Michael Young Comes to Hitchens’ Defense

michael_young_140x140Michael Young, opinion editor of the Daily Star, has an interesting op-ed today (“On Not Debating Christopher Hitchens”) about Hitchens’ visit to Beirut and the lecture he gave, entitled “Who are the Revolutionaries In Today’s Middle East?” In the article, Young sets his sights on a surprising target: the audience at the lecture, the majority of whom were students at the American University of Beirut. From Young’s perspective, Hitchens’ talk was a sad exercise in throwing pearls before swine, such was the ingratitude and boorishness of his interlocutors:

“You could distil his argument down to one sentence: The Arab world is better off without Saddam Hussein, and the US, alongside the true “Arab revolutionaries”, is responsible for this outcome. Instead of addressing that point, many in the audience resorted to the oldest of rhetorical subterfuges: When you don’t like an argument, change the subject; which only tended to show how we in the region seem incapable of engaging in constructive self-doubt about our own affairs.”

I was at the lecture, and while I might agree with Young about the lackluster quality of most of the questions, I think he does a disservice to the intelligence of most of the attendees when he accuses them of failing to lap up whatever slop Hitchens threw before them.

And slop it was, if we are being fair. Christopher Hitchens is a deeply learned man and one worth listening to on a great many subjects, but his performance at AUB that night was one that a younger version of himself would have brilliantly and mercilessly eviscerated. The subject matter at hand – the moral prerogative of interventionism, the role of the United States in overthrowing dictatorships and spreading democracy, the utter bankruptcy of the Arab nationalist project, the oppressiveness of various theocratic movements, etc. – are all worthy and serious themes for debate. And this is precisely why I was so disappointed to hear Hitchens make his case, because he did it so poorly and childishly. Rather than laying out a thoughtful and carefully-reasoned answer to the important question of what it means to be a revolutionary in today’s Middle East, he waxed on endlessly about Kurdistan, Walid Jumblatt, Kurdistan, head scarves, gas chambers, and Kurdistan. It was a flashy, overbearing, and jingoistic performance that really fooled no one. Except, surprisingly, Michael Young.

The problem with the lecture was not its thesis (“The Arab world is better off without Saddam Hussein, and the US… is responsible for this outcome”), but rather Hitchens’ unwillingness or inability to outline the corollaries and conclusions that derive from it. Should Middle Eastern revolutionaries pledge themselves to the cause of the United States even when it does not act “in the defense of universal liberal values”? What about in the vast majority of cases where it acts in direct opposition to those values? Does the acceptance of Saddam’s deposal validate the means by which it was achieved, and exonerate the mistakes made in the course of the war effort? These were not questions meant to evade Hitchens’ thesis; rather, they constituted one invitation after another (consistently rejected and evaded by the real master of rhetorical subterfuges in that room) to make his case for an America-centered theory of Middle Eastern revolution.

At one point in his article, Young argues that Hitchens is one of the few Western public intellectuals to confront the burning question that has faced the left in recent years, namely:

“If a tyrannical leader is abusing his own people, is it the duty of the left to confront him in all ways possible, including force, because that may be the only course open in defending human rights and human liberty, even if this requires depending on the United States for its success?”

A valid question, but a naïve one? After all, in how many cases can leftist revolutionaries depend on the United States to confront tyrannical and abusive leaders in our region? No one made this point more convincingly and thoughtfully than Rami Khoury, who argued that while many people would agree with Hitchens about the failure and oppressiveness of the existing state system, they cannot count on a muscular and principled stance against tyranny from the United States in the vast majority of cases. The entire hall erupted in applause when Rami made his point. Hitchens’ response? A sulking one-liner about moral equivalency.

Mr. Young, Christopher Hitchens did not come to Beirut to debate anyone. He came to make a spectacle of himself on the streets of Hamra and in the newspapers. There are many eloquent and sensible advocates of the United States out there; the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation shouldn’t confine itself to an opportunistic and glib ex-communist who “once wrote a book with Edward Said.”
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52 thoughts on “Michael Young Comes to Hitchens’ Defense

  1. the definitive account: http://www.michaeltotten.com/archives/2009/02/christopher-hit.php

    rich throughout, but favorite bits include: “This was Beirut, where the law of the jungle can rule with the flip of a switch…”

    is that the switch you hit at five minutes to midnight, when the fat lady must sing, drop back to punt, shit, or get off the pot?

    Posted by anonymous | February 26, 2009, 8:42 am
  2. QN,
    You ask as a retort to Hitchens and Young:
    “After all, in how many cases can leftist revolutionaries depend on the United States to confront tyrannical and abusive leaders in our region?”

    By asking the question it shows that you are missing the whole point! The US CANNOT be counted on to confront anybody militarily. The Americans have a strong isolationist streak that rather rarely gets countered.

    Consider the following:

    1) The US joined WWII only at the end of 1941 following Pearl Harbor. The war was raging since September 1939! Over TWO years of WWII elapsed before the US joined. The same goes for WWI. The Americans joined very late.

    2) The US was not prepared to help Israel by fighting in 48. In fact Foggy Bottom was sure the Israelis will lose and didn’t really care.

    3) The Americans were not willing to send a force to open the Tyran straits in 67. Even before the war they were warning Israel not to attack first.

    And I can give you many other examples.
    What can the Americans be relied on for? If you show initial success or determination BY YOUR OWN MEANS, they can be relied to support you economically and with weapons. Just like they did with the British in WWII and with Israel AFTER 1967. But they will NOT fight for you. The Iraq war was not representative of US policy over the years.

    In fact, you can see the EXACT process I am talking about happening with March 14. The US support is diplomatic and economic. BUT when Hizballah attacked, the US did not send troops. You need to be willing to spill your own blood since dead Americans in places most Americans never heard about is an excellent way to lose elections.

    The “liberals” like Khoury are missing the point completely. The US will not fight your wars for you. BUT, if you show determination and a some success, the US will be a formidable ally. But it is the “liberals” that have to lead and establish the relationship. The Americans only help “those who help themselves”.

    Posted by AIG | February 26, 2009, 8:54 am
  3. Hi AIG,

    I would say two things. First of all, my wording was a bit shoddy in the phrase that you picked up on. I should have said:

    “After all, in how many cases can leftist revolutionaries depend on the United States, in confronting tyrannical and abusive leaders in our region?” The point is that I don’t believe we need the U.S. to fight our wars for us, but when opposition movements can’t even count on diplomatic or economic support (except for the Farid Ghadris and Ahmed Chalabis), it’s a very steep hill to climb.

    All this being said, I actually agree with you about needing to help ourselves first. But this is exactly why I don’t like listening to Young or Hitchens pretend like it’s all a question of signing on to the U.S. democracy agenda or not. It’s not that simple, as you state very clearly in your response to my post.

    The liberals like Khoury are not missing the point. They are much more realistic about the challenges that face us. What “determination” did Young or Hitches show that Khoury did not show?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 26, 2009, 9:15 am
  4. AIG –

    I agree with your assessment. Of course the US will back up an ally with arms and intelligence, but will rarely fight for an ally.

    GWB’s fight for Iraq was a rare example of the US actually fighting for an ally.

    With this new appointment (which doesn’t need congressional approval) of Chas Freeman at the head of the NIC, you can write off any liberal or tolerant voices off, unless the other agencies force him into some dark corner.

    What an terrible interesting choice!


    Posted by AKbar Palace | February 26, 2009, 9:20 am
  5. QN –

    Just so you know, the key word is “clenching”;)


    Posted by AKbar Palace | February 26, 2009, 9:36 am
  6. Hi QN,

    The liberal discourse always seems to put the blame on the US. I have not read one Khoury column where he is as reflective as you and accepts most of the blame for the situation in the middle east. In fact, Khoury is constantly preaching to the US what it should and should not do. He is quite clear that the solution will come from the US and not from him and his fellow liberals. I would be happy to be corrected on this issue, but I read Khoury often and do not see another side of him which you allude to.

    Why are the liberals attacking the Iraq war? If once in 60 years, America goes out of its way and is willing to have Americans die for another nation’s liberty, why not grasp this opportunity of a lifetime?

    If the liberals are not missing the point, why are they attacking the US? I just don’t get it. The frame of mind should be: “How do we get the US to help us more?” instead of “let’s attack the US and complain constantly”. That is what Young and Hitchens in their roundabout way are preaching for. You have to lay the ground for getting help from the US. Israel worked on this for 50 years! Do you know how many times Ben-Gurion and others went to the US from the 1930’s till 67? How did the Syria Accountability Act come into place? It took years of lobbying and work and partnering with AIPAC. But how important was that for Lebanon?

    Hitchens and Young are preaching for a pragmatic and productive path. Khoury is a naysayer that does not provide a productive alternative. Maybe I missed it. What is the course of action Khoury advocates?

    Posted by AIG | February 26, 2009, 9:41 am
  7. AIG

    Let’s be clear about something.

    You are making it seem as though the United States is a huge sleeping giant in a cave at the top of the mountain. It wakes up every now and then because of some loud noise, goes out hunting, and then goes back to its cave to sleep. So, the strategy should be to figure out how to make enough noise to wake up the giant and get him to help us indirectly by dispatching our opponents, etc.

    The problem is that the U.S. is not a sleeping giant. It is a very busy giant, even when it is not fighting wars in the Middle East. This supposedly isolationist superpower is deeply implicated in the region, because of its stake in the existing security architecture. We both know this.

    So, while I do believe that Arabs need to do 1000% more, you have to understand that criticism from people like Rami Khoury is not just liberal naysaying and bellyaching. Rami, for example, is an ardent supporter of the United States (he is an American citizen by the way). Asking for America to change its behavior in the Middle East does not constitute plain old anti-Americanism. Asking America to do less (by way of support for security regimes, etc) is a plea for a certain kind of engagement in the region, no less productive or pragmatic than Young.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 26, 2009, 10:11 am
  8. QN,

    The US is slow rambling giant that changes its brains every 4 to 8 years. The giant has a huge amount of inertia and thus continues along its path unless it is pushed for a long time by the much weaker entities trying to influence it. It also has a natural trajectory that if you do not push, it reverts to. No, the US is not a sleeping giant. It is more like a huge ship plodding along. It takes many miles for the ship to turn and the right kind of force is required to do it. These forces must be internal and external.

    The US is set in its ways in the middle east. Khoury wants things to change. He wants to make the ship turn. Fair enough. But in what direction and to what end? What kind of engagement does Khoury want? Can you give me an example? Take any country, say Saudi or Lebanon or Yemen or whatever. What does the US need to do different there? How should it do it? How does the US make sure its interests are not harmed?

    We are still left with the question of Iraq. I would have thought that Iraq is an example of what Khoury would like the US to do; confront a despotic regime. Why the attacks then? The attitude should be different. The criticism should be constructive such as: Next time you take down a despot make sure of the following points a) put an emphasis on internal security b) etc c) etc

    Khoury has every right to criticize and complain even if he weren’t a US citizen. But until his criticism is constructive or provides a clear alternative path or he leads by example, what he is doing is nay saying.

    Posted by AIG | February 26, 2009, 10:52 am
  9. AIG

    I like your ship metaphor, and I think it is good one. I was planning to respond to your queries tonight but I was out getting my ass kicked by SSNPers in Hamra this evening, so it will have to wait until tomorrow morning.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 26, 2009, 5:28 pm
  10. No one’s laughing.

    Posted by Blacksmith_Nick | February 26, 2009, 7:21 pm
  11. Blacksmith Nick


    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 27, 2009, 1:44 am
  12. Qifa,

    Does that read like sweet revenge for you??

    Nine hospitalized after eating za’atar-filled pastry


    Posted by Yossi (AKA Rumyal) | February 27, 2009, 3:56 am
  13. Lol!

    Even better, Rumyal: savory revenge.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 27, 2009, 4:10 am
  14. AIG
    Khoury’s line has been consistently to call for an American engagement in the region that is informed by some level of historical consciousness. He wants the ship to turn, so to speak, in the direction of trying to create long-term stability not through militarism (war and security regimes) but by taking seriously and helping to solve the myriad political, economic, and developmental problems of the region. You may think it is presumptuous of Khoury to ask the U.S. to solve other people’s problems for them, but my earlier point was that, by virtue of its default involvement in the region, the U.S. is part of the problem whether it likes it or not.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 27, 2009, 4:37 am
  15. PS: By the way, a few months ago, on Syria Comment, you pooh-poohed my statement about the Arabs needing to formulate a 25 year plan. You said something like: a 25 yr plan is no plan at all.

    But now you are reminding me that the Jews/Israelis spent 50 yrs working on laying the ground for a positive relationship with the U.S.

    What gives?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 27, 2009, 4:45 am
  16. This is the point. People like QN, Khouri and I are not opposed to American intervention or influence per se, if I can lump all of us together. We are opposed, however, to bad policies. We are also opposed to the idea that any support from the US need be military, that power must necessarily be exercised with brute force. Contrary to what Americans and Israelis may have read by Patai, the “Arab mind” doesn’t only respond to force.

    I think it’s great that the US shows support for the Lebanese state, but I’m not sure that a bunch of new cars and trucks for the ISF is the best way to go about it. Training the police and military would be a lot better in the long run than an endless supply of Pathfinders. Likewise, the Lebanese state could be better bolstered by pressure from Washington for an end to Israeli overflights into Lebanese territory.

    Again, I can’t stress enough that not every problem has a military solution. A little bit of intelligent (and dare I suggest, even-handed) diplomacy would go a long way. I refuse to think that it’s all or nothing, either supporting current US policies or being anti-American. The world, and especially Lebanese politics, is not so black and white.

    If US interests would be best served by having Hezbollah disarm, then such a goal would seem to call for several things. First, working to end the Israeli-Arab conflict definitively and justly, including supporting Israeli-Syrian negotiations instead of discouraging them. Also, a good case could be made for engaging Syria and Iran in a way that takes their legitimate national interests into consideration instead of dictating terms. On the Lebanese front, all of these things would help alleviate a lot of tension in the country, thus strengthening liberals in the long run.

    As long as there is a military threat looming on the southern border and the Lebanese state is incapable or defending against it, it will be hard for Lebanese liberals to justify the disarming of Hezbollah.

    This is not to say that there isn’t plenty of work to be done in the meantime, on the ground, as it were. And we’re trying here. These things include electoral reform and steps to implement Taef by ending sectarian politics, for example. The minster of the interior’s movement to allow people to erase their sect from the official record is a step forward, as small as it may admittedly be.

    Finally, liberals can walk and chew gum at the same time — we can be against the idea of violent politics (as seen last May), while simultaneously stating the obvious: that Israel and the US are making a bad situation worse, rather than working to ameliorate it, as they should be.

    On my blog, you imply that real Lebanese liberals should be “risking their lives” to fight Hezbolllah. What exactly would you have them do? Hezbollah’s arms are an issue that demands a political, not a military, solution. So if you’ve got any ideas that don’t involve toeing the American/Israeli line in the “war on terror,” I, for one, am all ears.

    Posted by sean | February 27, 2009, 8:09 am
  17. QN,
    Let me reiterate, a 25 year plan is no plan at all. Check out what Nassim Nicholas Taleb, your fellow countryman has to say about that (and read his excellent book). We cannot forecast next week, so how are we going to make a 25 year plan?

    Ben-Gurion and others did not plan for 25 years. They did what they thought best for the moment. With retrospect, what they did paid off in the longterm because they acted with sense in the short term or where lucky, whichever way you want to look at it. The Zionist “plan” has always been a simple one: One goat and then another one. One university and then another one. One settlement and then another one. Convince one American politician and then another one. Over 50 years, that is a lot of politicians. This “plan” tells you exactly what to do when you wake up in the morning and does not involve the goodwill of any superpower. It is difficult to stop determined people with well defined short term goals.

    Going back to Khoury. I ask you for a course of action that the US should pursue, you give me some general outlines for a course of action. And then you cannot resist and again lay the responsibility at the door of the Americans. That just does not cut it. You have to be concrete and you have to formulate a plan that realistically takes into account what the US can or will do and you have to lead by example and create facts on the ground, not count on the US to do your work for you. You can insist until you are blue in the face that the Americans are responsible. But it is not going to get you anywhere. What are YOUR actions tomorrow morning?

    So the challenge is still out there for you: Pick any Arab country and tell me what the US should do to steer it to democracy using “soft” power. Don’t give me an outline of a plan, give me a realistic plan that the Americans will buy and execute.

    And you still haven’t explained why Khoury is criticizing Iraq, a once in a life time opportunity that he should have seized.

    Posted by AIG | February 27, 2009, 8:17 am
  18. Sean,
    Here is a simple thing Lebanese liberals can do if they were not too scared. They could insist that Lebanon negotiate directly with Israel over the Sheba farms. They would form a negotiating team and would ask the Americans to sponsor talks in Washington. Thus showing Hizballah that there is another way to get territory back.

    Here is another thing the liberals can do. When Siniora says that Lebanon would be the last country to make peace with Israel, they can criticize him for that. Or they can criticize the kiss-fest for Kuntar.

    And in the end, if nothing works, the Hizballah arms must be taken by force. Ben-gurion realized this in 48 when he took on the Irgun and fired on the Altalena. Just because you do not want to fight, does not mean fighting is not the solution. It should be the last solution tried, but sometimes it is the only solution. And if you won’t do it, nobody will and the Lebanese state will wither away.

    Posted by AIG | February 27, 2009, 8:27 am
  19. AIG,

    Let me allow Rami Khoury to speak for himself, and then I will speak for myself. He wrote in a recent editorial:

    Obama’s election and the quick moves he made in his first three days in office-deciding on the closing of the Guantanamo prison, banning torture, naming respected special envoys to the two burning fires of Israel-Palestine and Afghanistan-Pakistan, playing diplomatic footsies with Iran, and speaking directly to Muslims on an agenda of mutual respect and shared interests – sent an emphatic message that many Arabs and Muslims have heard loud and clear.

    These policy changes and rhetorical flourishes need to be reciprocated now from our side, by both governments and those more nimble elements in civil society who have the courage and the capacity to engage the US on an equal footing…

    Voila. Here you have a liberal naysayer praising the United States and calling for Arab action all in the same article… and guess what? The universe did not explode.

    As for specific actions, in the case of a country like Lebanon, there is little that the U.S. can or should do, in my opinion. Most of our problems need to be solved on our own. The U.S. has no power to change the sectarian political structure in Lebanon, nor does it have much interest in stirring things up too much. By contrast, it is already making a serious difference in the army, both by outfitting it with new weaponry (to the tune of $400 million last year), and also by training its officers. I applaud this. I also think that UNSCR 1701 has been a good and necessary thing.

    The biggest way that the United States can make a difference in the Levant is by brokering a just solution to the conflict with Israel. Beyond that, I believe that it should be letting the branches creak under the asses of Mubarak and the Abdullahs, and let them bluff about Islamists winning elections all they want. If the sky is going to fall, let it fall while we are expecting it.

    And if the U.S. is NOT even willing to do that, then kiss any chance of local opposition groups gaining traction goodbye.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 27, 2009, 8:54 am
  20. Here is a simple thing Lebanese liberals can do if they were not too scared. They could insist that Lebanon negotiate directly with Israel over the Sheba farms. They would form a negotiating team and would ask the Americans to sponsor talks in Washington.

    Yes, we tried that between 2005 and 2008, with no sign of interest from the Americans. March 14th has been calling for “drawing the Lebanese-Syrian border” (a euphemism for snatching the Shebaa file away from Syria) for years. Did the United States go for it? No. I wonder why? Also, Michel Aoun had been aggressively lobbying the U.S. on this issue for years, also with no luck. When he first came back to Lebanon in 2005, he publicly (on Jazeera) called Hizbullah to stop using Shebaa as an excuse to remain armed. Did all of this noble liberal outcry spark anything from the U.S. by way of a smart policy about Shebaa? No. Is it ok for me to criticize the U.S. now, or is it still just naysaying?

    When Siniora says that Lebanon would be the last country to make peace with Israel, they can criticize him for that.

    How exactly does that help Lebanon? I don’t get it. And by the way, many Lebanese have publicly questioned the whole “last-country” logic, especially now that Syria is negotiating with Israel. Once again, I direct you to March 14th’s rhetoric over the past few years, when everyone from Jumblatt to Marwan Hamade to Fares Boueiz intoned week after week: “Why should we not be allowed to negotiate a peace deal when the mothership of the resistance [Syria] is already at an advanced stage of negotiations?”

    Any other suggestions?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 27, 2009, 9:07 am
  21. QN,
    What is Khoury calling for? Vagueness over vagueness. Instead of preaching he should do.

    There is no way to broker a just solution for the Israeli-Arab conflict. Given that, what’s next?

    Probably wait for the islamists as you say.

    Posted by AIG | February 27, 2009, 9:08 am
  22. Great post, QN.

    Posted by dadavidovich | February 27, 2009, 2:32 pm
  23. QN,
    Let’s talk about the Sheba issue. There is a difference between floating a vague idea and taking the initiative. I don’t recall Siniora saying to the Israelis: Let’s negotiate over Sheba. Do you really think Lebanon did enough? Was Siniora’s euphemism supposed to rally the Americans? If he didn’t want to talk to the Israelis why not do like Asad and ask Turkey to be the middleman? That is what Asad did when he saw the US would not sponsor any talks. You think being LESS proactive than Asad is enough?

    Posted by AIG | February 27, 2009, 3:11 pm
  24. AIG,
    What do you mean “floating a vague idea”? Of course Siniora didn’t say to the Israelis “Let’s negotiate over Shebaa,” but you said yourself that a positive initiative would be to have a third party broker the talks. We went in search for such a third party in Washington, but neither the Americans nor the Israelis were interested. Come on, be serious. March 14th pols (and Aoun before them) have been traipsing over to the U.S. begging them to do something about Shebaa for years. You guys have never gone for it.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 27, 2009, 5:58 pm
  25. QN,
    If Asad can say he wants to negotiate with Israel for the Golan and find somebody to do it for him, I am quite sure that if Siniora were not afraid, he could find a way to negotiate with Israel. Why not say to the Israelis let’s negotiate over the farms?

    Do you think Olmert could have said no if Siniora made a public announcement stating that he was ready to negotiate with Israel over the Sheba farms? It is the tendency to keep everything hush-hush that persuades the Israeli politicians that the Lebanese are not serious.

    And now with the new administration, why not try again?

    We can go back and forth, but at the end of the day the liberals in the Arab world have zero chance. That is because they are not willing to bear arms and fight for what they believe in. Violence should be the last option, but it must be an option if you want to get what you want in the middle-east. And you are just not willing to accept that. So while getting nowhere you will keep justifying your moves and talk of decades for change to happen instead of admitting that Teddy Roosevelt was right: Speak softly and carry a big stick.


    Posted by AIG | February 27, 2009, 8:36 pm
  26. AIG,

    You make it sound so simple for Lebanon to negotiate with Israel. There are lots of dynamics at play here (though, I think you’re playing naieve on purpose).

    First, Syria will have a fit if Lebanon enters negotiations independently. Right or wrong, this has major implications for Lebanon, that only lebanese have to worry about, and you don’t.

    Second, Shebaa farms are not the only issue of contention between Lebanon & Israel. If you think throwing a bone to Lebanon like the Shebaa farms in return for a peace treaty, where it doesn’t cost you anything since the farms are not yours in the first place, you’re quite mistaken.

    In my view, if negotiations between Lebanon & Israel take place, Israel better be prepared to discuss the fate of the palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Israel’s responsibilties in this regards. Hopefully, this thorny issue gets resolved ahead of time through the Iraeli/Palestinian track. Thus making the Lebanese track a bit easier.

    Israel also has to own up and compensate Lebanon for all of the unwarranted physical destructions and loss of life over the years.

    Hopefully now you have a better insight as to why Siniora and his predecessors have held the policy of Lebanon being the last arab country….etc

    Posted by Ras Beirut | February 27, 2009, 10:24 pm
  27. AIG

    Talk about vagueness over vagueness. You really take the cake. Now if you will excuse me, I need to go clean my machine gun as I have an Arab liberals meeting/bake sale to attend to.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 28, 2009, 1:18 am
  28. QN,

    What vagueness do you find in my position?
    I am quite clear. I think the liberals in the Arab world should be determined and willing to fight just as the Islamists. Otherwise they have no chance. You can laugh all you want at the gun issue. But unfortunately, you have no choice if you want to succeed.

    You also seem to think that the US should worry if islamists take over the Arab world. What will the islamists do, stop selling oil? The Iranians never stopped doing that. The US can even live with failed states. The US military will make sure the oil will flow. In fact, in 48 if Israel would have lost the war, the US would not have intervened militarily. It took the US 20 years to realize that Israel would be a good ally in the cold war.

    Posted by AIG | February 28, 2009, 12:57 pm
  29. Ras Beirut,

    I understand the Lebanese position well. It does not make any sense because it takes two to tango. But if it works for you, keep it up.

    Posted by AIG | February 28, 2009, 1:00 pm
  30. AIG: You sound really, really silly. I’ve got news for you: you’re not Lawrence of Arabia.

    But more seriously, who exactly are you suggesting that QN take up arms against? Do you think he should organize a militia to forcibly disarm Hezbolla? Because that’s what it sounds like you’re suggesting. If so, then I can’t take you seriously at all…

    Posted by sean | February 28, 2009, 2:27 pm
  31. AIG,

    Don’t give me wrong, I do support the eventual negotiations between Lebanon & Israel. Just at this satge these talks are not feasible given the lack of peace talks and resolutions of outstanding issues with the syrians and the palestinians.

    In my view, having comprehensive talks will be the way to go, and have the arab peace plan as a starting point of negotiations. Going this route will have better success chances, since most players in the region will be signed up for it.

    In the meantime, it would be best for both sides to abide by the 49 armistice agreement. This will give Lebanon the room to concentrate on its economy and improving the living standard of its citizens. Lebanon has suffered enough the past 30 years, and could use a break.

    As a confidence building measure, I don’t see why Israel can’t give back the Shebaa farms to Lebanon now. There’s no loss for Israel since the farms are not its property to start out with.

    Posted by Ras Beirut | February 28, 2009, 2:33 pm
  32. Sean,

    I sound silly? It looks like you never read Lebanon’s recent history. Why did the Arabs force the Cairo agreement down the Lebanese throats? Because Lebanon had no credible armed answer. You had to bear it and grin. Imagine that Lebanon could have resisted the PLO moving from Jordan to Lebanon in 69-70. The civil war could even have been averted.

    How did the recent Doha agreement come into being? Because Hizballah employed force in May. There are tons of examples that I can give you.

    Now, what is so strange and weird and unconceivable about a militia to disarm Hizballah or be an effective counter force against it? It is just as strange as the Jews building an army and winning a war in 48 against the Arabs combined. If you don’t want to do it, then of course don’t do it. But don’t expect any results that are to your liking. Every time you will try something just a little “too” liberal, you will get a return of the May events. Do you not mind that the SSNP controls the streets of Beirut? Right, negotiating with them is going to solve the problem.

    Again, if you can live with that, fine. But that is not my way. I would not let a bunch of thugs decide by force how my country is going to be governed.

    And you are right, I am not Lawrence of Arabia. I would not spill a drop of Israeli blood for your freedom. It is your job to free yourself, if you want. Israel can easily live with a Lebanon controlled by Hizballah. In fact, that would be best for Israel as it would bring much clarity to the situation and make Hizballah and Lebanon unable to attack Israel without paying a huge price.

    Posted by AIG | February 28, 2009, 4:37 pm
  33. Great review of Hitchens’ tired arguments. America’s revolution in Iraq destroyed the liberal classes it was supposed to help.
    Best, Joshua

    Posted by Joshua Landis | March 1, 2009, 1:55 am
  34. AIG,

    I’m back from my Arab liberals meeting/coffee hour. It was very productive. My colleague Abu Idaa3at al-Waqt presented his 35 year plan, which was extremely popular among the members. That is, until comrade Abu Ta3teel presented his 45 year plan, which had us all choking on our Gauloises in excitement. After reviewing and comparing the merits of both plans, we hit the deck for 200 push-ups, cleaned and polished our machine guns, slapped each other on the ass, and headed home.

    Seriously though, can we talk about what it means to be an “Arab liberal”? Hitchens couldn’t answer this question properly when I asked him.

    Speak of the devil, here is an excellent article by Hitchens in Slate.

    Avigdor Liberman’s Chutzpah
    The Right to Return Cannot Confer The Right to Expel

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 1, 2009, 5:56 am
  35. AIG: Yeah, you’re probably right. The answer to Lebanon’s ills is probably more militias. That’s worked out really well here in the past.

    Ya Qifa, what do you say we take on noms de guerre and start training? You can be Abu Democratia, and I’ll be Abu Haqouq al-Ensan!

    Posted by sean | March 1, 2009, 6:24 am
  36. QN and Sean,

    Laugh all you want. But it will not change history nor human nature. I gave you specific examples where the inability to use credible force tanked Lebanon or the liberal movement. What do you say about those?

    I view the Arab Liberals as something akin to the Israeli labor party which basically founded Israel. These were social democrats that used weapons to found a democratic state and protect it. Ben-Gurion etc. Rabin was part of this school. But that didn’t prevent him from being chief of staff or playing an important part in the the 48 war.

    In the US, Washington and Lincoln are great examples. They were true liberal democrats but they were also willing to use extensive force where necessary.

    The answer to Lebanon’s ills are not MORE militias. The answer is the RIGHT militia. The Haganah was the right militia because it morphed easily into the the army of a democratic state. And that meant taking out the other militias as Ben-Gurion did. In fact, many Lebanese are asking Hizballah to become part of the Lebanese Army. But they never will. That is the WRONG type of militia.

    Again, it is your choice, but as the May events and others showed, without an option to apply credible force, you will not get anywhere.

    Posted by AIG | March 1, 2009, 12:55 pm
  37. AIG

    Thanks for your definition. Let me think out loud about mine, drawing upon some of the classical language of liberalism.

    As an Arab liberal, what do I want? Fundamentally, to live in a society with: the rule of law; equal opportunities and individual rights; freedom of expression (speech, press, assembly, petition); freedom of worship; separation of church/mosque/temple and state; right to fair trial (rights of the accused, due process, etc.); democratic elections and institutions; independent judiciary; etc.

    Using this yardstick, Lebanon (which is the most liberal Arab country) has a very long way to go. But using “credible force” to get there would not only be counter-productive, it would be completely inappropriate. Why? Because we Lebanese liberals don’t have the luxury of a single enemy to fight, with our hipster militia. We have so many ‘enemies’, from Islamists, to semi-rehabilitated Christian fascists, to corrupt magnates with entire ministries in their pockets.

    What we need is not a militia but a true secular liberal Lebanese party. The Free Patriotic Movement was supposed to be that party, until Michel Aoun annointed himself Pope of the Eastern Christians and started shilling for the Hizb but that’s another story. Maybe Aoun will surprise me after the opposition wins, but I think not.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 1, 2009, 2:17 pm
  38. QN,
    The point about credible force, is that once you have it, you have much fewer enemies. Just a party will get you nowhere. But you understand Lebanon much better than me, so good luck.

    Posted by AIG | March 1, 2009, 2:37 pm
  39. “A valid question, but a naïve one?. After all, in how many cases can leftist revolutionaries depend on the United States to confront tyrannical and abusive leaders in our region? … while many people would agree with Hitchens about the failure and oppressiveness of the existing state system, they cannot count on a muscular and principled stance against tyranny from the United States in the vast majority of cases.”

    I understand his frustration , but he’s still avoiding the point. The majority of cases or no, we are still avoiding the question by saying “the U.S. does x bad thing.” If leftists, in the name of human rights, human liberty, and opposing a tryannical leader wish to overthrow a dictator with the aid of the U.S. the behavior of the U.S. in another place or time shouldn’t prevent them from doing so.

    It is not naive to ignore what happens elsewhere, as Hitchens did, it is naive to expect that the U.S., a state, can be the guarantor of liberty and democracy everywhere and have not have conflicting interests. Simply because the U.S. has close ties to Saudi Arabia for energy security reasons should not preclude it from being able to credibly support democracy elsewhere. Condoleeza Rice spoke out about Darfur. The fact that the U.S. has close ties to Saudi Arabia, is irrelevant to the questions of human rights in Sudan. I remember in Syria watching the newscaster tell us that the State Dept. just issued a report critical of Syria and then go into some long tirade about Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, well, there is nothing more damning than an attempt to direct attention away rather than deal with the question at hand. The same goes for every other instance in which people say that the U.S. is being inconsistent.

    Posted by Chris | March 1, 2009, 4:01 pm
  40. Chris

    Why is it ok to whitewash the liberal record of one country by using phrases like “conflicting interests” and “energy security reasons”, but not another country?

    I disagree with your assessment. At least AIG tells it like it is: the U.S. has a strong isolationist streak and has rarely ever demonstrated an interest in getting involved militarily, etc.

    My simple point is that Young’s question is naive because it describes a situation that hardly ever obtains. It’s like asking: “Should Arabs rely on Martians in confronting their tyrants.” In theory, I would say: YES! It is the duty of liberals to confront tyrants, and they should rely on American (or Martian) help if it is made available. Why not?

    The problem is that American help to confront tyrants is, in most Middle Eastern cases, hardly ever made available. In most cases, the exact opposite situation obtains: i.e. tyrants are supported, not confronted. So this is why I suggest that his question is naive.

    Instead of worrying about whether or not the left is going to accept American help to confront tyrants (which is a thought experiment that has few real world applications), why not ask a more urgent question like: how are Arab liberals supposed to operate in an environment when the U.S. is not just not supporting them, but is rather working at cross-purposes to them.

    That is, at least, a question that is relevant.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 1, 2009, 4:24 pm
  41. QN,
    What you are saying is almost true. A giant river has huge force but it still flows down the path of least resistance. The US supports the “moderate” dictators because the liberals have not provided the US with any credible alternative that can help the short term interests of the US. This is the crux of the matter. You blame the US. I blame the liberals for not making it easy for the US to support them.

    The US is not working at cross purposes to you. It is simply pursuing its interests. Help yourself by showing the US how you can help it. Or find a way to succeed without the US. That is the way forward.

    But still we are left with the Iraqi mystery. When the US, once in a lifetime and against all odds, does take out a dictator, you still complain! You need to think your position through.

    Posted by AIG | March 1, 2009, 4:51 pm
  42. The US supports the “moderate” dictators because the liberals have not provided the US with any credible alternative that can help the short term interests of the US.

    This, I think, is the crux of the problem. What exactly are America’s short-term interests, as seen in Washington? Access to cheap energy, regional stability and US and Israeli security. And if I were particularly cynical, I might add a stagnant peace process. The main problem is that a liberal system in the Middle East isn’t really compatible with these goals, at least in the short term. As far as these three things go, it’s hard to compete with the current regimes in Cairo, Ramallah and Riyadh.

    But that’s exactly the problem, while looking out for short-term interests, Washington is overlooking a more reasonable long-term strategy. Egypt is restless, and it’s only a matter of time before it explodes. Likewise, pan-Islamist salafi groups are gaining in popularity in Gaza and in other Palestinian camps. Then what? Do Washington and Tel Aviv really want 70 million hungry and radicalized Egyptians? Do they want to be in a spot where they’re nostalgic for Hamas?

    By continuing to support these regimes and giving Israel diplomatic and military cover while it continues to colonize the West Bank, the US can only expect to see blowback, which is decidedly not in the American national interest.

    I’m hopeful that Obama sees things in a more nuanced way than Bush et al. did. I hope that he understands that in the long run, American interests are better served by supporting liberals than they are by supporting dictators like Mubarak or crooked carpetbaggers like Chalabi.

    But if American support is contingent on oil, Israel and stability, the region will continue its downward spiral, to the detriment of not only Arabs, but also Americans and Israelis.

    Posted by sean | March 2, 2009, 6:07 am
  43. Sean,

    The thing is, that unfortunate as it may sound, the US can live with failed states and even genocide. Rwanda, Darfur and Congo are good examples.

    The US will learn to live with 70 million hungry and radicalized Egyptians because they would also be fighting among each other ans will not have much time to deal with the west. The US will not even do anything when the Copts are rounded up and murdered.

    (By the way, that is what the Jews mean when we say “never again”. There may be another attempt at killing us but we will not rely anymore on others to protect us. Let me say this clearly, as much as I love the US, I know for sure that even if the US were certain about the coming genocide of the Jews, it would not have joined WWII earlier. That is the nature of the beast and we must accept that.)

    Same with Syria and even Saudi Arabia. What the US will do is take over the oil producing parts in Saudi. They are isolated and that will be an easy job for the Americans to manage. America will always have enough oil, it is the rest of the world that needs to worry.

    NEVER underestimate the American isolationist streak. ALWAYS remember Clinton and Rwanda and how it didn’t hurt his reputation in the US ONE BIT. And by the way, the Republicans are just as bad. Bush was a once in a lifetime president (but you complain about him also even though he did the right thing in a wrong way).

    Now, regarding the long term plan, what would it look like? But more importantly consider this. A Jewish state was not part of the American plan in the middle-east. It was an ad-hoc decision by Truman AGAINST the foreign department. Hizballah was not in the US plan. You have to create facts on the ground. You cannot just complain about the US. For some reason, you all the time return to that, complaining about the US instead of doing things yourself. That will not get you anywhere.

    Posted by AIG | March 2, 2009, 10:42 am
  44. AIG,
    You are absolutely right. The Arabs should not count on the US to solve their problems. They should take up arms and solve their problems themselves. But that is exactly what they are doing.

    Or are Hezbollah and Hamas not what you had in mind?

    You peddle such nonsense it should not be a surprise that you do not even realise the ironies in what you are saying.

    And just look at you. An Israeli sowing divisions amongst Arabs and attempting to convince them to take up arms against each other. Its too cute how you take after your government.

    And you wonder why people call you a cancer in our midst.

    What does AIG stand for? Another Israeli Goebbels?

    Posted by RedLeb | March 3, 2009, 9:10 am
  45. RedLeb,

    As an Israeli, Hamas and Hizballah are something I expect from the Arab world. And while they are short term nuisances, long term they keep the Arabs weak. Theocratic regimes have poor track records when it comes modernization and development not to mention human rights. So, if those regimes are what you prefer, be my guest. That will only keep Israel much stronger.

    Sowing divisions? Me? Are you kidding? Can anyone sow more division in the Arab world? My discussion is with the liberals and it is about the ability to apply credible force. If you have a better way to reach democracy in the Arab world, let me know. Yes, right I forgot. Your idea of advancement is Hamas and Hizballah. Well good luck with that and a big thank you from all Israelis for choosing the path that will guarantee you will remain weak and isolated.

    Posted by AIG | March 3, 2009, 10:26 am
  46. RedLeb,

    He wants “liberals” (that is the same as when a Westerner says moderate) to do what his army, his air force and his navy couldn’t do, not in 18 years of occupation and not in the longest war in their history (and that apparently is weak).

    The old divide and conquer routine is as old as julius Cesar and yes, it still works, especially in the Arab world. But what annoys them is that every time they try the routine these days, the “wrong” group is coming out on top.

    And his country has just voted itself one of the most right wing, racist govts. in its history (as impossible as that sounds). So the next few years will be interesting in terms of isolation as Bibi drives the final nail into the coffin of the big “two state solution” lie.

    So we’ll probably be getting them making up an excuse to have another go at getting the Litani sometime soon.

    So don’t wast your time.

    And most likely the name AIG is because just like the company, Israel gets a $5billion bail out from the US tax payer every year.

    Posted by mo | March 3, 2009, 11:49 am
  47. Mo,
    Wow, you guys are such clear thinkers. The Palestinians trashed Lebanon, but you keep pushing their struggle to the forefront.

    And no, I would rather have a Hizballah run Lebanon than a Lebanon that claims to be moderate. If you haven’t noticed, Israel has no problem deterring Arab nations and by taking power in Lebanon Hizballah will not be able to claim there is any difference between it and the Lebanese state.

    I love your predicament. The Islamists make you weak and represent values completely foreign to you but you support them because of your hate of Israel. You are tied in an intellectual knot that paralyzes you and makes your position untenable. You can either fight Israel and end up with backward and despotic Islamic states or you can try for democracies but then have to accept Israel. Israel has you exactly where it wants. You will either be weak or have peace with Israel. It is your choice.

    Posted by AIG | March 3, 2009, 12:46 pm
  48. LOL….wtf makes you equate democracy with accepting Israel? You think most Lebanese would support peace with you? You think because some Palestninans treated Lebanon badly we dont care about the colonisation of Arab land? (p.s I thought there was no such thing as Palestinians to you guys so how how come you are suddenly so eager to seperate “them” from “us”, or are they only “us” when you are whinging about us not taking them in and helpig you in cementing the land grab?

    The “Islamists” or at least Hizballah do not represent anything foreign to me; You simply do not get it. Hizballah is not some alien, al-qaeda gang of “foreign fighters” using Lebanon as a base. It is Lebanese and it is at least 40% of Lebanon.

    I support them not because of my hate of Israel, which I do not for one second deny, but for plenty of other reasons which you cannot and never will understand.

    And your choice is false; The weak states today are those that have gone on bended knee to the Zionist experiment. It is they that are losing support and are running scared from the popular grass roots movements like Hizballah.

    Israel has us where it want us? Thats what I love about Israeli arrogance. No matter how many times Hizballah bloodies you, you still think you have the upper hand.

    Posted by mo | March 3, 2009, 1:13 pm
  49. Of course most Lebanese would not support peace with Israel, but they will also not support war and that is more than enough for Israel.

    Well then, if you identify with the ideology of Hizballah, I wish you that Hizballah will take over Lebanon. That will be good for you and good for Israel. A win-win situation. I don’t think QN would like it, but maybe I am wrong.

    Of course the “moderate” Arab states are weak. They are weak because they are dictatorships. And they will be even weaker when they are Islamist dictatorships.

    After the 2006 war, the border with Lebanon has never been more quiet. Hizballah are afraid to do anything. Why? Because they and Lebanon were badly beaten and cannot afford another such “divine victory”. Why didn’t Hizballah do anything to help Hamas during the recent Gaza conflict? Why are they even afraid to revenge Mugniyeh?

    Of course Israel has the upper hand. The average Israeli is 6-7 times richer than the average Lebanese. Israel is a thriving high tech economy. Lebanon is in debt to its gills and cannot even supply consistent electricity to its people. The Israeli defense budget is bigger than the whole Lebanese budget. There are three Israeli universities in the top world 500. There is no Lebanese one. And I can go on.

    Oh, and let me remind you that in 48, Lebanon and Israel were equal in most aspects. But your idea of thriving and catching up is by supporting Islamic movements. When will you ever learn?

    Posted by AIG | March 3, 2009, 1:34 pm
  50. AIG,
    Hezbollah and Hamas are something you ‘expect’ from the Arab world. Yet they are something alien to us? Could you at least be consistent in your criticism? Of course that would entail the sort of self reflection so completely lacking in Israeli discourse.

    And why is this something you expect ‘as an Israeli’? Is there something in Israeli DNA or upbringing that compels you to make sweeping racist stereotypes about societies and what is expected of them?

    How can Israel possibly be the path to democracy? You should really stop drinking your own kool-aid. Your best friends in the Arab world are autocratic police states. And you’re cozying up to own of the most repressive monarchies in the world. At the same time, you occupy one Arab democracy, and invade another one every decade.

    And Israel is no thriving economy. What thriving economy needs a cash infusion of eight billion dollars ever year to stay afloat? Sooner or later the US will get tired of sustaining your sorry ass for no benefit whatsoever, and that will be the end of your little colonial experiment.

    Posted by RedLeb | March 3, 2009, 5:27 pm
  51. RedLeb,

    You don’t get it do you? For 60 years the Arabs have been telling the Jews in Israel that they will eventually be thrown into the sea, or in your more refined words “that will be the end of your little colonial experiment”. So what is racist about saying that we expect this rhetoric from the Arabs? It is a fact! We have been hearing about our coming end for 60 years from different Arabs and you are continuing with this without even being aware of what you are doing!

    Israel will soon be part of the OECD. It is a thriving technologically advanced economy whether you like it or not. Israel alone has more patents per year than all Arab states combined. It will survive with or without US money which is just $3 billion per year, less than 3% of GDP and only for military use. The US is not sustaining us. The US and the West and Sauid are in fact keeping Lebanon from going completely bankrupt.

    So keep threatening us, and telling us about our near demise. It allows the rest of the world to see what you are really all about and how detached you are from reality. Meanwhile, continue supporting Hamas and Hizballah. That will only make Israel stronger relative to you.

    Posted by AIG | March 3, 2009, 7:56 pm


  1. Pingback: Thar’s Federalists in Them Thar Hills… « Qifa Nabki - July 10, 2009

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