The Mideastwire Blog

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

Why I disagreed a year ago with Thanassis Cambanis on the FPM-LF alliance

The many stories like these, translated today by our, are why I strongly disagreed with Thanassis’s assessment, blogged below in January, about the FPM-LF rapprochement:

From January 2016:


Thanassis Cambanis & others mis-reading Aoun-Gaegae shift, just as Aoun-Nasrallah alliance was mis-read 10 years ago


(Just a note as Thanassis pointed out to me I mis read his point on the likelihood of a weak president now: he also believes this scenario is less likely than before. But this begs the point further-isn’t this development then a pretty important structural shift!?)

Thanassis Cambanis has a blog post below that argues (as several commentators very quick out the post are today): “it is not a game changer” in reference to the new christian alliance.

He says:
“In any event, even if the wider alliances fracture and regroup, there’s no reason to believe we’re witnessing anything more than a rearrangement of the supporting cast.”

I think he is wrong – my piece will be out in a few days as we need to have more time to soak in what is really going on.

My initial reading is that this is indeed a major event and does represent a new and powerful dynamic in Lebanon and possibly somewhat beyond.

I will just remind analysts that few realized 10 years ago (almost to the day!) that the Aooun-Nasrallah alliance (FPM and Hezbollah) was real and anchored on some structural shifts. Many mis-understood this as a flash in the pan, mere interests etc… ten years later we can see how wrong they were in the analysis.

Thanassis also argues:

“In other words, no polarizing zaim like Aoun, Geagea or Suleiman Franjieh. Pushed to bet on a name, I’d pick the current head of the military, Jean Kahwaji, a safe choice to preserve security without tipping the political balance or posing a threat to the hereditary majors.”

— I also think he is wrong here. That may be a safe bet, but it now looks increasingly unlikely as the ceiling of christian demands just got higher – there must be a strong christian president, something acknowledged by many of the politicians who were just visited during our research conference in Beirut!

Remember Future and M14 always said it was hezbollah and aoun blocking a president – now “the christians” agree… and the other side with Amal movement from M8 will be hard pressed to get a nice christian president that can be easily pushed around like many argued was the case with former president Sulieman. And they will be hard pressed to now be clearly the obstructionists.

He ends by saying, “Meanwhile, Lebanon’s demography marches onward, its Shia plurality bustling and its Sunni and Christian communities in decline (so long as Syrian refugees don’t enter the calculation).”
— Here he is wrong as well. The sunni part of the equation is decidedly NOT declining (not sure where this assertion came from).

What is missing in his analysis here is how the Christians and the Shia largely agree about a new electoral law that will likely be to the detriment of Future movement – not because of any declining sunni demographics (the opposite is actually happening) but because of Future’s structure and electoral map and their declining support.

Hashed out in my next piece monday/tuesday!

Written by nickbiddlenoe

December 3, 2016 at 1:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized

When leading analysts dismissed warnings about Assad and the Resistance Axis

Emile Hokayem and Steven Heydemann I remember in late 2011 and here in February 2012 when Emile brushed off my warnings in this New York Times Op-Ed. Turned out to not be particularly “cynical” after all or wrong about Assad not falling… not to mention right about the terrible moral and strategic consequences that would flow from an effort to collapse him and his allies.Screen Shot 2016-12-01 at 2.32.58 PM.png

Written by nickbiddlenoe

December 1, 2016 at 10:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Note to Beltway: When you have a Middle East democracy awards benefit don’t invite architect of the Iraq war

When you choose to honor Arabs and others working to promote democracy in the Middle East – and we can have a separate discussion about your mission and it’s pitfalls – for sure don’t invite Paul Wolfowitz, the architect of so much unnecessary destruction in the Middle East and here at home. And when he swears at Senator Murphy from Connecticut who calls out the war economy and its pernicious influence on our country’s policies, well, the right thing to do is to ask him to leave. There is enough to be concerned about without dredging up these demons from our recent past to serve as unwelcome table company.
This is the senator to watch: thank goddess our party still has some


Written by nickbiddlenoe

December 1, 2016 at 4:37 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Publishing Break– Blog

Just a note: The Blog will have a publishing break until mid-November. will continue its regular publishing schedule. For a free trial, email


Written by nickbiddlenoe

August 20, 2016 at 1:27 am

Posted in Uncategorized

TRANSLATED: Egypt “awaiting overwhelming anarchy, or building of a real democratic regime, whichever comes first”

Translated in today’s Daily Briefing (for a free trial, email

On August 8, the Egyptian Shorouk newspaper carried the following opinion piece by Muhammad Esmat: “There might not be a recipe for the achievement of the British “The Economist” magazine’s expectations, surrounding the eruption of a third uprising against President Abdel Fattah es-Sisi’s rule, due to what the magazine dubbed in a report published last Thursday the mounting anger of the youth towards the closing of the doors of a better future in their faces, the escalation of the economic crisis, and the government’s inability to contain it… The negative economic indicators clearly reflect the failure of the Egyptian government to meet its promise to fix the situation within two years, at a time when the Egyptians are increasingly feeling that the future will carry more difficult times, and that the promises to improve the living conditions were a mere mirage.

“At some point, the volcanoes of suppressed frustration and anger will explode, without anyone knowing the shape or course that this explosion will take. President Abdel Fattah es-Sisi’s governments have chosen to proceed down the economic road that was started by President Hosni Mubarak’s governments, one which relies on open markets and limiting the state’s social security role in a faster way, even with uncalculated momentum, without taking into account the high cost they will pay as a result of the decrease of their popularity and legitimacy, which they have supposedly drawn from the slogans of the January revolution surrounding livelihood, liberty and social justice. And in the face of the absence of a clear governmental political program that would convince the Egyptians to accept the major sacrifices in exchange for improving the deteriorating economic situation, the opposition parties seem to be like haunted houses.

“Hence, they have no influence on the street, are not presenting alternative policies, are settling for reactions, and are losing their popularity by the day. There are no clear mechanisms with specific methodologies to present alternative solutions to the existing policies in Egypt, and there is no voice rising above that of the authority. And under the pretext of the existence of hidden powers devising quasi-daily conspiracies against us, we must all rally behind the regime to confront them. As a result, any opposition voice is being subject to readymade accusations of collaboration, betrayal and conspiracy against the homeland. Amid this climate, expecting an organized uprising such as the one mentioned by The Economist is impossible. Yet, the door remains wide open before waves of violence, to vent out the frustration and anger.

“And they might be extinguished by security clubs or trucks of subsidized food products in the streets, but these will be mere temporary solutions, while awaiting overwhelming anarchy, or the building of a real democratic regime, whichever comes first.”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

August 11, 2016 at 9:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Noe in Huff Post: “The False, Perilous Choice Of A ‘Limited’ American Bombing Campaign In Syria”

I am posting – quite late – my June 28 critique of Thanassis Cambanis’s Century Foundation report on Syria that appeared in The Huffington Post:

My own Century Foundation white paper recommending a different approach to Lebanon appeared in February 2009, for those that are interested:

Re-Imagining the Lebanon Track: Towards a New US Policy

A few excerpts from my June piece:

“…There are, of course, many arguments to be made about the merits and dangers of such an approach (I warned against escalating the conflict in The Huffington Post in May 2011 and again in The New York Times in February 2012). But there is at least one problem of form – i.e. the position of the messengers themselves rather than the content of their arguments – that all observers concerned with the future of Syria should consider at the outset when weighing any purportedly “new” approaches to a hellish situation: The vast majority of intelligent, compassionate individuals arguing for intervention possess little, if any, experience or training in military affairs, strategy or history.

Not surprisingly, one result of this deficit has been analyses that are extremely thin – as was the case with one 2015 report by the venerable International Crisis Group (ICG) – when it comes to unpacking the precise mechanics and limitations of military action.

Moreover, and despite widely held bona fides in political science and international relations, most of the people making the case for intervention also tend to omit any serious discussion of the kinds of counter-force that some actors would likely bring to bear to protect self-declared “existential” interests.

Unfortunately, it is within this context that last week’s report by Century Foundation (TCF) Fellow Thanassis Cambanis should be read…”

“…Of course, Cambanis may be correct in all this. Perhaps Russia will only fume if it’s allies’ advantage and maneuverability is shown a John Wayne? Maybe Assad will dramatically reduce his barrel bombing campaign? And surely there is a strong analysis that Putin does not want a war with the U.S.

But like the earlier ICG report (which saw fit to mention the word “Russia” only a few times in 42 pages when calling for U.S.-led attacks on Assad and his allies), no arguments are actually presented that one could weigh in answering these questions. There is, in short, no way for the reader to determine whether Cambanis has a convincing case upon which many lives, including American lives, should be risked.

As a corollary to these omissions, incredibly, the report also makes no reference to any statements by Syrian, Russian, Iranian or Hezbollah leaders. No reference is made to any of the vast literature and debates from within these societies about what a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria might mean for them. Cambanis talks to no officials in order to at least gauge the official rhetoric he hears (but does not tell us about), despite his having been in regime-controlled parts of Syria and residing in Beirut.

Moreover, no direct attribution is made – save for one discussion of game theory – to the Western debates on the subject. Obama administration arguments go unquoted, while no reference at all is made to substantial U.S. military and intelligence community opposition to a “limited” intervention…”

“…Perhaps because he thinks Syria can be put back together – after an unspecified “messy” reconciliation that will never amount to the pre-2011 state in any case – Cambanis fails to explore an alternative track for addressing the moral and strategic calamity of the Syria war.

Such an approach would recognize that, sadly, Syria is already de facto partitioned and that the prospects of melding Assad and his powerful allies back together with their opposite is wholly unrealistic absent major geo-strategic changes in the region and the world (for some arguments about this assertion look here and here).

Given the vital need to wind down the conflict for Syrians and their neighbors, as well as to focus more resources on ISIS and other like-minded actors, a temporary partition should therefore at least be considered, argued over and eventually fleshed out…”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

August 6, 2016 at 7:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

TRANSLATED: Article on corruption that landed Omani editor in jail

Read about the case here:

Translated today by our (for a free trial email

On July 26, the Omani Azamn newspaper carried the following report from Muscat: “Exclusive reports revealed to Azamn that senior officials in the judiciary interfered to prevent the execution of a judicial sentence, amid suspicions surrounding commercial interests in a case that has started to take new dimensions, placing the judicial institution before a new challenge along its march towards independence. Indeed, “supreme bodies” stepped in to prevent the execution of a judicial sentence issued by the Muscat Court of Appeal in the “Rashmy” case, which involves an inheritance estimated at billions of riyals according to one of the heirs. This interference was seen amid suspicions surrounding interests and commercial partnerships between some of the heirs and senior officials, who tried to tilt the ruling in favor of their partners, against the other beneficiaries…”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

August 4, 2016 at 12:04 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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