War Cries!

Cool heads do not seem destined to prevail in the region these days. They are too few to begin with. In fact, I can only count one: Fouad Seniora. The hot heads, on the other hands, are too numerous to list in toto, but they surely include: Mahmoud Amhadinejad, Hassan Nasrallah and Bashar al-Assad. The first has just wasted his fifteen minutes in the UN by failing to offer anything of substance to advance his country’s cause. Grandstanding may get you a few laughs and applause (a la Chavez, I guess), but not understanding or support.

Meanwhile, the last two has just performed a bizarre sort of a Laurel and Hardy act by threatening UNIFEL and slamming all their opponents in Lebanon, accusing them of treason and of being agents for Israel, which is not only dumb, but very unimaginative on their part.

Still, what we see here is coordination in action once again, the Radical Alliance is upping the ante once again, and the ground seems set now for a Round Two of sorts with Israel. For, everybody wants to provoke the beast again. Everybody needs a distraction.

I wonder what sort of guise the provocation will assume this time!

72 thoughts on “War Cries!

  1. Ammar, if we are going to go through round two, you should blame others too … For example, Before Bashar made his hardline speeches after the war, the SYerians were quite optimistic that they would finally see an improvement in US Syrian relations … but then president Bush went back to playing the same old tune … “no dealing with Syria until they burn all their cards”.Well too bad .. because for the past 30 years we have often been playing the same game: the US would only deal with a weak Syria. A Syria that can not ask for too much in return for signing peace with Israel. A Syria that accepts any role the west and Israel decied to give it post-settlement.As a Syrian, I can only continue to be frustrated because the Americans still want to try to weaken the Syrians.And the fact the Syrian regime is a dictatorship does not have much to do with this one. It so happens that the Syrian “dictator” has the support of a clear majority of Syrians on his hard line positions, while the democratically elected American president these days enjoys a 35% popularity that can esily dip a few more points if the price of oil goes up again.Ammar, the hardliners include most of the Syrian people. Blame all of them if you want, and don’t forget that in Israel Netanyahu these days is ultra popular too … and the restricted vision in Washington that can not come up with any peaceful positive policy option for dealing with Syria … that’s the biggest problem here. The Syrians would reciprocate immediately if Washington accepts to be reasonable for a change.Every action has an opposite reaction … who knows who started the whole thing, but both sides are responsible for the escalation. And it is not looking good.

  2. Alex, While george bush might be a hardliner, and not have more than 35% of the support of his people (deservedly), he was still an elected presented, which is more than you can say for bashar. The fact (or the contention) that the syrian dictator has the support of his people on his hardline policies means nothing, because he does not act based on the popular wishes of the Syrian people. If his policies (or lack of policies), coincide with those of the Syrian people, I wouldn’t consider that as a sign of support for the regime… On another note, Ammar, is there any real coordination between democratic movements in Syria and their counterparts in Lebanon? If so, how? And if not, is there anything being done to work on that? I believe both sides have a lot to gain from each other, and they share a lot of common ideals and incidentally enemies… Cheers

  3. To make the claim that the Syrians expected relations to actually improve at the end of the Hizballa/Israeli war is really outrageous. Did Bashar or the Syrian people really believe that precipitating more death in destruction in Lebanon and demonstrating to the world that Syria is not only still interfering in Lebanon, but embroiled it in a war that the Lebanese government and people clearly did not want would actually encourage the Americans to see Syria and the Bashar regime in a positive light and thus improve US/Syrian relations? I may not have a full grasp of the intricacies of Middle Eastern politics, but if those were really the hopes and excpectations of the Syrians, then they are just as clueless about the Americans as we are about them. And Bush’s overall popularity may be low, but he was greatly supported by the public on his support for Israel during the war. If you are going to qualify Bashar’s popularity then you must also qualify Bush’s. Apples and oranges, my friend, apples and oranges.

  4. Dear R and Kevin,Bashar and Bush Jr. have been in power since 2000 but “The Syrians” (the regime) have been in power since 1970. They have met with Nixon, Carter, Busht he father, and Clinton. While they make mistakes, they still understand the United States very well.I wonder if you read the avalanche of editorials and opinion pieces in the NYTimes, teh Washington Post and everywhere by all kinds of former US officials (like president Carter for example) who wrote that the US policy of boycotting Syria is a disaster. The Syrians hoped that this overwhelming movement (matched in ISrael by the way) is indicative of an imminent real shift in US policy.I will not link here to tens of examples, but go to this page if you want and click on the left column in the PRESS SELECTIONS area. Maybe you won’t be too surprised at the Syrians for raising their expectations for a better dialogue with the U.S.You want more? … today the Israeli defense minister said:قال وزير الدفاع الإسرائيلي عمير بيرتس إن سوريا هي “مفتاح الاستقرار” في الشرق الأوسط، مجددا معارضته لغلق باب التفاوض معها.وأضاف في تصريحات للإذاعة الإسرائيلية العامة أن دمشق هي حلقة الوصل في ما وصفه بمحور التطرف الإسلامي “الممتد من إيران إلى لبنان”، في إشارة إلى الدعم الذي تقدمه دمشق وطهران لحزب الله.He said that Syria is the Key to stability in the Middle East and that Israel should talk to Syria.As for Apples and Oranges, I agree with your good point, although the numbers do not even match, 60% supported Bush’s policy on the Lebanon war, Bashar (and Nasrallah) have the support of 90% of Syrians… if not 95%. YOu also mentioned that the “Lebanese people” do not want that war … you know that during the war Nasrallah support reached 87%. You know that the US is now considered as a freind of Lebanon by about 9% I think (the same opinion poll)If you are a lover of democracy, no matter what tthe results bring, you should respect the overwhelming popular opinions on this issue.And one last important point: sadly, teh United States’s interest in talking to Syria in the past has been highly correlated to the degree to which Syria can create troubles to the American policies and plans in the Middle East. Did president Bush even mention North Korea in his latest speech at the UN? no … they are strong, we have to be nice to them… this is the lessont eh US is teaching the leaders of the countries who have disagreements with teh US: The Americans will talk to you only if they need you or fear you.

  5. Alex: Like I said I don’t claim to know the intricacies of Middle East politics, but using the editorials of NYT and the Washington Post, and the utterings of Jimmy Carter and other Democratic leaning souls as indicators “of an imminent real shift in US policy” is exaclty what I mean about not understanding the Americans. In all honesty, how often have you seen the Bush Administration take into consideration the editorial pages of the NYT and WashPost or the opinion of Jimmy Carter and change policy? At one time the opinion pages of the NYT, WashPost and other prestigious press organziations were able to influence public opinion and decisions made by the White House. I think that in today’s America, those days of influence are long gone and especially, for this Adminstration. Rather than looking to the NYT, WashPost, LA Times, The Guardian, the BBC, The Natonal Catholic Reporter, et al. to discern the Admininstration’s thinking, you should look at the National Review, Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal.And, yes, I realize the amount of support Hizballah acheived during the war in Lebanon. But what of the criticisms since then. Nasrallah can bus as many supporters into South Beruit that he wants to, but there is no way that one can claim that the Lebanese people supported starting a war with Israel. I wonder if the Lebanese had the opportunity to debate such an issue prior to the War, what the outcome would have been. I also question wisdom of Bashar. Having Hizballah in control of Lebabon can not be in his best interests; especially a Hizballah so closely tied to a much more brazen Iran. It has even used Iranian techniques to gain control of Lebanon. Hizballah precipitated a war with Israel and then claims to be the defender of Lebanon. This is basically the same technique the Mullahs in Iran have used since 1979 to cease and stay in power: use an international crisis to rally the people to support you and if you can’t find a crisis, create one. Hizballah will end up being in control of the Lebanese Gov’t. for a long time and it will no longer be Damascus pulling the strings in Beruit, but the other way around. Bashar and his advisers may have thought that there was a good chance that this gamble would pay off and the U.S. would come to the table. But I assure you that the Mullahs knew exactly what U.S. reaction would be. And their rather outspoken and public support and actions during the War put the odds in their favor. I wonder how Bashar’s father would have handled such a situation.

  6. Are we sure this will reain under control?وزعم أزنار أن العالم الإسلامي “لا يعتذر أبدا, فيما يطلب المسلمون من الغرب الاعتذار”, وتساءل بقوله “لماذا علينا دائما أن نطلب الصفح وهم لا يعتذرون أبدا؟”.وأضاف أزنار خلال إلقائه محاضرة بعنوان “التهديدات العالمية” أن العديد من الأشخاص في العالم طلبوا من البابا أن يعتذر عن محاضرته، و”أنا لم أسمع يوما مسلما يقدم اعتذاره لغزو إسبانيا واحتلالها على مدى ثمانية قرون”.واستطرد بقوله “إننا في زمن حرب, فإما هم وإما نحن, الغرب لم يهاجم الإسلام, إنهم هم الذين هاجمونا”,

  7. oops, sorry Kevin. It is not even related to the topic we are discussing.Basic translation: ex Spanish prime minister today said that “we are at war with Islam, it is wither us or them”Ammar, my question is: do you think we should continue to continue to focus on things like “democracy in Syria”, while it seems like the whole area might be heading towards a very possible wide conflict? … not certain, but quite possible.I am finding it bizarre how many influential people from all sides are talking about the possibility of a serious war with complete ease. They all feel empowered.

  8. Alex, Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way defending either Bush or American policy. All I am saying is that you cannot apply to democratic principles to countries that are not democracies. For example, if Nasralla’s support in Lebanon was 87% during the war, which is highly questionable, yet explainable, that does not mean that he has the right to launch a war on behalf of Lebanon. Even if the war he launched was not on Lebanon’s behalf, Lebanon at the end of things paid the price and sufferred the wrath of Israel. It is the democratic process that matters. It is the democratic process that gives the person the legitimacy to act on behalf of a country. Take that democratic process away, and you can no longer selectively choose issues on which to apply democratic principles…Cheers

  9. I hope that it is not too late to post a comment on this thread which I have just seen.The war cry from Ahmadinajad serves a purpose. It buys the Iranian regime some time and legitimacy in why it should continue its oppressive domestic policies that are becoming less popular in Iran. The Iranian beligerancy towards Israel is also an inexpensive way to spread the image that Iran is still very much opposed to the “great satan” and that it is willing to support radical movements in the region . As for Bashar the Cub he really does not have a choice but to side with his new masters since Syria has become the new pariah state, thanks to every position that Syria has championed under his leadership.Nasrallah on the other hand is proud of HA belicosity and provocations that have costed Lebanon dearly. Lebanon has nothing to gain but everything to loose by seeking the road of confrontation especially when the bigger boys; Egypt and Jordan; have decided that recognition of Israel and normalization of relations is the better option. Lebanon on the other hand has had two wars with Israel desides a few other major incursions and is still acting as if it needs more destruction and mayhem. The onlt thing that Lebanon has gained from these two wars is to set itself back over 30 years. The Lebanese have sacrificed for the sake of bankrupt slogans at least three decades and possibly more. No calculus will ever justify such an outcome especially when it is so clear that Lebanon can avoid all confrontations with Israel by following in the footsteps of its “Arab Brethern” by signing an official peace accord with its southern neighbour. A peace agreement for Lebanon will also signify that the country will be under less pressure for wasteful military expenditures. The war cry of HA is nothing short of being the most destructive step that Lebanon could ever undertake. Would there ever be a return to reason or are we going to allow Bashar and Ahmadinajad lead us again into the abyss?

  10. R,I accept your point… The non-elected Nasralla acted without consulting the Lebanese people when he decided to abduct the 2 Israeli soldiers. On the other hand, the elected Israeli leader Mr. Olmert, did not do a referendum on the war either.When war started, both nations (Israel and Lebanon) clearly supported their two leaders. Today, after the end of the war and after each side had a calmer look at the whole was exercise, the non elected Nasrallah still enjoys the support of the majority of his people (a smaller majority) but Mr. Olmert’s support is at 22%?Did Israel’s Democracy help Mr. Olmert take the right decision in this case? Did it help him do a good job with this war he decided to launch?Most of the destruction happening the past few years was initiated by democracies … perhaps we should not continue to automatically excuse their bad judgments simply because “they were elected democratically”They, and the dictators, are equally to blame.And Ghassan, I think it is time to admit that Lebanon’s problems will not be solved magically when you get rid of the dictatorship in Syria. Lebanon is not one country … you will still have to deal with a number of conflict-ridden issues … 1) Secular (and materialistic) vs. conservative and spiritual.2) Redefining future mix of Sunni/Shiite/Christian roles3) Future relations with Syria … a wide spectrum of opinions … from those who want to unite with Syria to those who hate Syria.4) Accepting relations with Israel before the Syrians and Palestinians settle with Israel .. some don’t see why not, others will never accept it.5) The balance between the roles of Saudi Arabia and Iran (and even the new wanna be regional player Qatar)6) Investigating the stolen Billions in the late Hariri’s time…. Aoun really wants to do it. The Shiites will insist on it too if you push them too hard on other issues. Obviously, Hariri and Jumblat do not want to go there at all.All the nice talk from the different Lebanese politicians will not go far… the crippling disagreements are coming. The only things that can unite the whole country are external aggressions .. like the assassination of late prime minister Hariri, or the Israeli destructive war. Anything less, it would be a mistake to ever say “the Lebanese people are for, or against it” … and that is the point I am trying to make here: “the Lebanese people” will need to define what is “Lebanon” and who is their favorite, trusted outside ally and protector of Lebanon.

  11. Alex:I’m not sure if there is any form of government which helps its leader take the right decision in regards to war. History is full of leaders of various forms of government who, in hindsight, did not make the right choice.Mr. Olmert may regret his decision now, but his low numbers of support are not due to his original choice to attack Hizballah. To the contrary, it is due to his government’s and the IDF poor perfomance during the War.My question to Mr. Nasrallah would be what did he anticipate Israel’s reaction to kidnapping of its soldiers; especially when the world saw its reaction in Gaza? Obviously, rightly or wrongly, Israel sees the destruction of Hizballah in its best interests. Why give Israel such encouragement? Unless, of course, he (and the regimes in Damascus and Tehran) calculated that by co-opting the Lebanese government and provoking a miltary response by the Israelis (though the severity was unexpected), he could demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the government in Beruit, rally support and enhance Hizballah’s power there.

  12. Is this the new reality of the Middle East, political blocs instigating/encouraging international “events” in order to enhance power at home?

  13. “it is not looking good” well, we can at least agree on this Alex. Regarding your other claims, I think others here have really done a great job in responding to most of them, but let me add these points: * You seem incapable to relinquish the delusion that this about relations with Israel and getting the Golan back. This is more Lebanon, and the reestablishment of the Assads hegemony there and he legitimatization thereof, once again. Well, technically, Lebanon is not the US and France’s to give, and if it is, the Assads do not seem the suitable custodians that they used to be, from the perspective of US and France, their return to the Lebanese scene is bound to usher a new round of civil conflict, rather than lead to any sort of stability. Much has changed since the Syrian pullout. You cannot roll back the clock. * I very much doubt that the radical policies of the Assads are as popular as you think them to be. But in times like these people say what is expected of them to say, the rhetorical that falls squarely and safely within the framework of accepted patriotic discourse. They keep their real thoughts to themselves. * Yes, I always blame “us” first and foremost. Why? Because we have been using this victimary rhetoric for decades now, to no avail. We need something better. We need different approaches. And by “we” I definitely do not mean the Assads, who are too stupid and corrupt to think along different lines. I actually mean people like you Alex, who, by now should know better, who should know how recourse to victimary rhetoric and playing a zero-sum game have only served to empower despotic regimes, wreaked havoc upon our economies and degraded our infrastructure. Raison d’êtat in this case means that we should learn when and how to cut down our losses, so that we can invest whatever little we have left in developing our countries and integrating them in the global economy in such a way that will allow us to accrue some benefits, and not just pay the price. Our resistance has always been futile, not to mention all too costly, the Egyptians and the Jordanians understood that all too well, which is why they signed that deal with Israel and got out of the loop. But peace with Israel, as we have seen, does not automatically translate into development, reform and democratization. So, if development and democracy are the real goals, why not start with them? A democratic Syrian government might indeed be much more capable of sealing that deal than an authoritarian one. * Regarding Aznar’s statements, indeed, some major showdown is looming, but Islamic terrorism will remain a staple in our lives for a few more decades to come. The struggle for development and democratization cannot be postponed every time a new conflict is introduced into the region, in fact, development and democratization, internally driven, might be part and parcel of the strategy to help offset the introduction and expansion of conflicts in our region. So, yes, I’d push for democratization in Syria even now, especially now. But, I also, know that this push may not bear the right fruit for many years to come, and that it may not serve to prevent the looming conflict. R said: “is there any real coordination between democratic movements in Syria and their counterparts in Lebanon”There are indeed attempts at coordination, but they are not progressing fast enough.

  14. Let us get this straight now. ALL of Lebanon belongs to Israel. Property rights by GOD. I do not care about who thinks they are in charge. Damascus barely missed being turned into rubble in the last conflict. It is too pretty of city to destroy. Baby Assad is way over his head in these matters – in fact, that is why they got Mercy. No one in their right mind would follow the bearded ones in policy that can and will destroy their county. That kind of stupidity coulld get you killed with good reason. Come back home Lebanon, and get rid of Hezbollah before I decide to.

  15. Is there a possibility that perhaps all the Israeli ministers and journalists, all the Americans (senators, ex-senior officials) and think tankers (even some friends of yours) who said that the best way out is to talk to Syria … is there a possibility that maybe Alex and all those people who know a thing or two, might not be that misguided?You are free of course to stick to an ideal scenario where we can get rid of dictatorships (without a US invasion) and sign peace with Israel and get the Golan back (which most Syrians insist on) and not have any ethnic or religious bloodshed in Syria …I just want to explain again, that I am not in love with the regime, I do not have illusions about them being saints or being exceptionally smart. But every politician involved in this game in the Middle East (including those in Israel and the United States) is guilty of similar things: acting partially out of self interest, and making mistakes. The fact they were democratically elected does not excuse them for taking wrong decisions that lead to killings of innocent civilians.Kevin,I realize that going to war was popular in Israel. I have many Israeli friends. But my point is that democracy can not protect us from mistakes. Mr. olmert made many mistakes in the way he conducted the war.Dictatoship is bad, but pride is worse. Pride and ego exists in democratic and non-democratic countries. I feel that most of the big costly mistakes (from leaders, or from people who support them) are the result of being blinded by ego. Everyone justifies his ciolence in a way to make them pretend it is about “national interests” .. Hamas’s suicidal missions were to help them regain Palestine, Israel’s invasion of Lebanon was to make the other side undertand that Israel is too strong to mess up with … yet the resutl is that Hamas’s actions made is much more difficult for the Israelis to trust the Palestinians, and Israeli war made them much less feared in teh Arab world.Apply the same to the decision of the US administration not to talk to Syria agains the advice of most analysts in Israel, Europe, and the US.

  16. Alex,You keep missing my point, time after time, so I will rephrase it one last time. People in all forms of governemnt are liable to committing mistakes and blunders among other things. That said, under democracies, people can peacefully get rid of politicians that fail them consistently. Under dictatorships, people have to thank the dictators, heap praise on them, and then blame the world… I hope that highlights the difference.A couple of other things. You are absolutely right about the danger of pride, regardless of the form of government. Now take that danger, and absolute power to it. It can get pretty scary. My point is that democracies provide exit mechanism that do not involve internal bloodshed…Also, in one of your posts, you mentioned that Israel is much less feared in the arab world. I would like to ask, if there is a single arab country leader, or a number of them capable of embarking on a war with Israel and surviving it. Think in terms of the regime surviving on the one hand, and the casualties that they will sustain on the other. Israel was never existentially threatened by HA, so they could afford to revert to tactics that appease the world as much as possible, even though they are pretty ruthless. If existentially threatened, Israel would have made us feel the pain…

  17. The number of people endorsing a certain policy does not make it right, even in a democratic society, especially when you take under consideration the political motivations involved here. Indeed, the reality is: we are all sticking to our guns – you, I, and all our mutual and not so mutual friends in all the relevant circles. We all think we are justified in our stands and motivated by the rights ideals and intentions. We all just know that we are enlightened enough to know what is really involved here and to see what the other side does not see. And even though we all speak about compromises and dialogue, none of us has so far made any real compromise or concession. The only thing that changed over the course of our dialogue de sourds is the fact that more and more people are adopting an alarmist tone, perhaps I can say, by way of conceding to my ego at least, my alarmist tone. Pretty soon, we will find ourselves at different sides of the new Great Divide, shouting if not shooting at each other, for all the similarities in our ideals and all the right intentions we have always had. Human nature at work. This is what happens when we rally behind murderers and charlatans, all while knowing the reality of who they are, citing raison d’état and real politick and live and let live and don’t rock the boat as the main motivations. But, in truth, we just did not have the guts and the vision to resist when resistance would have really meant something and would not have been in any way futile, albeit, it might have required too many sacrifices and a lot of patience. We couldn’t rally behind ourselves and select new and more worthy leaders, out fear, clashing egos, whatever, the fact remains, we had our chance, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we had a window of opportunity that lasted for 15 years to take some initiative and pave the way for some change, and we blew it. Oh yeah, things were never that easy and that simple, but are they supposed to? Could there ever be in life a time when things are that easy and simple? Facts are always muddied, realities always hard to face, change always difficult to work out, and good leaders hard to come by and will not emerge except through the process itself. Things are not set in motion by the right leaders, but the right leaders could be produce in the process of motion and change. This is why the status quo should be broken, breaking it, even at the cost of instability and of finding ourselves at opposite ends of all sorts of weapons of war, both rhetorical and real, is our only hope. Or is this my pride and sense of folly talking? I haven’t read Herman Hesse in a while, but I think he had a few things to say about such existential crises. But the blame game and the exchange of mutual recriminations between people who have always been too powerless to really influence things, regardless of how highly they regard themselves, is an essential part of this little tragic charade that is unfolding all around us. Let’s enjoy it, shall we?

  18. I have just made a few very minor edits on the post, nothing that will effect the meaning in any way, but the post will read better now.

  19. Alex: I agree with you, democracy does not guarantee the right or moral choice will be made. I believe it may, and I underscore may, allow the right or moral choice to be made. My point was that you can not take polls of a leader after a disasterous military action and claim that the population didn’t support the action at the outset. They may regret it now, but at the time of the first attack on Lebanon this summer, Olmert enjoy a 85%+ approval rating in the polls, for whatever that is worth.At least in a democracy, theoretically, a leader who makes bad decisions, can be removed,either by election or a term limit. The American public may now see that the war in Iraq was a mistake, but they know Bush will not be President after January 20, 2009. I doubt the Iraqis wanted war in 1980 or 1991 but they were stuck with Saddam regardless.I agree with Ammar that the world is marching toward an abyss. Hopefully, forums, such as this blog and other like it, can change attitudes and preceptions. I know that I have learned quite a bit just in my discussion with you. I have a better understanding of the motivations of Syria’s regime in this instance than I did before. It is my hope that you too walk away with some clearer insight on American actions in this situation.

  20. R,I do get your point, it is just in these days that I am not too impressed with democracy … So I am supposed to accept that “it does not matter if most people and analysts want something that their government is not doing” as Amamr says, and I am supposed to be impressed of the theoretical “exit strategy” that is one of the benifits of democracy, but not in this case .. no matter how unpopular was the Iraq war, no matter how many Americans oppose it … we seem to be heading towards another, much bigger, war .. the Iran war. Or even better: the America vs. Islam war.So the minority, the hard liners, might be taking us to war again because “it is the right thing to do”.Ammar, courage is when I can personally go there and accept to take the risk of the war I am advocating. If I am not leaving North America, then I don’t see the courage in it. Gambling with other people’s life is not too noble.Instead, we can take a serious look at the same challenges which I agree with you are not supposed to be ignored (like Islamic fundamentalism, and dictatorships in the Middle East) and be a bit patient and plan to solve them in n a realistic period of 5- to 10 years. Not this year through wars.

  21. Thanks Kevin,I want you to know that I push the Syrians (from Syria) the same way I am pushing Ammar here too. I guess I am doing what the pope did … it is OK to be courageous with words, instead of courage with weapons.And Ammar is a friend from elementary school. No matter how agressive things sound here, we are both used to criticism.Cheers.

  22. “It is just that these days I am just not too impressed with democracy”. The above statement taken from your responmse to R is the best proof , if there ever was need for one, that you do not understand democracy and thus you should refrain from calling yourself a democrat. Democracy is a system of decision making and as such no system will ever please all participants but it is the integrity of the process that is important. The fact that the process votes your ideas down should be a message that maybe there is something wrong with your message and not necessarily the system that encouraged free expression and respect for all ideas. Obviously democracy will arrive at conclusions that will be objectionable to some but then theses same individuals have the right to lobby against these conclusions and overturn them democratically. This option is simply not offered under anyother system and to be prodemocracy only when it suits your purposes is not to be a democrat.

  23. Alex: From reading your responses I had come to the conclusion that you pushed on all sides. And from what I have discerned of Ammar from reading his blog off and on for the past year, is that he can handle criticism from anyone. But it is good to know you two are old friends.I think it is important to keep in mind about democracy is that the real beneficiaries of a democracy are the people who live under that form of government. I cringe every time anyone claims that democracies are peaceful. History proves that statement wrong. Nations will still act in what they consider to be in their best interests regardles of the form of government. In a democracy, hopefully, everyone has an opportunity to have some input as to the direction the country goes domestically and interantionally.I think the problem, for the American electorate especially, is how to reconcile their ideals of freedom, their perceived national interests and the real politik of dealing with regimes they find offensive to their democratic sensibilities. It takes a person of great leadership qualities to show the electorate how to do this. Heck, it takes great leaderships skills to lead the public to agree to an action that it initially opposed. Immediately, Lincoln, FDR and Reagan come to mind.Unfortunately, recent U.S. leaders seem more concerned with seeing which way the public is leaning rather than actually lead. And that is a weakness in democracy and I suspect in any form of government to various degrees.

  24. Alex – “Ammar, courage is when I can personally go there and accept to take the risk of the war I am advocating. If I am not leaving North America, then I don’t see the courage in it. Gambling with other people’s life is not too noble.”Courage, dignity, honor, pride, nobility… whatever these terms mean, I believe we have a different understanding of them. I don’t necessarily claim that mine is right and yours is wrong. But I am sticking to mine for now, since it still feels right for me, and mine does allow me to continue to wage my “war” from here, having being forced to leave there. In fact, I am fighting the same battle that I have been fighting for years now, and my main tactics are the same: vocal abrasive criticism and networking. The only difference these days lies in the fact that more people can now hear me because of this blog, among others, because I have been on the scene now for long enough time to draw some attention, and because, “out here,” I have a better access to much more influential media outlets than I had back “home,” though I have not yet begun to take advantage of that.

  25. My friend Alex,I would like to make a brief comment if I may.The fact that Ammar has chosen to speak out of North America rather than Damascus is itself a blemish on the regime itself and not necessarily on Ammar or others like him. The fact that people like them do not dare to speak out of their own countries is the best example of our sad state of affairs. The regime’s arrests of the dissenters and political activists were precisely done to scare people like Ammar and others from ever attempting a similar feat from their home soil where they can have more impact. The strategy has clearly worked. But, just because brutality and scare tactics work. it does not mean that those who decide to “play it safe” are not somehow fighting a noble cause. Also, how are we sure when we are or are not gambling with people’s lives? One can surely make the case that leaving a tyrant in power could also be another form of gambling with people’s lives. Using your reasoning, is there ever an end game for a leadership like ours? It seems to me that your logic dictates that we are to stick with this regime forever.

  26. :)Ehsani shame on you, can’t you see that I am already busy answering Ammar, R, and Ghassan!At least Kevin is neutral.fine, one more time:1) Ehsani:First the obvious: You are absolutely right my friend. The regime is not friendly to political dissidents. And Ammar is one of the rare opposition figures that I respect and like.Let’s just say that I was being defensive, not offensive, in that paragraph of mine where you felt the need to defend Ammar. I was addressing a point that Ammar always mentions when he argues with me: he feels that those of us who prefer a smoother, controlled transition out of our problems (political, economic and religious reforms) are somehow not courageous enough to accept the probable blooshed and chaos that accompanies such forced changes in the Middle East (Iraq?)I enjoy reading everything Ammar writes, anything not related to his occasional preference for this bloody option is usually to my liking. And of course I wish he would have been able to stay in Syria and say those things in Syria. But when it comes to not being able to hide his eagerness to see the U.S. use force in Syria, while looking at people like me or Ayman Abdel Nour or Imad Moustapha who want to reform the system peacefully as non-courageous naive idiots who do not have the stomach for a couple of years of bloodshed before things get better, I reply like I did earlier.And the whole thing is useless, I know, I will not accept his position, and he will not accept mine. But we are all frustrated sometimes at those who do not see the dangers in their positions.Ghassan:ghassan karam said… “It is just that these days I am just not too impressed with democracy”. The above statement taken from your responmse to R is the best proof , if there ever was need for one, that you do not understand democracy and thus you should refrain from calling yourself a democrat. Democracy is a system of decision making and as such no system will ever please all I did not get upset because the US democracy and the Israeli democracy did not adopt policies that I support. I am not a child Ghassan, it is not about my personal preferences. For example I fully supported the fast Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon when a million Lebanese people went to the streets demanding it.I was refering to the fact that: 1) A majority of Americans do not support the war in Iraq, yet this administration is seriously considering a couple more similar and bigger wars.2) A recent poll in Haaretz showed that 60% of Israelis wanted peace negotiationjs with Syria now .. yet we have the demcoratically elected prime minister ignoring that and ignoring many of his ministers who also indicated that they support negotiations with Syria because he does not want to anger the U.S. administration who made it clear they don’t want anyone to talk to Assad.So I am recently not impressed with democracy because on these very serious issues, the elected officials are not listening to the opinions of the majorities in their respective countries.This tendency of Ammar to say: “I don’t care if 90% of Syrians, and 70% of Lebanese support Nasrallah” is the same mentality in Washington the past few years that “we know better than those ignorant people” … where is the democracy in that?And one last thing, not everything can be blamed on the Syrian regime. Those 90% who support Nasrallah in Syria include some Muslim brotherhood members who hate the regime, they include most Christians in Syria … it is mostly real, not forced.

  27. “Tharwa Topic of the Week: Why do Arabs pay more attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict than they do to the more bloody and equally long-standing conflicts in the Sudan and Somalia? “I went to check the responses…I believe there were NO comments on the topic.Maybe that is the most telling comment of all?

  28. Alex:This is an example of how much things have changed in Washington in recent years. An administration which sees its own intelligence agency as a ally of the opposition party and a country’s intelligence agency regularly leaking information to the press (often the NYT). Could anyone imagine this happening under Nixon?CIA LeakYears ago, leaks from the CIA were nearly all instigated by the adminstration then in power to influence international events. Now leaks from the CIA are done in hopes of influencing the adminstration. The same could be said of the relationship between the NYT and this adminstration. At one time, in terms of national security, the NYT would defer to the President. Not any more. Actions by the NSA (monitoring of certain phone calls overseas and gathering info on overseas financial transactions) that were advocated by the NYT soon after 9/11, are now publicized in defiance of President’s requests.The political rancor in this country is so charged that departments within the administration itself see each other as adversaries. Foreign governments basing their descisions on past “oracles” should re-examine their present usefulness.Question: Was the “terrorist attack” on the U.S. Embassy in Damascus a cry for help by Bashar in hopes to get the Americans back to the table? I can not help but to think that a more popular Hizballah in Lebanon supported by a more brazen Tehran must be worrying Bashar somewhat. What if Iran decides it is in its best interest to poke Israel again, regardless of Bashar’s wishes?

  29. Howie, well done for your acurate observation. But please accept that the fact you are so good at noticing racism on the Arab side and almost blind to racicm from Israel is also worth noting.Everyone is to blame for ignoring Sudan, did the US media really give it the same attention it gave to the Michael Jackson trials?Kevin, I think there will be many more CIA leaks, both for political reasons (Democrats?) and ideological reasons … there are many people who believe that there is often a better calmer way to deal with problems.

  30. Alex-No comparison…on that you are WAY off base. You live in Syria and I lived in Israel. Racism is minimal and not murderous. On that one I could not disagree with you more.When I married a woman of Arab descent over there…one rabbi raised his eyebrows…that was the extent of it. If you are saying the treatment of Palestinans is racist…you are wrong…they are not even a race and only recently have come on the map as a people. But, do some Israelis hate Palestinaians, of course they do..and they hate and try hard to murder us often times…I don’t call that racism…that is a regional conflict. Racism is a bigger problem in your world than in ours. That is just the truth.But in terms of Darfur I was not thinking of racism…I think just not giving a shit is a better term. I also think that hating Jews and Americans much more than loving fellow Moslems…or fellow humans for that matter is more of what I think is happening.

  31. Howie, I live in Canada. I am Canadian of Syrian origin (actually Syrian Greek turkish origin).Earlier here I tried to avoid debating with Ghassan and Kevin the exact definition of the word “Democracy” … I will do the same with the word “Racism”I think you know what I meant… people like ex prime minister Shamir who used to call the Palestinians cockroaches and grass hoppers

  32. Alex-There is something about you I like…next time I am in Canada remind me to buy you some humus and then I can straigthen you out.Look…of course there is racism in Israel…but that is not a driving force in the treatment of Palestinians. In fact…much of Israeli behavior…and I have seen this directly (I worked in an Arab village)involves people stumbling on themselves to be politcally correct, just like I witnessed in the USA during and shortly after the civil rigths movement. The name calling, like “roaches” etc. is childish and likely more for the consumption of certain sections of Israeli society. But there is no or very little institutionalized racism, say like the treatment of blacks in Saudia or the fact that Jews cannot even visit in most of the Arab world. Yet…many Arabs “sneak” into Israel…especially for advanced medical treatment. There are even Jewish organs functioning in the bodies of Palestinian transplant patients…Now…if we are talking just plain old hate…yes that DOES exist…but you might be surprised even at that. Last summer I personally visited several terror victims that I have helped. These are people that experienced some pretty bad stuff…like one lady whose had one child shot while she held it and another shot while he sat near the bed. Alex…not one of these victims made racist comments or even spoke of hate (I would have). They all said the same thing which surprised me, “this should not happen to anybody”. And one last thing about racism…remember…the Palestinians have often gone after JEWS…not just Israelis and other Moslem terrorists have been guilty of the same thing. There have been jews targeted all over the world. I remember in college hearing a group of Arab students saying how they need to finish the job that Hilter failed at…I was right there when they said it and laughed. That is a racism far beyond name-calling.So you will accuse me of postulating that Jews are better than Arabs or the West better than the Arab world. Well…actually yes I do…in terms of overall policy and behavior…yes I do. Apparently you do to…you have made Canada your home.

  33. Howie wants a medal for marrying a woman “of arab decent”….. and apparently, for him the Palestinians didn’t exist until recently…..such ideas…are playing with semantics…or designations…. Granted, the name “Palestinian” as a particular politically recognized group….. is somewhat recent….. but this is absurd to say that because the title is recent, the group of people was non-existant or did not reside on that land… called Palestine.“Racism is minimal and not murderous….” incredible statement!!!! please, again you are playing with semantics. You want to shield Israelis from being accused of racism by constantly insisting on the most concret and literal and absolute definition…..but this is absurd and misleading. On both sides….in the territories…young people are guilty of assaulting “arabs” and “jews”…. with violence infused with what amounts to a type of racism. It doesn’t matter if we know that arab and jews are the SAME race. The narcissism of small differences gives rise to essentialist prejudices…..hatreds given meaning full of references to offensive essential attributes. Of course, this is going in both directions. Maybe not in the Universities, or in TelAviv, but go out in the settlements or in the West Bank….and you are a blind if you don’t see that. Israelis are no different than the rest of the world.

  34. Alex:I think you are confusing democracy with American Idol (or whatever the equivalent is in your neck of the woods). We don’t have a direct democracy in the U.S. and I’m not sure about the effectiveness of having issues voted up on a weekly basis. And basing decisions on opinion polls doesn’t guarantee even the true outcome (Dewey beats Truman). Elections are never about only one issue. They are about many issues, including the candidate himself and how the parties present themselves.In regards to the issue of the War in Iraq, the 2004 Election was not about whether it was right or wrong; it was about whether we could accept an immediate pullout and whether the Democrats could be trusted with such decisions. The issues that were also deeply important to voters were security and Supreme Court Judges. Notice how since 2004 the Democrats have been side-lined on such issues. It was rank and file Republicans who got Bush to change nominees for S.C. Justice and the battle over iterrogation/tortue was between Republicans. Now will see if this trend continues in November.If a democracy is going to base its foreign policy soley upon its electorate (at best) or weekly newpaper polls (at worst), what country is going to want to have any dealings with that democracy? I’m sure you are aware that there have been times when the population has wanted war and the administration at the time resisted (Iran in 1979). At other times, U.S. intervention was necessary but the public didn’t demand it (Iraq-1991 & Kosovo). I’m sure that most of the governments in the Middle East would prefer if foreign policy was more detached from the American electorate. Must be somewhat frustrating not knowing how long a certain policy will last.I don’t believe that Bush could ever convince the public that attacking another Middle-Eastern/Muslim country would be necessary. Since WMD’s weren’t found in a bunker in Iraq marked “Saddam’s WMD’s” the American public is going to be very skeptical about his future claims. Tie that in with the mess Iraq has become (much do to militaries ineptness), strained military, the aversion to the Draft (from Bush on down), the cost of “reconstructing” yet another country, and Rice’s amatuer offers to the Mullahs, there will be no more wars on Bush’s part. Now he may not be looking for peaceful solutions, but military intervention is out of the question. Syria may not understand that, but the Mullahs do.

  35. so ‘jews’ win the the contest……of who is less racist?ha ha ha…..why are you so preoccupied with proving that……nobody here would deny that the arab world is incredibly predjudiced against “jews”…..and arab americans too – i have found…in many cases….nothing new here…. this is not news… but your need to white wash the israelis is …..baffling….I once sat on an international plane flight from Paris to San Francisco next to jewish Israeli man from Tel Aviv. He was a technology business man. And, he had no idea that I am of arab decent. I asked him casually about how he views his government…and Sharon’s policies.He told me that he supports these policies as necessary. I listened. then after a long pause – with no prompting from me….he launched into a speech about how the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is misunderstood by americans. He told me that this conflict was not about land or economics or occupation….at all….that this was really all about “culture”. He then proceeded to explain to me… that the Palestinian people have a very low culture…..they have too many children, whom they brainwash and can’t take care of, and that the people are without values, moral thinking, or education, and that basically they cannot possibly have a society… because of their deficiencies of “culture”… Ok, Howie, did the man tell me that the Palestinians are genetically inferior,,,, No, he didn’t…But who gives a shit!…….meaning of the ideas are equivalent ….just masked in the word “culture” (a semantic game again)…. he still held the notion in his mind that this designated group is culturally and essentially inferior,…and therefore, not entitled to any respect or self-determination. Call that not racist, if you like, but I will call it what it is.

  36. Zenobia-Can’t speak for the techno. guy you sat next to or what he was smoking…however do I see a difference between him saying Palestinaians having a “low” culture and the guys I heard saying they did to exterminate ALL JEWS…ah…I think I will take the name calling.and I harp on this because it turns into overt actions; like the bombing of the Jewish commuinty center in Buenos Aires, the murder on old man Klinghoffer on a cruise ship, the bombing of a synagouge in Italy…So Zenobia…there is a huge difference…enormous and I really don’t care how racist Arabs might be as long as they don’t start hurting people because of that belief system..By the way..about my wife…I have to thank Arab racism for that too since the stole all her families property and threw them out of Iraq and murder some others…if not for that..we would not have met.Thanks… I guess

  37. Oh good! .. zenobia showed up.Howie: It was my father who “made canada my home”, I just followed. But I love canada, you are right, Canada beats Syria, or Israel (even if I never tried living in Israel).We can discuss for ever the details and the definitions to the words democracy and racism, but I prefer to spend my time ignoring all the negativity and being more active in showing people from both sides that most solutions are simple if you do not insist on complicating them.Sometimes the easiest way out of the negativity is to say: “we both made mistakes, we are both equally to blame …” then move forward.Kevin, that was very funny. I want more sensitity to public opinion (and to world opinion as well, to be more honest) but I did not want the extreme (weekly American Idol type of polls).

  38. Alex-Agreed!!! I get pissy sometimes…but this all started with the Darfur thing and I have a buddy from there who lost his entire family. It is a horrible scene that needs intervention.Actually..you would like Israel…in public…Israel’s are annoying…in private..they often have the wonderful ME hospitality that we both owe to our ancestor Abraham I guess. Sometime I hope to write an article on the “accident of birth”. How much different you, or I, or Zenobia or whoever would view this situation if we or our people were born just a few more miles to the north, east or south.I sometimes say stuff just to be cheeky and testy…but at heart…I am really a universalist. And yes we have to discovery each other’s humanity speak out against violence and unfairness and for more mutual respect and hosptiality. It likely won’t happen…but some of us can make some mark.

  39. ok, on that positive note, and after both Howie and I had enough fun getting on other people’s nerves, time for me to have some Hummos (dinner).Ammar, is everything cool?

  40. Alex, * Predicting war is not the same as advocating it. * I don’t pretend to know what 90% of the Syrian people or 70% of the Lebanese people think. But, you are right, I really don’t care. I am an avowed heretic and this makes it clear that I don’t think that majorities are always right, democracy as you know does not justify the viewpoints of the majority, it just give them the chance to steer the political process within the limits prescribed by a general agreement on basic rights that forms the other and oft-forgotten pillar of the democratic system. Of course, I also concede that majority are not always wrong as well, and that being a heretic does not make me right all the time. But, in the final analysis, I can only follow the dictates of my conscience, which is not always easy, I know, and does not always lead me to making the right choices. Still, this is the best that I can do. Well, I do also try not to impose my opinions on others, but this does not mean that my opinions will have an equal influence on the political process as that of the average man in Syria, or of other players on the scene. After all, the accident of my birth into a certain class, and a certain family, and the privileges associated with that, with my education, and with my own particular abilities, all allow me to have a disproportionate influence over things, one that is greater than most ever would, and still much less than I would like and much less than so many others still have. What would that means on the long wrong, I don’t know. But, I can tell you this, I believe that it does not give me much say on the short run. If there is going to be war in our region, I doubt that I will have played a serious role in making it happen, although, many will blame me, including, of course, you. Not that I am trying to claim complete innocence. I am not interested in innocence. There is an element of Catholicism in my heresy, it seems, for I don’t believe in human innocence. We are all guilty. We are fallen from Grace, the Grace that is nonexistence. * Alex, this whole debate is elitist. None of us speak for the average Syrian, and should the average Syrian speak, he may not like what any of us has to say or offer. But let me remind you here of a wise observation that a friend of mine made not too long ago: “Sometimes people do not need a hero to save them from a tough lesson, sometimes they would benefit more if they go through the lesson and learn something from it.” Indeed, I think you are right. Peace and stability at all cost is not as good as it sounds, and might indeed be more detrimental, degrading and deadly to the human spirit than chaos can. Sometimes, it is just good to let things take their course, no matter how disastrous you expect it to be, and prepare yourself to manage the consequences so you can make sure that a lesson is indeed learned. Stumbling through is not the best policy you know, even though, it sometimes seems to me that this is exactly what we have been doing all through history. We are not the only players on the scene, and our needs, concerns and desires are not the only ones shaping the scene around us. The clash that is taking place is the results of our collective and individual inputs. And the victor, on both the short and long run, will not be determined on the basis of ideals, but on the basis of organizational abilities, vision and dedication. History favors those who plan, no matter how ludicrous or macabre their plans might sometimes seem, so long as they still manage to root their vision in some real existing structures and tie their fortunes to some real (not wished) unfolding patterns, (otherwise, the Nazis would have won, and the jihadists victory would be ascertained). Now, I have to say, we are losing that war, for now. But it’s not too late, if you are wiling to take a longer term approach. I really don’t give a fuck should the Assads end up surviving this administration. They are as irrelevant to my plans as the Dodo bird. Still, I plan to make them work hard and fret and slave and sweat for their survival, every inch and step of the way. And if they stumbled and fell flat on their face, that’s their fucking problem. I believe there are alternatives to them, ones which I will likely oppose once they are in power, so they, too, end up having to earn the right to stay. I will continue to do this until eventually a real democratic system is established, or I die, whether of natural causes or otherwise, whichever comes first. By that time, I hope, Tharwa will have been transformed into a viable institution that can survive me and continue contributing to the “cause.” By the way, being in DC does not make me as safe as you think. This world is a dangerous place for a heretic no matter where he lives. Also, welcome back Zen.

  41. ammar,Sometimes……….even I….. think you are brilliant…or should I say –your words.. brilliant……. as in the last three paragraphs above….

  42. I am not sure, Zen, but I think I can take that as a carefully worded compliment of sorts. Yeah, I guess I will. Hope you are well.

  43. Fine, you can keep your claims to the invention of Hummos. But can you please return th Golan heights at least?Ammar, thank you for digging that exceptional quote by your most exceptioanl friend 🙂 … but I feel it applies to realatevily affordable lessons … not he costly ones… you know, not war.OK, so I feel that today we managed to settle a lot of important issues:1) I learned that there is a diffenerence between Democracy and the voting process on American Idol.2) Hummos was invented by Jews.3) Howie accepted to return the Golan.4) Ammar will continue to love the Assads.5) Zenobia still admiers Ammar. …His words at least.

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