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.

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.


  • At 24/7/06 5:25 AM, Anonymous kirsten said…

    I'm glad you are making arrangements to leave, but also hope things work out.

  • At 26/7/06 6:32 AM, Blogger shlemazl said…

    You must have been born yesterday. Hizbullah has been periodically attacking Israel with or without missiles ever since the Israeli pullout from Southern Lebanon. Israelis in the North of the country have had it. Enough is enough.

  • At 26/7/06 1:59 PM, Blogger Walid said…

    I stand by my exact wording: Hezballah promised no missiles against civilians before Israel fires on civilians, and no respite from attacks on Israeli soldiers until satisfactory resolution of captive/prisoner and territory issues. I'm not saying Hezballah is a bunch of saints, just that they are an easy foe to negotiate with if you really want peace.


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