Saturday, February 26, 2005

Photoblogging from Afghanistan 

Posted by Hello

Chrenkoff's very own Afghanistan photocorrespondent, Major John Tammes (only 24 days to go till the end of deployment!), sends one of his choice Afghan pictures:
"This one is not the most artistic, but it is my favorite. The man has maybe the ghost of a smile forming, he is a bit tired looking, dirty from hard work, but doesn’t look beaten down. He reminds me of Afghanistan as a whole."


Saturday reading 

Go forth and multiply your reading options today:

Instapundit presents the clash of librarians.

At Little Green Footballs, a Quaker outrage.

Bill Roggio blogs about Canada's decision to say no to the missile defense shield.

INDC Journal conducts an experiment on negativity - using yours truly as a subject.

Steve Vincent, guest-blogging at the Adventures of Chester, asks if Bush's would be assassin was radicalized in a US mosque (and what did his father know about it).

Many reflections on Europe at Mudville Gazette.

Lorie at Polipundit has a slightly different take on the six-graders writing hate mail to our soldiers.

Pundit Guy presents the 127th Carnival of the Vanities.

The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies reminds us that fellow Muslims are disproportionately the victims of Islamist terrorism.

At Democracy Project, an exposition of Bush's Evangelical Conservatism: Or, How the Republicans Became Red.

Your daily briefing is up on Regime Change Iran blog. There's also some indications that the mullahs might be losing control.

And on that topic, Vietpundit remarks on the high price of freedom.

Decision '08 writes about how a 1976 book by Richard Dawkins explains much behind blogstorms and forcing out of Eason Jordan.

Chuck Simmins thinks that China is a bigger threat than we realize - in three parts.


Friday, February 25, 2005

Boyz in da Humvee 

It seems that terrorists aren't the only ones using Iraq as a training ground:

"Some of America's most notorious street gangs are turning up in the military. But they aren't just serving their country. Instead, many are taking the opportunity to learn a very deadly trade... There is a growing concern with gang members enlisting in the military with the hope of learning the art of war...

"Gang members brag they now have a pipeline from the U.S. to Baghdad and are picking up new skills, such as war time medical training... It's training that most local law enforcement cannot match. At Fort Bragg, military officers are now working with local law enforcement in an attempt to get violent gang members out of the military."
Then there is this: "If rock 'n' roll -- the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and Creedence Clearwater Revival -- was the music of American service members in Vietnam, rap may become the defining pulse for the war in Iraq."

Coincidence or conspiracy?

The answer is
clear. Forget the neocon/Zionist conspiracy to push America into war - this has been a gangasta plot. No blood for bling-blings!


A correction and retractions 

From the Associated Press:

"In a Feb. 22 story, The Associated Press quoted Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita saying that as a result of insurgent violence, Iraq is a 'country that has thrown itself back into the Dark Ages.'

"A transcript showed Di Rita meant that insurgents want to push Iraq into the Dark Ages. His full quotation:

" 'They are still capable of doing great harm. They're killing a lot of innocent civilians inside of Iraq. And it's my belief and observation, having been there quite a number of times now, that most Iraqis do not want what the insurgents want, which is a country that's thrown itself back into the Dark Ages'."
Meanwhile, Walid Jumblatt is not the only one having second thoughts about the war in Iraq and its consequences. In Great Britain, Labour MP Harry Barnes, one of the founders of Labour Against the War, has now quit the organization:

"He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'I joined Labour Against the War from the start and was on the original platform next to Tony Benn and fully supported action to stop the war - but things have moved and changed.'

"Mr Barnes said he could no longer support the anti-war movement's demands for Allied troops to withdraw from the region, insisting this should be a decision for the Iraqi people. 'The Iraqi people now have an avenue for expressing their opinion through their Parliament and the government that has been established,' he said. 'The coalition should be there a little longer to hold the ring.'

"Mr Barnes accused his anti-war colleagues of only showing a 'one-sided' view of life in Iraq, by endlessly repeating the 100,000 casualty estimate produced in an analysis of deaths caused by the conflict which was published in the academic journal The Lancet. 'That analysis said it could be anything between 2,000 and 198,000,' he said. 'Some things are just over the top and simple-minded'."
One of his more diehard colleagues left behind had this to say: "Harry is an old friend and I am sorry he has gone, but I think he has been misled... This remains an illegal invasion and an illegal occupation." And by now, an illegal democracy.

In other changes of mind, read about
Colonel David H. Hackworth, one of the earliest opponents of the war who now says that the US can win against the insurgents (and he tells you how), and this piece from a San Francisco writer Cinnamon Stillwell, "The Making Of A 9/11 Republican."


What are you doing this Jewish holiday? 

My whole life* I never suspected I was a victim of a Jewish conspiracy:
"Hundreds of Iraqi students demonstrated Wednesday to protest a government decision to extend the weekend to include Saturday, denouncing the scheme as a 'Zionist plot'.

"Irate high school students marched through Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, denouncing outgoing Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's decision to extend the weekend from the traditional Islamic holy day of Friday to include Saturday. 'We don't want Saturday as it is a Jewish holiday,' the crowd chanted."
That might be a brilliant idea for improving productivity in the Old Europe and to make the French finally say goodbye to the economically-insane 36-hour working week: just tell them that Saturday is an Israeli holiday.

* Not quite - in communist Poland only every second Saturday was a day off. We wouldn't want to give the working class too much time off; after all, that's why they're called the working class.


The joke's on "USA Today" 

Drudge reports: "President Bush addressed Slovakian citizens on the merits of freedom during an open air public address in Bratislava on Thursday. But a cropped photo in USA TODAY showed Bush under the words 'BRAT'!"

Well, the joke on them - in many Slavic languages, the word "brat" means "brother" - which was my first thought when I saw the photo without reading the rest of the story: "How nice of 'USA Today' to underline the closeness of the relationship between President Bush and the Eastern European countries!"


Thursday, February 24, 2005

"Neocon circle jerk" 

This blog once again finds itself in a very esteemed company. According to Antiwar, the following stand accused of "one big neocon circle jerk" (is that like a webring?):
"Instapundit (of course)

"Jim Geraghty (National Review)

"Arthur 'Great News From Iraq!' Chrenkoff

"Vodkapundit (where Glenn Reynolds gets half his content)

"PowerLineBlog (where Reynolds gets the other half)

"Charles Paul Freund (Reason)"
Our crime? We all linked to this quote from a Lebanese opposition leader Walid Jumblatt:
"It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq... I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world... The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."
By virtue of that one link, we all apparently now made Jumblatt into a "new neocon pinup" and "consider him an authority."

If you are still wondering how quoting somebody translates into support and endorsement of that person and his past history and past statements, well, you're not alone.

Jumblatt is not what you would consider "a nice person." Had Matthew Barganier at Antiwar bothered to read the rest of my post he would have discovered that in the very next line I quote WaPo's David Ignatius who says "over the years, I've often heard [Jumblatt] denouncing the United States and Israel," and then proceed to recall Jumblatt's long history of bloody conflict with Lebanon's pro-Western Maronite Christians, and mention that Jumblatt is currently trying to cozy up to Hizbollah. My "new neocon pinup"? Methinks the (anti)war fever is getting better of Antiwar.

Antiwar also points us in the direction of a post by Justin Raimondo who argues that we can't take anything that Jumblatt say seriously because he's got some zany ideas (CIA created bin Laden and al Qaeda, the true axis of evil is "oil and Jews", etc.). Curiously, Jumblatt sounds like a bit more extreme version of Antiwar. Yep, a serious credibility problem here.

Yet, I think it's precisely because of his past positions that Jumblatt is worth quoting. As he himself admits before giving the US his backhand compliment, "It's strange for me to say it..." Because even if our enemies are starting to give America its due, then we might be on the threshold of some really interesting times.


"Could George W. Bush Be Right?" 

I don't do it very often, but this piece by Claus Christian Malzahn in German weekly "Der Spiegel" bears quoting at some length. It's titled "Could George W. Bush Be Right?":

"Germany loves to criticize US President George W. Bush's Middle East policies -- just like Germany loved to criticize former President Ronald Reagan. But Reagan, when he demanded that Gorbachev remove the Berlin Wall, turned out to be right. Could history repeat itself?

"Quick quiz. He was re-elected as president of the United States despite being largely disliked in the world -- particularly in Europe. The Europeans considered him to be a war-mongerer and liked to accuse him of allowing his deep religious beliefs to become the motor behind his foreign policy. Easy right?

"Actually, the answer isn't as obvious as it might seem. President Ronald Reagan's visit to Berlin in 1987 was, in many respects, very similar to President George W. Bush's visit to Mainz on Wednesday. Like Bush's visit, Reagan's trip was likewise accompanied by unprecedented security precautions. A handpicked crowd cheered Reagan in front of the Brandenburg Gate while large parts of the Berlin subway system were shut down. And the Germany Reagan was traveling in, much like today's Germany, was very skeptical of the American president and his foreign policy. When Reagan stood before the Brandenburg Gate -- and the Berlin Wall -- and demanded that Gorbachev 'tear down this Wall,' he was lampooned the next day on the editorial pages. He is a dreamer, wrote commentators. Realpolitik looks different.

"But history has shown that it wasn't Reagan who was the dreamer as he voiced his demand. Rather, it was German politicians who were lacking in imagination -- a group who in 1987 couldn't imagine that there might be an alternative to a divided Germany. Those who spoke of reunification were labelled as nationalists and the entire German left was completely uninterested in a unified Germany...

"Bush's idea of a Middle Eastern democracy imported at the tip of a bayonet is, for Schroeder's Social Democratic Party and his coalition partner the Green Party, the hysterical offspring off the American neo-cons. Even German conservatives find the idea that Arabic countries could transform themselves into enlightened democracies somewhat absurd.

"This, in fact, is likely the largest point of disagreement between Europe and the United States -- and one that a President John Kerry likely would not have made smaller: Europeans today -- just like the Europeans of 1987 -- cannot imagine that the world might change. Maybe we don't want the world to change, because change can, of course, be dangerous. But in a country of immigrants like the United States, one actually pushes for change. In Mainz today, the stagnant Europeans came face to face with the dynamic Americans. We Europeans always want to have the world from yesterday, whereas the Americans strive for the world of tomorrow."
As they say, read the whole thing.


Lebanon update 2 

Update: Find out why Chrenkoff is now a part of a "neocon circle jerk."

Quote of the day: "The Arab world is up to its neck in problems" - Amr Mussa, the head of the Arab League, following his meeting with Syria's Assad. I've got a feeling though that by "problems" Mussa mostly means that darn democracy thing.

Quote of the day II: "It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq... I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world... The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it." - Lebanon's Druze opposition leader
Walid Jumblatt, talking to the "Washington Post"'s David Ignatius. Writes Ignatius: "Over the years, I've often heard [Jumblatt] denouncing the United States and Israel, but these days, in the aftermath of Hariri's death, he's sounding almost like a neoconservative."

For the continuing analysis: read
Beirut to Bayside blog.

Which way the cookie crumbles:
Just like Ukraine: "A small tent city has popped up on Martyrs' Square in Beirut as anti-Syrian protesters call for political changes in the wake of former prime minister Rafik Hariri's assassination."

across the border: "More than 150 Syrian intellectuals on Wednesday signed a petition calling on Damascus to end its military occupation of Lebanon. The petition was sent to Syrian President Bashar Assad... The Syrian opposition makes its voice heard periodically in letters it sends to Assad. The group has no real influence on Syrian policy, but criticism of such sensitive issues like Syria's presence in Lebanon is unprecedented."

Back in Lebanon:
"Tens of thousands marched Monday in Beirut in the biggest anti-Syrian protest in Lebanese history, a week after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

"Another former prime minister, Gen. Michel Aoun, said Monday he would return from exile before this year's parliamentary elections and that he may launch his own candidacy if the opposition needs his support. The former commander of the Lebanese army fled the country in 1990 and has lived in France."
Aoun is a Maronite Christian. Christians no longer constitute majority of Lebanon's population, but at just under 40% they still have a significant presence.

The pieces of the opposition puzzle have been falling for the past few years. In 2001, Maronites and Druze have started a process of
reconciliation following a century of mutual hostilities, including the bitter civil war of 1975-1990 which pitted them against each other. Now the Sunnis seem to be finally onboard the anti-Syrian bandwagon after the murder of their most prominent son.

And the anti-Syrian opposition is trying to
woo Hizbollah away from the current government. "[Hizbollah's leader, Hassan] Nasrallah, a great Lebanese who freed Lebanese territory from Israeli occupation, should join the caravan of those who want liberty and independence," said Walid Jumblatt. Hizbollah, of course, has accepted the Syrian occupation and the current pro-Syrian government of Lebanon precisely in exchange for the tacit approval to continue its war against Israel.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Omar Karameh has
offered to resign. As the current parliament is largely pro-Syrian there is little indication that the new cabinet would be much different. However, strange things can happen in a volatile political climate.

Will they, won't they?:
February 20: "Syria rejects US call for Lebanon pullout"

February 22: "Assad 'willing to withdraw troops'"

Ironically, both articles say essentially the same thing: Syria is not willing to withdraw from Lebanon until Israel withdraws from the Golan Heights (annexed from Syria in the aftermath of the 1967 war) as well as Gaza and West Bank. It's an interesting case of blackmail: Syria is holding a fellow Arab country hostage to force Israel to vacate what it considers to be other Arab land.

The difference between the two articles is that the second one comes in the aftermath of the talks between Assad and Arab League chief Amr Mussa. Says Mussa: "During our meeting, President Assad expressed his firm desire, more than once, to continue implementing the Taef accord and to withdraw from Lebanon in keeping with this agreement... Taef and the withdrawal are part of Syrian policy. Steps in these matters will be taken shortly." As the report notes, "The Taef Accord, which ended Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, called for Syria to start redeployments from Lebanon within two years of the conflict's finish." Which means that Syria is now in the fourteenth year of the second year of its implementation (more on the Taef Accord

In any case, before the "Syria is pulling out" news even had a chance to go around the globe, the Syrian authorities decided to be
spoilsports: "Syria says Amr Moussa misunderstood President Bashar Assad. A Syrian government official told the BBC its position remains a redeployment within Lebanon. He said that Syrian and Lebanese troops are 'in complete harmony' in the Bekaa Valley." It's got a nice, New Age ring to it.

The Lebanese government has also
denied that the Syrian withdrawal is on the cards. "Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud said the transatlantic call for an immediate Syrian withdrawal was 'nothing new'."

Meanwhile, the new/old ally comes to rescue: "
Iran has accused the United States of interfering in Lebanon's internal affairs and advised the Lebanese people not to be deceived by Washington's comments on the withdrawal of Syrian forces." Pretty rich from a country which maintains Hizbollah in Lebanon.

Strange bedfellows: "The United States and France join with the European Union and the international community in condemning the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and in their support for a free, independent, and democratic Lebanon. We support the U.N. investigation into this terrorist act and urge the full cooperation of all parties in order to identify those responsible for this act. We urge full and immediate implementation of UNSCR 1559 in all its aspects, including its call for a sovereign, independent, and democratic Lebanon as well as for the consolidation of security under the authority of a Lebanese government free from foreign domination." From a
joint American-French statement, 21 February.

Blame game continues: And so do ironies. On the same day as the Lebanese authorities have performed
a U-turn and agreed to assist the independent United Nations investigation into the assassination, the Saudi government (with whom Hariri had very close ties) came out against the outside investigation and cautioned against blaming Syria.

In Lebanon, the official spotlight is on
"Assassins of Rafic Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, came from Iraq through Syria to carry out the attack, according to the Beirut judge leading the inquiry into the bombing. Rachid Mezher, the senior investigator for the Lebanese military tribunal, was quoted as saying Sunday by the Telegraph paper that the organizers had been recruited from Islamist groups linked to Syria and operating against the US-led occupation in Iraq.

"No firm ties with the Syrian regime have been established, according to Mezher. Investigators believe that a suicide bomber drove a car laden with explosives into the 60-year-old politician's convoy last Monday, killing him and 14 others. Judge Mezher said that a video in which a fanatic called Ahmed Abu Adas said the attack was the work of 'Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria', an unknown group, was a genuine claim of responsibility.

"Abu Adas, 23, a Palestinian Lebanese believed to have fled the country, attended two Beirut mosques known to be recruiting grounds for the Ansar al-Islam group, linked to the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Investigators suspect that the mosques have links to Sheikh Abderrazak, a Damascus cleric who has helped fighters travel through Syria to Iraq."
Egyptian newspaper, meanwhile, blames the Jews: "The paper touched upon 'the meeting of the Israeli cabinet several months ago that discussed means of aggravating the situation on the Lebanese arena.' 'The authorities suggested arranging assassination of one of Senior Lebanese figures on the condition that this would be a preparatory stage for another assassinations inside Lebanon to embarrass Syria and destabilize the region,' the paper mentioned. 'Israel began to communicate with its agents on the Lebanese arena and asked for help of the US intelligence bureaus to carry out the scheme then it chose Hariri to be the starting point'."

One person who agrees - kind of - is
Patrick Seale in the "Guardian":

"If Syria killed Rafik Hariri, Lebanon's former prime minister and mastermind of its revival after the civil war, it must be judged an act of political suicide...

"If Syria did not kill Hariri, who could have? There is no shortage of potential candidates, including far-right Christians, anxious to rouse opinion against Syria and expel it from Lebanon; Islamist extremists who have not forgiven Syria its repression of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 80s; and, of course, Israel.

"Israel's ambition has long been to weaken Syria, sever its strategic alliance with Iran and destroy Hizbullah. Israel has great experience at 'targeted assassinations' - not only in the Palestinian territories but across the Middle East. Over the years, it has sent hit teams to kill opponents in Beirut, Tunis, Malta, Amman and Damascus."
I first remember encountering Seale when I read his biography of the Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal (Nidal, as you will recall, died in suspicious circumstances in 2002, while enjoying Saddam's hospitality), built on the thesis that Nidal must have been a secret Israeli agent because no "genuine" Palestinian terrorist would have done so much damage to the Palestinian cause. Enough said.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Harvard, part two 

Remember the six Iraqi students coming over to Harvard to participate in the Model United Nations conference and to be exposed to academic events like the conference course Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality 1203, "Gender and the Cultures of US Imperialism"?

Well, they have
finally arrived, albeit "after missing their flight out of Baghdad, waiting at customs for five hours, and missing another connecting flight out of Chicago." The Iraqis were greeted by a full minute of applause by the other 2,200 student delegates to the Model UN, a treatment that Iraq itself sadly did not receive from the grown-up UN after rejoining the family of decent nations. Then again, the Model UN probably wasn't hell-bent on keeping Saddam in power for the rest of his life.

There was some culture shock awaiting the Iraqi students, as the "Crimson" reports:

"Arwa Nazar Hamdan, one of the University of Baghdad students, said she was surprised to receive such a warm welcome, since she had expected to be viewed as a terrorist. 'The [American] military back home treats us with hostility,' Hamdan said. 'I can see it in their eyes that they look at us as suspects'."
Arwa had another pleasant surprise in store for her: "That’s the thing we noticed when we first got here—that there were no roadside bombs going off and no explosions." With no racial profiling and violence, the trip seems to be going quite well:

"Iraqi student Quasay Mehdi Hussein said this was the first time the students attended a conference where they could speak their minds freely without being told what to say. He added that he spent more time informally talking with other delegates than participating in the conference itself."
Thus showing the firm grasp of usefulness, or lack thereof, of international talk-fests.

"In one of these conversations, Hussein spoke on Thursday with Shira Kaplan ’08, an Israeli student, at a reception hosted by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. The two students discussed the future of their region and how to teach tolerance for 'the other side,' Kaplan said. 'As an Israeli, it was a rare opportunity to meet Iraqi people,' Kaplan recalled later."
While students and their academic supervisor, professor Nazar Hamdan, have spoken openly of dangerous security climate back home, the conference-wagging, Israeli-interacting Hussein had another perspective to offer: "We have some democracy [now]. Under Saddam you weren’t allowed to think for yourself."

Since the Model UN doesn't assign countries in a straightforward manner (thus the Iraqi were actually representing Austria - or as the previous article stated,
Australia), it fell to students from the Providence College to be Iraq's Model UN representatives. Good relations were established between the real and the fake Iraqis and phone numbers exchanged. "They’re not anti-American. Their suggestions are about how to create a new Iraq," noted with apparent surprise Dhruv Taneja, one of the student organisers of the conference.

The Iraqis and their teacher also got a chance to visit
Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, which is providing assistance to Basra University. On that occasions, the guests refused to be drawn into political commentary, except for this remark by the professor (in this report called Nassar Tokan): "I can assure you with your help and assistance we will build a country that you all will be proud of."


Spinning Afghanistan 

From your mainstream media: how to report on the Afghan disaster - and have a free kick at the United States - in one easy step:

"Three years after the United States drove the Taliban out and vowed to rebuild Afghanistan, the war-shattered country ranked 173rd of 178 countries in the U.N. 2004 Human Development Index, according to a new report from the United Nations.

"It is trailed only by five countries in sub-Saharan Africa: Burundi, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Sierra Leone."
Pity the people who only glance at the opening paragraphs of news stories, because we have to wait until the sixth para to get a fuller context:

"While there has been rapid progress, said Zphirin Diabr, associate administrator of the U.N. Development Program, the country has a long way to go just to get back to where it was 20 years ago."
Yep, 20 years ago. Damn the America for not being able to reverse in three years the legacy of (over) two decades consisting of 11 years of brutal occupation, followed by another few years of equally brutal civil war, and a few more years of stone age Islamofascist government. How about: "America cannot achieve miracles"?

But paragraph five is even more intriguing:

"Despite the problems, Afghanistan has shown remarkable progress in the three years since the U.S.-led war in 2001, the report said. More than 54 percent of school-age children are enrolled in school, including 4 million high school students. The economy is making great strides, with growth of 16 percent in nondrug gross domestic product in 2003 and predicted growth of 10 to 12 percent annually for the next decade."
OK, if a country that over the past three years has shown "remarkable progress" now still lingers at number 173 out of 178, then where the hell did it start off? 208 out of 178? Whatever the questions about methodology, however, the study tells you something about the challenges facing Afghanistan (you can access the complete study here).

I know that these things are notoriously difficult to measure and quantify, but sadly the Human Development Report ranking, which takes into account anything from mortality and literacy rates to GDP and number of parliamentary seats being held by women, does not consider the rather important political dimension: is country a democracy? Do people enjoy freedoms of speech, of association, of conscience? Can they expect a night-time visit from the secret police or indeed to end their life in a mass grave? All important considerations when thinking about "human development", I would have thought (you can read all the stats and rankings, in PDF,


Wednesday reading 

Tim Blair looks at the life and times of Hunter S Thompson.

Iraq the Model
compares tyrannies.

Powerline remembers the
birthday of George Washington.

Vodka Pundit offers late night musings inspired by rereading Robert D. Kaplan's
"The Coming Anarchy."

Mudville Gazette looks at the
brutal Afghan winter.

Captain Ed hits the
5 million visit mark and looks at Kosovo, Europe's UN protectorate - how's that for no exit strategy and no plan?

Roger Simon gets
bad Amazon reviews from people who haven't read his books.

At Dean's World, this week's
Carnival of the Liberated - what the Iraqi bloggers are talking about?

Pundit Guy presents
bringin' down da (White) House.

Regime Change Iran presents
the week in review.

negotiating with insurgents. Good or bad? asks Chester.

Barcepundit blogs about the aftermath of the
Spanish EU referendum.

Radioblogging - the fifth segment of Homespun Bloggers' radio broadcast is available - today's topic: social security reform.


Out of the East 

Here are some developments in Eastern and Central Europe you might not have heard about, but which could have significant implications in the near future.

While you were sleeping: While the Western counter-intelligence services have increasingly shifted their emphasis towards counter-terrorism work, Russia has been quietly rebuilding its spy network across the United States and Europe. "Time" magazine reports that Russia is now running
at least as many agents in America as the old Soviet Union did (around 130, not counting the "illegals"). "Officials say the Russians are after secrets about American military technology and hardware, dual-use technology such as the latest lasers, and the Administration's plans and intentions regarding the former Soviet states, China, the Middle East and U.S. energy policy, among other matters. Russia also wants to learn as much as possible about its biggest strategic worry: the U.S.'s ramped-up commitment to missile defense, which could eventually threaten Moscow's nuclear deterrent." Germany, too, is finding itself on the receiving end of a Cold War-size Russian spying invasion, also seemingly directed at scientific and industrial targets.

Cold War KGB defector and an authority on espionage, Colonel
Oleg Gordievsky agrees that there has been an upsurge in Russian espionage in the West since Putin became president five years ago. Russian experts dispute such claims, decrying Western propaganda and provocation.

Why it matters: Because it might be yet another indication that Putin is not really a liberalizer but merely the latest in Russia's long line of modernizers. Intellectual heirs of Peter the Great, Russian modernizers reject the Western intellectual and ideological baggage (democracy, freedom, free market) in favor of practical imports, such as science, technology and management techniques. In doing so, they confuse the causes and consequences of the West's success and are thus bound to be disappointed, but not without a lot of heartache and disruption.

Starting the engines of growth: As the Old European economies
stagnate, the Eastern and Central Europe is adopting tax policies designed to spur growth. Many countries in the region, for example, have adopted flat taxes. Romania is the latest New European to restructure its tax system - the centerpiece is a flat-rate of 16 per cent, "replacing three income tax bands ranging between 18 and 40 per cent, and a corporate tax previously at 25 per cent." Taxes, particularly corporate taxes, throughout the Eastern Europe are already generally significantly lower than in the West. No wonder the Old Europe is hating the competition and trying to undermine the low tax push.

Why it matters: Because as
V. Arun, research analyst with Frost & Sullivan writes, "low tax rates coupled with cheap labor prevalent in the [Eastern European] countries can have a drastic impact on the employment, investment, and industrial production in the EU member states. As a result, the corporates in the west are bound to move eastward in the hope of benefiting from the tax advantage." Yes, it will take quite some time for the countries of the former Eastern Bloc, ravaged as they still are by decades of communist economic vandalism, to reach the levels of economic development and the standard of living of the Western Europe, but as the Western Europe refuses to face the economic and demographic challenges, it might happen sooner than we think.

Keeping the European Union in check: The Eurocrats must be starting to regret the admission of the new members to the EU. The uncouth newcomers are rather less well disposed towards statism and trendy leftyism than their Western betters and are already shaking the comfortable Brussels status quo. This from
the Czechs:
"In their first foreign-policy victory since joining the EU, Czech officials in Brussels have blocked a proposed ban on inviting Cuban dissidents to receptions at European embassies in Havana.

"The ban would have suspended a 2003 resolution that called on EU countries to support anti-Castro dissidents by inviting them to parties celebrating national holidays.

"Spain proposed the ban as part of a package of measures -- including the resumption of EU missions to Cuba -- designed to ease tensions with Havana. It became a sticking point when the Czechs threatened to use their veto in the 25-member Council of Foreign Ministers, where unanimity is required on policy decisions."
Another recent example comes from Poland, whose representatives were instrumental in alerting the public and then stopping the proposed EU directive on patents, which had it been passed would have devastated the development of open source and shareware software. In the best EU fashion, the directive was going to be pushed through the Agricultural and Fisheries Commission(!).

Why it matters: Because the Easterners are acting as a moderating, sensible influence on the rampant anti-American nouveau socialism of the EU elites. It is also a useful reminder for the EU critics in the US that Europe is not monolithic and not beyond salvaging.

Building the Balkan bulwark: No great power since the Roman Empire has succeeded in this enterprise; the Byzantine, Turkish, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Soviet empires tried but failed - but the United States have been largely (though not yet completely) successful in generating a common foreign policy outlook throughout the Balkans.
Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania (set to continue after the recent election), Kosovo, Albania and even to some extent Serbia - countries otherwise much divided by ethnicity and religion - all currently have generally pro-Western and pro-American governments. The region's Muslims are the most pro-American of anywhere in the world bar the Kurds and the Kuwaitis.

As this long piece by
Joel E Starr suggests, the picture is not all rosy; for one, the region is mired in economic stagnation. The US might have been successful in imposing peace, but it was far less successful in imposing a decent economic order. As Starr notes, "up to 147 taxes could be levied on a single business in Sarajevo, many requiring collection every week." This is crazy and something needs to be done about it.

Why it matters: The United States has a once-in-a-few generations opportunity to create a moderate and friendly block in a region otherwise known for strife and instability. The US has already committed itself diplomatically through the
Adriatic Charter help some of the Balkan countries to integrate with NATO, but more needs to be done both politically and economically to assist the "soft underbelly of Europe". Just as with the northern Slavic countries of New Europe, it is in America's national interest to strenghten the continental counterweight to the less friendly Western Europe.


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Australia - more troops for Iraq 

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard has made an announcement an hour ago:

"A task force of about 450 troops is to be sent to Iraq, increasing Australia's military contingent there by some 50 per cent... The task force, which will have infantry and cavalry units as well as some 40 armoured vehicles, will be assisting the roles of Japanese troops currently serving in southern Iraq...

"Their primary task will be providing security for the Japanese engineering and support forces doing humanitarian work in the Al Mutthanna province. 'The first (task) will be to provide a secure environment for the Japanese engineering and support forces which are making a valuable humanitarian contribution to the rebuilding process,' Mr Howard said. 'The task group will also be involved importantly in the further training of Iraqi security forces. That training is essential to the Iraqis in the future being able to take over the internal and external defence of their country'...

" 'The government believes that Iraq is very much at a tilting point and it's very important that the opportunity of democracy, not only in Iraq, but also in other parts of the Middle East be seized and consolidated,' he said."


Blog interview - Michael Ledeen: "Never, never, ever give in to tyranny" 

Michael Ledeen has been described as "a Renaissance man... in the tradition of Machiavelli." Currently the holder the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, Michael is one of the leading experts on intelligence, terrorism and international politics. Formerly the Italian correspondent for the "New Republic", advisor and consultant in the Reagan Administration, lecturer and historian, he is also a prolific author, most recently of the bestselling "The War Against the Terror Masters; How it Happened. Where We Are Now. How We Will Win". I decided to have a quick chat to him about Iraq, Iran and the democratic revolution unfolding throughout the Middle East.

The liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq has really stirred up the traditionally stagnant pond that was the Middle East and Central Asia. President Bush's grand democratic experiment seems to have affected to some degree just about every state in the region. Where do you see the events heading in the near future?

I'm not a prophet, I'm an historian. So I think it all depends. It depends on how well the West wages this war, and how well the terror masters in Tehran, Damascus and Riyadh thwart our will and hang onto power. I think Bush is bound and determined to support democratic revolution all over the Middle East. I'm not sure that he has a "war cabinet" capable of designing and implementing strategies that can accomplish it. But this is a revolutionary moment, and we've got most of the people in the region on our side, so the odds favor us.

If you were a member of that "war cabinet" what three things you would suggest the United States should do that is not currently doing?

We should be funding more (mostly private) radio and television broadcasting to Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran. The people in those countries know that they are being lied to by their governments, but they don't know the truth, especially about their own country. If you read some of the blogs from Iran, for example (and there are lots of them!), you find a reflexive rejection of anything that the government says: mullahs say Bush bad, people believe Bush good, for example. They need information. People in Tehran need to know what's going on in Isfahan, people in Damascus need to know what's happening in Aleppo or Beirut, people in Riyadh need to know the latest from the Eastern provinces.

Of course, you have to be careful, because some of the broadcasters are closet supporters of the terror masters, but they are way outnumbered. The Farsi language broadcasters in southern California, England, and Germany, for example, cover a wide range of political opinion, but they generally do a good job. When the revolution gets under way they will serve to "triangulate" communications inside Iran. Someone in Isfahan will report to Germany, and the station there will broadcast back to Iran so people all over the place will be up to date.

Second, I would hammer away at the western trade unions to support the workers' organizations in Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Support politically (yelling and screaming, demonstrating, lobbying their governments) and economically (raising money for a strike fund). The final scene in the revolutionary drama consists of massive demonstrations and strikes, shutting down the economy and demanding that the regime step down.

Third, I would try to use international organizations, even the UN, as fora to denounce the regimes. Words are potent weapons, and we should use them in the revolutionary strategy.

Terror masters, as you call them, in Teheran and Damascus are America's sworn enemies; but how do we deal with Saudi Arabia which is technically our ally and economic partner?

The Saudis are at once our friends and our enemies. We want the Saudis to shut down the transmission belt of hate, to silence the Wahhabi imams, to stop publishing hate literature, to cease recruiting jihadis all over the western world, to stop funding terrorist groups, to close down their border with Iraq and eliminate the recruiting groups inside the kingdom. We have to tell the royal family that if they do not do that--yesterday--we will make a lot of trouble for them.

In politics, there are no irreversible trends. What are some of the factors that might stop or even turn back the progress of reform and democratization?

If we are driven out of Iraq by the surviving terror masters in Riyadh, Tehran and Damascus, it will gravely weaken the forces of freedom everywhere, not just in the region. If Bush is dramatically weakened at home - some terrible scandal, for example, or a resounding Democrat victory in the next elections - that would probably hurt as well.

Before the Iraqi election, the media and the kommentariat have for months run on the premise that the poll will be a defeat for the US and pro-democracy Iraqis because violence will kill the turnout. Now that this scenario did not eventuate, the same people are still arguing that the poll was a defeat for the US and pro-democracy Iraqis because "it's Iran that really won" and Iraq will now turn into an anti-Western Shia theocracy. What is your take on the situation?

The usual silliness from the MSM, who desperately want to prove that Bush is an idiot and is an illegitimate president. It's quite obvious that the Iraqi Shi'ites don't want an Iranian style Islamic Republic, and if anything, the Shi'ite victory in the Iraqi elections threatens the Iranian regime, not the other way around. The Shi'ite tradition - until Khomeini, the great heretic - was a kind of separation of mosque and state. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 created a theocracy, which the Iraqi Shi'ite leaders never accepted. Now the traditional model will be revived, and it will have great appeal to many Iranians, including several leading ayatollahs.

Iran, the other member of the Axis of Evil in the region, seems to be a wildcard. For the past several years I recall the country always tethering on the brink on revolution but the popular protest never seems to reach that critical mass needed to swamp the mullahs. What is the situation inside Iran right now and what are the prospects for the overthrow of the current regime?

The people hate the regime, and the regime is clamping down on anyone who dares to criticize the mullahs. If there were free elections in Iran today, no one with a turban would be elected to anything. This is proven by the regime's own public opinion polls, and by another one that was taken telephonically from the United States, both showing more than seventy percent of Iranians want regime change.

Is there any way to break out of the "unrest-repression-unrest-repression" cycle in Iran? Will we have to wait for some extraordinary international, or even internal, crisis in Iran to provide that final impetus for the opposition or will the opposition reach critical mass gradually and on its own?

Nobody knows. The opposition probably--almost certainly--needs external support. Most successful revolutionary movements have needed it. But sometimes random events - earthquakes, for example - have catalyzed revolutions, as, for example, Nicaragua.

The regime in Iran is very frightened right now. Just look at the panicky reaction to the explosion near the nuclear site last week. First it was a missile, then it was a fuel tank, somehow related to "friendly fire." What in the world is THAT? Iranians firing on their own aircraft? Well, maybe, the mullahs don't trust their own armed forces (and they are right not to trust them).

One could do a lot, but for the most part our governments are engaged in ritual dances to avoid coming to grips with the terror masters, hoping somehow to achieve "stability" and security in Iraq, and that this will inspire the others. But there can't be security in Iraq so long as the monsters are in charge in the neighboring countries...

I'm fascinated by all the anecdotal evidence that many, if not the majority of Iranians are actually reasonably well disposed towards the Great Satan. It reminds me, of course, of the situation in communist countries prior to 1989, but the Middle East is a different political environment. What are you hearing about the popular opinion and sentiment within Iran?

On 9/11 the streets of the major Iranian cities were full of people carrying lighted candles, and that lovely ritual has been repeated on each anniversary. Almost every visitor to Iran finds great affection for the United States; even Tom Friedman wrote about it recently, calling Iran a "red state."

While I'm not privy to top level thinking in the White House and the Pentagon, I don't think anyone is seriously planning for war against Iran. What can we do, short of a military action, to influence the events in Teheran and hopefully affect a regime change?

I don't know anyone in Washington who is thinking seriously about going to war with Iran. The winning option is to replicate what happened in the Ukraine: support democratic revolution.

Ukrainian "orange revolution" almost seems easy by comparison; after all, Ukraine was a lot more democratic and open a society than Iran, and it was far easier for the West to help finance and organize the opposition. What can we do more, or do better, to help the Iranian opposition in the face of a quite repressive regime?

It's easy to say that now, but if anyone had said to us six months ago that we should support democratic revolution in Ukraine, we'd probably have urged him to check into a good psychiatric ward. Tyrannies are unstable, and they collapse quite quickly once the people realize how weak the tyrants are. Remember the Soviet Union? I know YOU do, but it's passing into history now, and modern schools don't teach real history.

You've worked as an advisor and consultant on security matters in the Reagan Administration. What do you think are the lessons from that period that are applicable to our war on terror?

First of all, speak the unvarnished truth, often and forcefully. Help your friends, go after your enemies (sounds easy, but diplomats have a very hard time with that). Believe that most people want to be free, and support them in their struggle. And as Churchill said, never, never, ever give in to tyranny.

You can read more about Michael Ledeen's work at the American Enterprise Institute here, and here is a more complete list of his books.


Monday, February 21, 2005

Building a straw blogger 

In an otherwise sympathetic profile of blogdom, William Powers of the "National Journal" observes that "we're having a Dutch tulip moment with the bloggers. This, too, shall pass." Powers is of course referring to the infamous 17th century speculative bubble that has since become a byword for irrational overvaluation, something that Powers feels is being done to blogs. After identifying the blogosphere's strengths
("Bloggers are a fantastic addition to the media club, but I don't see them taking it over. So far they've proven adept at several tasks: 1) bird-dogging factual errors and other crimes that the mainstreamers are ignoring; 2) speaking in a chatty, irreverent voice that's refreshing after decades of stilted establishment formality; and 3) having fun -- a skill the mainstreamers lost long ago.")
and weaknesses
("What independent bloggers don't have is the resources or, in most cases, the skills to do the heavy journalistic lifting that the big American outlets still do better than anyone, and will continue to do for a very long time.")
Powers offers his forecast: "Not so long ago, it seemed a bunch of silicon geniuses were truly reinventing the economy. Farewell, General Motors and Exxon. The future was going to be all about sexy New Economy companies with names like Razorfish. It didn't work out that way. Consumers didn't stop needing the products that the old stalwarts made and sold -- basic stuff like cars, plywood, and breakfast cereal. Similarly, media consumers are not about to abandon their desire for solid, middle-of-the-road news from the old, largely trustworthy, still impressive establishment outlets."

Which is all nice and well and sensible, because no one is actually suggesting that the mainstream media will be replaced by blogs in a foreseeable future - any more than gossip was replaced by newspapers, newspapers by radio, radio by television, and television by the internet. The beautiful thing about progress - particularly technological progress - is that the pie keeps growing and we are all becoming richer; in this case information richer, with more options, greater variety and greater choices. Or as Decision '08 writes in his long post on the impact of blogs, "the true beneficiary of the somewhat contrived Texas Death Match between the upstart blogs and the established media titans is the consumer."

I don't know how blogs will evolve in the future, although with the internet becoming more and more pervasive and accessible I see no reason why the top bloggers will not continue to become increasingly influential like their syndicated columnist and radio and TV host colleagues. Powers is right that at the moment bloggers lack resources available to the mainstream media, but they have one advantage over the rather rigid old media structures: the informal network of other bloggers and readers which can provide instantaneous expertise and feedback, and will increasingly supply amateur correspondents on the ground in every corner of the globe.

One day, maybe, the dinosaurs will become extinct and little mammals will rule the Earth. But for now, however, we're all happy being just one - small - piece of the media kaleidoscope.


Hunting the hunters 

Oscar Wilde had once famously described the British tradition of fox hunting with dogs as "the unspeakable pursuing the inedible." Wilde can rest easy; the practice has now been banned by the enlightened Blair government, creating a storm of protest from the British countryside, which resents the inner city sophisticates bashing centuries' old traditions and a way of life.

As Hindrocket at
Powerline notes: "This is one time when we can say 'It can't happen here,' and really mean it. America's hunters are too powerful; I suspect they're also better armed than their English counterparts. I think it's time for the NRA to open a branch in England." Alas, guns are hardly any more legal than fox hunting in Great Britain today.

And the sometime-guest blogger at Chrenkoff,
Sophie Masson has an opinion piece in today's "Australian" on the topic: "Foxes are going to be killed whatever - farmers hate them, and with good reason, as anyone who has seen the ghastly carnage they wreak in henhouses or among lambs can attest to. It is hypocritical to pretend that somehow it's more cruel to hunt them than to gas them, poison them or shoot them." As Sophie concludes, "what the hunting ban in Britain is about is belated, misdirected class vengeance."


"Survivor: Guantanamo" 

You think I'm joking?

"A group of volunteers has been locked up in cages and sexually humiliated in a British reality show that seeks to explore the use of torture by recreating conditions inside the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

"The four-part series on Channel 4 asks whether torture methods applied at the notorious U.S. Navy base in Cuba and other prisons in places such as Iraq and the United States can be justified in efforts to combat terrorism, a spokesman for the station said...

"For the 'Guantanamo Guidebook,' part of a series due to be broadcast from the end of February, seven men - three Muslims and four white Britons - were locked up in a makeshift detention center at a warehouse in east London.

"Over a period of 48 hours, U.S. interrogation experts subjected them to a range of torture techniques known to be used at the notorious Cuba prison.

"Two of the seven failed to last the course, with one choosing to pull out and the other being forced to quit due to hypothermia, the spokesman said."
Options, coincidently, not available to the real Guantanamo detainees.

"Before embarking on the ordeal, the seven offered their opinions on torture and its justification, with some openly supporting the U.S. methods used at Guantanamo, where more than 500 detainees have been held for two-and-a-half years... 'At the end of it, we see what the volunteers now think about torture and the use of torture,' [said the spokesman]."
My wild guess is they won't like it, and since they didn't have any important terror-related information to divulge in the first place, I'm unsure what the show will really tell us about usefulness and justification of torture. Arguably, it would make for a more interesting TV to see journalists and TV folk to volunteer to go through the show instead of the seven men, alas, "sexual humiliation" might actually sound too much like a good night out.

But wait - there's more:
"Production company Twenty Twenty, which produced the series for Channel 4, will also broadcast three other films that explore aspects of torture.

"They include one by investigative journalist Andrew Gilligan, who shot to fame with his controversial 2003 BBC radio report that accused the British government of 'sexing up' the case for war against Iraq.

"In addition, renowned human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith who represents several inmates at Guantanamo and has visited the prison, will offer his insight, while a fourth program will explore the use of torture at detention facilities in the United States."
Sounds like some quality TV, considering that Gilligan's claims of "sexing up" were themselves "sexed up" by Gilligan, as documented by the Hutton Inquiry (among others) and that Clive Stafford Smith is now representing Saddam Hussein. Can hardly wait.

While we're at it, why not offer some suggestions to Twenty Twenty and Channel 4 for more Islamofascist related reality shows?

"Quadruple Wife Swap" - you thought that monogamy was complicated

"Average Jihad Joe" - surprise, ladies; he's not really a dashing millionaire bachelor, in fact he's not even a legal migrant

"The Terrorist Apprentice" - who will help Osama run the operation for a year?

"The Suicide Bachelor" - an eligible martyr has to choose his bride from among 72 virgins

"Extreme Makeovers" - our last winner, Al Zarqawi has so far successfully avoided identification and capture

"Big Mullah" - who will be the last one to be voted out of the cave?

"The Simple Life: Baluchistan" - follow the zany duo of Osama bin Laden and Paris Hilton as they travel through the north-western provinces of Pakistan while trying to stay alive and find odd jobs at gas stations.

And no, "Queer Eye for the Fundamentalist Guy" is unlikely to catch on.


Sunday, February 20, 2005

Lebanon update 

"I don’t think people are just going to forget this. What happened in Lebanon is like September 11, 2001. This will be a point to change everything in this region, more than Iraq. But nobody has a plan for how the change will be."
Anwar Bunni, a leading human rights activist in Syria.

On the trail of the assassins: "Secretary-General Kofi Annan is sending a team led by Ireland's deputy police commissioner to Beirut in the next few days to investigate the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri... Annan's decision to send the team is in response to a request from the UN Security Council that he urgently report on 'the circumstances, causes and consequences' of Hariri's killing." Needless to say, the Lebanese government is not amused and says it will boycott the investigation.

Some theories already point to an operation far more sophisticated than a suicide bombing:
" 'The bomb was placed underground, especially (since) the crater was so huge,' said Hisham Jaber, a retired brigadier general and former professor at the Lebanese Military and Staff Command College. 'Even a car with 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of TNT wouldn't create such a crater.'

"Jaber, who inspected the assassination site but is not part of the investigation, said a suicide attack was the least likely cause of the explosion. He noted the crater was near the middle of the road, indicating the bomb was likely placed under the street and not in a parked car. Suspicion that the bomb was under the street increased Friday when the chief military investigator demanded that police investigate recent road works in the area."
Meanwhile, there is already at least one dead end. The Lebanese authorities have pointed their finger at six (or ten) Australian nationals who traveled from Beirut to Australia hours after the assassination. "Traces of TNT powder were recovered from the [aircraft] seats used by some of them," according to Justice Minister Adnan Addum, who added that "these people have links with fundamentalist circles." The Australian Federal Police, who was asked by the Lebanese to investigate, has now cleared the men after interviewing them and after tests showed that the substance on the seats was not an explosive.

The editor of Beirut's "Daily Star", Jamil Mroue, thinks the "Australian connection" is a classic example of a security agencies-generated rumor without substantial evidence: "It is a good example, a small taste of what we suffered in conditions of security agencies running our life where basically we don't know exactly what is going on, where our judiciary is mutilated and neutered, where a citizen does not have the reliable information, and this has been the pattern that we have lived under for quite some time. And that extends after our Prime Minister's assassination. It's no surprise to us."

The Lebanese intifada, or who's who: The Lebanese opposition leader Samir Frangieh on Friday: "In response to the criminal and terrorist policy of the Lebanese and Syrian authorities, the Lebanese opposition declares the democratic and peaceful intifada (uprising) for independence." (in a statement supported by one third of Lebanese parliamentarians)

AP: "At the flower-strewn grave of Rafik Hariri, a woman made the sign of the cross next to a man who spread his hands and solemnly recited the fatiha, the first verse of Islam's holy book, the Quran. It was an extraordinary scene in a country where Christians and Muslims have feuded for centuries and fought a bitter, 15-year civil war - a sign perhaps that the Lebanese finally are learning to live at peace with each other."

Well, yes and no. The civil war has ended fifteen years ago, and since then new alliances have been emerging, the trend which predates the Hariri assassination (as Rami G. Khouri, editor-at-large of Beirut's "Daily Star" reminds us, "in the last five months since Syria forcefully engineered an unusual three-year extension of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud's term, more Lebanese voices, beyond the traditional Christian-led opposition, have asked the Syrians to withdraw fully from the country."). The new division in Lebanon is between the pro and anti-Syrian forces, and to that extent, the Lebanese haven't all learned to "live at peace with each other."

Needless to say, in a country which is such an ethnic and religious kaleidoscope, the new alliances do make for strange bedfellows, as Debka writes: "The resignations of president Emil Lahoude and the Karame government were forcefully demanded by the opposition leader, Walid Jumblatt, head of the Lebanese Druses who speaks for a rare multiethnic coalition made up of his own community, Christian factions endorsed by Maronite Catholic Archbishop Nasrallah Sfeir, and Sunni Muslims led by the dead billionaire’s oldest son, Bahaa Hariri, with the blessing of the Sunni Muslim Mufti of Lebanon."

On the other side of the fence: local Palestinians and the well-organized Shia with their Hizbollah organization (which is one reason why Syria's Assad decided to turn to Teheran for moral support and why Hizbollah has already been reciprocating by calling for calm and warning of dangers of another civil war).

What does it all mean?: The crisis currently unfolding in Lebanon offers a rare spectacle of the United States and France sitting politically on the same side of the fence. France, of course, maintains a keen interest in Lebanon as its former colony. In fact, some French analysts think that their country's involvement provides the international dimension to the assassination:
" 'I have not the shadow of a doubt that Syria is responsible,' said Antoine Basbous, president of the Observatory of Arab Countries. 'It was a message to the Lebanese opposition -- but also to France: this is our colony, we are masters here and we intend to stay. So keep out'...

" 'I am convinced this attack -- the most significant since the end of Lebanon's war -- was a message directed at Chirac, who was a personal friend of Rafiq Hariri,' said Antoine Sfeir, director of the Cahiers de l'Orient newsletter. 'The evidence suggests that the murder is a response to UN security council resolution 1559 [calling on Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon] voted in September at the initiative of France and the US. It was Jacques Chirac who was the real architect of the resolution'."
And some pro-Syrian Lebanese politicians seem to agree (without mentioning the assassination, of course): "Information Minister Elie Firzli accused French President Jacques Chirac, who attended Hariri's private funeral... of having a direct hand in the opposition's campaign. 'Chirac made himself a direct party to lead the battle on the Lebanese scene,' Firzli charged."

For some, Syria and pro-Syrian elements in Lebanon are too obvious as culprits: it must have been the Jews that did it. Says Australian conspiracy nut, Joe Vialls:
"In a desperate attempt to slow down their forthcoming defeat in Palestine, Jewish Special Forces micro-nuke former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, then instruct western media outlets to falsely blame the atrocity on Syria... Early forensic examination indicates this critical nuclear weapon was from the same class and batch used on Bali during October 2002, in a murderous and blatant attempt to force Australians to believe in the entirely fictional 'al Qaeda' and 'Jemaah Islamiyah' alleged terrorist groups."
Somebody else who's also blaming the Israeli intelligence services - or the Lebanese or the Syrian ones - is Al Qaeda, or at least somebody purporting to be Al Qaeda's local franchise, the previously unknown Al Qaeda Organization in the Levant group, which posted a statement on the internet saying: "Blaming the Jihadist and Salafist groups for what happened in Beirut is a complete fabrication... The priorities of the jihadist groups in the Levant are supporting our brethren in Iraq and Palestine, not blowing up cars." Which will come as a surprise to Iraqis, among many others.

Well, OK, maybe it wasn't the Zionist mini-nukes (why use a slegehammer to crack a nut?), but the West is certainly trying to take the advantage of the situation, according to K Gajendra Singh: "The US attempt to organize a franchised 'Cedar' revolution in Lebanon, like the Orange revolution in Ukraine and the Rose revolution in Georgia, is to counter Moscow’s return into Middle East. Russia would be soon delivering short range missiles to Damascus, to ease US pressure in Ukraine, Georgia and elsewhere."

The economic dimension: The Syrian control of Lebanon is about lot more than just political power and geo-strategic influence. There are currently 1 million Syrian guest laborers working in Lebanon, bringing back to their home country $1 billion a year. "Haaretz" reports incidents over the last few days of the locals in the north and the east of the country burning the tents where Syrian workers live, demanding that the "guest" leave the country.

And that's before we even get to the question of the alleged involvement of Syrian officials and military in the drug cultivation and trafficking in Lebanon.

More's at stake too in Syria itself, as the authorities are becoming concerned the crisis might derail the new initiatives to boost the foreign investment in Syria from the current insignificant levels to "$7-8 billion annually."


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