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Excerpts from the Arab and Iranian Media & Analysis of US Policy in the Region

Archive for the ‘ANALYSIS’ Category

Mike Young’s Dialectic of Enlightenment

One of the aspects of Mike Young’s form of thinking that seems so ironic for a professed Liberal, as well as just plain counter-productive when applied to policy making, is his inability to understand his objects of criticism with ANY sort of immanent difference. Hizbullah ONLY operates via fear, as he has repeatedly put it; Feltman was ONLY trying his best to bring democracy to Lebanon in 2005; Aoun supporters are ONLY captives of a false consciousness, slaves to envy.

The totalizing approach that is the core of Young’s epistemology – perhaps why he is Eliott Abrams’s favorite thinker – is objectionable for many reasons, but the one I favor is how it cloaks itself in the guise of freedom, critical thought and openness. Even when he “admits” partially that he may have been wrong, he does so not as a humble exercise in Liberal thinking but as a vehicle to further castigate and ridicularize his opponents… which makes the exercise even more useless morally and politically. His opponents ONLY become MORE asinine as Young partially corrects himself – not a normal operation when self-criticism is unleashed….From Now Lebanon today:

“The more ridiculous Aoun’s performances became, the more ridiculous his devotees appeared for applauding his every asinine semi-colon. And yet many have remained with him, so that those of us who wrote Aoun off too readily must admit that we were partly wrong.”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

August 15, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Posted in ANALYSIS

2007 Exec order RENEWED! Aounis still threaten Siniora gov, Obama-Feltam say

This was one of Feltman and Abrams worst ideas – putting an EO in place to go after Aoun supporters in the US…

You want one small part of the explanation as to why the “a-team” of terrorism – hizb – is in an ENDURING political alliance with the single most popular christian leader in the mideast: obtuse hard stick ideas that the bush team came up with when they were running out of options..

The best bit: The Aounis are “undermining Lebanon’s legitimate and democratically elected government.”

please, pray tell me – they are THE DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED GOVERNMENT NOW…. So what is this?

Dear State Dept: at least update your formulas…. rewrite the EO if you want it so bad and think it is such a great idea.

Is it a lack of care, understanding?


WASHINGTON: United States President Barack Obama Thursday extended a freeze on assets of persons threatening stability in Lebanon, targeting those seeking “to undermine Lebanon’s legitimate and democratically elected government.” A White House statement, extending the freeze imposed in 2007, said that “certain ongoing activities, such as continuing arms transfers to Hezbollah that include increasingly sophisticated weapons systems, serve to undermine Lebanese sovereignty.” The move comes amid tense relations between the U.S. and Syria, which has links to Hezbollah, considered a terrorist group by Washington. Hezbollah was blamed for the fall of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government in January after the party and its March 8 allies resigned over a U.N. probe into the assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri. On Aug. 2, 2007, President George W. Bush ordered a freeze on the U.S. assets of anyone Washington deems to be undermining Lebanon’s pro-Western government. The Bush administration did not identify those targeted by the decree, but it came just a month after he imposed a U.S. travel ban on Syrian officials and Lebanese politicians whom the United States accused of fomenting instability in Lebanon. Read more: (The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::

Written by nickbiddlenoe

July 29, 2011 at 11:07 pm

Posted in ANALYSIS

Reuel Marc Gerecht: Syrian Gang-Bangers bravely bang on

This piece by Gerecht is another piece incredible to read since folks like him had such a traumatic experience with their ideas in the Iraq war.

He perfectly captures the Syria Gang-Banger mentality: it will be EASY, terrible outcomes are NOT likely, even so-so outcomes are probably FINE. Hizbullah ONLY gets support from brainwashing and terrorizing alone.

Young and Grerecht assure us: this is “an easy call.” If only the Obama folks would not be such wimps.

Limosine Liberalism at its best.


“…Such “prudence,” “restraint,” and “patience”—the administration is fond of these words—can be commendable when a situation is messy or murky. But neither applies in Syria. This is an easy call: We have a chance to eliminate one of America’s worst enemies in the region—the linchpin of Iran’s alliances and terrorist apparatus. We have a chance to traumatize Tehran: The world will look a lot more precarious to supreme leader Ali Khamenei and a lot more hopeful to the millions behind Iran’s pro-democracy Green Movement if Bashar al-Assad goes down. The importance of Syria to Iranian foreign policy and internal politics cannot be overstated.

Through Syria, we have a chance to convulse the politics of Lebanon, where Hezbollah, revolutionary Iran’s only Arab offspring, now reigns supreme. The organization does not own the majority Shia community of Lebanon; the potential political diversity of the Shia has been stymied by Hezbollah’s military and economic power, which depend on its ties to Damascus and Tehran. The Sunnis of Syria, some 75 percent of the population, have long chafed under the harsh rule of the Alawites, who are nearer 15 percent. Empowered, the Sunnis are unlikely to be nice to Hezbollah, which has run roughshod over Lebanon’s Sunnis, with their close, historic ties to Syria’s Sunni community.

If Assad falls, Hezbollah will have no choice but to hunker down and avoid any conflict with Israel.If even the most rudimentary, morally repugnant, Islamist-felicitous, Israeli-cursing democracy arose in Damascus, we still might see the Arab world realign decisively toward representative government…”

– How do these folks keep getting away with these facile pronouncements?

Written by nickbiddlenoe

July 13, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Posted in ANALYSIS

Q Nabki weighs in/ Mike Young on the “Discerning Mind” of Syrian Gang-Bangers

Elias sums up my position over the years quite well in his latest posting – Gary Gambill had suggested to me that the National Interest piece was a 30-40% shift-flop but I would differ…. will have more on both shortly… suffice it to say that it is always greatly appreciated when someone criticizes your thinking in a way that accurately summarizes your thoughts etc… as a first matter.

His take is here.

Mike Young has this to say in Now Lebanon:

“Even more puzzling, the Obama administration does not appear to have seriously debated the advantageous role Syria’s crisis might play in thwarting Iranian ambitions. It doesn’t take a particularly discerning mind to understand that the fall of the Assad regime would represent a major blow to Iran in the Levant. Yet instead of thinking the option through, Washington has continued to uphold, against the wishes of a majority of Syrian protesters, the possibility of a dialogue over reform between a sanguinary leadership and its victims.”

– Discerning minds…. Well no, a careful look, ESPECIALLY from a moral/humanitarian angle can indeed have quite a different analysis (but this is an epistemological approach which, sadly, Young so often and so carelessly dismisses in his well crafted, but almost always totalizing thought – i.e. Mike Young’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, though he still cannot see how this is so).

I would argue that one can quite reasonably see how forcing the fall, or even letting it happen laissez faire (which is an impossibility of course) could create the conditions – as we saw in the Iraq war which Young CHEERLEADED – for Iranian gains.

Either way – discerning minds can and should disagree.

Written by nickbiddlenoe

July 9, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Posted in ANALYSIS

Concessions by great powers don’t have to add up to appeasement

My piece today in National Interest here and excerpted below. I am going to wait a bit and then add some ideas on the blog to flesh out the last two paragraphs since it needs more explanation (along the lines of here and here).

[ADDITION... oh no, I just noticed in the piece now online they chopped a key para towards the end! there should be this bit instead of the mangled line they gave!

"...In other words, reason and broad public support may still be indispensible, but with no options provided for escaping a broad collapse of the Levant leg of the resistance Axis in anything approaching a just manner (something that was available in March 2000, for example), Hezbollah will have little choice but to become a vital part and parcel of one last climactic conflict.]


In the opening weeks of the year 2000, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon’s militant Shiite movement Hezbollah, granted a series of lengthy interviews to the Arab media that directly addressed the gravest threat hitherto seen to his party’s continuation as “The Resistance”: a looming peace agreement between Syria and Israel.

Acknowledging that such a deal would necessarily obligate Hezbollah as well as Lebanon (given the tens of thousands of Israeli and Syrian troops occupying different swaths of the country), Nasrallah answered the provocative question of what he would do when the Star of David flag was raised over the Israeli embassy in Beirut by saying that this would, in fact, represent a victory for the “rationale of resistance” which had forced an end to Israeli occupation. Still, he and his constituents would “refuse to normalize” the relationship in the coming years.

No trade, no Israeli tourists visiting South Lebanon, he suggested.

Backs turned.

Crucially though, no rockets and no car bombs.

The end of violent resistance.

The “Syria Track,” of course, collapsed spectacularly in March of 2000, largely as a result of a dispute over a few hundred meters of shoreline around Lake Tiberius which the Syrians and the Israelis refused to concede (although U.S. President Bill Clinton didn’t help matters by lying to the dying president of Syria, Hafez al-Assad, promising him that he had the shoreline in his pocket as a means to cajole Assad into coming to Geneva to sign a deal).

Eleven years on from this intensely regrettable episode, Hezbollah again faces a major existential challenge, but this time the ending, if there is to be one, looks decidedly more violent and open to all possibilities.

Indeed, much to its surprise and chagrin, the party is now besieged.


Written by nickbiddlenoe

July 8, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Posted in ANALYSIS

Beirut Spring Is Wrong: There was a great lost opportunity for a third way on the STL

Mustapha at Beirut Spring has this point to make which is an absolutely key point to help us all rethink the history and the current point we face with the STL:


“To answer, we have to first look at our options regarding justice for those who were killed in the series of political murders that shook the country in 2005.

Those who argue that the STL has become a liability consistently and wrongly maintain that there could be (or could have been ) another way of finding the truth about those political murders (a “reformed Lebanese Judiciary” is often mentioned.)

The third way fallacy

To me, this is misguided. Like politics in this country, we unfortunately have a very binary choice. Any third/centrist/independent option is an illusion that reflects more our own wishes than reality on the ground.

Here are our only two options for justice:

  • We chose the STL and hope for a transparent process that can objectively find the truth and eventually vindicate March 14
  • We move on, a-la-Hezbollah, with a “Israel did it and let’s forget about this whole thing”

There are no other ways. None.


Well I strongly disagree. There was NOT a binary choice facing M14, the Americans, France and their arab regime allies in the heady days of 2005 (Remember this was the time when Hizbullah had its back against the wall – no Syrian backstop in Lebanon, hundreds of thousands of US troops around Iran and Syria and no insurgency to speak of yet pressing it! – and Hizb sent a rep to meet with the bush admin in DC! And then JOINED the electoral alliance with M14! and opened up to the tribunal, supporting it at various stages (they also later let their members be interviewed etc but that is another point to make in a different context)….

M14 and the Americans (mainly) created this FALSE binary as the ONLY road – sadly reflecting the “with us or against us”/maximalism that characterized their general approach to international relations in the Middle East and especially when it came to the issue of terrorism.

Mustapha should read the ICG reports and also Omar Nashabe and others who have made a very strong point that earlier on the Tribunal process made critical mistakes as a consequence of the maximalist track which its backers saw as the only AND CERTAINLY THE BEST way forward. 

This turned out to be as stupid as the 2006 July War was and as stupid as the US-M14 precipitation of the May 2008 events which left a lot of dead Lebanese, Israelis and greatly mangled “pro western” actors.

The US and M14, we can now pretty clearly see, would have done FAR better on several scores if they had allowed the tribunal process to go forward in a manner that drew Hizbullah ever further into the process rather than stupidly alienating them at virtually every turn – this means in general that they should have traded the hard edge tribunal stick for a more mixed one, with a less sharp edge, if you will…. OF COURSE this might have been easier for the other side (Hizb+Syria etc) to needle and even influence but it would have preserved the overall process, preserved the international character and would have had FAR wider PUBLIC SUPPORT especially among Hizbullah’s VITAL allies like the christians (and ICG has had numerous way to do this, including NOT relaxing the evidentiary standards the way they did, NOT railroading the slanted international character of the court down the throats of Hizbullah in 2005+, obviously greater professionalism for the staff (hey how about a transparent leaks investigation etc that would have shown the court at least somewhat CARED about its integrity) and a more transparent team with experience in, say ARABIC…. and that were NOT recruited from western intel – come on folks, Arabs can use Google too you know. etc etc etc….)

My point here is that WE SHOULD have had this discussion in 2005 and the US and M14 and the cause of International justice should have pushed in this pragmatic direction.

But the first two actors were ideologically UNABLE to do this…. they simply could not approach the Tribunal in this manner, especially because the effort to almost ALWAYS apply constant pressure and force on Hizbullah and Syria – especially in the waning months of 2005 – was the dominant (nay, the only it seems) policy directive.

As a result we have a “deeply flawed” hariri killing case record of several years (according to HRW) that should not have been so and we have Lebanon again perched on the edge of disaster.

I guess this would be my main gripe with Mustapha’s approach in general – Where he sees only two tracks, I see a history of lost opportunities for real conflict mitigation and even peacebuilding that lay precisely in that third way.

For me, M14 can be forgiven – they are a relatively weak actor after all.

But when the Bush folks ACTIVELY and consistently undermined these third ways between 2005 and 2008 – when it held such a clear preponderance of power – ….well that is simply unforgivable (not to mention just downright stupid).

Written by nickbiddlenoe

July 6, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Posted in ANALYSIS

Win-Win Scenario Really? Whether the Syrian regime collapses or not…

From a June 11 Al-Jazeera interview with Ali Yunus, a US affairs political analyst, from Washington. Yunus said: “…So far, I think the US Administration is dealing with the regime and the situation in Syria according to two possibilities. The first possibility, according to this administration, is that if the Syrian people are successful in toppling the regime of the Al-Asad family, then the administration will give financial, political, and economic aid to the new regime, as was the case in Tunisia, Egypt, and as is currently the case in Libya. In the post-Bashar al-Asad era, the new US rhetoric will emerge supporting democracy, freedom, and pluralism in Syria. The second possibility for which the US Administration is preparing, and will benefit both ways, is that if Bashar al-Asad is successful in remaining in power and is victorious over the Syrian people, even though this will be at the expense of killing thousands of Syrian people, then this administration will also benefit as Bashar will emerge victorious from this battle but will also be an outcast i! n the international arena. He will appear a war criminal and will be weak. This weakness will motivate him to offer large concessions in order to remain in power, such as giving up pressure cards that he possesses, such as the Hezbollah or Hamas cards. He may also give up the alliance with Iran in order to remain in power. Moreover, he may be prepared to offer concessions to Israel and to engage in peace talks under Israeli terms. This happened in the case of Umar Hasan al-Bashir’s regime. In order to strike Sudan off the US sanctions list and prevent the International Criminal Court’s decisions from being activated, Al-Bashir agreed to the secession of Sudan and the separation of the south from the north.”

“…The US Administration will win, whether Bashar al-Asad remains in power or not. If he does, then he will be very weak and restrained. If he abandons his position with Iran, then this will weaken Iran’s negotiating position on its nuclear programme with the United States. Bashar al-Asad will be very submissive to the US Administration and will offer huge concessions that no one could have imagined…”

– This is wildly wrong for several reasons – and an enormously dangerous set of ideas to proffer. The central reason is that Syria is NOT Sudan – it can bring to bear (with relative ease) a tremendous amount of countervailing power. In other words, Syria has the capacity to be extremely disruptive.

– SECOND, this regime will NOT and does NOT bargain over existential matters from positions of weakness – If it is North Koreanized, it will likely churn out events to rejigger the balance of power THEN POSSIBLY negotiate.

– If the US really is thinking as this analyst suggests, we are in a for a rude awakening… and soon.

Written by nickbiddlenoe

June 13, 2011 at 11:16 am


The fate of Syria will test two approaches to International Relations in the Middle East

The debate over what to do in regards to Syria marks a critical turning point for Western pundits and policymakers as well for the discipline of international relations in general.

This ideological battle gained particular momentum during the protests following the disputed presidential election in Iran in 2009 and has roughly boiled down to a debate over using limited resources to address underlying grievances (like occupied territory, strategic threats, etc.) or pursuing a less expensive (and politically more comfortable) policy of encouraging various “Green Revolutions” — indigenous wedges — in states that oppose the US.

The great “Green” hope is that the regimes in question would implode a la Communism with a manageable level of pain and suffering

It remains the preferred route for the Neo-LiberalCons when things get hot — especially after the Iraq war soured many on the idea of direct, armed regime change against relatively weak states.

If the Obama administration continues on the path towards an “accelerated collapse” policy, I would submit that we will shortly be facing a definitive, real world test for this battle of approaches.

Should the Syrian regime collapse under growing external pressures with relatively little violence and usher into power a democratically elected government — or even an authoritarian one but whose “behavior” in the region, especially vis-à-vis Israel, is ostensibly “better” — the Neo-LiberalCon approach will become vastly more attractive in western capitals and among various publics.

I obviously don’t think this is likely — which is why democracy advocates, I believe, need to jumpstart a conversation about alternative approaches immediately.

One thing, of course, is absolutely certain, and it is important to consider very carefully: once again, it is the people of the region who are going to bear the overwhelming balance of yet another Great Power gamble.

Written by nickbiddlenoe

June 7, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Posted in ANALYSIS

Steve Coll Parachutes Into Syria (ok, DC), But Misses the Beltway!

Steve Coll has a disappointing piece in the New Yorker here. I did a paper for New America/Century Foundation and was pleased in general by them, but this effort typifies the dangerous (limousine) liberal interventionist case that needs to be sidelined before they get the US and the people of the region into a level of violence which the US is unprepared to actually meet, which won’t affect the writers and editors in NY/DC, which will likely cause a lot of deaths for the natives … and which actually has BETTER alternatives (more on this in the next day or two!).

He writes: “A Syrian spring that rewarded its hopeful citizens would signal a major change. The country, though not as influential as Egypt, has modernized in certain respects; it has a sophisticated middle class. Moreover, because of its geographic centrality, Syria has been a fulcrum of regional politics, and it is pivotal to the futures of Lebanon, Israel, and the Palestinians.”

– Coll amazingly leaves out the significance of syria’s role at the center of the ongoing hot and cold war between the Resistance Axis and the status quo axis. Without an understanding of this framework, one cannot appreciate the dangers, nor can one properly and objectively evaluate the likelihood and degree of actual meddling going on by an array of interested actors…. So right away we know that Coll does not have a particularly deep or nuanced understanding of the strategic power dynamics and risks.

He adds “American policy toward Syria presents mainly a record of failure. One strain of that policy has sought unsuccessfully, through diplomatic engagement, to coax Assad to instigate internal reforms; weaken Syria’s alliances with Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas; and broker a peace with Israel. As recently as 2008, Assad told an American diplomat that he was “a few words away” from an agreement with Israel. He never delivered.

– This is of course the old canard – assad did not deliver…. is Coll completely unaware of the March 2000 collapse? The reasons why the 2008 talks collapsed…. sadly, he does not even give the (incorrect) argument/cliché that Assads simply cannot deliver peace because they are allawite! So his claim stands even without the talking point which he subconsciously is relying on… not very good rhetoric!

– But then again this makes since – he is not trained in the middle east it seems, and certainly not at all in the languages – at least it seems from his bio. He has written books on AT&T.. and bin ladin…. but the levant? How does he get away with writing this for the New Yorker…. well ok, it always happens i guess.

He adds: “For half a century, the region has made outside idealists look like fools, turned realists into complicit cynics, and consigned local heroes—Yitzhak Rabin, Anwar Sadat—to martyrdom.”
–Coll, Sadat was a US and Israeli hero right or wrong… but he is and was not a LOCAL HERO…. he was a ruthless dictator who tortured his own people, encouraged and used a brutal form of Islamism and which helped pave the way for … MOUBARAK… and Bin Ladin in fact (man he should know this from the book he did!) Where does he get these “facts.” Are they just blind assumptions for the natives from dc/ny?
He writes: “In the Arab world, the reaction to the President’s words was mostly tepid.”
– Huh? Which arabic articles is he referring to? I have a piece in Bloomberg today that actually quotes people saying quite the reverse…. who exactly and how extensive was the tepid reaction…. again, where did he pull this talking point? Why no fact checking at Nyorker?
HE CONTINUES: “The Obama Administration should press hard, by the same mechanisms, to hold Syria’s regime accountable. Syria’s future is pivotal to the future of the region, and the country requires credible leadership. The time for hopeful bargaining with Assad has passed”
– Well that is his flourish – his “kicker”…. No discussion about the costs to the natives for the strategy or that maybe one should at least look for alternatives….
Again – how can one take pieces like this seriously when they seem so disconnected even from the clichéd talking points circulating within the beltway!

Written by nickbiddlenoe

May 24, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Posted in ANALYSIS

QN on the government stalemate: Syria protests are the problem?

QNabki (Who I had thought was a women named – pronounced – Queefa who i thought he was….. so I introduced him to a group of students as Queefa Nabki, thinking that the woman named Queefa was in fact a man named Queefa…. a bit embarrassing for a guy actually named Elias) Says this:

“…The question is: why would Syria have an interest in preventing the formation of a government by its own allies in Beirut? The past four months have made Hizbullah, Amal, and the FPM look completely hapless. The only conceivable reason for putting the brakes on would be to spare a “Hizbullah-led” government from being painted as an accomplice to Syria’s crackdown on its protesters. Let’s imagine that Miqati succeeds in forming the government tomorrow, and let’s also imagine that the protests in Syria escalate over the next several weeks to the point where the regime has to launch a major security operation, killing hundreds more people and sending thousands of refugees (including many opposition activists) streaming across the border. If a March 8 government in Lebanon denies asylum to the Syrian opposition (which is a safe bet), Hizbullah and its allies would become easy targets for March 14th’s media outlets. Saad Hariri and co. would not miss a chance to paint the Lebanese government as an extension of the Assad regime, and this could easily galvanize enormous protests in Lebanon in support of the Syrian people. That would be a publicity nightmare for Damascus and its Lebanese allies, all of whom came out in strong support of the populist movements in Tunisia, Egypt, and Bahrain.  So perhaps the current state of affairs does indeed have foreign fingerprints all over it. If the cabinet is formed the day after Bashar al-Assad declares victory over the Syrian opposition, we may know for sure…”

– Especially now, when so much is uncertain and open to chance etc, one needs to be careful, I think, with phrases like “The only conceivable reason”... Indeed, I would argue that the government is in fact largely hostage to the effort by the FPM to finally emasculate this president and remove his threat to the FPM once and for all. Now is the moment and this moment may not come again. In contrast, it seems to me that Hizbullah GENUINELY is trying really hard to get out of the embarrassment of NOT having been able to form a government. They very much WANT, it sounds to me, to get a government in place – and their rhetoric and apparent negotiating actions seem to match this.

– This alone should complicate Qifa Nabki’s assertion. But more than this, I think it is just as reasonable to argue the opposite of what he writes above: Hizbullah hates chaos almost as much as it hates Zionism. As things are set for a likely prolonged period of unrest in Syria I would argue that Hizbullah has MORE of a reason to get together a relatively stable government that can deal with the unfolding situation (even though this brings multiple risks of course).

Indeed, without that government, and their preponderance in it, the scenarios going forward are potentially even more destabilizing and open for the party and for Lebanon. As but one example, in the absence of a government, the security-military response to northern border issues will be more open to contingency, mis-calculation, meddling all of which might even at some point prompt a Syrian military intervention or at least a much more dangerous rhetoric all around (and words have consequences). Better to have a government and LAF that can be viewed as an ally and effective by Damascus in stunting this argument and the problems that a reintroduction of syrian forces into lebanon would bring (within M8 as well!). QN writes about a refugee crisis – but this might not be as much of a threat to hizbullah as he assumes. Indeed, better to have a government that can deal clearly with this issue than leaving the field open to chaos and more disasters. A large influx of refugees still could be dealt with in what would seem like a humane way by a Hizbullah-led government without creating major problems with Damascus or among Lebanese (especially by allowing for targeted police operations against those “suspected” of substantial anti regime activities and providing for the bulk of the others…. NOTE: not that this is in any way the moral, right thing to do in my mind!).

Which is to say that Hizbullah as the main shaker in a government has multiple means to escape and better manage being an “accomplice” to an escalating crackdown and humanitarian situation – if fact, in contrast to QN’s argument, it is reasonable to argue that Hizbullah actually finds fewer bad outcomes from finally succeeding in such an effort.

Written by nickbiddlenoe

May 21, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Posted in ANALYSIS


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