January 31, 2009

What Took So Long?

Who Wants What?

So the Egyptian government has come to the conclusion that Hassan Nasrallah and his followers at Hezbollah in addition to Hamas and its leadership are in essence Iranian agents. My only question is: What took so long?

Walid Jumblatt declared over a year ago, on January 2, 2008 to be precise, that Nasrallah "is not a free man and his decision-making is not free." Then he went on to say that Mr. Nasrallah and his henchmen are paid Syrian and Iranian agents bent on destroying the Lebanese state in order to satisfy the grandiose visions held by their masters. Even two years prior to that, in the summer of 2006, Mr. Jumblatt explained that "We had been trying for months, to spring our country out of the Syrian-Iranian trap, and here we are forcibly pushed into that trap again."

It is important to note that Mr. Jumblatt was not alone in his assessment. A broad coalition of Lebanese political parties and associations questioned the motivations of the acts taken by Hezbollah by stating: "Is it Lebanon's fate to endure the killing of its citizens and the destruction of its economy and its tourist season in order to serve the interests of empty nationalist slogans?"

Many a journalist , blogger and analyst had arrived at the same conclusion four years ago. It was evident to whoever cared to look at the facts that Hezbollah’s interests were not compatible with those of an open, democratic and secular society. In the final analysis Hezbollah is a group of religious fanatics created to promote the interests of an Iranian theocracy. And as the saying goes :if it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck then it is a duck.

It is unfortunate but it appears that many in Lebanon and the Arab world have chosen to conveniently forget the clear history of the evolution of Hezbollah. The para-military and illegal militia was established by generals from the Iranian Pasadran, funded by Iranian money, supplied with smuggled Iranian and Syrian arms, trained in illicit bases in Lebanon by Iranian personnel and is structured to serve the Iranian national interests as seen through the eyes of the Grand Ayatollah to whom Hassan Nasrallah pays ultimate homage as he himself has declared in 1987 that “Those who reject the Faqih’s authority are rejecting God and the descendents of the prophet Mohammad.” Some might need to be reminded that the Wilayat Al Faqih concept started with Ayatollah Khomeini in 1978 and is interpreted to mean that the Grand ayatollah has power over all Shiite in the world and in all fields: religious, social and political.

Those who willingly choose to live in denial do so at their own peril. When will the Arabs, in general, and the Lebanese, in particular, decide to wake up from their slumber and call things by their real name? The Arab- Israeli conflict has been transformed over the past decade into an Iranian- Israeli conflict except that the ones who are doing the dying, the suffering and the fighting are Arabs. Iran has been able to penetrate masterfully the Arab ranks through its creation, funding and support of Hamas and Hezbollah. Iran has hijacked the Arab –Israeli conflict with the express complicity of these two parties and the cooperation of the isolated weakened and desperate Syrian regime.

To expect loyalty to a state and support for democracy and diversity by those whose founding charter declares: “We, the Umma of Hezbollah, consider ourselves part of the Islamic state of Iran… We are committed to the orders of one leadership, represented by the Wilayat Al-Faqih, the supreme leader” is the biggest of all follies.

January 21, 2009

The Election of Obama: A Revolution.

It is crucially important to have an un-abiding belief in ones capabilities to achieve and to make things happen. But it is even more important to act on such a belief in order to transform the idea from the field of the purely hypothetical to that of the real. Barak Obama set up a challenge and then proceeded to deliver on it. That is how YES WE CAN became YES WE DID.

The real implications of the election of Barak Obama to the office of the presidency of the United States of America cannot be understood clearly unless the process is viewed as a continuation of what started more than two centuries ago, the American Revolution. Yes, the American Revolution lives on in order to demonstrate that revolutions never fulfill their promise if they allow their vision to become static. A revolution, ironically in the best Marxist tradition, must maintain its ability to reinvent itself and to evolve with the changing circumstances. Hegelian dialectics as borrowed by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Luckas speak to a revolution philosophy that refuses to become content for its initial successes. As Paulo Freire, the greatest educator of the last one hundred years has spent his life teaching, if we are to truly liberate ourselves then we must also liberate the other. What good is there to be gained if we are to settle for merely exchanging positions; the exploited become the exploiters and those that did the exploiting become the victims of the new rulers. If we allow that to happen then we would have failed to advance the cause of liberty and justice.
It is precisely in these terms that the election of Mr. Obama, to the highest office in the world is to be understood. This election is not a culmination of a dream as much as it is a continuation of a belief that a better and a more just society for all can be created. The United States has managed to surprise itself and the world by demonstrating its dynamism and by refusing to let its previous accomplishments hold it back from reaching for new heights and opening new vistas. The real genius of this revolution, and it is a revolution, is that it has sent a message to the world warning those that cling to old bygone fossil ideas that time has rendered obsolete and irrelevant have no one to blame but themselves for their inability to grow , change and move towards a more perfect structure. After all we must recognize the importance of the old Buddhist concept of impermanence. We need to accept that nothing is permanent except change itself.
This has got to be the lesson to the Arab countries in general. The world is best characterized by flux and if our societies are to survive and prosper then adaptation and evolution are two ideas that we should embrace rather than fight.

January 19, 2009

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Official unemployment in the US has surpassed the 10 million mark and according to some estimates it is on its way to 12 million. As any student of economics knows, or should know, the official publicized figures of unemployment understate the real number by a wide margin. If one is to add the number of the discouraged workers and those that are forced to work part time then what we get is an unemployment rate that is easily in the low double digits. And that is scary.

What makes the current situation even worse is the fact that no one can yet point to any encouraging signs of a potential turn around. Most prognosticators do not expect a meaningful pick up in economic activity until the third quarter of 2009 at the earliest. Unfortunately these tough economic circumstances of economic contraction, decreasing employment, plummeting prices in the housing sector, frozen credit markets and low consumer confidence have spread to most countries. This is an especially ominous development because there are no players that can pick up the slack ,if you will.

It goes without saying that the above mentioned harsh economic conditions are being felt by all members of society. This high level of anxiety and unease are reflected in practically all fields. New all-time lows are being recorded almost on a daily basis in the housing industry, financial transactions on Wall Street, the volume of steel production, the sales volume in electronics or that of new cars, to name just a few major areas.

The current administration has already taken a number of major initiatives to steady the financial hemorrhaging and the incoming Obama-led team has already prepared a massive stimulus package whose aim is to revive the economy and create new jobs. The question that I would like to raise at this juncture is simply this: Does each of us as an individual consumer bear a special responsibility towards other members of the community that are less fortunate than we are? I am not talking about donations of food , old clothing and battered furniture. In a market economy our values and mores are being constantly revealed through our allocation of income i.e. through our consumption decisions. Now let me ask you this: How sincere is your concern for your fellow automotive worker when you decide to purchase a vehicle; that is of comparable size and quality as that made in the US; but that was built by say French labor? Are your concerns for the rubber workers genuine when you proceed to buy tires made in Germany? Do you really have the right to complain about low wages when you persist in giving most of your business to those retailers and manufacturers that abuse their labor? Should you have the right to make an issue of government deficits when you willingly under report your income or fail to report a barter transaction? Does any one have the right to raise a raucous about global warming if one happens to live in a 4000SF home; drive 15,000 miles a year;go skiing across the Atlantic ; own large flat screen TV sets in addition to a large variety of electronic gear. Is it fair to rely on government and the sacrifice of others in order to resolve a problem that each of us has helped create?

January 12, 2009

How To Avoid A Quagmire In Gaza

What are the prospects for change?
It is clear that the stated objective of the Gaza operation for the Israeli government is to silence the Hamas rockets that are fired periodically from Gaza into the southern part of Israel. What is not clear though, is what Hamas is after in having provided the Israeli government its rationale for this current operation?

It is also clear that the Israeli government did not put together this complicated plan of fighting in Gaza at the spur of the moment. Israel has arguably been preparing for this onslaught for the past two years in an effort to rehabilitate its image that took a beating after the Lebanese 2006 campaign that proved to be quite ineffective if not outright fiasco. Yet, Israel wanted an excuse to move into Gaza and Hamas seems to have been more than willing to provide the IDF with a solid rationale for its onslaught. Why? Did Hamas miscalculate the Israeli ability to tolerate the Qassam rockets or were they motivated by other goals?

The Hamas leadership has shown over the years its ability to be effective strategic thinkers and to be popular political players. As a result it is only fair to assume that Hamas must have known that Israel will eventually respond with overwhelming force, its own version of shock-and-awe, if you will. But yet they went ahead with their provocations by continuously firing the ineffective but irritating Qassams into Ashkelon and its environs. There are only two logical explanations for their semi-suicidal behavior:

(1) Hamas was following orders issued by their financiers, military trainers and arms suppliers, the Iranian mullahs, or,

(2) Hamas seriously believes that it is ready to inflict on the IDF major losses once the IDF is lured into urban warfare on the streets and alleys of Gaza.

On both counts Hamas has either grossly miscalculated or willingly agreed to sacrifice the blood of the innocent noncombatants for the benefit of an outside non Palestinian power. Which ever is the reason for the recent provocations Hamas did not act in the best interest of the Palestinian people but seems to be merely driven to score propaganda points against the brutality of the Israeli offensive that their acts have initiated in the first place? These acts border on being criminal and must be seen as such instead of the constant media barrage from all across the Arab speaking countries that condemns the Israeli aggression but does not question the Hamas policies that in essence craved this Israeli operation.

And so who is it that has lured whom into this quagmire? Was it the Israeli policies that pushed Hamas into providing the IDF with an excuse for its forceful reoccupation of Gaza in an effort to influence the outcome of the upcoming Palestinian elections or even an effort to help Mr. Olmert; Israel’s George Bush; or was it Hamas incompetence and misguided policies that handed the IDF with the rationale that it needed for its operation? It really does not matter. Both sides to this bloody conflict have shown nothing but total disregard for the rules of war, sanctity of non-combatants and have persisted to misread history.

Hamas, especially its refusal to accept the existence of the state of Israel and its resort to random violence as a means to achieving its goal makes it an anachronism. It is time that Hamas, Hezbollah, PFLP and all the other resistance groups recognize that their adopted methods have proven to be ineffective and counter productive. It is time to abandon these destructive tools and engage the adversary on a higher level. It is time to introduce into the equation pragmatism and an acceptance of reality. It is time to learn to live in peace with those that speak a different language and have a different religion. It is time to apply the idea of impermanence instead of clinging to the notion of authenticity in a world best described by contamination and flux. It is time that the Palestinian people reject the rejectionists in order to have hope for the future.

Israel, on the other hand, is just as much in need of a change in its policies. Military force will not bring peace; it might silence begrudgingly the guns for a while. Peace requires policies that do not dehumanize, discriminate, exploit and abuse the very same people that Israel claims that it needs as good neighbours. It is time for Israel to demonstrate its willingness to accept a Palestinian state next door by negotiating a date certain for the total sovereignty of the West Bank and Gaza.

The current war in Gaza has entered its third week and yet it shows no signs of winding down. The rough details of the outcome of this war have been known from the outset. The IDF cannot wipe out Hamas, only the Palestinian people can do that and Hamas will have to stop firing its rockets into Israel. Is it that important who stops first? The IDF has a golden opportunity to declare an end to the Gaza operation, to remove the embargo and to start a serious economic development program with the help of the GCC in exchange for strictly inspected borders and an end to rocket firing into Israel. These acts stand the chance of moving the peace process forward. Israel and its Palestinian neighbours need desperately “change that they can believe in”’

January 07, 2009

Hamas Intransigence + Israeli Belligerence = Human Catastrophe

This has to wait a little longer..

The tragic events that have been in control of the Palestinian- Israeli problem for over sixty years have brought nothing but misery and suffering to both parties. It is unfortunate but true, that the continuing struggle between both sides and the ensuing “logic’ applied by them has been inevitable. This is a classic tragedy that cannot be avoided since the rules of logic that are in control of the situation dictate and lock in what economists call a sub Pareto optimal solution.

It is in the light of the above, the current Gaza crisis should be evaluated. Hamas and the government of Israel are in essence the two actors in the traditional Game Theory known as a Prisoners Dilemma. According to the rules of logic where each party is concerned with improving its own welfare the solution is always sub optimal. This simply means that whenever the actors in a “game” are attempting to maximize their own welfare they inevitably make choices that are not in their best interest

Note the decision by Hamas to keep on lobbing its ineffective and rudimentary rockets on near by Israeli towns despite the fact that Israel has pulled out its forces and settlements from Gaza over two years ago. I have no doubt in my mind that the Hamas leadership and the greater majority of the 1.5 million Gazans are convinced that these acts are helpful to the Palestinian people. Except that the real calculus makes it very clear that this chosen line of action is very costly on the Palestinian people. Actually the death and destruction brought about through these acts is ultimately a set back to the welfare and aspirations of the Palestinian people.

The same flawed logic is in control of the Israeli side. Israel appears to think that there is only one solution to the Hamas intransigence, a military solution. Israel has chosen, at its peril, not to learn from history that victory at the battlefield does not translate in this case to peaceful relationships with its neighbours. Israel has not learned yet the lesson that many problems in the world do not have a technical solution.

Is it inevitable for the two persons randomly picked up by police and accused of a crime to confess to a crime that they did not commit? Not until they learn to cooperate and stop making decisions based on their own selfish welfare. Unfortunately the exact conditions apply to our protagonists in the current Gaza –Israel quagmire. Both parties need a radical transformation in their priorities, values and mores. Unless they learn to play the game cooperatively then both of them are doomed to stay in the hell that they have created.