(My Middle East)

77 days with a journalist, Lebanon, and a list of non sequiturs

Archive for the ‘International news’ Category

How long is the long war?

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Patrick Lang over at Sic Semper Tyrannis has an interesting post on the cost of an effective counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan. Counterinsurgency is a buzz word in military/political circles, and its approach has in part (I think) improved the situation in Iraq. But what Lang brings up, is it could take a decades to wage a worthwhile counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan.

“This is a big job, especially in a country like Afghanistan where much of what has to be done has not been done before.  “Education” alone, “education” in the Western sense will be a massive long term project.  IMO, the whole counterinsurgency thing, if applied successfully in Afghanistan will require a commitment of a century of effort by dedicated civilian and military personnel and many, many billions of dollars”

This goes along with what I have been reading recently in David Sanger’s The Inheritance. Sanger quotes Douglas Lute the war czar for Iraq and Afghanistan:

“The Truth is that you have to think about this problem in thirty-year terms,”… One night in early summer 2008, I asked Lute whether he was sticking to that estimate. No, he said he had rethought the numbers. “I’ve revised it to closer to fifty years.”

I’m a big fan of the type of unconventional thinking that counterinsurgency campaigns inspire, but does the military, the government and the public have the stomach to sit through the decades it  may take for a counterinsurgency campaign? And would leaving before a counterinsurgency “battle” is finished do anything besides create a feeling of abandonment in that country and maybe inspire a harsh backlash, negating all the gains? We may get a taste of what a post-partially completed COIN  environment looks like in Iraq (where I think few would say COIN is complete) but that can hardly be a indicator for the same situation in Afghanistan which is so much more behind in terms of its “nation building”

Some more COIN reading

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July 12, 2009 at 11:13 pm

To be an Italian MP you have to have a really deep voice

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I figured out that I don’t speak Italian yesterday. I covered a press conference from the Italian foreign affairs delegation to Lebanon Thursday The press conference was in Italian and Arabic so I had to pretend like I was writing things down and then take the recording back to be translated.

Highlights of the press conference:

All 3 (out of 4) of the Italian MPs who spoke had incredibly deep voices. Like wildly deep. Octaves bellow what I was expecting, even the woman MP. Maybe its a requirement before running for political office in Italy.

Opposition MP, Leoluca Orlando, handing out an entire two sided personal biography instead of a business card.

Wondering if my name would have been Stefano Stefani if I had been born in Italy.

Written by stephenddockery

July 10, 2009 at 5:26 pm

Story on Lebanon’s failed state ranking

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I have a story in The Daily Star today on Lebanon’s recent ranking as the 29th most failed state in the world, an improvement on last years rankings.

Be sure to read the article explaing the index before looking at all of the rankings from Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace. 

The Foreign Policy articles accompanying index are worth checking out too. My favorite was the one on green zones in the failed states.

Written by stephenddockery

July 2, 2009 at 11:55 am

Palestinians in Lebanon | IDRC report

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My story ran in the The Daily Star today.Well, really its not a story, just a long brief about an IDRC report on what can be done to improve the fragile relationship between the Palestinians in Lebanon and the Lebanese.

First some background: many Lebanese, particularly Christians. blame the 1975-1990 Civil War on the Palestinians, also several Palestinian camps were destroyed by Christians during the Civil War (including the Sabra and Shatila massacre) so the relationship between the two communities is not a healthy one.

The Lebanese military is not allowed into the camps, meaning they are administered by Palestinian groups, usually armed ones. Previously these militias were present outside the camps as well as inside. Now besides for a few exceptions, like the PFLP- General Command, the armed militias mostly stay inside the camps.Still, inside the camps, these militias have caused problems most recently in the killing of a Fatah member in Ain al-Hilwah refugee camp on Tuesday, and attempted smuggling of explosives into the same camp. (was the car booby trapped or just bomb laden? We may never know. Lets go reporting!)

Palestinians are not given basic rights like land ownership or ability to hold specific jobs. Most don’t have access to public services like schools or medical treatment. Part of the reason this situation exists is because of the issue of right of return and identity. Many people feel that by giving Palestinians citizenship, or giving them full rights, is in so many ways recognizing the legitimacy of Israel. That if these people were given a new home, Israel would no longer have to acknowledge millions of people without a state. So the questions becomes how many rights and services do you provide Palestinian’s before they become too much like citizens of your own? Its a dangerous game to play with the quality of life of so many people.

My “story” hopefully explains some of the other history

Sometimes my favorite thing about these reports is the footnotes and source material. Heres some of the background material that the author Rex Brynen recommends in the report’s footnotes:

  • For an overview of conditions and attitudes in the camps, see Samaa Abu Sharar, Study on the Conditions of Palestinian Refugees in Camps Across Lebanon (Beirut: Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee,June 2008), online at http://www.lpdc.gov.lb/php/Uploads/2008-06/Report19_1.pdf.
  • Given the complexity of this history, only a very brief overview can be provided here. For a fuller examination, see Rex Brynen, Sanctuary and Survival: the PLO in Lebanon (Boulder: Westview Books, 1990); Rosemary Sayigh, Too Many Enemies: The Palestinian Experience in Lebanon (London: Zed Books, 1993); International Crisis Group, Nurturing Instability: Lebanon’s Palestinian Refugee Camps, Middle East Report #84, 19 February 2009, online at http://www.crisisgroup.org.
  • UNRWA, UNRWA in Figures, 31 December 2008, online at http://www.un.org/unrwa

Heres the link to the full report.

Certainty of Uncertain

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I was planning of writing some long winded post on how everyone is pretending they know what is going on in Iran and they can add some useful commentary to it. Anyone from the New York Times EIC Bill Keller to the retweeters and bloggers. But my  opinion on the matter is summed up pretty well in an article in Foreign Policy.

Just a few things to add to that. In terms of qualified sources for commentary on Iran, I look at academics first. What you need to have insight into Iran is a prior knowledge of the country, and most reporters don’t have that knowledge because of how difficult reporting is from Iran. I would also dissuade people from taking the above FP comparison too far, this is not 1978, Mousavi is NOT Khomeini.

Written by stephenddockery

June 18, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Obama mania, one step too far

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Let me preempt a days work, five years from now. Five years from now when the this Obama honeymoon is over and instability breaks out again in this region when radicals or resistance organizations come to power. People like Thomas Friedman will be scratching their head, saying ‘What happened, everything was going so well‘.

Well I hate to be the first one to break the news to Friedman and everyone who thinks the same of the Obama effect, but little has changed and projecting your own western morality and oversimplifications on this region isn’t going to do anything except delude yourself to thinking the world cares just as much about your liberal idealisms as you do.

Whats changed? you have a stalled peace process with a right-wing Israel that is reticent as ever to even start moving forward. You have popularly elected Hamas thats shunned by the rest of the world and locked up in Gaza facing off against a propped up West Bank government just waiting to fight it out. You have a fundamentally unstable confessional system in Lebanon and increasingly divisive voting blocks pulling the country in opposite directions. Not to mention the elections being partially bought by Saudi money.

So while current stability has a positive outlook, and the Lebanese elections went off with close to zero violence. The initial benefits of a new U.S policy shouldn’t be confused for long term success.

The new Obama policy of engagement is opening up new ground on several issues, but it has yet to address any of the core issues that destabalize this region. These gains are important, but should not be overstated.

The problem is the same one that mars Western idealists calling fraud in the Iranian election. Analyzing any situation by what you would like to see happen, rather than by any standard of fairness is dangerous. You can’t just project other nations local politics into your livingroom.

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June 14, 2009 at 5:19 pm

The Western election standard

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Everywhere I look on my RSS feed is a call for links to information on the elections in Iran. Tom Ricks didn’t even do that

What do you expect for 30 years of isolationism? Having people this uninformed in the West is a recipe for disaster, theres got to be some way of getting a better media exchange. Check the comments on the first two links, there are a few decent resources posted.

Also on the topic of results, this double standard in viewing elections is ridiculous. Basically, if you win an election and are pro-reform and western, the election was valid, and if you don’t it was obviously rigged. Few are crying foul about the hundreds of millions of dollars that was pumped into Lebanon by the Saudis, and some just wrote it off as fair game in democratic elections. (On a side note, whose column was worse Friedman’s or Abrams?) While now in Iran, the conservative wins and obviously there must be massive fraud. I’m not saying there wasn’t but I’m saying a colonialist standard is being applied that could care less about the process and cares much more about the results. What happens when conservative governments are elected? We’ll Iran already knows, but if you need another example, just talk to Hamas.

Also this article from Foreign Policy detailing the absurdity of the arguments for natural growth in Israel is worth checking out.

Written by stephenddockery

June 13, 2009 at 4:56 pm