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July 21, 2006


Frankly I'm terrified that this situation with Israel will change our political dialogue for at least the short term, maybe even in November. It's just not a subject on which many people can be rational. I can remember worrying in the early hours of the 9-11 crisis that we were headed for a future like Israel's: militant nationalism, suicide bombers, and all. And US support for Israel is a sacred cow that few feel they have the political capital to examine at this point.
The Post had a good piece of analysis of the administration's viewpoint this morning, hair-raising as it is:
"In the administration's view, the new conflict is not just a crisis to be managed. It is also an opportunity to seriously degrade a big threat in the region, just as Bush believes he is doing in Iraq. Israel's crippling of Hezbollah, officials also hope, would complete the work of building a functioning democracy in Lebanon and send a strong message to the Syrian and Iranian backers of Hezbollah."
Like another Iraq was anything we needed or wanted.
But given the automatic support that Israel has always gotten from the US, from both sides of the aisle, we may not have a choice about walking down that same path again.
It sure complicates the argument -- and you're right, it gives Bolton a much easier road to confirmation than I ever thought he'd have.


Geez, I'm afraid you're right. I can't count the number of times that I've thought, in the last two weeks, that we're doing precisely what Iran anticipated we might. That scares me.

"It's simply not the same thing to say that it's the same act to deliberately target innocent civilians, to desire their deaths, to fire rockets and use explosive devices or kidnapping versus the sad and highly unfortunate consequences of self-defense."
-- John Bolton (from your link)

Ah. The moral high ground. Hezbollah (and Hamas), as we have been told repeatedly in the past few weeks, hide among civilians, knowing full well that when "retaliation" occurs that those civilians will die. Thus, when the righteous business of assassination-by-missile is undertaken, it is the fault of that leader that his family dies with him, when any truly moral person engaging in fourth-generation warfare would pitch a tent somewhere far from the innocents and fight out in the open like a real man.

Can somebody please explain to me how this argument is any different than that of the suicide bomber who blows up a bus full of civilians in hopes of killing a few IDF soldiers also aboard?

The concept that killing civilians is OK when done by "our side," because we didn't "deliberately target" them or "desire their deaths" is sophistry so grotesque it would be laughed out of the room in a freshman philosophy class. The real world is messy, and real combat often puts real people into difficult ethical predicaments. But calling civilians the sad result of "collateral damage," and then blaming their deaths on the people who were the "real targets," is behavior that even Bob McNamara has (belatedly) labeled worthy of war crimes tribunals.

exactly meteor..thanks for the comments.

can anyone tell my why the kidnapping of idf soldiers is any different then the kidnapping of members of hamas by israel??? by the amount of press the word kidnapping has recieved, it appears everything is all the fault of the other side, and if they would just return the kidnapped soldiers israel would talk... i don't get this.. is the media unwilling to talk about this? why?

isreal is not a member of the UN and is starting a huge bill. Kofi has alrady asked for some cash. Bolton is smart enough to realize that this works against isreal and Syria because the UN troops should really be in Isreal stopping attacks aagainst Lebanon.

Actually, Israel IS a member of the UN, you idiot.

Meteor, if you factor in considerable 20th Century History, and call networks of human beings in Lebanon by their right names, much of what we are watching unfold can be a great deal more clear. Specifically -- what we are calling Hezbollah is a rather recent religious/cultural/political construct dating from about 1982. But the members of it, the Shias, are the underclass in Lebanon who were essentially written out of the constitution. Let me do this with a timeline...

Up till 1921, Lebanon was a province of the Ottoman Empire. It became a mandate under the League of Nations to France along with Syria, and until the Second World War was governed as a French dependency. Then, in 1943, as part of German policy to tear down all the structures created by Versailles, Vichy France delivered sovereignty to both Lebanon and Syria -- with constitutions much influenced by fascist theory. Syria was ruled, and still is, by the Bath Party, a party which modeled its self after the Italian Fascists -- and in Lebanon they wrote into the constitution the requirement that at all times the Presidency and the Prime Minister should be selected by the Sunni Muslim Community, and the Maronite Christian Community. All other communities are not represented at the core of political power -- Greek Orthodox, Druze and Shias are essentially excluded. Now, when Lebanon became independent, the Maronites and the Sunni taken together were the majority -- but that is no longer the case, and really has not been since the 1960's. Sunni and Maronites have lower birth rates, and much better opportunities to migrate as they are urban, and better educated. The Shias have a very high birth rate -- and not as many attractive migration opportunities. Thus the proportion in the population has dramatically changed since the 1940's -- but the law in Lebanon is such that they have not conducted a census since then, so it is staistical projections. Most believe Shias today would be between 45 and 50% of the population. This is -- and has been the fundamental problem -- the systematic exclusion of Shias from access to the political system and many of the civil society institutions.

What makes the demand that Hezbollah be "broken" because of its links to Iran, etc, so absurd is that the root of Iranian Shias religious culture is -- in Lebanon. Iran was the last of the middle east countries to convert to Islam -- 12th Century, and the Shias scholars who eventually went to Iran and built their religious centers -- they are all from Lebanon. In the Shias tradition Clerical Leadership and Scholarship is something that tends to get passed down, Father to Son -- thus for 800 years the Clerical families between Lebanon and Iran have been tied together. Hezbollah is just a recently invented name for a movement that has been created atop this religious/political leadership tradition. The demand that Hezbollah be "broken" then is a demand that half the population of a country be ethnicly cleaned, and it is made without any reference to the leadership traditions of the Shias.

I suppose more to the point, the State Department knows all this stuff. My Professor of Anthropology worked at State in the 60's and 70's -- retiring during the Reagan years. At first he taught FSO's -- then he became head of the middle east desk in Research and Intelligence. Second Generation Lebonese family, he had used the GI Bill to get a Harvard PHD -- did all his field work in Lebanon, wrote several scholarly books on the social and cultural structures -- and was much focused on the changes that would be necessary once Shias became the population majority. All that stuff got into the blood stream at State -- which is why they hired him out of the Academic World in the first place.

The Shias circumstances in Lebanon have always been such that they look for certain kinds of alliances with other minorities that are similarly situated as "not part of" the political power system and the official institutional system. It is the "official Maronite and Sunni deal" regarding power distribution dating from 1943 against the disinfranchised. In the 70's and 80's the Shias looked to the PLO and the Refugees who were stateless -- and this underscores the 15 year civil war in the 1980's and early 90's. At other times they form alliances with other small groups -- but it is all essentially about trying to break down the 1943 deal.

Every time one of these things comes up -- what really angers me is the failure of all of the Media to look for scholarship -- or someone familiar with the scholarship -- and put some of the quite elementary social, cultural and historical catagories on the table. (Or perhaps a reporter could just read a solid history book???) It really isn't that far out you know.

For instance if you know just a little bit about the historical demographics in the case of Lebanon, you can make mincemeat out of the demand that half the population be "broken" -- I don't think most of the US population would support that if they understood it even if it is Bush and Israel's agreed policy objective. Asking that the bond between Clerics and Scholars in Lebanon and Iran be denounced and broken is somewhat parallel to a demand that Italian American, German American and Irish American Catholics denounce the Vatican. That's easy to explain, isn't it?

Well -- I do think there is a mite of hope for the American Mood. I suspect many people are watching the indiscriminate bombing of Civilians -- something like 4 Hezbollah have been killed among the 300 plus that have died.... and when the food and clean water runs out, and things get much worse in the next few weeks, I suspect there will be demands for a major Humanitarian effort. Ho-Hum.

I have been crying all day. Now this.

Thanks Sara for the history education.

The problem is that on balance the vast majority of us are clueless about history or geography. And the current corporate media is all about spinning talking points. This is not a basis for reasoned debate only the basis for emotional sound-bite oriented positioning of agendas.

As a result it is easy to hijack policy and the American people are more bystanders than active participants. Bush-Cheney-Rove recognize this and take advantage with their immense propaganda machinery.

The Bolton nomination vote will be an eye-opener with respect to how the Dems respond. Will it be another Iraq redux with a lot of rolling over or will it be the new theme of standing up to the bamboozlement?

I am not holding my breath about the Dems votes on this nomination or what they'll do if they gain a majority in the House!

Unless of course if we can light a fire under the Dems noting that Nov is not too far away.

ab initio

Not sure if you saw the update--it's starting. They're sending out AIPAC (presumably) and JINSA after the Senate. Assuming AIPAC comes on board, that's not the kind of pressure Senators are likely to withstand. It's a different dynamic than the Iraq war vote, but not one Senators are any better prepared to withstand.

Thanks for the historical background Sara: it certainly helps the understanding. If the Sunni and the Maronites didn't want to become minorities, they should have considered a policy which would have improved the life circumstances of the other groups, and also done something in particular to ``empower'' women of all groups. That would have taken care of the demographic issue. In practical terms, it might have helped if there had been a strong socialist or communist movement in Lebanon.

Paul, what would have been very useful would have been some sort of modernization that would have moved individual identity away from religious sect or confession to forms that represent greater division of labor along with merit or achievement. It didn't happen in large measure because personal security and welfare has always depended on confessional identity. In addition, through the Ottoman years (nearly 500) the regime opposed importation of modern and western technology. Beirut, for instance was only permitted to import a printing press in mid 19th Century (thus first publishing and newspapers). Ottoman rule was all about control and taxes -- anything likely to disrupt control, and/or not contribute to tax revenues was strongly opposed. Iraq suffered from the same thing -- though in Iraq the emphasis was maintaining control through manipulation of the tribal system -- Lebanon did not have much in the way of tribe and clan.

Lebanon has always been a major league finance and commerce center -- this dates way back to Biblical times when the people were called Phoenicians. They were traders, brokers, and their ports were gateways to everything from the Black Sea to Spain. Social structures emerge around this kind of material culture, and then they get wrapped in the religious changes of different eras. By the 19th century the emerging banking institutions, were, for instance, split between the Sunni and the Maronites -- while the Greek Orthodox focused on the shipping industry. This is what I mean by civil institutions getting "locked" into confessional boundries. Lebanon really doesn't have true political parties -- it has confessional parties. Hezbullah is really just the late arrival of this form. But now it represents a confession that is 50% or a little less of the population. Remember it has been over 60 years since they had a census -- so official numbers still represent the 1940's status.

When the Ottoman Empire was dying in the late 19th century they had one Sultan who was a modernizer -- he thought quality schools were important, and for some reason he was attracted to American Liberal Arts Education. He gave land in Cairo and Beirut to the American Presbyterians to found colleges -- thus the American Universities in both places. He also liked Quaker grade schools, thus in what is now Israel he gave land to British and American Quaker meetings to build Friends schools. (Quaker meetings still own the land, and since it is for the education of Arab Children -- Israel has closed the schools and wrecked them. However various meetings still hold trust title to the land, and thus far they are holding on. The same Sultan thought the French ran the best Military Schools -- thus what became his nemisis, the Young Turks, got a classic French Military Education. He also liked German Technology -- thus the Germans built the engineering schools. All these still exist, and are valued -- but one must always remember they were borrowed ideas pasted on to society, and not ideas that were generated out of the culture itself. All of the parts of Ottoman that then experienced generations of colonial dependency, have slightly different yet essentially similar patterns that create great disconnects. Our problem is that we need to spend some time studying the history so we can be more incisive critics of US policy, and challenge more of the junk that gets pushed.

I wonder what Sarbanes will have to say. I kept a copy of his denouncement of the Bolton nomination in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee[1] May 12, 2005; but Sarbanes' website tonite only archives back to late June 2005. For some reason, though the Senate discussion of B's nomination took place spring 2005, my notes had his appointment as during a recess at the end of summer, giving a 15-month interim term ending early 2007. I would wonder why the push now to have the Senate accept Bolton, other than the retrenchment ongoing now postHamdan, whereby all the stovepipes are in renovation, a kind of antepenultimate refurbishing as Bush's two terms wind down.

I feel regrets for the children whose pictures ew and Jane have posted.

I wonder how detached Sara might think Syria is from the portent of the numeric ascendancy of the undercaste in Lebanon, now that the power vacuum is running its course. As the US prepared the invasion of Iraq there was a colloquy on the radio about very nice very old homes available in Damascus for $200,000, and many Americans purchasing them on speculation as second homes. There is an interesting literate essay by Isabel Allende about her schooling in exile in Beirut as a preteen; it is a bit lurid or I would post the link; I have translated it, after my fashion, and will give the internet location to anyone who might be attracted to that authorship.
Notes: [1] The Bolton hearing May 12, 2005 in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is hidden behind a different title in the index, where it is called a business meeting not a nomination hearing. The opening speeches are here

Is the Seante Foreign Relations Committee going to defend its role of oversight, advice AND CONSENT by insisting on receiving those Bolton NSA Intercept Requests they wanted during Bolton's confirmation hearings? How can the SFRC make an informed decision if they cannot see the documents they need to answer certain questions they have about Bolton's role in some matters?

According to Henry Waxman, in his letter to Chris Shays, dated Mar, 1, 2005, Bolton was involved in getting the 16 words about Yellowcake from Niger into the State
Dept Memo and also may have misled the SFRC about having been questioned in a criminal investigation, namely, the Plame investigation.

I think Dems should refuse to participate in any confirmation hearings on Bolton until and unless they receive the dox requested from the NSA. Why lend the rubber stamp process legitimacy by being there? Russ Feingold set the standard for that when he walked out on Arlen Specter, rather than take part in a farce.

The SFRC should defend their Constitutional role of Advice and Consent and the oversight this requires, by also refusing to hold hearings without receiving the documents they requested. The SFRC should not permit the Executive Branch to circumvent the Constitution by abusing the recess appointment provision again.

I have been thinking more about the timing on this Specter shepherded hearing on Bolton.
Maybe Judy is going to write to push a Boltonesque agenda in the middle east; I wonder if his style suits her cerebral view of the neocon future.
The courts have made a logjam for the administration over the conduits which Bolton used to manufacture the 16-word rabbit out of the SOTU hat; though the mechanics of the inclusion of those arms adulation comments might be more transparent after Libby goes to trial, Bolton will be working without pay by that time unless Specter carries his nomination now.
Frist and Cheney, Graham and Kyl, all likely would opt for the abolition of cloture in some kind of unitary executive mandate to force Bolton thru and obliterate cloture at the same time.
However, a few exDixiecrats just bolted the Repub party on renewal of voting rights, and FEC even with at least one new very conservative appointee (right, a recess appointment), continues to approve some astonishingly business as usual Southern region laws; see GA, for example, tweaking its court appeals and then arriving at the right measure of regressive regulation about access to polls, and redistricting.
The ABA is scheduled to publish its signing statements study in three weeks. The administration is denying Hamdan changed much other than the words it uses to describe the same old programs for detainees. Although complainants won a skirmish this week in the wiretap scandal in the courtroom of a judge who actually is a family relative of the President, I expect Gonzales to continue the efforts to court strip and drive into secret session anything with a tinge of embarrassment to the administration; I have seen only excerpts from the transcript from his appearance on signing statements in a hearing this week, though I will keep researching. KX has done admirable work on this topic at ACS, for the juridically inclined.
I see these efforts as interrelated, and conceive of Rove as planning the dioramas' sequence. Sara has a nice post elsewhere about an October surprise.

John Lopresti -- Syria has always been one of my least favorite ME countries to collect data points about -- I get into it, and then one faction or another kills off 50 thousand of another faction, and it makes me a mite ill.

But here is what I think critical in thinking about Syria. Syria is ruled by the Bath Party -- in particular the Alwis faction that represents about 10% of the population. (By the way, the last census was in the 1940's -- counting is a problem in this part of the world apparently).

What distinguishes the Alwis sect is their belief that the Messenger from God was not Mohommad, but rather his son in law, Ali. This puts them close to Shias, but not at all identical -- and the Sunni's dismiss them as total non-believers. During the Ottoman period, the Alwis were small time farmers -- sheep & goats on small subsistance farms in the hills. They were a poor dispised minority. But then -- note I mentioned that in the last years the Ottoman's had the French build Military Schools -- well the Alwis took to the life of a Military Officer as ducks do to water, with the result being when Syria came to be after Versailles, the Alwis controlled the military officer corps. And in fact the Turks helped, because they did not want Alwis officers in their army, so they shoved them accross the border into Syria. Thus the Alwis became collaborators with the French Colonial system, and had a leg up in 1946 when the French finally sailed away. The Assad Family is an Alwis Family.

Now in addition to the sect dimensions of this you also have to account for the Bath Party. (Remember the Iraq and Syrian Bath Parties have common origins, but they fractured in the early 1950's.)

Anyhow, Syrian Bath is a very secular party. In theory, equality for women, co-education, all sects and creeds are equal, --- but theory may not be practice. But the origins of Bath are really in the 1930's admiration of Italian Fascism. What this means today is little more than the State Socialism ideas common to the Nazi's and the Falange in Italy -- but once you put the Bath Ideology together with the Alwis minority, you get a 10% minority of the Syrian population in control of virtually all the key economic institutions.

The Sunnis population in Syria is actually about 25=30% of the population -- and it is long attatched to the Muslim Brotherhood -- the intellectual home to much of al-Qaeda plus much else. There have been several Sunni led coups, leading to tens of thousands being slaughtered, and then MB goes back underground for some years.

There are other factions too, plus Syria has two brands of Christians who have been fighting for nearly a thousand years -- Syrian Orthodox and Syrian Catholic. Rome versus Byzantium.

I suspect the link between Lebanon's Shias and Syrian Alwis has a good deal to do with underclass and minority experiences, and with the profound differences (about Ali) with the Sunni. But Bathism never was a factor in Lebanon -- though the Maronite Falange party (an upper class party) is also modeled on Italian Fascism.

And in the end, this is the problem -- you feel you need to fill in your catagories -- demographics of a country for instance -- and then someone tries a coup, and the solution is to go out and kill 50 thousand or so.

My guess is in a free vote in Syria, that a Saudi like Sunni theocracy would win. No King or royal house, but a political theocracy run by the Muslim Brotherhood. And because of what the Alwis minority did, I suspect there would be major vengence, with thousands more killed off. No more theoretical womens rights, no co-education, and certainly the end to formal state socialism.

By the way, the above is one flaw in the "ArK of Shias" argument we've been hearing recently -- Iran to Lebanon. Syria -- if given the chance to freely make a choice, probably would favor Muslim Brotherhood forms. But it is hard to tell for sure without someone taking a census.

..here's a lot to think about. Again,
when I think of what the library of the future will be,
I think most about community within a school....like the web,

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