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03 June 2008


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Question: is this inferred [apparent or suggested or indications of or hinted at] approval of Obama based on what they've heard of his campaign speeches?



Thanks for your first hand report on the region. It seems Doha is just a temporary truce and each party is preparing for a major conflict.

Your report just goes to show what a piss poor job our corporate media is doing in informing the American people. The caricatures they sell us!!!


Kieran, Col,
thanks for sharing this very interesting account.


"My conversations in Arabic with various people in the camp impressed on me just how much the return to Palestine is a cornerstone of their worldview"

(Deep sigh)Then this is never going to go away. As to Assad....it is too bad he is under the impression that the majority of Americans did not support the Iraq invasion. That is a fundamental misreading of history. I wish he had been right about that. His mistake shows me the does not understand the dynamics of the 'game' here. Or some of the dynamics, anyway. That is not meant as a criticism of him. He certainly knows more about us than our 'leaders', present leaders, know about Syria.


Wow! Thanks!


Thank you Kieran and Mr. Lang
I found your account very informative and well written.
Even if this implementation of a new imperial system fails, it's hard to believe that the people in the region might finally get the opportunity
to actively shape their own future without corrupt elites in league with outside forces continuing to successfully be able to hinder true independent paths of development that benefit more than a tiny minority.

William R. Cumming

Terrifically insightful post. Hope the open source scholars at the DNI and 33 other intelligence orgs in Executive Branch read this blog. Thanks for posting in its entirety. Insightful nuances also. I read big trouble in little Lebanon down the road.

Mad Dogs

Hmmm...based on Kieran's most interesting travelogue, I may not be crazy after all. *g*

Helena Cobban

Great reporting. Thanks! (Interesting-- and enviable-- degree of access you guys all got!)


Wow! Thank you Col. Lang and Kieran for sharing this with us!

What concerns me, since I know so little about the region and it's politics, is the sense of fatalism, inevitability and complete lack of trust towards the United States and Israel.

This is the stuff - a series of miscalculations and preconceptions, that starts wars.

Sidney O. Smith III

Veritas! Go Cantab!

Kieran writes: “My assessment of the broader situation is that hard-line elements in the West have only a few months to change the domestic and international political map by escalating US involvement in the Middle East.”

Looks like the Wurmser option is still the name of the game. O7NIE caused major problems as how to execute the option. Odds increasing that step one of the three steps may materialize as some type of economic warfare, including a naval blockade of Iran, with the neo-pundits drawing a historical comparison to Cuban Missile Crisis to sell to Am. Public. (I believe C. Krauthammer has already laid the pipe for such an analogy in an earlier screed).

I agree with Mad dog and Arbogast in another thread. All moves by US and GOI appear consistent with implementing the Wurmser option or a variation thereof. The intent is to make everything as stable as possible with other neighbors before the big scha-bang.

It’s fantastic that Sic Semper Tyrannis is moving among Harvard grad students like a fish through water. Betcha’ Ruth Wisse would not like this extraordinary report from Kieran.



Required reading.

Kieran should become a journalist, possibly for Le Monde, more likely for either The NY Times, Washington Post, or The Guardian.

It does look as if the McCain Presidency will be sealed with a major military move into Iran.

Mad Dogs

Laura Rozen over at her blog War and Piece, has excerpts from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's remarks on Iran at the AIPAC conference here in the US:

The most serious and imminent threat to global security and stability is undoubtedly Iran. Iran is the world's largest exporter of terrorism, a fundamentalist dictatorship, motivated by utter contempt for the values represented by the free world and an uninhibited ambition to achieve military superiority and regional hegemony. It openly calls for the elimination of Israel and actively seeks nuclear capabilities to enable it to translate its sinister plans into action. Iran's fingerprints are evident in almost every terrorist organization across the Middle East, from Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip to Hizballah in Lebanon. Hizballah, Iran's major protégé, receives its directives, ammunition and finances directly from Tehran, with the help of Syria, and is actively engaged in torpedoing any chance of calm in Lebanon. Its long-standing record as a ruthless terrorist organization has earned Hizballah a place of honor on almost every list of global terrorist organizations...

...Israel and the United States have long understood the acute danger embodied in a nuclear Iran, and are working closely in a concerted, coordinated effort to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear. Israel will not tolerate the possibility of a nuclear Iran, and neither should any other country in the free world.

In addition, Laura also references the primary reason for Olmert's trip to the US in addition to cheerleading the AIPAC crowd, which is Olmert's meeting with Bush on Iran strategy per this from Ha'aretz:

"Olmert will try to convince Bush to set aside the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program in favor of data presented by Israel, and determine the administration's policy on Iran accordingly."

Actually, taking into account the former press secretary's book and Sanchez' book, the likelyhood of a strike against Iran before November 5 is overwhelming.

But the economic waters are lapping around the gunwales and are getting much higher. The American public is very tired of this war that has lasted longer than WWII. The trick will be to avoid making the Iran strike the final straw that, in fact, elects Obama not McCain.

If I were the Bush Administration, I would sit tight and let AIPAC's fear of Iran mount to such a degree that Obama is creamed.

Or I would concoct a casus belli (cf. Sidney O. Smith III)

Obama really has put a spanner in the works of AIPAC. They had Hillary all set to go: the illusion of change, etc.

Shut down the Internet?


What you need to know about Mark Penn is that he started out in Israeli politics working for Begin. He is the Voice of AIPAC.

Former top strategist Mark Penn, reviled by many on Hillary's staff but still an important voice in the candidate's ear, has emerged (to no one's surprise) as the strongest advocate of her remaining in the race regardless of what happens in the next 24 hours, according to sources inside the campaign.

In contrast to the "realist faction" (which reportedly includes Penn's replacement Geoff Garin, communications chief Howard Wolfson and others), Penn is advising the Clintons to remain in the race through the convention -- just in case another Rev. Wright-type scuffle breaks out.

His argument: Suspend the campaign if you must, but don't end it, because all those Obama supers will flock to Hillary if more dirt on O emerges before the convention.

Wright-type scuffle? Does that include the Bobby Kennedy scenario now drawn twice in public by Clinton?

Joshua Landis

Many thanks Kieran, for a fascinating report. I have taken the liberty of copying a hunk onto my blog. I hope other members of the trip will write up their impressions as well.

Best to you both and thanks again for an excellent blog and fine writing.

Best, Joshua

David Habakkuk

Absolutely fascinating -- a first-class piece of reporting.

'An aside to show just how out of touch the diplomatic community is: at a diplomatic party the night before a number of embassy people from various countries were assuring me that Hezbollah was not doing much construction.'

If our diplomats are so ignorant and incurious that, although they live in the country, they cannot find out crucial information available to a group of inquisitive Harvard graduate students, one's heart really sinks.

Clifford Kiracofe

Helpful reporting, many thanks.

This piece by Anthony Sullivan resonates with Kieran's.

"A recent extended visit to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt leaves little room for optimism about the geopolitical stability of the Levant or the likelihood of Middle East peace. Most Arabs believe that more bad times are coming to the region, including another Israeli-Hezbollah war, which many now expect to erupt as early as the summer of 2008...."

I spoke with Tony at a conference this past weekend. He is concerned about an Israeli attack on Lebanon-Syria.


Thanks to Colonel Lang and Kieran we are current with some of the thinking in the Middle East. Many Americans do not understand that situation and this blog is the only one that offers cogent thought on the difficulties there.

There is a long history in that part of the world and we are late players who threw away history books. The U.S. seemingly ruined every chance it had to make a meaningful difference in the lives of ordinary Arabs and Muslims. The huffing and puffing over Israel clouded our path. Lieberman’s admonition of “shared values” with Israel is sickening to hear. Strafing Gaza with F-16s one of them, Joe?.

Does anybody in the “Middle Eastern Hands” community believe that a father with young children in Kansas City gives a crap about events in the Levant? What about the real estate agent in Modesto who witnesses multiple foreclosures day after day? How about the unemployed textile worker in Henderson North Carolina? How does the Middle East “play” with ordinary Americans? Results in November will surprise a lot of “experts”.

Wall Street, OPEC, AIPAC, Multi-national corporations and the DOD are feeding at the public trough as never before. The rape of the lower and middle classes that began with Reagan and continues unabated to this day has created a never before seen rage with the common man and woman. That rage continues to manifest itself.

Who is going to pay for the continued adventure in that part of the world? Where will the troops and military force come from? The Army and MarCor are worn down and yes, beaten; the Navy is clueless, and the Air Force, if called upon in a large scale way, might bombs the wrong places given their relatively poor state of readiness.

Americans are, by and large, lazy and ignorant about the rest of the world, but they do understand that $10/gallon of gas results from chicanery in the Middle East, and they are upset by the foolishness of putting so much money into Iraq and Israel’s infrastructure ahead of their own. Though they may be a bit dense, they are flexible. New sources of energy will be developed by the will of the people and not by government fiat. It’s only a matter of time.

It is my belief (and hope) that the still unwashed populace of this weak country will rise up against their empty-suited masters.

Though it is important to understand the history of the Middle East, this blog has convinced me that an “eye for an eye” mentality reigns supreme and it will not change anytime soon. Let them kill each other if they are worried about the slights of the past.

Martin K

Sir, now that Obama has won, do you agree that its time to work on that project? I would really like to hear an endorsment from you to the democratic candidate, out loud & clear, even if I understand that it may be a bit galling. You are one of the few beacons inside the mil/intel blogsphere, and your voice is heard quite far, so in the name of all that is good & constructive, I would urge you to do this.

This is on-topic, because a lot of scenarios in the ME are hanging on the outcome of the US election, and if I had been allowed into your country I would have gone over and worked volunteer. Unfortunately, visas are not allowed for folks who have been arrested in passive demonstrations outside the US embassy. As can be seen from al- Assad, at least the Syrians are rational actors, not evil fanatics. This needs to be heard all over the USA, because the ME is going to have a unprecedented effect in this election.

Over at Abu Muqawama I suggested some democratic veterans sit down and write "The Middle East for Dummies: As authorised & written by certified US veterans". With maps, easy pictures and some statistics that you yanks love. I would repeat that idea here, something to slam on the table and say "read this, and then well talk" to those facing the haters in the workplace.

Patrick Lang

Martin K

I would have no "problem" with the election of Obama to be president, but I am not much of a "joiner." I joined something once and do not intend to repeat the experience. I have no interest in becoming one of his supporters. I also have no interest in becoming one of McCain's supporters. I do not wish to be a part of any "project."

The wave of support for Obama may well be a passing phenomenon. European sttitudes toward him are largely irrelevant to his possibilities for election. Obama finished the Democratic Party internal struggle on a descending note of declining support in polling across the country. This was within the Democratic Party. Obama has not yet met the Republicans. The polling data shows that there is still little support for him among white American workers, white women and Hispanics. One or two more incidents involving U-tube videos could be devastating to his prospects. pl


What is meant to be so ridiculous about a Swiss militia system? It strikes me that Hezbollah and the other parties down south successfully executed exactly that in 2006. It would also be an effective figleaf for the parties to retain their own forces whilst binding them into a national command structure.


Excellent, Kiernan. And thanks for sharing. Please let readers know if at some point we can find our way to other reports of the project/trip.

A word of caution, however, with respect to your conclusions (and please don't take offense as you seem quite knowledgeable on Lebanese affairs). In my opinion, the Lebanese do place 'bets' on the outcomes of regional power plays, but one should never underestimate the myopia of the Lebanese political class. Alliances there -- be they domestic, regional or international -- are highly ephemeral transactions. Thus, it is relatively unimportant whether Geagea thinks the US/Israel will or won't attack Iran and/or Syria. What matters is that Geagea thinks there are short-term political benefits, financial or otherwise, for staking out such a position. Geagea repeats WH talking points because it helps him raise money in the US, gets him access to USG funds, and resonates with part of his base. Geagea's enemy is not Iran, Syria or darkness or evil or terror, it is his Christian rivals (here Aoun, there not Aoun).

To be sure, the Lebanese have perfected the skill of telling foreigners want they want to hear (HA is stumbling to sound 'anti-colonial' notes to a global audience). But I remain convinced that Tip O'Neill was right on Lebanon: all politics are local.

Indeed, if you spend extended time with any Lebanese politician, you will see that the vast majority of their time and energy is spent navigating local quarrels, whose complexity and minutae are mind-numbing to those who do not know the 'village.' This is, of course, a bit strange, because on first brush (be it hours, days, weeks or even months), Lebanese pols when given a foreign audience have a strong prelidiction for waxing on world affairs. Such is the fate for those in a small, weak country, but the bizarre quality of their formulations on such matters belie the fact that it is something of a sideshow for the 'real game.' Some may find charm in this kookiness (think of any Western journalist having lunch at Mukhtara); others may find it dangerous. But it is a fool's errand to underestimate the political judgment of the local players. To a certain extent, we all change, but they stay the same.

Some say Lebanon has always been a staging ground for regional competitions, but I think more accurately it is a place where regional competitions die ignominious deaths in the mud of an abiding feudal system. This, for me, above all else, is what is meant by 'resistance' in Lebanon. And in this sense, I do not fault the Americans for always having a poorly calibrated policy in Lebanon. It is literally beyond their managerial capacity from a cost-benefit perspective. Even those with a more preferential balance sheet -- the Israelis and the Syrians -- have found stable profits hard to come by.

Thanks again for sharing your astute and insightful analysis. It pleases me to see that some latter day Harvard grads know that the 'great university of the West' finds an educational rival in the 'East.'


I got a different impression form reading the article by the fact that the pro-West forces were preparing for war and not fighting.

To me it shows how weak the American influence in the Middle East has become because Lebanon settle it's problem via the Arab League, Israel is negotiating with Syria via Turkey and Iran is negotiating a settlement between all the Shiite factions in Iraq.

In none of these places is America leading.

Once America adopted the Neo-Conic view of the world, America suffered from an isolation and resentment that has spread across the world but most severely in the Middle East.

On Mark Penn, Obama could not have done it without you even more than the damage done by Bill.


Great post. Kieran manages to display all the subtleties that Bush II thinks will be solved by a Bud and clearing scrub in a ranch in Texas.

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