And the wives who now want divorces.

As a father of two-year-olds, I learned that a little bit of sound logic is a much more powerful persuader than threats of time-outs and bribes of candy. I am now learning that it does not work that way with some adults.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


I heard yesterday that Thomas Friedman has written an article equating Hezballah with Hamas, and I'm dying to read it. I really like the guy and I agree with 99% of what he writes, so I have a burning curiosity every time an exemplar of the remaining 1% presents itself. So if anyone out there can cut-and-paste the text from the "premium content" section of NYTimes.com, or just scan and email me the newspaper copy, I'be really grateful. Fair use: I would love to buy the paper but I'm under embargo.

Condi is a Klingon...

I'm sure I'm not the first to notice the coincidential confluence of shape, texture and skin tone on Condleeza Rice's brow, but the martial talk coming out of that woman yesterday pushed me over the edge into the land of bad hackneyed metaphors. It is not clear to me with whom she thinks she can make headway in negotiation when she gets to Lebanon, since she has made it crystal clear that her administration is not interested in a cease fire before negotiation. In plain english, she insists on negotiating under fire, a natural position for someone who is not feeling any fire, but hey, have a heart!

What is she going to negotiate?
Scenario 1:
  • It is intolerable that Israel has someone who can send missiles into their territory.
  • It is also intolerable that Israel is free to bomb our airport and highway bridges and villages ...
  • It's not the same because Israel is a responsible sovereign state that only goes to war under the orders of a democratically elected civilian government.
  • Sounds good, we are a young democracy and we too want to have civilian oversight of Hezballah's deterrent capabilities, which as you know are completely inadequate to attack anyone, but just enough to deter attack against us.
  • Nope, the point is that you are not allowed to have any deterrent, even if you are a democracy.
  • Why not?
  • +Klingon smile+ 'cause we can whup yo' ass!
War goes on. If Hezballah has 30,000 men under arms, and Israel is killing 300 civilians and creating 500,000 internally displaced persons and 100,000 refugees in order to kill no more than 10 Hezballah people, then you can see that linear extrapolation ... becomes implausible. More so if you factor in 19 Israeli soldiers killed and 15 Israeli civilians.

Scenario 2:
  • It is intolerable that Israel has someone who can send missiles into their territory.
  • It is also intolerable that Israel is free to bomb our airport and highway bridges and villages ...
  • It's not the same because Israel is a responsible sovereign state that only goes to war under the orders of a democratically elected civilian government.
  • Sounds good, we are a young democracy and we too want to have civilian oversight of Hezballah's deterrent capabilities, which as you know are completely inadequate to achieve any military objectives except to deter attack against us.
  • Gee, well why didn't I think of that? Is that even possible with Hezballah, a terrorist organization?
  • According to your own definition, an organizations which has in the past committed terrorist acts ceases to be a terrorist organization if it 1-renounces terrorism, and either 2a-lays down its arms, or 2b-merges with the defence forces of a sovereign nation, or 2c-takes over the government of a sovereign nation (Iran, Cuba, PLO). We know Hezballah better than anyone in the world, and if you give us a 1-week ceasefire, we can deliver 1+2b.
  • We are willing to do everything in our power to help you achieve this mutually beneficial outcome. Are you sure you do not want Hezballah "weakened" by more bombing?
  • Lady, you keep bombing and you'll have scenario 2c. If, that is, we are still around to be taken over. You got any carrots with that bag of sticks?
  • Well, there is that ranch that Israel took from Syria after Syria took it from Lebanon. They don't really want it. I was going to put that on the table after Hezballah was destroyed or disarmed.
  • Gee that would be great! Throw in a bunch of Lebanese prisoners, whom Israel would no longer have to feed, an you got yourself a deal!
  • I'll have to make some phone calls....
  • And there we were thinking you were a Klingon.
  • Naaah,I just play one on TV. I'm really the provost of Stanford University....
  • Wow, really? My cousin's grandson's fiancee went there. Maybe you can hang around and give our local universities some advice on how to have tenure without going bankrupt.
  • No thanks, my current day job is easier...
    ...fade out...

Friday, July 21, 2006


OK, emotionally we are all faring much better. The "humanitarian sea corridor" to Cyprus is open, and lots of people are coming into Lebanon for whatever reason, although 99% of the traffic is out. US consular officers have called and reassured us that their ships will continue to run until the last American who wants to leave has been shipped out, via Turkey or Cyprus, all the way to BWI. We in turn reassured them that we are happy to wait in our comfortable home until people in more dire straits have gone on before us. Fresh lemons have run out of the markets, but peaches and cherries are in season both here and in Cyprus.

Let me remind your listeners...

Has anyone noticed this "warning label", so to speak, that is flashed whenever an Israeli spokesman is about to duck a tough question by going back to a script? A script from a different war, more likely than not? The talking points sometimes feature an occasional shift in vocabulary, but "Let me remind your listeners" has proved immune to any attempts at originality by the script reader. Pay attention next time, let the trigger phrase bring before your own eyes the antidotes below to the talking points that predictably come next.
  • Let me remind your readers that... Hezballah is a "state within a state". Nope. That would be Fatah circa 1975. The Palestininas had their own strongholds, checkpoints, torture chambers, and petty dictators roaming around the streets in Lebanon doing anything they want. Israel came in in 1982 and took them out. Creating Hezballah in the process. Hezballah is a well-organized, well-hidden force that evolved through design, luck and natural selection to deter aggression against Lebanon from a foe previously reputed to see all, know all, and reach all. They are not seen when they do not wish to be seen, and they can vote and attract votes based on an ironclad and never before broken pledge never to raise arms against any Lebanese. I personally know people who were kidnapped and tortured by the PLO state-within-a-state in the 70s, and I was only 10 at the time, so I could not have known that many people. No one among the hundreds of people I have now come in touch with after five years of teaching in Lebanon has ever been subject to any exercise of state authority by Hezballah.

  • Let me remind your readers that... there is no other way to stop the missiles on Israel. Ummmm... you mean Hamas's missiles, right? Because Hezballah's missiles stop the moment Israel's air force stops pounding civilian targets in Lebanon. Hezballah made that promise and, incredibly, has always kept it and keeps it today. Even after all the devastation, the rhetoric of Hezballah is unchanged. The missiles are not in retaliation against past wrongs or an "understandable reaction" by a renegade soldier who lost his children in shelling a year ago. They are a straightforward pragmatic living-in-the-moment response by an absolutely obeyed military imperatie to answer an attack within a five minute to five hour window.
  • Let me remind your listeners that ... these people hide among their civilians, making it very hard for us to silence their fire without hitting civilians. Actually, it is against international humanitarian and criminal law to consistently hit civilian targets just because they look as if they might a camouflaged military targets. There must be a demonstrable military objective found among some reasonable proportion of the targets hit. I do not know what this "reasonable proportion" might be, and I leave it for a judge to decide when the time comes for reparations and other forms of accountability. Again, this is a talking point from an old war, actually from every "war" Israel has waged since the last time a regular army moved against it in 1973. Hezballah knows better than to "hide" behind human shields. Hiding means hiding, as in not being able to be found, and this is something they continue to do extremely well.
  • Let me remind your listeners that ... tyrrany and dictatorship.... Whoa. You mean Saddam? He's in jail. You mean Mubarak? He's on your side! Hezballah is unable, and one hopes unwilling, to alienate its voting populace by doing things like hiding in hospitals and evicting clergymen to stock arms in a church or mosque. Without support from all of Lebanon, Hezballah loses some of the most essential sources of its existence: legitimacy as a resistance force and admiration from the people it needs to recruit from. We do not have enough disaffected individuals in our prosperous and so far un-ravaged nation that a dictator can collect volunteers out of fear that the alternative would be worse. And of course in the present time Hezballah has nowhere near the resources of a Saddam or even an Arafat who could disguise military hits and broadcast to the world an augmented sense of innocent human suffering. This is the most candidly and uncensored-ly broadcast war in history (so far). We have at least ten cable news stations providing 24-hour coverage with their own correspondents, and dozens more reporting secondary news, not to mention wire services and radio call-ins and televised interviews with evacuees. Not one so far has seen a legitimate Hezballah military target among all the civilian buildings, busses, trucks, gas stations, food factories that Israel has air bombed. Unless you want to count the un-mobilized Lebanese army privates and sergeants killed sleeping in their barracks. I hope they managed to move into bunkers where they can survive until the ground war.
I hope that the above antidotes to Israel's feeble talking points will be of some help to those of you who feel compelled to demonstrate or to write your elected representatives. It would be most helpful if you can refrain from exaggeration and blanket condemnation of Israel. Focus on the now. A Cease-fire now is in Israel's best interest and a cease-fire next week or next month is probably what their leaders (or the Neo-cons, depending on whom you believe) will let them have, at which point the same points will be agreed upon. Why do we all have to wait that long? I normally do not buy the bleeding-heart pacifist view that all war is stupid, but prolonging the inevitable and crystal clear conclusion of this present conflict is folly folly folly. Sing it with me now: "Where oh where, have all the flowers gone..."

The muse is afoot

I do not write poetry until something moves me, and it can take hours or it can take weeks for the finished product to emerge. Here is a rare insight into the creative process. I'm thinking:
Macavity Macavity
There's no one like Macavity
There's never been a cat of such deceitfulness and suavity;
He's broken every human law
He breaks the law of gravity
And when they reach the scene of crime
Macavity's not there!

So Bill the cat is shot
and Garfield dragged to jail
And Heathcliff and Sylvester
Made homeless as they flail

Jinxy, Tom, and Jerry
And Pixie, Dixie too
Are all legi'mit targets:
They look like you-know-who.

I hear that Mickey Mouse now
And maybe Yogi Bear
Are lined against the wall because
Macavity's not there!

Thursday, July 20, 2006


We are getting more worried and tempers are beginning to flare. Is the aerial bombing getting closer to us? Are we under greater levels of rationing? No on both accounts. We have just been listening to American officials on TV, both for general consumption (Rice, Gonzales) and for the departing American evacuees whom we hope to join. They are diplomats, so the words are sweet, but the message is crystal clear: "Lebanon must burn, and we're not saying until when." I'll go into this in the column below, but let me start with the up-close-and-personal update.

We see the US ships leaving, the slowest and most massive among all the evacuation efforts, and we have decided that we do not want the last ship to leave without us, or at least our kids. The kids play video games where they (when we are feeling generous enough to let them have 30 minutes of a more violent title) know the difference between getting killed in a video game and getting shot in real life. They know enough to start asking if they are going to die like the kids they see on the TV news that the adults cannot stop watching. Then they go to sleep and wake up fine, thank goodness

Today, Jetti went down to Beirut again to pack up more of our apartment. Our apartment is attached physically and legally to Lebanon's foremost hospital, and doctors who regularly commute from more dangerous zones are being moved into the building. We decided to pick a doctor and his family whom we knew, rather than enter the apartment into the database. This way we do do not have to lock 100% of our belongings into one room as per standard procedure, but can trust our guests, Dr. H and his family, with the majority of our stuff and only lock up things they cannot use. So here's the breakdown:

  1. 30 pounds od luggage per person can come on the evacuation ship with us to Cyprus and thence to the USA. Maybe I'll post a packing list for the morbidly curious at a later date. (Elisa - thinking of you here.)
  2. Toys, clothes, food, NiMH batteries and chargers, extra suitcases and bicycles (in case the gasoline runs out) will come up to my parents' home in the mountains where we can use them until we leave and perhaps leave them for use by family members who are not evacuating.
  3. Things we do not need but worry about losing will go in the one locked-up room in the house.
  4. Things that Dr. H's family can use will stay out in plain sight.
  5. If time permits, we will also prepare a pile of clothes, blankets, towels and toys that are available for donation to more needy families, who may have had their homes or villages destroyed or will have lost them before we come back. Dr. H will have plenty of time to distribute them at the appropriate point.
I guess there's no escape from fighting the propaganda battle of the last war, because my (admittedly) crazy impression (see below) is that even if it is rational for Israel to stop, the Bush administration does not seem to want them to. So here are some pictures:

Our bedding (for a family of 5)

Our closet

Our water supply

(Note to self: uploading photos takes too long. Save it for later next time you are tempted.)

Let me talk about water for a bit. First of all, Andy, here is the right way to take a bath with a bucket, Lebanese style: First of all you need a small stool in addition to one, preferably two, plastic buckets and one big mug. As your friend said, you boil water in your biggest pot on the stove, pour it in the plastic bucket, and add faucet water to get the temperature you want. To avoid having to repeat the process with soap in your hair, get a second bucket of lukewarm water ready, at least until you learn the water discipline. You put the bucket and the stool in the bathtub, sit on the stool, and use a mug to pour water over head and four limbs. Soap and shampoo, then use the mug to rinse. Repeat until you feel clean or you run out of water. If you are lucky enough to have any water left, then you can stand up and pour the remaining water on your head.

Right now, we have not had to do that yet. We had been taking our showers at the pool club where we used to swim, under the assumption that a pool club must have their own well. Well, yesterday, the showers ran dry and we went home with chlorine in our hair. My mom was on the phone with the water tanker driver whom we usually use to augment the water supply when too many grandchildren crowd the house every summer. She was asking when our turn would be. (Aside - I spoke too soon about Israel targeting all tanker trucks: they seem to be going after concrete pumps, which have a 5-inch cylinder folded in three, not large tankers with 5-foot cylindrical loads.)

This morning, the mains water came on at last, for the first time this week.
Lebanon is rich in water, but the distribution system is un-engineered, to put it kindly. Every house, when built, runs its own 3/4-inch pipe to the nearest distribution point where water is chlorinated and pumped. The builder cuts through asphalt to cross roads and concretes over it without any local government oversight (I think they just need a permit but get no inspections or technical advice). The water pressure in some houses is stronger than in others, most likely due to the haphazard design, but rumor has it that some can plug up one house's pipe with hidden pebbles to increase the flow to another house. So, except for a few places with a properly designed water supply like our university-and-hospital-system apartment in Beirut, all houses have a water tank on the roof. At my parents' house, the mains water comes on every other day, with enough pressure to reach the concrete tank in the basement, from where it is pumped up to a galvanized steel tank under the shingle roof on top of the house. By the time the water has gone through the concrete tank below, the electric pump and the steel tank, it is not considered safe to drink any more. People with money to spend can get a stainless-steel or PVC system to handle water storage in potable conditions, but most people store water straight off the mains, when it is on, in clear plastic containers for drinking. The mains pressure at my parents' has always been week, and the only faucet in the house that can be used for this purpose in in the basement. Before this war, I bought a "chlorine-guzzler" filter from "Matrixx" for that faucet, and we can carry the water up the stairs to the kitchen this way. Eventually, mom's lazy middle-class solution was to buy a commercial water cooler with an inverted 5-gallon plastic container on top, and get weekly deliveries of bottled water. With gasoline rationing, it now makes sense to fill up all the empty water-cooler-company containers with the filtered mains water - same great taste! Since the company's water containers are too big for the sink and too narrow-necked for the filter, I am, as I blog, filling our blue and red containers and then using a funnel to empty them into the clear company containers. One time this morning, I did not push the funnel deep enough and the water spilled on the floor. I had to mop it off, thinking dark thoughts about how long we will afford the luxury of mopping off drinking water.

P.S. We are the luckiest - no one else in Lebanon is better off. We are in the top 10% or better in income and wealth, we live in the middle of what, in Lebanon's civil war, became the Christian (and hence least dangerous to Israel) zone, and most of us have lived in the West long enough to have non-Lebanese passports. None of us are politically active in any way that might put us on anyone's hit list. And we all have each other.

Why I'm so worried

Scene 1: American official and Egyptian official giving joint press conference. Egyptian says "This is a horrible tragedy and there must be a cease-fire." American official says "This is a horrible tragedy and there must be a cease-fire as soon as certain conditions are met on the ground." Reporter asks "Is there a difference of opinion over how soon to press for a cease-fire?" American official says "Not at all, I'm sure the Egyptian envoy meant to say "as soon as certain conditions are met", since the civilized world is united on this point. The good people of Lebanon are going to have to wait until conditions are right for a cease fire."

Scene 2 There is no scene 2. The same charade is playing all over the airwaves, with changes in the officials' names and in the nationality of the non-American official.

The sound of Walid losing his mind I started looking at the faces and expressions of the officials I see on TV. I mentally divide them into propaganda producers and propaganda consumers. It's not hard if you use your imagination or access your right brain or tune into your eighth Chakra. Try it today. Here's what I felt.

  • Israeli grandmother in make up, Israeli Jet pilot suiting up: consumers. Their eyes and nostrils are flared, their anger is real, they have bought into the idea that Israel will be destroyed if Hezballah is not bombed into submission.
  • Ehud Olmert, Emeir Peretz politicians, too hard to read Seem more worried about their next election than about human suffering on either side. Clearly not producers.
  • Israel's foreign minister (Tsipzy Levni (sp?)), ambassadors (Egal Alyon (sp?)), and professional spokespeople: middlemen. Eyes narrow, lips pursed, poker faces. They clearly know the script, know it to be a script, and know it is necessary to seem angry when delivering it. But their anger seems to come from having to yield to a script they know to be false (that peace is only possible by destroying Hezballah no matter what the casualties on either side). They are hiding too much, possibly among it a knowledge that peace by negotiation would be cheaper and more permanent.
  • Lebanon's politicians: ex-middlemen With two notable exceptions, Saad Hariri and Walid Junblatt, every single Lebanese politician I have heard has rejected the script. The sacrifice Lebanon has to pay while enough force is directed at Hezballah to weaken it into disarming is too high. The script that says this is necessary for our greater good just does not play in Jounieh. Pity.
  • Syrian spokespeople: producers. Par excellence! "This is the battle of the Arab people against total subjugation." But we will join it only if it becomes impossible for us to plausibly deny that Israel is shooting anyone on our side of the border.
  • Arab spokespeople: don't get me started.
  • George Bush: consumer. One who never even read the saturated fat-content label on the package.
  • Gonzales and other state-department people: loading gate laborers at the producers' factory. I don't want to be hasty and call them producers, given their secondary roles in policy making. But as I said before, here is the message loud and clear: "The free world has waited long enough to take Hezballah out. We love and support the people of Lebanon and Israel, and we know that a cease-fire is what they want, need and deserve. But they must [die] until Hezballah complies. We do not support a cease fire at this time." Their eyes are practically gloating. Better that Lebanon burn to a crisp and Israel get its beard singed than permit negotiation with Hezballah. And shoot down anyone who says otherwise.
  • Political commentators everywhere: cheap imitation producers The propaganda being peddled is that when the Bush administration says no cease-fire is planned for the foreseeable future, this really actually implicitly means three days, one week, three weeks or whatever. Hard to know if any effective ingredients went into the recipe for that concoction.
  • James Bolton: in a class of his own. In which he is class clown. On record as saying Lebanese civilians do not matter. Maybe he read Doonesbury and imagines he will be promoted for the diplomatic faux pas.

Oh boy. Why is this happening? Hezballah wants to negotiate. All of Lebanon want Hezballah's unique and non-negotiable (by them not by me) abilities to be under popular democratic supervision, and Hezballah agrees. No one wants to destroy Israel. No one wants to give Israel a blank check on our future. Is that so hard to understand? I am driven to despair by the depth and breadth and long-term saturation of the propaganda coming out of America that Hezballah is more dangerous than Al Qaeda (because they are not insane?) Who will listen to any other voice? No one. So we are back to old war. Stop the bombing before we all die. Never mind whether or not it is best for Israel to negotiate a long-term peace. Here's a photo of a dead child. No, not from me, Google it yourself.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

What's Going on

As before, no direct hits here, not even loud noises. The F-16s overhead are just specks in the sky (when the fog lifts) and their droning, clearly discernible, remains distant. We do, however, now have refugees in the public schools. According to one eye witness, the only response from the refugee aid organizers to those who volunteered was that it would be nice if someone would stop hundreds of children from running around aimlessly and noisily while their parents ponder their predicament. I wonder if my skills in dealing with up to 50 college-age students or just three pre-schoolers in my own home would be sufficient if I were to volunteer.

Cooking gas, which in Lebanon is distributed in propane cylinders, as well as gasoline, are being rationed. Some brands of baby formula and diaper wipes are not available in stores. Banks are letting us withdraw Lebanese money, but US dollars are in short supply. Nevertheless, electricity and water are still on, and yesterday we entertained some guests for dinner. This gave me a chance to hear more eyewitnesses of what is going on down the hill.

Apparently, now that all highway overpasses have been hit, and in parallel with the county-by-county sweep of the South, the laser-guided air-to-surface missiles are mostly attracted by trucks with cylindrical loads. Concrete plants, with their fleets of stationary mixer trucks, are taking heavy damages, and one assumes that the yoghurt plant destroyed in the Beqaa also used cylindrical tanker trucks for milk. Apparently, a few years ago, some Lebanese entrepreneurs with Belgian passports got a franchise from Yoplait to make that sweetened, creamy high-pectin concoction with Lebanese milk. I used to argue with my wife over her preference for spending money on these gulp-sized containers rather than pay two dollars for a four-pound bucket of regular plain yoghurt, which we would then mix with jam for the kids. About a year ago, the factory lost the right to use the Yoplait brand, probably because they did not want to keep paying the franchise fee, so "Libanlait" made its appearance in slightly different packaging and I acquiesced to buying no more than two four-packs per week. No more. I darkly wonder if, when the factory is rebuilt, it will be with cheap fast local resources like the Iraqis used on their own infrastructure after they were kicked out of Kuwait, or whether it will be with Haliburton-like levels of waste and fraud.

The Column

This segues into my darker ruminations about what would happen if I were completely misguided in believing that both sides want peace as opposed to total hegemony. Hezballah, after all, still insists that negotiations with Israel be "indirect". I have in my last posts been optimistic to assume that this means they are not ready to come down on either the Fatah side and grant Israel too large a bargaining position before bargaining starts, or on the Hamas side and preclude any possibility that any deal reached will be permanent as long as Israel exists. But it may be that Hezballah's undeclared bottom line is also one where say, a 100-year truce is all they plan to offer Israel. If that were true, I wonder if any sane person would refuse a rolling 100-year truce with a trustworthy opponent. But of course we will never know because negotiations are not starting.

As you may have guessed, I have a lot more to say about the Israeli position. Before I launch into why it seems more likely that Israel is looking for hegemony and not for peace, let me preface my comments by saying that that particular outcome would also not be all that bad, at least in the short run. So far, Israeli hegemony in the lands Israel rules have taken the form of "I need this lake, that hilltop, the other aquifer ... for the continued existence of the Jewish state." The world smiles and nods, and the Arab owners of the hill or lake either cower away or are dragged off by force while any sympathizers are deterred by the supreme air force in the velvet glove. For me this is not as terrible as living under Saddam or Asad or the Wahabis of Saudi Arabia or the Ayatollahs of Iran. But absolute power corrupts absolutely, and I would get my kids out of even the most benevolent of regimes with absolute power that refuse to acknowledge the perpetuity of our human, civil or property rights.

So what are the Israelis doing to bolster the view that they do not want peace unless it comes with hegemony?

  1. They are refusing to negotiate with anyone. This may be because they fear the Hezballah does not want to offer peace, or that any other interlocutor will too weak to stop Hezballah, but even they are not repeating that excuse anymore.
  2. They are repeating bald-faced lies against Hezballah as justification for the continued destruction of Lebanon. Again, the excuse might be that they are still reading from the "talking points" sheets prepared for a different enemy, because these talking points worked so well in the last war that thes do not need to be true to be effective. Do I dare assume that they believe them? I'm sure some people must. George Bush probably does, as do the less educated of that 80% majority of Israelis who support their government's actions so far. But the Israeli ambassadors, ministers, and generals who are reading the script and not just buying it have no credibility with anyone who has any access to historical facts. Provided this historical knowledge is fine-grained enough to distinguish between different groups that happen to have the same religion or ethnicity.

Lies I have heard

  1. Hezballah is shelling Haifa because Haifa represents a coexistence that it cannot accept. I had dinner yesterday with a family from Haifa that has not been there for almost 60 years. Hezballah is an active political party in a nation where coexistence is a world-recognized hallmark. If I were a broadband blogger instead of a modem blogger, I'd find and paste a link to what the late pope John Paul II had to say about Lebanon. There are Christians, Sunnis and Shiites who voted for Hezballah in the last elections, and Hezballah knows very well that it needs to be accepted by those communities in order to survive. I do not know if any non-jewish inhabitants of Haifa vote for Olmert. By the way, I know how deep anti-semitism runs in Lebanon, but unlike Israel's position towards my guest from Haifa, there is no law on the books that bans Lebanese or Syrian Jews from visiting their ancestral lands or voting in Lebanese elections (or Syrian elections, sham as those may be, if they are Syrian).

  2. Hezballah is a criminal organization. Unlike the Palestinian factions that imported arms after Israel gave them control in exchange for renouncing arms, Hezballah is under no such agreement. There is a very recent UN resolution (1559) that asks for Lebanese government control over all arms. I support 1559 and always have, and I know that Hezballah was negotiating how best to give the necessary high-level oversight to democratically elected civilians without compromising on the unique properties that gave their organization the power to deter any aggression from Israel's vastly superior air force. For a majority of Lebanese, recent events have vindicated the previously misunderstood stance that Hezballah held while negotiating with the rest of Lebanon's political parties over 1559.

  3. Hezballah's shelling of Northern Israel is the reason Lebanon is being hit. This is the most amazing lie to me since the actual event took place only one week ago! Hezballah abducted two soldiers, Israel hit Lebanon very hard, and only then did the missiles come out of their 10-year hiding places, precisely as agreed by Hezballah in 1996. Hezballah repeatedly proclaimed that they are ready to negotiate, as they had succesfully done before with Israel about a release of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel. Israel decided the time was ripe to change the rules of the game.

  4. Hezballah is a terrorist organization. Only by a legalistic definition similar in my mind to the one that redefined "torture" as "producing pain equivalent to major organ failure, without any intelligence objective". The latter definition received a lt of press, but the one I read inside the US lawbooks is no less disingenuous. Apparently, an organization that is accused of having abducted or harmed civilians in the past, and which is still able to do so by virtue of having any arms, is a terrorist organization by US law. As long as it is not the government of some country (e.g. Iran's president Ahmadi Najad participated in the abduction of US embassy employees during the Iranian revolution, and he definitely commands an army, but this is not enough. Iran is a "state sponsor of terrorism" not for that fault, but because they support Hezballah, which does fit the definition. In fact, Hezballah is in my view the reason why the definition is worded the way it is. Hezballah as an organization did not exist when the American civilians were kidnapped in Lebanon the 80s and the American embassy was razed to the ground by a truck bomb. But a link between the individuals who planned these acts and those who went on to found Hezballah is purported and, even though never proved in a court of law, is widely accepted to exist. But even if the individual perpetrators are incarcerated or die a natural death, the organization continues to bear the guilt forever according to the US definition. The organization can change its tactics, as Hezballah did, and become the most disciplined Arab force in history since the Ottomans. It can renounce all the tactics that anyone anywhere finds objectionable and seek success in the most confusing multi-confessional electoral system in the world, and still they are a terrorist organization by that law. Until and unless they lay down all arms. I've already explained why Heballah cannot lay down its arms if it is to remain a "resistance" force against possible real or imagined aggression. I've also explained how it can wiggle out of the definition by making its unique and valuable "organized militia" structure subject to oversight by a civilian body elected directly or indirectly by the people of Lebanon. The extreme anti-Israel conspiracy theorists assert that the real goal of the current attack is to preclude what would have been the imminent implementation of precisely this possibility. I'm sure Thomas Friedman (love that guy!) would be livid at the statement.

  5. Hezballah is Iran / Syria. They're all Shiites, so the Sunnni street buys it. They all hate Israel, so the West buys it. Hezballah's weapons and money came from Iran, via Syria, and with the support of a Lebanese regime under the stranglehold of Syria at the time. So many Lebanese buy it too. Is there any dissenting voice? Hezballah claims that Iran and Syria supported, for whatever own devices of theirs, legitimate Lebanese needs for defensive aid. Maybe they did and maybe they did not. The real issue today is two-fold.
    • First, as far as Lebanon is concerned, will Hezballah establish an Iran-style theocracy or a Syrian-style one-party state? Many Lebanese believed and feared the former, but Hezballah loudly and repeatedly renounced any goals of a Lebanese Islamic republic, and eventually Lebanon believed the combination of rhetoric, action, and rational analysis. Lebanon's multiplicity of communities would make such a republic hard to build and impossible to maintain. It would be crazy. And Hezballah's continued electoral success in the Lebaese system, especially after Syrian withdrawal, is evidence that the Lebanese do not think they are crazy. As for the one-party secular dictatorship in the Syrian mold, it seems even more far fetched, especially since not even the Syrians in their 20-year occupation of Lebanon were able to pull off anything remotely close.

    • The second and more pressing issue is whether Hezballah takes orders from Syria or Iran. Did this whole thing happen because Iran thought it would get a more gently treatment from the UN securityh council if Lebanon was being destroyed at the same time? Put that way, such an Iranian ploy would defy logic. It's not as if the UN has a finite supply of some magic fairy dust that it can use either to condemn Iranian nuclear ambitions or violence in Lebanon, but not both. To even suggest this is sheer jingoism to me. But actually, Hezballah may or may not be secretly beholden to Iraninan political dictates. This is a charge that Hezballah continues to work to disprove, and they must continue to work to disprove it as they negotiate with anyone else in Lebanon. There are parties in Lebanon that hold it in Hezballah's favor that it may take dictates from Syria (those rump one-party-state parties that never took hold), but no one in Lebanon trusts the Iranians - except Hezballah itself. Let me conclude this point by re-stating the only defense that Hezballah is able to offer to the Lebanese whose votes it needs. Hezballah has had all those missiles for years, and never fired one. They hid them well, and shouted out for the world to hear that whatever weapons they may or may not have are there to be used only if Lebanon is attacked. And, in negotiating with the other Lebanese parties over how best to proceed to build Lebanon after the Syrian dictators left, Hezballah secured a written Lebanese consensus that Lebanese detainees in Israeli jails were a Lebanese priority co-equal with Lebanese detainees in Syrian jails, and that all means necessary were to be sought for their release. Bush went on less when invading Iraq. Hezballah undertook a small military operation to capture Israeli soldiers to exchange for those very same prisoners that they had gotten Lebanese permission to free. The timing, as all of Israel knows and proclaims on the front pages of their newspapers, was dictated by only one consideration: as soon as an opportunity presents itself. It is a foregone conclusion that the opportunity presented itself last week. And that is the case for Hezballahs operational independence of Iran - take it or leave it, I'm not sure if I buy it myself, but I resent the distortion of facts to make it seem like a foregone conclusion one way or the other.

  6. Hezballah is Hamas / Al-Qaeda Only propaganda aimed at the West says this, since anyone else knows how different the Sunnis and the Shia are in their actual philosophy and community norms. The Sunnis are philosophically accustomed to being the rulers of a vast empire, so Hamas cannot accept Jewish rule over part of the old Islamic empire, and Al-Qaeda cannot countenance Christian-friendly regimes in the Islamic empire (even if the Saudis deport mere bible-study participants, their friendship with the US is too "Christian friendly" for Al Qaaeda.) Shiism, on the other hand, is heir to a tradition of being a prosecuted minority. They are philosophically able to live with any ruler who does not trample their fundamental rights. As long as Shia feel that Israel is such a power, and Israel does not demonstrate otherwise by negotiating in good faith, the enmity will continue. For your entertainment, I will recount an extremist Sunni conspiracy theory: The "real" reason the US invaded Iraq is to provide a Shiite state between Shiite Iran and Shiite-ruled Syria in order to buffer Israel from the god-sanctioned wrath of the Sunnis who are the only true and righteous existential enemies. Trust me, I have heard this first-hand from otherwise sane, educated, professional adults who say it with a straight face.

There are probably more accusations, but my butt is getting tired of this chair and I want to get online and post, then maybe watch some TV. The burning question on my mind is whether Tuesday's reduction in Hezballah missile attacks is due to depletion or destruction of their stocks (maybe some of those concrete mixer trucks really had missiles) or if it is due to a continuation of the old policy to reduce attacks when Israel reduced its attacks (which Israel did while the Americans and British evacuated citizens who were pregnant women or children.)

Other people's news

messages from my employer

I invite those interested to a meeting at 2pm to discuss possibilities for organizing faculty, and then perhaps later, students in efforts to help refugees. Already groups from the hospital and from the Faculty of Health Sciences, and perhaps from other Faculties/Schools are working with NGO’s. In this meeting, representatives from these groups will explain what they are doing. We can then discuss their and others ideas about how to organize and coordinate, to the extent possible, such efforts. Faculty members can bring their intellectual and analytical abilities and their organizational skills to volunteer efforts. If you are interested, please try to attend this meeting.

Dear Faculty and Staff members,

A number of individuals and families are leaving Lebanon as part of evacuation efforts. It is university policy that vacated apartments may be utilized on an interim basis by the university to house faculty and staff essential to operating the university and its hospital. Those departing should please store and if possible lock personal possessions in one room to free up the rest of the apartment. They should also inform our safety officer by email about the terms of their household help’s employment. Currently, individuals are making ad hoc decisions regarding housing and household help. The administration requests your cooperation so that we can make the best use of university resources in a time of crisis as well as to help protect the interests and well-being of on-campus household help.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Here's another way out

A friened of mine wrote :
I went to Syria on a bus hired by the travel agency Five Stars Tours in Hamra. We left Beirut around 14:30 on Monday and got to the Syrian borders in Masna3 around 17:30, through mountain roads and side roads. We passed by Jamhour power plant and Mdeirej as they were being hit. The borders would have been a piece of cake except for a problem we had. My understanding is that we had some Lebanese onboard who had entered Lebanon with the Lebanese passport but were trying to leave with their Western passports in order to use those again at the Damascus airport. Their passports had no Lebanon entry stamp, so it was hard to let them through, but it worked eventually. If you decide to leave, please sort this out with the agency. Don't say I told you it may be a problem :)) The owner of the agency is my neighbour, and he will insist it is no problem, but sometimes it can be. He will know the exact details if you out-insist him!

The bus is changed at the border, and we went with the second bus into Damascus. It was going to the airport, so we went down and took a cab to a local taxi office which took us to Jordan.

Now the trip to Syria can be hell if the Israelis shell the road while you're on it, especially when you have children with you. You may want to wait for some kind of cease-fire if you are safe right now.

Also, the high demand and supposed risk have caused the prices to skyrocket. The tripby bus to Damascus costs 125$ or five time its usual price (hence the name five stars :P). My friends took a cab with this guy who charged one of my friends $300 (total of all passengers, but she went alone) for a cab ride from Beirut to Damascus, and then the next day asked two of my friends for 400$ total because the road had been hit the day before, so I am not sure how much he charges.

I also shared the 200$ cab to Amman with a friend. This cab usually costs about 30$ for 4 passengers.

As for hotels, Syria's are full, but Amman still has some places. My friend is staying at the Beirut International Hotel, a decent 3-star place in Abdali in Amman. He just walked in and got a room. He's paying 70,000LL per night for a single room. Of course, you'll get better prices if you reserve before arriving.

You may want to check (johotels) or the hotel ( itself)

Personally I'd advise you to stay put if you feel safe. Things may work out in a couple of days. Of course, you and your family may want out and all, but please be careful. The roads are getting hit daily, and are only statisically safer than some parts of Beirut, but, for now, not than Ras Beirut or the mountains.

I guess I should copy all this info to a blog :) anyway this is all i can think of right now, let me know if you need more info. I hope it makes sense.

Personal Update

Welcome to the World of Turkish Airlines!!! Lots of people we know (American faculty and students from the American University of Beirut) left on a bus to Turkey sent by the Turkish government and open to people of all nationalities who want to travel on from Turkey. There are many more airports in Turkey than there are in Cyprus or Syria, so this is probably the best way to get out - no guarantees against getting bombed on the way but the odds seem OK. Only forty or so civilians were killed in rocket attacks on moving buses, 40-50 thousand escaped safely. We have relatives who live abroad who took a taxi to Syria, but right now the airlines are not even taking bookings anymore for the foreseeable future (or 4 weeks, whichever comes first.) So Tishikkur Turkiye.

We had a bit of a scare yesterday when we heard a loud bang (we are too far away to hear most of the blockbusting hits on Beirut) and the power went out. We thought they had finally decided to cut off all power by bombing the last operating power stations. Not yet, it turned out, but they have bombed fuel stores and, on top of the blockade, it will only be a couple of weeks before only those with solar panels will have electricity. Unfortunately even a gadget-loving guy like me lacks the budget to make the 21st-century version of these an appropriate buy for a Christmas gift to oneself.

The weather changed from 8 hours of fog per day to about 4 up here at 700 meters above sea level, so we took the kids swimming. Gas is being rationed but luckily we have access to a pool just a mile away. Before we noticed the lack of gas at the stations, we had driven all the way to the top of the mountain to get produce at only 20% above pre-war prices. I was not prescient enough to load up the car; we just got a three-day supply of peaches and melons and chard and the like. On our way down, the road that connects the other side of the mountain to the Beqaa valley was bombed. I wondered if our melons had come up that road, or whether they grow them at altitude.

The Usual Blather

It looks like a coherent strategy has emerged from the Israeli side. Classic "last war" but with a new twist. Again, let me start with a historical example for background.

Anyone remember the first Intifada? The schoolboys throwing rocks? Israel was still expanding settlements on land that was simultaneously being negotiated over, and popular resentment rose fanned by blah blah blah - either you know the story better than I or you do not care, so onwards. How did this stop? Israel fought the kids while keeping the battleground of public opinion firmly in mind. Tear gas. Rubber bullets. Truncheons. Curfews. All relatively acceptable ways to deal with riots, and the kids throwing rocks were indistinguishable from rioters in Western eyes, including perhaps mine and yours if one may presume. It did not work because this was not your regular neighborhood Sunday afternoon riot. So the Israelis slowly changed the frame of reference. "What happens when a rock is thrown at the windshield of a car moving at 60 miles per hour?" they repeatedly asked with a thousand voices on the media. The answer was that the effect is indistinguishable from a bullet. "Aha!" was the collective Israeli response. So we can use bullets against the kids! End of era. From then on, high-powered sniper rifles shot the eyes out of rioters. Palestinians did not have the gumption or wisdom of a Ghandi who might have continued to send kids out against snipers, so it died down until the "armed intifada" a few years later.

When this new battle in Lebanon started, it was clear that Israel was lashing out instinctively, as before. "We will send Lebanon 20 years back?" they threatened. Twenty years does not mean much to most modern nations, except maybe China with its 10% annual growth rate. But in Lebanon, twenty years ago was roughly when Israel laid siege to an already hollowed-out Beirut. So this was a classic "last war" tactic: go all out until the indignation of the world finds a coherent voice, by which time Israeli objectives have been achieved. Simultaneously, the other "last war" tactic of hunting down under-armed opponents. Now, because this is a new kind of war, neither response was enough. The Lebanese government did not do a thing (although yesterday, when Lebanese army command headquarters and presidential complex were being targeted, they may have fired their sole anti-aircraft missile and predictably hit a thermal decoy.) Simultaneously, Hezballah revealed their hand: lots of missiles, well hidden, fortified, and firmly under strict command control with a strategic vision to fire them in an escalating manner.

Israel talked high and talked low. No coherence. This may have been because both the prime minister and the minister of defense were both for the first time in Israel's history non-military people. Or it may have been part of the "creative chaos" approach to war. I have no way of knowing. But yesterday, I think I saw a glimmer of a plan.

They are not able to bomb all of Lebanon to rubble because the initial shock of international inattention is over (old war reason) and because it would not have stopped the onslaught against them anyway (new war reason.) They also could not target the missiles because they had no idea where to shoot. "Well organized militia" logic. Never before seen in modern times. I will have more to say about this in a later post. But again I digress.

No, in previous wars culminating in the second intifada, Israel had made it common and legitimate practice to target civilians among whom militants were suspected of hiding. "The terrorists have no right to hide behind civilians, including their own wives and children." Plain enough. But since they had no idea where the militants were this time, the rules are slowly shifting, again to Israel's advantage. They cannot target all of Lebanon: too big. They cannot target the missiles hidden in someone's back yard: too little intelligence. So what we see now is that entire cazas (Ottoman-era Lebanese for "counties") are being pummeled one by one in the south. If a missile came out from near of a city quarter or a set of villages, then all of the villages with their inhabitants are a target. Not a target for shelling or commando raids, but a target for leveling to the ground and napalming (not too sure what weapons system, to be honest, but I used the word "napalm" to evoke something horrible) anyone too slow to evacuate or daring enough to drive an ambulance in. This is the new reality behind the old-war rhetoric of "terrorists hiding among civilians."

It is too late to roll back the myriad fait accomplis of the Jewish genius for following the letter of God's law while accomplishing human objectives. But if anyone is itching to fight the last war, this is the single one front where the boundaries between right and wrong are still shifting and thus still just possibly amenable to a concerted show of indignation. How many square miles of civilian human habitation are fair game when seeking to destroy hostile arms? Stand by, or man the barricades, whichever suits you. I for one still pray that the last word will be for the logic of negotiation between strategic peers who both want peace with dignity. If indeed both sides truly want peace with dignity as opposed to the complete subjugation of the other side. For that I have more hope than evidence, unfortunately. On both sides, to be 100% frank.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Local Update

Thanks to everyone who wrote. One day I will have access to a broadband internet connection on which I can respond to every one of you, but with my modem I will have to confine most of my responses to this blog. What we see here is a tripling in the price of produce and some reduction in the range of terrible things that we can expect to happen - in other words some set of rules has emerged about what they are going to bombard and what they are not. For now.

Fighting the last war

History repeats itself, and nowhere more disastrously as when people in power repeatedly act as if history were going to repeat itself exactly. In military parlance, this is called "preparing to fight the last war".

It is possible, although by no means conclusive, that the current conflict will go down in the textbooks of military history as a new kind of war. Military history in general is interested in eras when a certain weapons system comes into use or goes out of use or is countered by a system that had not been able to stand up to it before. For example, Scottish leader William Wallace (Braveheart) faced British heavy cavalry with heavy infantry for the first time since the type of heavy cavalry used by the British was developed. If you remember the movie or your textbooks, the secret was in a combination of technology (steel-tipped wooden pikes at least 9 feet long, drills and discipline to enable the unmounted infantrymen to position themselves correctly in the face of charging horses, and a strategic decision to deploy sufficient numbers of this new sort of heavy infantry against the British heavy cavalry. Braveheart lost the war, but the new type of heavy infantry became the norm once again, and was used particularly well by the Swiss to maintain their neutrality and territorial integrity until modern times. Before that era, the Romans had relied on heavy infantry until their form of that weapons system was defeated by Atilla the Hun and Genghiz Khan's more advanced version of light cavalry. In that case, it was horsemen who could shoot arrows backwards at full gallop. I think these two examples are enough to give the general picture.

Because we humans like continuity, military historians still use the term "cavalry" to describe the most mobile systems, namely aircraft, and "infantry" to describe the slower systems, like tanks. And today, air supremacy is probably the most important determinant of tactical victory. With air supremacy, today's version light of heavy cavalry can withstand anything apart from enemy heavy cavalry, and can pound any other systems at an equal level of sophistication, including the light infantry of the day (surface-to-air missiles). Today's heavy cavalry can make ground advance a cakewalk, as happened in Kuwait 1991, or at the very least very easy, as happened in Afghanistan 2002.

So what am I saying about the "last war"? The Arab-Israeli conflict has been defined, at least form a military standpoint, by Israeli air supremacy. Israel destroyed Egypt's air force in 1967, secured stalemate against armored infantry in 1973, and continues to defy air-to-surface missiles as happened with Syria in Lebanon in the 80s. The only check against this superiority was international public opinion, which could in the long term disrupt the strategic supply chains of the Israeli military if it was felt that this air supremacy was being abused. The war, which political commentators have accused Hezballah of waging again, and in which concerned individuals from both sides have already instinctively started playing their roles, is the war for pubic opinion. Inflict damage on the enemy while claiming regret at having to do so, and overplay the suffering on your side. Eventually, the putatively unintentional damage causes the United States to wag its finger, and the smoke clears to another Israeli victory. Because Israel, with its rich cultural heritage of respect for god-given human rights and ingenuity in adhering to the letter of the law, is a natural at this type of war. The Arabs, with their despots, ideologues and profiteers, were only able to play the game at all because they had a lot more raw material (raw human suffering) to feed into the propaganda machine.

How is the war happening right now above my head any different? Hezballah trying to assert a new type of deterrent force, just like Braveheart's pikes. The have unsophisticated medium-range missiles, which normally are easy prey for a superior air force. They have them in large quantities and in well hidden and fortified places, and they operate within an organizational structure that amazingly combines immunity to human intelligence and responsiveness to a central command. Hence my use of the term "well-regulated militia" in my last posting. Finally, they have made the strategic decision to deploy this light infantry force as a strategic deterrent to heavy cavalry. If they do not lose to overwhelming force of numbers, Hezballah can be the first to rescue Israel from the corrupting effects of the absolute power that it has enjoyed for so long.

I explained in my last posting why Hezballah must avoid the fate of Fatah and of Hamas on the negotiating table. What they are doing right now is proving with their actions that they want to be left in peace, just like Israel claims to want to be left in peace, and that they are able to keep a promise once they make it. Unlike the repugnant and losing strategy of suicide bombing used by Hamas, Hezballah's missiles do not need a logistical window of opportunity. They could have been fired at any point in the past several years, but tellingly they were not. The message to the world is that they will only be fired in response Israeli attack. In the past, in the present and in the future. They can cause damage. They can be targeted at an individual city and sometimes with luck at individual city blocks. As long as Israel uses weapons capable of targeting a single windowpane as a battering ram against whole city blocks at a time (because the organized-militia nature of Hezballah has denied them their usual level of human intelligence), the two weapons systems are equivalent in the psychological damage that can cause, and hence a way to some sort of parity

The only price for peace is that the disguised aggression of "the last war" must stop. Israel can live in peace right now and forever, if they will only stop saying "the continued existence of the state of Israel requires that ... we keep this hilltop or that aquifer or we hold this person prisoner or we keep that border closed to commerce." The only way that this logic ever made sense was under the umbrella of unchallenged Israeli air supremacy. And the only way that Israel can have peace with her neighbors is if this logic dies the death it richly deserves.

As I said in the last posting and in the last comment, there are enough people who want to be left in peace on both sides to make this peace stick. There is a minority that wants war to extermination, and those must be and easily can be dealt with. The big problem is in those huge majorities on both sides who believe that their existence is in danger. Hezballah is communicating with their actions, as cogently as humanly possible, that they can live in peace with an Israel that does not attack them. Israel's leaders must stop fighting the last war by exaggerating existential threats. They must stop relying on the last military balance to produce peace partners to their specifications. The must have the courage to assuage real Arab fears that Israel wants complete regional dominance ("The continued existence if Israel requires that we get Kuwait oil at $10 a barrel"). They need to negotiate, long and hard, with leaders (whom I hope still exist) whose reason for negotiation is human decency and hope for the prosperity of their grandchildren, and not fear of the Israeli air force or greed for government graft in the client states they are permitted to govern.

What can I do?

I have gotten responses from dear friends from both sides of the old ideological divide, and both are still fighting the last war. The propaganda war that assumes that the only check on Israel can and will ever be American public opinion. Unfortunately, eventhe side that lost the last war is still fighting the last war with the losing weapon: lies (Israeli soldiers were captured on occupied territory), exaggerations (Lebanon's elected govenment was installed by the US) and couterproductive veiled existential threats (Israeli soldiers were captured on "occupied" territory). The message to those should be to tell the world that peace can be had for a very modest price. And that is the message to my friends who support Israel too: the price of peace is cheap but you have to spread the word that Israel must express a willingness to pay it.