Monday, July 31, 2006


That's about all one can say right now about the Bush administration: they're putting on a brave front as their entire foreign policy crumbles around them.

I say their entire foreign policy, and not just their Middle East policy, because part of the crumbling is right now beneath the surface of the news reports: Hugo Chavez buying planes from Vladimir Putin, mass demonstrations in Mexico against the recent presidential election results, Tony Blair is teaming up with the California governor to counter President Bush's resistance to fighting global warming, China and Russia resolutely oppose his Middle East policy, which is bringing Shia and Sunni together as probably nothing has in the 1400 year history of their enmity.  See the excellent overview of this conflict in the current issue of the New York Review of Books by Max Rodenbeck entitled "The Time of the Shia".

(Tony Blair probably feels a tinge of revenge after having had to prop up his partner during an excruciating press conference on the Middle East crisis last Friday.  Every time a reporter asked a question which both leaders were supposed to answer, you could see Blair grinding his teeth as Bush dug himself deeper and deeper into a hole with each answer, forcing the British intellectual heavyweight to turn verbal somersaults to try to repackage each of his answers.)

Oh, maybe these two Muslim factions will go back to fighting each other after this episode in Western-Muslim history is over, but somehow, I think things will never be the same again.

And when Arab crowds begin to ransack UN offices, as they're doing in Beirut, because they perceive it as allowing the United States to ride roughshod over its principles, another turning point has been reached: until now, in this conflict, it has been Israel that has shown its disdain for the international body, aligned with the Palestinian cause.

This is probably less John Bolton's fault than it is Condi Rice's, but it may make American isolationists happy.

And Condi Rice, usually so savvy, was probably too jet lagged to realize how gruesome her smile on the photo ops with Israel's naively bellicose Prime Minister, the civilian Olmert, would look to American audiences as they listened to reports of opprobrium from the four corners of the world.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


It used to be said that all roads lead to Rome.  Today, roads from Rome are not leading to peace.  The tension on Kofi Annan's face was visible even in a medium length camera shot as he emerged from the international conference on the Middle East in which Condi Rice pushed framing to heights that even the most consummate diplomat could not abide.

"We urgently want a cease-fire ", she says, but we want it to be permanent.  Condi Rice is rewriting the rules of diplomatic engagements, much as Don Rumsfeld has rewritten the rules of military engagement to include torture.  As a Middle Eastern diplomat yesterday pointed out, a cease-fire is entered into in order to permit negotiations.  The Bush administration wants to put the cart before the horse: "First do as we ask, then we'll cease firing".  Countries fire because they don't want to do what the other side wants.

Israel and Lebanon are two equally small states with populations that include Christians, Arabs and Jews.  Instead of dreaming about detaching the Arab countries from Persian Iran, our diplomats should be thinking how to create the equivalent of Benelux between a Palestinian state, Lebanon and Israel.  A reading of twentieth century history in the area suggests that would prevent larger countries like Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Iran from competing for influence among their tiny neighbors.  The Muslim-Christian confrontation will only subside as Muslim sects accept each other.  If the United States can keep its big boots out, the current conflict may help that happen.

The Senate begins hearings on President Bush's recess appointment of John Bolton as U.N. Ambassador.  It is to be feared that Israeli blinders will prevent the Democrats from mounting a successful campaign to oust him, at a time when U.N. authority is desperately needed.


In the latest creative use of framing, yesterday a commentator referred to the Sheba Farms area as Israel's panhandle.  This is a narrow strip of land in northern Israel that juts into Lebanon.  Israel claims it can only negotiate sovereignty overit with Syria, while Syria gallantly insists the land belongs to Lebanon.  Whereby friction between Israel and its neighbors, even as it becomes bloodier, revolves around ever smaller areas.  You can can it nitpicking, or designer borders.  Here is Israel's argument: because we are surrounded by hostile neighbors, we have to make sure we have defensible borders. The Land of Israel, intended by the founders of the Israeli state after the Holocaust, was intended as a permanent safe haven for a persecuted minority.  Conflict has from time immemorial been about land.  But normally, it's about land for land's sake: more wheat, more timber, a stream, a coast, what have you; what I call "is-ness".  In the case of Israel, it's about  "such-ness": land that has certain characteristics that make it a defensible frontier, in other words, a designer frontier.

But however Israel designs its frontier - panhandle, Jordan Valley corridor, what have you, it's going to remain a very small country surrounded by hostile neighbors.  The United States learned on September 11th, 2001 that you can be a powerful country protected by two huge oceans, and still be vulnerable.  Is-ness and such-ness pertain not only to tangibles like frontiers, but also to nations: bullying or cooperative.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Everyone involved in or on the sidelines of the Middle East crisis is talking at cross-purposes, foremost Israel and the U.S.  Israel is coming from a determination not to be pushed off the map; the U.S. yearns to "remake the Middle East".  The Israelis don't want to know, and the U.S. doesn't understand that, however at odds among themselves they may seem to be, the rulers and peoples of the Middle East on the whole share two basic tenets: Israel is an intruder who in more than fifty years has not recognized its status; and the United States is both world policeman and world bully.

Hamas and Hezbollah represent a lot more than a thorn in the side of the conservative  Middle Eastern rulers: they share a common resentment of American power and intrusiveness.  And however much Sunnis and Shiites may detest each other, they are uniting against our plans for them and Israel's demand to essentially draw its own borders.  Whoever heard of that?

It's not slip of the tongue that made Prime Minister Malaki condemn Israel and not Hezbollah while being received in the house of his benefactors.  He is speaking for an entire region, as Saddam Hussein never could.  To imagine that he would back down is naive.  And for Senate Democrats like Charles Schumer to castigate him shows how thick is the Israeli wool over the eyes of American lawmakers - or how deep the diaspora's pockets.

If the Bush administration is incompetent, and the Democrats not only wimps, but also incompetent, we're in for a very rough time.

In the nineteen forties, we did not help European Jews in their hour of need, and we have been bending over backwards to make up for it ever since.  Now we're on the wrong side of the issue again.  Our media only tells the day's news, hence the American public thinks Hezbollah and Hamas fire rockets at Israel without cause: the immediate cause is that Israel has been building a Wall that shaves off yet more of what should be Palestinian territory on the West Bank before (what had been) a planned withdrawal from tha area; it is grouping settlements in the West Bank that should be evacuated so that they fall within Israeli borders.  And having withdrawn from Gaza, it has continued to make life as difficult as possible for the Palestinians living there, rather than helping them build a viable economy.

These are the reasons why Hezbollah has declared it is ready for a decisive battle, and because Israel thinks it has the right to do these things, Israel's elder statesman Simon Perez declared today to the Knesset that "it's either them or us".

America's plan to build a democratic Middle East is foundering on its support for what used to be  the only democratic country in the region.  Israel may still have a democratically elected government, but its behavior has become less civilized than that of the other countries of the region.

Monday, July 24, 2006


Somebody's beginning to realize what Israel is up against in Lebanon.  Michael Ware, longtime Lebanon correspondent said on CNN that "Hezbollah isn't a terrorist group, it's a terrorist army!"

Now someone has to ask the question: why is it that a country whose government is too weak to have a strong army, has a strong unofficial army, referred to in spin language as a terrorist group?

Disdain for irregulars can lead to catastrophic miscalculations.  It may not be Armageddon, but it sure looks like Lebanon is going to be Israel's Vietnam.  When will they ever learn?  (Maybe there is a subconscious aspiration on the part of Israel army leaders, to do better than America did - to show us that they can do better, not unlike the aspiration of guerilla groups like Hezbollah to show that it can beat a high tech army.

Speaking of Armageddon, I received emails from three people alerting me to tonight's CNN special on Rapture....According to the trailers, some Evangelicals are ecstatic over the Middle East carnage  because it announces the End Time.  The good news (sic) is that maybe some fence-sitters will realize there's little difference between Islamic and Christian fundamentalists: the former believe Heavenly Virgins await the martyr,  the latter  that you don't even have to blow yourself up to be taken to heaven, leaving the sinners behind.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


Yesterday I finished reading George Lakoff's new book: "Whose Freedom?", and I understood better why framing, which sounds like a gimmick, is so important.  Lakoff's book is a sort of primer for that vast majority of people of good will who quite naturally take words at face value, and would realize how American freedom has been turned into its opposite if they understood the link between strict father parenting and nurturing parenting.  (That may sound like a roundabout way of talking about feedom, but it isn't.)

I didn't have to wait longer than this morning to see a striking example of how framing works.  Over and over on the Sunday morning talk shows I heard this: Hezbollah is a terrorist organization; Israel has the right to defend itself. That sounds pretty unexceptional, but it's a frame. Only when Wolf Blitzer spoke to the Lebansese Prime Minister, Siniora, on the phone, did we hear that Hezbollah's provocation didn't come out of the blue: it's simply the latest in a long line of skirmishes that have been going on for more than fifty years between Israel and the people that lived in or around its territory long before the Jewish state existed.

The media never mentions the existence of Irgun, the Jewish terrorist organization that helped win Israeli statehood from the British after the Second World War.  Nobody - except a man on the Beirut street, throwing up his arms in despair - mentions that people use the weapons they have.

But here's the kicker: Hezbollah represents, in the Lebanese parliament, many Lebanese Shiite citizens, who make up 40% of the population in a country whose other minorities are Christians and Sunnis.  Like many other countries set up by the stroke of a pen after the end of the war, its population is not homogeneous.  Introduce an Israeli state next door and you are bound to have problems: Israel occupied southern Lebanon for eighteen years.  Can we say that was right, or should we rather say that it grew out of an inherently ambiguous situation?

Barely a year after Syria's withdrawal after thirty years of occupation, Lebanon is of course still not a homogeneous country.  Probably the only common goal among its various components is a wish to be independent and live in peace.   The majority of the population, whether Sunni or Shia Muslim, feels for the Palestinians, who, more than fifty years after the birth of the state of Israel, still do not have THEIR own state.   Many Palestinians are Shias, hence many Lebanese Shias - i.e., Hezbollah - are ready to fight on their side against Israel.

Israel could put an end to all fighting by ceasing to play cat and mouse with the peace process: promising, but never giving, taking instead of giving, as in the West Bank.

The frame is: Hezbollah is a terrorist organization.  Read: it is not part of the almost non-existent Lebanese army, it fights with the weapons it can for something most Lebanese support.

The frame is: Israel has the right to defend itself.  Read: Israel has the right to reduce the Palestinians to as small a nation as possible before giving them the right to an independent existence.

The frame is: the United States wants to help Lebanon become a country that can defend itself.  Read: The United States is standing by while Israel demolishes Lebanon's infrastructure and kills hundreds of civilians (implicitely, for the crime of having voted for Hezbollah), but wil be ready, when the fighting stops, to negotiate lucrative contracts for Halliburton and other U.S. companies to rebuild Lebanon - on condition it becomes a junior partner in the U.S. Israeli alliance.

It's not going to happen.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


Listening attentively to CNN for the past few days, either there is a deliberate policy decision to not clarify the situation or the journalists have no depth.  They repeat like a mantra that Hezbollah is responsible for the blows that are destroying the country in which they represent 40% of the population, and in whose parliament they sit.

It's as if Israel had not been occupying the Palestinian territories, engaging in a war of attrition against the people whose land they took, for over fifty years!  To hear them, this group with the sinister-sounding name is just trigger-happy - or violence prone.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has dropped off the radar!

When Condoleeza Rice  says she cannot support an immediate cease-fire because we would be back with the same problem in a matter of months, she is either tacitly admitting that the U.S. doe snot want to see Israel and Palestine living side by side within recognized borders, or, at the very least, that it is more important to U.S. interests to remake the Middle East, with Israel as a spearhead.

Apparently, the Israelis don't understand that it is in their interest, as the new kid on the block, to play by the playground rules, offering a lift in Daddy's Mercedes to the poorer kids on the block, rather than getting behind the wheel and running them over.  If there remains the slightest chance that Israel can survive as a state in a region inhabited and governed by Muslims, it has to be seized upon before it is too late.  The leaflets dropped over Lebanon advising inhabitants to flee manage to be provocative in their signature: The State of Israel.  That is not the form usually used in government communiques.

Hopefully, the American public is coming to realize  that the Palestinians elected a Hamas government in a free and fair election; that the Lebanese elected member of Hezbollah to their parliament, and that is as deserving of respect as the abominable fascist Le Pen in France, or the Sinn Fein in Ireland (the two having nothing in common!)

It's time Americans realized that entire populations stand behind these organizations because they are to the Palestinians what our Minutemen were to the American Revolution.

Moreover, the mainstream press has to stop avoiding the issue of equity: every country has a left and a right, a group in power and a larger group trying to obtain more from those in power.  In different ways, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Ba'athists and yes the Sunnis in Iraq who are also Ba'athists, and even the Iranian Revolution, are all, to varying degrees trying to make life better for the majority.  (Our commentators never tire of remarking that "the Iraquis" are well-educated, they had a modern economy", but they somehow fail to point out that it was thanks to thirty years of a Ba'athist/socialist government, however brutal the head of it became.  The Syrian facilities that are caring for refugees must make the Katrina refugees wish in retrospect that they had been so treated.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


It's impossible to watch Americans and other nationals being evacuated to warships from beaches in Lebanon without remembering The Exodus, the ship that brought Holocaust survivors to Palestine before any of it became Israel - and to which the British refused landing permission.  The refugees eventually made it to the beaches....

This may sound trite, but I can't help thinking that the scenes convey a message: the Jewish homeland is in the wrong place, and the United States should stop bending over backwards to support the Israeli government when it thinks that two wrongs make a right.  The Holocaust was wrong, the occupation of land legally given to the Palestinians is wrong.

Of course, at this particular moment, the United States is probably using Israel to further its aim of regime change in Syria and Iran.  But that would be a mistake too.

George Lakoff's book "Whose Freedom", a much needed, if somewhat textbookish endeavor to help people think better about freedom, is just on time to help people understand that the world - and its governments - are basically divided between authoritarian father figure concepts of freedom, and nurturing family views of freedom.  A must read for those who doubt that it could be wrong to take out a Ba'athist authoritarian government or a populist grass roots organization like Hezbollah.  We may not agree with the religious inclinations of the latter, but the same is true of the Wahabi regime that rules Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Maybe the media doesn't do it on purpose.  Maybe they too are obfuscated.  But none of the analysis, opinions, reporting, takes into account THE central fact about the Middle East conflict:  the left/right divide.

No one reminds the public that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the Arab Emirates "support" Israel because Israel's enemies, to varying degrees, espouse populist, "left" ideologies: Bashir El Assad is a Ba'athist, Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran's president, are populists. Israel is, in effect, the U.S. proxy in the Middle East for a "liberal" path to "progress" that keeps the Saudi Princes, the Arab Emirs, the Jordanian King, the Egyptian president in power.  Ahmadinejad's populist rhetoric got him elected in Iran, NOTWITHSTANDING his religious zealotry.  The Palestinians yearning for independence welcome the fighting capabilities of religious movements like Hamas and Hezbollah because what counts most is independence.  These organizations run schools and hospitals for the poor, prefiguring a socially oriented future.

To find their way in the seeming maze of Middle Eastern conflict, Americans need to realize the crucial role played by the concept of equity in a world that never knew McCarthy.

Irony: Syria is accused of having murdered the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, last year.  That event led to the cedar revolution and the departure of Syrian troops that had been in Lebanaon for thirty years.  Now, Lebanese fleeing the Israeli attacks, have nowhere to go on land but into Syria...... The United States supports whatever "liberal" regime may be in power in Lebanon, as opposed to a Syria-inspired leftist regime.

Read:  To get a down to earth idea of what the Middle East was like before the Declaration of the State of Israel, read Jean Said Makdidi's memore: "Teta, Mother and Me".  Jean is the sister of the well-known academic the late Edward Said, and the description of her childhood and young adulthood in "Greater Syria" shows how the Syrians, the Lebanese, and the Palestinians were a vast, borderless community that spilled over into Egypt.  We will never understand the subtleties of Middle East alliances and allegiances without that background.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Readers will have guessed that this blog is under construction.  Until my friend Martha sets up a second column on the front page, I'll use the blog column to signal stuff that may not be current then.  This week's double issue of The Nation has an article by Michael Hardt, who, with Antonio Negri wrote Empire and Multitude, and that opens new windows.  In my forthcoming Memoir I write that the Bush administration is not so much against world government as it is against world DEMOCRATIC government, and that a world government of sorts already exists, which I call a corporatocracy.  Hardt, Negri and many others call it a new kind of empire.  Where I see Bush as a sort of CEO who, like a King has to contend with restive Princes, Hardt sees "a wide network of collaborating powers, including the dominant nation-states, supranational institutions like the IMF and the World Bank, the major corporations, some of the major NGOs and others."  This, says Negri is the new global power that will "maintain global hierarchies , keeping the rich rich and the poor poor."

Focusing on Lain America, Negri points to  the encouragement of autonomous movements as the most significant factor in the Chavez revolution, corresponding to what he calls power to the multitude, which can include many groups, as opposed to "the people" which evokes nationalism.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


Our media can't decide whether to call Hezbollah terrorists, internationally recognized terrorists, or what, especially when they report that they build hospitals and schools.

Nor can they face the fact that Hamas and Hezbollah don't need to take orders from Teheran or Damascus, as those capitals try to tell us.

One of the stock claims of Israelis and those who support them is that since 1949 the Palestinians could have been welcomed by other Arab nations.  But their friends in Washington don't see the corollary: Arab nations all agree that  Israeli occupation of a Middle Eastern people is wrong.

Many regimes go down in history as having got something very wrong.  The current American administration will set a record for getting just about everything wrong: it supported the Taliban, then had to oust them; it ousted Saddam, who was Teheran's enemy.  Now it has to worry about war between Israel and Teheran.  The Israelis want it.  Do we?

Friday, July 14, 2006


Cyprus and Turkey argue over whether the territorial water limit is five kilometers or twelve. Israel has set up a sea blockade of Lebanon, warships are seen right off the coast/beaches. The press hasn't found it strange.

Hezbollah has thrown down the gauntlet, saying it's ready for all-out war. Meanwhile the pundits dissect the relationship between Hezbollah and Hamas, on the one hand, and Syria and Itan on the other. It doesn't seem to cross anybody's mind that whatever their different nuances, they certainly see themselves broadly as one polity - even if the Iranians are not Arabs. Is that so hard to understand?

Survivors of the Holocaust wanted a place to call home, where they could be safe, or at least defend themselves. Religion inspired them to choose the worst possible place, and the scale of their suffering did not prepare them to be humble, as they settled among members of an alien culture. Sixty years on, the world is a very different place, yet the same principles prevail in Israel, which could result in a regional holocaust.

As the Middle East continues to spiral out of control, the G8 meet in St Petersburg to argue about whether the Russian president is a democract. As the NewsHour mentioned that regional governors are no longer elected,but appointed by Moscow, I couldn't help imagine that President Bush wishes the same were true in the country he runs.

To argue about which regime is more or less democratic is pure spin: each ruler does what it takes to remain in power. Talk about it is window dressing.

Ironic fashion note: George and "Vlad" have adopted Iranian President Ahmadinejad's open shirt collar. You'd think they would want to avoid seeming to imitate him.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


WORLD WAR III Yesterday, only slightly tongue in cheek Wolf Blitzer asked Jack Cafferty if he thought World War III had started. Today it looks like Wolf had a crystal ball. It's hard to know whether the Israelis and the Bush administration put their heads together to heat things up in Gaza and Lebanon, to provide an excuse for the United States to engage in regime change in Damascus and Teheran, spiritual homes of Hezbollah, or whether Hamas, sensing support from Iran's outspoken president, decided it has nothing to lose by putting its chips on all-out war with Israel. One thing is certain: there is a distinct feeling of come what may across the Middle East and Central Asia, all the way to India. As though we had definitively lost the opportunity for dialogue over the various ways in which peoples and civilizations experience the less noble aspects of modernity. Update on Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 04:23PM by Registered CommenterDeena Stryker Thursday: Kofi Anna says show restraint and respect civilians. He might as well order tea and crumpets! Until the U.N. calls a conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nothing can stop it from escalating. Once a system begins to accelerate further and further from equilibrium, it has to continue accelerating until it reaches a bifurcation point, when it can either crash or dissipate to a higher form of order. Systems can only be steered, and processes, as Bill Clinton once said, tend to have their own momentum. Admonitions are fruitless. This is going to get a lot worse before it gets better and once again, one can only suspect there exists a tacit agreement to let things get so bad that all-out war ensues. The administration has plans for regime change in Syria and Iran. The media would have us lose sight of that fact by detailing daily events as though there were nothing behind them.