mercredi, janvier 14, 2009

Dis-Cursive Fragments

Dialogus is now Dis-Cursive Fragments

mercredi, décembre 03, 2008

On Obama's dream

Jeremy Scahill, author of the book "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army", writes about Obama's Kettle of Hawks on

Here is the full text:

Barack Obama has assembled a team of rivals to implement his foreign policy. But while pundits and journalists speculate endlessly on the potential for drama with Hillary Clinton at the state department and Bill Clinton's network of shady funders, the real rivalry that will play out goes virtually unmentioned. The main battles will not be between Obama's staff, but rather against those who actually want a change in US foreign policy, not just a staff change in the war room.

When announcing his foreign policy team on Monday, Obama said: "I didn't go around checking their voter registration." That is a bit hard to believe, given the 63-question application to work in his White House. But Obama clearly did check their credentials, and the disturbing truth is that he liked what he saw.

The assembly of Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, Susan Rice and Joe Biden is a kettle of hawks with a proven track record of support for the Iraq war, militaristic interventionism, neoliberal economic policies and a worldview consistent with the foreign policy arch that stretches from George HW Bush's time in office to the present.

Obama has dismissed suggestions that the public records of his appointees bear much relevance to future policy. "Understand where the vision for change comes from, first and foremost," Obama said. "It comes from me. That's my job, to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and to make sure, then, that my team is implementing." It is a line the president-elect's defenders echo often. The reality, though, is that their records do matter.

We were told repeatedly during the campaign that Obama was right on the premiere foreign policy issue of our day – the Iraq war. "Six years ago, I stood up and opposed this war at a time when it was politically risky to do so," Obama said in his September debate against John McCain. "Senator McCain and President Bush had a very different judgment." What does it say that, with 130 members of the House and 23 in the Senate who voted against the war, Obama chooses to hire Democrats who made the same judgement as Bush and McCain?

On Iraq, the issue that the Obama campaign described as "the most critical foreign policy judgment of our generation", Biden and Clinton not only supported the invasion, but pushed the Bush administration's propaganda and lies about Iraqi WMDs and fictitious connections to al-Qaida. Clinton and Obama's hawkish, pro-Israel chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, still refuse to renounce their votes in favour of the war. Rice, who claims she opposed the Iraq war, didn't hold elected office and was not confronted with voting for or against it. But she did publicly promote the myth of Iraq's possession of WMDs, saying in the lead up to the war that the "major threat" must "be dealt with forcefully". Rice has also been hawkish on Darfur, calling for "strik[ing] Sudanese airfields, aircraft and other military assets".

It is also deeply telling that, of his own free will, Obama selected President Bush's choice for defence secretary, a man with a very disturbing and lengthy history at the CIA during the cold war, as his own. While General James Jones, Obama's nominee for national security adviser, reportedly opposed the Iraq invasion and is said to have stood up to the neocons in Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon, he did not do so publicly when it would have carried weight. Time magazine described him as "the man who led the Marines during the run-up to the war – and failed to publicly criticise the operation's flawed planning". Moreover, Jones, who is a friend of McCain's, has said a timetable for Iraq withdrawal, "would be against our national interest".

But the problem with Obama's appointments is hardly just a matter of bad vision on Iraq. What ultimately ties Obama's team together is their unified support for the classic US foreign policy recipe: the hidden hand of the free market, backed up by the iron fist of US militarism to defend the America First doctrine.

Obama's starry-eyed defenders have tried to downplay the importance of his cabinet selections, saying Obama will call the shots, but the ruling elite in this country see it for what it is. Karl Rove, "Bush's Brain", called Obama's cabinet selections, "reassuring", which itself is disconcerting, but neoconservative leader and former McCain campaign staffer Max Boot summed it up best. "I am gobsmacked by these appointments, most of which could just as easily have come from a President McCain," Boot wrote. The appointment of General Jones and the retention of Gates at defence "all but puts an end to the 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, the unconditional summits with dictators and other foolishness that once emanated from the Obama campaign."

Boot added that Hillary Clinton will be a "powerful" voice "for 'neoliberalism' which is not so different in many respects from 'neoconservativism.'" Boot's buddy, Michael Goldfarb, wrote in The Weekly Standard, the official organ of the neoconservative movement, that he sees "certainly nothing that represents a drastic change in how Washington does business. The expectation is that Obama is set to continue the course set by Bush in his second term."

There is not a single, solid anti-war voice in the upper echelons of the Obama foreign policy apparatus. And this is the point: Obama is not going to fundamentally change US foreign policy. He is a status quo Democrat. And that is why the mono-partisan Washington insiders are gushing over Obama's new team. At the same time, it is also disingenuous to act as though Obama is engaging in some epic betrayal. Of course these appointments contradict his campaign rhetoric of change. But move past the speeches and Obama's selections are very much in sync with his record and the foreign policy vision he articulated on the campaign trail, from his pledge to escalate the war in Afghanistan to his "residual force" plan in Iraq to his vow to use unilateral force in Pakistan to defend US interests to his posturing on Iran. "I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel," Obama said in his famed speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last summer. "Sometimes, there are no alternatives to confrontation."

Jeremy Scahill pledges to be the same journalist under an Obama administration that he was during Bill Clinton and George Bush's presidencies. He is the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

vendredi, août 22, 2008

A Memory of Forgetfulness

A paragraph in the official history book; an old building in a capital’s side street; old stones from a city’s distant history. It is the story of a country that keeps forgetting itself. It is a country afraid of its own image. A country whose memory is doomed to be constantly forgotten; each time it surfaces it must again be engulfed in the missing sentences of that history book, the high walls of its rapidly multiplying luxury towers, and the soil of a new coastline rich with mass graves.

As a young student studying the history of modern Lebanon at school in preparation for the official exams I always wondered about that oversized picture of some modern leader occupying the space that should have been given to a more elaborate explanation of what happened in the not-so-distant past. I could not understand how the civil war that characterized the sounds and images of my childhood for the first 9 years of my life and more than 15 years of the country’s post “independence” could be explained in a paragraph of 5 lines. It was a paradox to see that what defined and still defines people’s lives in this country and would be evoked in every discussion about life, memories, and politics (itself one of the most common topics to be heard in a Lebanese small talk) is confined in one paragraph of denial.

I grew up to see that forgetting is not a specific feature of the history book; already in my early university studies I was talking in the past tense about landmarks and places that were rapidly turning into shopping malls, clothing stores, and huge luxurious buildings devoid of any warmth or identity and feeding on the city’s social fabric. The war had taken away whole quarters and had left others with beautiful scars reminding its inhabitants of their deeds and ordeals. Even before most of them had disappeared behind new paintjobs or makeshift plastic surgery, it was striking to see how unnoticed they were in the capital’s daily chaos.

The bullet holes quickly melted into the walls they had decorated. Abandoned buildings seem to have been made for the purpose of being abandoned; what happened to the people who once lived here? Does anyone even realize that they were once inhabited? Some of the wartime graffiti (an understudied and unexplored art) still linger despite the fading colors of their cheap paint. This is a history that will probably never manage to invade any book.

After the end of the war that had already destroyed part of the country’s history and transformed it into a mythical narrative of a fictional golden age now lost, the reconstruction process was announced. The city was now a huge construction site for a huge urban farce to revive what would be called Beirut, “an old city for the future” (or so the slogan could be translated).

Archeology never befriended business, and this was one of the reasons for the destruction of Beirut’s archeological treasures. An old roman bath would be more economically viable as rubble to enlarge the coastline rather than a witness of an old historical period, or so it seems. Monument upon monument and landmark upon landmark soon disappeared to give way to new and empty luxury buildings that supposedly retraced the capital’s architectural traditions (and feed on the national shortage of electricity in order to be visible even at night).

While the distant history of the city is devoured by its new image as an example of the power of capital, its less distant history is in turn subjected to a similar, less systematic (or geographically concentrated) destruction. 19th century houses, old urban landmarks, and middle and lower class social spaces are replaced by cold, aggressive, and ugly luxurious concrete behemoths.

Stones are not inanimate figures devoid of meaning; they are social spaces encompassing social ties and stories that should be explored before they are relegated to the past tense of memories or the non-existent tense of forgetfulness. Evolution, development, and future are a process that entails an understanding of the past in order to design and define the future. Remembering is a learning process; history and war – the history of war - are one of its most important lessons. In Lebanon, however, we strive to learn how to always forget so that at no point we would ever come to realize our responsibility for our own forgotten past.

samedi, juin 07, 2008


Things are back to normal after the Doha accord. It means that opposition and loyalists are no longer opposition and loyalists; they are back to their rightful places: that strange council of elders we like to call government. Of course the government is not yet formed; however, it is only a matter of agreeing on how to share the spoils after three years of symbolic disagreement. Things are back to normal, namely to that everlasting state of waiting for another “symbolic disagreement” that will end by yet another agreement on redistributing the spoils among the same forces. After all, economy, the Lebanese politicians keep repeating in one of the most paradoxical and absurd formulas, must not be politicized. Politics in Lebanon are a field of its own.

The opposition has failed, even though it likes to portray its misadventure as a great victory. It has failed both its public and its chances to impose a real change, in other words to act as a real opposition. No economical reforms, no structural changes in the decayed political system canonized by the infamous Taef accords and a step back in the electoral law that will further divide the Lebanese sects.

The opposition has failed when it put aside all economical and political demands of social justice for the sake of a share in the government. The Hezbollah even confirmed the possibility of reattempting to reconcile resistance and reconstruction, as if 18 years of attempts have not proven the impossibility of achieving this symbiosis when reconstruction means fierce neo-liberal economy and resistance means disregard to economy.

Things are back to normal. Sanioura is again the democratically elected Prime Minister and the wonder boy of economical solutions with a record high of more than 42 billion dollars debts and a rapidly failing economy. Nonetheless, he insists on his right to appoint the minister of economy and finance. After all it is the share of the Sunnis as many keep repeating explicitly, as if in the opening verses of the Koran God clearly dictates that the economy should not fall into Fitna and that the faithful must always have faith in the fierce neo-liberal model.

Hezbollah’s public, formed mostly by lower and middle classes, will have to choose between resistance and social justice. It seems that the party is able to defeat the Israeli army but not the wonder boy of economy Fouad Sanioura and his twisted sense of economical prosperity. The public of the resistance will now have to choose. One can no longer be a leftist supporting the resistance of the Hezbollah, and expecting them to act as a real resistance, as a real liberation movement and include economy in their strategies of resistance.

Once the opposition leaves aside economical demands that seem far more pressing than the defense strategy, it will no longer be a force of change as it is trying to portray itself. In fact it will be restaging what the “14 of March” had done with their “Cedar revolution” and the “second independence” that achieved the highest degree of foreign interference in a country that has no frame of reference apart from those of regional and world powers. In fact the second independence led to a strange phenomenon whereas President, Government, Prime Minister, and electoral law were all appointed, agreed upon, and imposed by a constellation of States in Doha.

The Hezbollah must realize that resistance is not achieved merely with guns and highly effective military strategies. Resistance, which the party keeps trying to portray as a whole culture, does not consist merely in fighting an external enemy on the field and on the screen. Resistance must achieve liberation; it must build an infrastructure capable of developing and imposing a new model of prosperity. This infrastructure is not military it is social and economical. The resistance cannot cohabitate with the “reconstruction” (another word for Rafik Hariri’s and Sanioura’s failed economical plan of radical liberal economy that led Lebanon to its present economical crisis and destroyed the Lebanese middle and lower classes) contrary to what the Secretary General of Hezbollah said in his last speech. Resistance can only cohabitate with a sane economical system of social and economical justice focused on enabling the lower and middle classes by providing social welfare, a reasonable taxation policy, productive State control of certain layers of the economy, sustainable investments, and a severe anti-corruption policy. If the Hezbollah are serious in their preaching of a new model of resistance then they must reassess their position and look towards the left rather than the right for their safety.

For now the Lebanese sects are back to their respective positions, everyone is suspicious of everyone else, and the secular left is attempting as it always did to prove to itself that it is a force that can make a change. Things are back to normal in Lebanon and the summer will welcome a record number of Lebanese immigrants, the pride of a nation that cannot provide for its own citizens.

vendredi, février 29, 2008


How many meanings can the dispatch of a battleship to the shores of a country in crisis have?
The U.S. affirms that the battleship is sent for the purpose of relieving tension in Lebanon. Of course the fact that the tension is rising by the mere idea of the battleship (and the very technical description of its arsenal and destruction capacities that emerged rapidly in the Lebanese and International news) only justifies the need to relieve it.

The French spokesperson clearly confirmed this American initiative and added that her country encourages any move that brings stability and relieves tension in Lebanon.

On the shore, however, people are tense, and tension keeps on rising. In fact, an idea lurking out-of-visible-range somewhere in the sea beset them with memories of long ago when another battleship had come to their rescue. Only they do not call it rescue.

Battleships are fierce machines of destruction. They are designed to be battle ships, to instill immense amounts of destruction. Their very name designates their function. Battleships were never designed to relieve tension, if anything, tension is what they are precisely designed to instigate. It is a symbolic act of violence to send a war machine into a terrain of tension. In fact if there is a simple form of symbolic violence it is the mere presence of a war machine, battleships included.

That being said, it is surprising, and to a certain extent curious, that a statement such as the one attributing the relief of tension to the dispatch of the battleship can be uttered without causing a scandal. On the contrary it seemed like a perfectly normal reasoning for the French government.

In some time, when the battleship will exercise its natural function, and achieve the purpose of its dispatch, people will be shocked but not surprised by the sight of destruction it leaves behind and the tension that it annihilates.

I never thought that preparations for war could be so invisible, or so ridiculously camouflaged.

The official Website of the USS Cole, 'The Determined Warrior':

Of course it is needless to comment about the role of the battleship in safeguarding Lebanese independence, sovereignty, and democracy. In fact, such a move is a clear demonstration that the U.S. refuses any interference in the Lebanese internal affairs and is actively participating in the preserving the region's stability.

mardi, janvier 29, 2008

Ministry of Interior

ذهب و لم يعد
Everyone had an opinion, statement, or declaration about what happened last Sunday, all those officials in their televisions, and those non-officials in their streets.
The government and its supporters blamed the opposition, those who died, and Syria for the massacre. The opposition blamed the government and the army.

One voice remained unheard; in fact one face has disappeared since he retracted his resignation and theoretically reassumed his responsibilities: the Minister of Interior.

Curiously no one even bothers to mention the absence of the one supposed to be responsible of security in the country. After all this is not his problem since these people who were killed are not Lebanese citizens, they are part of the Syrian-Iranian axis of evil. In fact even the location of the event is not in the “real Lebanon” where people are “100% Lebanese”, so why should the ministry of interior be concerned?

6 were killed by gunfire while the army was watching, or even participating in the hunt. Army against citizens: is this Egypt? Is this what we are to hope for? Is this what preserving stability means?

Blaming the victim can only bring more anger, and anger will bring more violence, a violence that would not always be unarmed.

Fouad Sanioura, the Lebanese Prime-Minister made it clear that there are no electricity problems in the suburbs. In fact even the Lebanese economy is doing just fine. At least he did not notice any power cuts while hiding in his office.

This is only the beginning. Disregard of the deteriorating economy and the rapidly increasing economical polarization will soon explode. At this moment political solutions will no longer be useful. When the crowd moves it sweeps everything in its way. And when a government loses control of its people (and control is not exercised by force and bullets) this unconditionally means that it has failed and that a new government is needed. One cannot pretend to be in power, to be the legitimate authority, while refusing to assume the responsibility that this authority entails. No excuses, justification, or exceptional situations can explain why this government is not assuming responsibility for the numerous assassinations, shootings, and bomb blasts that have taken place under their authority.

Where is the Minister of Interior? Did anyone call him? Is he on vacation? Or does he have family duties? Did he leave the key of the ministry with anyone we can call? Or do we no longer need the ministry of interior now that an Army General is going to become President?

So many suppressed issues have surfaced on this bloody Sunday and many more will surface in the coming days. But perhaps for the moment we can rest assured that Samir Geagea is satisfied with the way the army dealt with the situation.

mercredi, janvier 23, 2008

Don't look there, it's Gaza

Self pity starts with the conviction that we are weak, incompetent, and unable to perform any action to deliver ourselves from the state we found ourselves in. This in short is the official “Moderate Arab” discourse. The blame falls on those who dare to take their destiny in their hands and use the capacities they have in order to deliver themselves instead of complaining and accentuating the pitiful state they are in.

When Hezbollah captured the two Israeli soldiers on the 12th of July 2006, the Moderate Arabs were immediately certain about the causality of the subsequent war: Hezbollah’s adventurous, rushed, and non-calculated decision is the cause of war. It turned out that Hezbollah’s decision was far from being uncalculated.

Gaza is under siege. The Moderate Arabs reformulate their causal statements. The siege is the result of the hand-made rockets fired by the Palestinian resistance factions on the neighboring Israeli settlement of Sedirot. Israel’s large scale siege is an act of self defense, say the Arabs. Of course, they do reject the human suffering involved in this act of self defense, but the blame is on those who dare to defy Israel.

It is not the fact that the Moderate Arabs are supporting Israel that is shameful; it is the hypocrisy that makes these Arab leaders cowardly enough not to be able to defend their decision and position. Instead they hide behind empty prose and strongly reject any accusation of being in the American-Israeli camp.

The mention of Israeli soldiers’ remains and body parts held by Hezbollah since the 2006 war instigated disgust in the stomachs of some Lebanese “leaders”. It is strange that the media consultants of these “leaders” did not realize that such statements would not resonate well in the minds of the people especially that Arab media does not refrain from showing Iraqi, Palestinian, and Lebanese body parts that no one ever expressed such disgust about. It is hard to believe that a militia leader can feel disgust from the mere mentioning of body parts.

The Arab “leaders” are not to blame. After all they need to care about the “stability” of their regimes. The blame falls on the people. The blame always falls on the people. When Ziad Rahbani’s last play blamed the Lebanese people for their destiny, it was met with an unprecedented negative critic even though it might be the most politically mature work of his. People do not like to be held responsible this is why they often prefer dictatorships. It is easier, more reassuring.

One and a half million people living in the most densely populated stretch of land in the world are under siege. They are the invisible spectacle of human suffering. No one wants to know, see, or hear about it. Only the Israeli government is honest enough to say that “we do not care if they are suffering”. Europe does not see, the United States do not mind, and the Arabs smile ridiculously because the white man smiles back; they do not speak, they cannot speak.

The Lebanese government is too disgusted by the mental image of Israeli body parts to feel disgust about the crime committed in Gaza. After all, if the suffering of their own people both during the 2006 war and amid the present economical crisis did not instigate any disgust why would the slow death of sub-human Palestinians do?

There is a definition of terrorism, and there are law texts describing what genocide means. We just need people to read it aloud.

But meanwhile we have more pressing matters: the Iranian/Shiite/Axis of Evil/Terrorism threat and the need to buy billion of dollars worth of American weapons especially now that the American economy is in trouble. Anyway there is an Arab Summit coming up, and the Arabs will certainly “object” on the situation in Gaza. When the oil stops flowing, the Arabs will start exporting “objection” to be used in Gaza’s power plant and Saudi Arabia will still be the biggest supplier of fuel.