(My Middle East)

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

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

Beirut Art Center in Jisr El Wati

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The center piece of the exhibit by Abdel Hamid Baalbaki

The center piece of the exhibit by Abdel Hamid Baalbaki

I took a trip to Jist El Wati yesterday to go to the Beirut Art Center. The location is a bit of a drive fromwhere I live in West Beirut, but it’s worth it. The exhibit was called The Road to Peace: Paintings in Times of War, 1975-1991 and featured only art work that had been produced between those years, the time of the Lebanese Civil War.

There was a real sense of sadness and despair in all of the works, really powerful stuff. Even the abstract art, which is something I usually only mildly enjoy, spoke to me because of the context it was presented in.

Check out the NYT write up of the exhibit. This exhibit ends Tuesday, the next BAC exhibits are called “Earth of Endless Secrets Writing for a Posterior Time” and “Prisoner of War.” They open on July 23.

Also, across the street from the art center is a huge souk (market). Maybe a half mile long of booths packed together selling anything from olives and spices to knock off watches and shoes all of it ridiculously cheap (in both senses of the word).

I scored a nice shirt for $2.66, key chains with the likenesses of Nasrallah, Hariri, Geagea and Aoun on them for $1.66 and some presents for the family. Oh and I had some orange juice for .66 cents with a used glass and used straw, thrifty indeed.

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July 12, 2009 at 3:54 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.

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July 10, 2009 at 5:26 pm

Story on politicized journalism in Lebanon

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Reporters at the first day of the AFP workshop

Reporters at the first day of the AFP workshop | Lana Captan Ghandour

_ I had a story today in The Daily Star on the politicized Journalism in Lebanon and AFP workshops to promote objectivity.

Of all the countries in the Middle East Lebanon has one of the most free media environments. It’s notoriously weak government can hardly keep the country stable let alone have time to censor journalism. In Reporters without Borders press freedom index Lebanon is beat only by Cyprus for press freedoms in the Middle East, also check out the U.S. ranking of 36. (Although it should also be noted that the situation hasn’t always been that way, anti-Syrian occupation journalists have been intimidated and killed in the past and during war times internal journalism was very difficult)

Despite the current free press ranking the media in Lebanon is firecly political and exacerbates the already unstable poliotical scene. The Agence France Presse and UNDP is holding workshops that has reporters from opposite political spectrum working together to promote objectivity, which was the news peg to my story.

The conference itself was very cool, there were journalists from the Hezbollah TV station Al-Manar working with journalists from Saad Hariri’s Future TV and LBC. People had really intense debates about journalism but got along really well despite that. I talked to people from Al-Manar LBC and even a reporter from a Lebanese Communist owned radio station called Sawt al-Shab (voice of the people), it was great to see such different people getting along so well.

Oh and a major plus was the workshop was ran by Robert Holloway who is director of the AFP Foundation. Holloway is also a pretty big deal as an international correspondent. Also running the workshop was Najib Ben Cherif from Al Arabia, Saad Hattar from BBC radio Jordan and Joseph Badaoui from AFP Cyprus.

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July 8, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Bill Pullman for president

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In 1996 Aliens tried to take away freedom

In 1996 Aliens tried to take away freedom

In deference to the American independence day there will be no pictures of delicious cinnamon rolls, stories about street fights or profound treatises on the nature of journalism in Lebanon. Instead, it’s time for reflection. And what better way to reflect than with the greatest speech ever delivered on the 4th of July and perhaps the greatest speech of all time. Bill Pullman could be my president any day.

Speaking of great July 4th speeches, Daily Orange alumni and purveyor of all things wrestling Andy ‘Boots’ McCullough had a story about a pretty good speech in yesterday’s Star Ledger, (thats in NJ). And in case you were

wondering, said story was penned on the front page of said newspaper.

For those looking for something a little more current than the 30’s or the 90’s. Check out this story by Mitchell Prothero from

Fortunately, Will Smith and Jeff Goldbulm were there to save freedom for the world.
Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum were there to save freedom

The National about the drug business in the Beqaa valley in Lebanon.

Now if you will excuse me, I have a story on minor pop star Sean Kingston story to write

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July 4, 2009 at 9:33 am

Deliciousness

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Quickly taken photo of a wam half eaten cinnamon roll

Quickly taken photo of a wam half eaten cinnamon roll

Theres a sweet shop in Hamra on my way home from work that I love stopping by when I walk home. The sweets are delicious (today I had a cinnamon roll, warmed it, delicious) And the gray haired mustachioed (handle bar!) man who sells them is pretty awesome too. Its right before Jeanne D’Arc street across from the intersection from Flying Pizza. I’ll update with the name when I figure it out.

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July 2, 2009 at 4:20 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.

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July 2, 2009 at 11:55 am