International House of Dan: July 2006

Friday, July 21, 2006

Dan Fights Unemployment

So after nearly 4 months of joblessness I have been hired by the Student Empowerment Training Project to work with college student governments and help them to become more effective. Dan is in a good mood today, and so are his parents and his creditors.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Moscow You Say?

Please read last night's post first.

Upon re-reading my assessment of the Israel-Lebanon situation I feel the need to elaborate on my fears of Russian involvement in the matter.

Why would Russia do this? Economic gain comes to mind, they are after all principals in the spread of nuclear technology to Iran and North Korea, giving them a financial stake in those programs continuing undisturbed. Additionally, since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia is perceived to have lost clout in world affairs, eclipsed by a rising China which would increasingly be pulled closer to Moscow. Nuclear proliferation among Russia's allys would certainly help re-establish it as the world power it once was. The converse is true as well, though: if Russia is able to broker disarmament deals where the U.S. has been unable to, then their prestige would increase at the expense of ours.

Putin would certainly increase Russia's chances of entering the W.T.O. as the American sphere of influence shrinks, by aligning himself with European leaders in criticizing Israel's response, he alienates the U.S. further because Bush has been unwilling to do so.

U.S.-Russia relations are extremely bipolar, especially with regard to terrorism. Both Bush and Putin have resorted to arguably disproportionate offensives to fight perceived terrorist threats (real or not), and while the U.S. has been warmer to Chechen separatists that Russia would like, Russia clearly has more ties with Hezbollah and Hamas than the U.S. would like. While they agree on tactics, they disagree on groups.

I certainly have not paid enough attention to this issue to make an informed guess about Moscow's intentions or role, if any, but as I wrote earlier, "I wouldn't be surprised...."

Monday, July 17, 2006

Madeline Albright Is Frankly Stunned...

...or so reports The International Herald Tribune. What is Mme. Albright "stunned, frankly stunned" about? The Bush Administration's failure to involve itself in the escalating Israeli-Lebanese violence.

[Preliminary Note] My prolonged absence has been due to the revolving door of worthy recent events: a SCOTUS decision about Guantanamo detainees, rising tensions with North Korea, the self-inflicted ruin of Zinedine Zidan's legacy, I can't seem to get a post ready before the next event happens! Finally, events in the Middle East have reached a point that I, unlike President Bush, simply can no longer ignore. I intend to revisit these other issues in the near future (which long-time readers of IHOD know means I'll probably never mention them again...).


The most recent outbreak of violence can be traced back to the July 12 cross-border kidnapping of 2 Israeli soldiers and murder of another 8 by Hezbollah militias, which comes on the heels of the kidnapping of a third soldier by Hamas operatives in the Gaza Strip. The kidnappings had been threatened by Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, usually perceived as a dove, launched airstrikes against Hezbollah positions inside Lebanon. The attacks have resulted in mounting civilian casualties and counter shelling into Israel, reaching civilian centers as far South as Haifa. Casualties have been heaviest in Lebanon, and Israel has stated it will not relent until the kidnapped soldiers are returned, a Lebanese military patrol replaces Hezbollah elements currently guarding the Israel-Lebanon border, and the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 (2004), ordering the disarmament of Hezbollah.

Syria and Iran

S.C.R. 1559 made news last year during the events surrounding the Syrian pullout from Lebanon following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, for which Syria has been blamed. It is interesting to recall the strained relationship Syria and Lebanon have had for some time, and it is unclear to me why so many today seem to stress Syria's role in the present conflict. Syria will continue to be a major participant in resolving the situation, of course. It has been a vocal critic of Israel's attacks and has served as a way out for the thousands fleeing Lebanon, but its influence goes as far as the government in Beirut, it does not reach Hezbollah. If anybody can influence the actions of Hezbollah, it would seem more likely to be the country that helped found it: Iran.

Why is Hezbollah the key to peace? Well, for one thing, they started the violence with their cross-border raids, for another, the Syria-Lebanon rift of last year exposed their declining influence, and some saw the raids as a tactic to draw an Israeli response in an effort to regain some relevance in the new government.

Iran, however, shares more with the group than anti-Israeli politics, they spawned the movement and allegedly continue to support and arm their fellow Shiites in Lebanon. Because Hezbollah was founded by and has focused on assisting Lebanese Shiites, I would expect their ties to be stronger with the Shiite government in Iran than with recently ousted majority Sunni Syria.

Israel and the U.S.

Israel is perceived to have engaged in a grossly disproportionate response to the aggressive raids by Lebanese Hezbollah militants. The kidnapping of 2 soldiers is not seen by much of the world, especially in the Middle East, as sufficient to justify the killing and wounding of hundreds of civilians, regardless of age, gender, or support of Hezbollah. Due to the brutality of the Israeli response, sympathy has been skipped over, though the kidnappings would otherwise be overwhelmingly opposed. Israel is experiencing the same thing the U.S. response to September eleven has experienced: following the attack, overwhelming sympathy, replaced after years of missteps by overwhelming condemnation; only Israel did it overnight.

American reluctance to condemn Israel's attacks has drawn sharp criticism. In the Administration's defense though, they are possibly doing the best they can from the corner they backed themselves into by consistently asserting armed intervention against terrorist groups. Unfortunately, the cynic in me sees a far grimmer picture of our policy.

World War III or Press Stunt?

Those of you who know me know that I am not a conspiracy buff, however, I do spot interesting patterns in international affairs that leave me open to later thinking "yeah, I could see that". We see in this conflict a very strange series of events which make me think that the raids and the Israeli response are part of someone's larger goals, I just cannot yet figure out who.

On the one hand, Ahmadinejad's inflammatory rhetoric, which I've long dismissed as pandering to his base, is reaffirmed every time Israel kills innocent civilians in Lebanon. On the other hand, U.S. attempts to overplay Syria's part in the conflict seem like an eerie extension of last year's push for the "liberation" of Lebanon from Damascus. It may be that Tehran wishes to use Lebanon as a pretext for further solidifying their anti-Israeli platform, or it may be that Washington knows that if it must intervene on the side of Israel they may have an easier time doing so against Syria than against Iran.

On the one hand, Iran's nuclear ambitions are certainly bolstered by the fact that the attention of the G8, the UN, and indeed the whole world is focused on Lebanon, not to mention that Israel's response against Lebanon certainly helps Ahmadinejad make his case for defensive nuclear armament. On the other hand, this would not be the first time that the U.S. has avoided escalating conflict with North Korea by shifting world attention to the Middle East.

There is one more possibility that I shudder to think of: Russia has close ties to both Iran and North Korea. Is it at all possible that this violence, which helps Pyongyang and Tehran pursue their nuclear ambitions undisturbed, was orchestrated by Moscow? No, of course not... that would be too scary.

The only thing that I think is clear from the current imbroglio is that our short-sighted foreign policy must be replaced. Last year we hailed the "liberation" of Lebanon, without considering that Hezbollah might take advantage of popular sentiment to gain political clout. We supported Israeli attacks on Arafat's compound and seemed surprised when Hamas won seats in the aftermath. Let us not now remain so steadfast to our own past responses to attack so as to allow the senseless kidnapping of 3 Israeli soldiers to lead to the complete dismantling of any progress toward peace in the Middle East.