The following commentary is by a well-informed reader of this blog who goes by the pseudonym “Charles”. He was one of the authors of the excellent Lebanese Political Journal blog (largely defunct since about 2007, but a must-read during the post-Hariri assassination years), and his intervention provides some much-needed context on the larger issues behind the telecoms showdown in Lebanon.
Reader Commentary by “Charles”
It appears that the basic problem is a lack of state accountability. Two oligarchic factions are standing off against one another.
The discussion to privatize Ogero goes back to the days of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri (and Finance Minister Fouad Siniora) who had the political and economic clout to privatize Ogero and make it his own. From 2003-4, the Syrians severely limited Hariri’s privatizations, which resulted in Moody’s downgrading Lebanon’s bond rating, as the government was not following its own debt restructuring program according to the guidelines set out in Paris II, which included promises to privatize the telecommunications network, the electrical grid, MEA, amongst other things.
Of course, the re-election of Lahoud and the removal of Hariri put everything else on hold, but Hariri’s men remained in their positions in the ministries waiting for their leader to return to power. Omar Karami’s (and Finance Minister Elias Saliba’s) failures alongside Syrian heavy handedness almost guaranteed Hariri’s return to power and a return to privatizations.
When M14 won the 2005 elections and then negotiated Paris III, the privatizations were supposed to continue, but did not because of opposition from Jumblatt, Berri, and Hezbollah, who humiliated Hariri and Siniora by rudely making their opposition to privatization known during the PM and Finance Minister’s meetings in New York and DC (something we saw them do once again to topple Hariri’s gov’t in 2011).
The telecoms privatization continued to fester under Marwan Hamade who, despite his affiliation with the March 14th coalition (M14), also had problems with Abdel Monem Youssef who was still waiting to become the director of the newly privatized Ogero and make his millions. The M14 appointed and affiliated director of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) Kamal Shehadeh had major problems with both Hamade and Youssef.
The transfer of telecoms to Gebran Bassile was a remarkably intelligent move by Michel Aoun. Without a financial power base of his own, Aoun needed a source of wealth to finance his politics, and he went to the same sources of money that finance a huge portion of Lebanese government operating costs: (1) foreign backers; (2) and the government owned telecommunications networks that allow Lebanese to do what we do best: talk on cell phones.
Since then, both specific interests within the Future Movement (not the entire party, and definitely not all of M14) and specific interests within the FPM (not the entire party, and definitely not all of the March 8th coalition [M8]) have determined the debate over telecommunications. This debate went from being nasty under Gebran Bassile to being an all out war under Charbel Nahhas, under whose tenure the esteemed technocratic TRA head Shehadeh resigned in disgust (Shehadeh’s personality and political disposition is remarkably similar to Ziad Baroud).
Hariri/Siniora provide political backing and will reap the profit; Rifi provides enforcement; and Youssef holds the fort. Aoun/Bassile provide the political backing and will reap the profit; Nahhas, OTV, and the ISF Embassy division (this division swears allegiance to the FPM?) provides the enforcement; and Aoun holds the fort through tedious negotiations over cabinet formations.
In the mean time, Hezbollah established their own network, thus by-passing the squabbling over privatizations, making millions (if not billions) using its own telecommunications network, weakened the Lebanese government through depriving it of one of its greatest sources of revenue (receipts from telecommunications traffic), provided cheaper and better communications for its partisans and others, and defending its own interests with its weapons.
Sure, there is espionage stuff going on – which Future, the FPM, Hezbollah, Israel, etc. like to play up because once it is brought up Lebanese brains stop behaving rationally, but its really about who reaps the spoils from the biggest honey pot in the country.
The current squabble is over the privatization of Ogero and the possible creation of a third mobile network. Aoun and Bassile refused to play the Lebanese political game in which they would have made a deal with Hariri and received a cut (Lebanon’s system of creating consensus), and have been trying to take the candy away from Hariri/Youssef for years. Nahhas has been the most effective at dismantling the Hariri/Youssef network, which is why the relationship between the two factions has become so nasty. They don’t understand why Aoun isn’t playing by the corrupt rules of Lebanese politics with them, even though he does with almost every other faction.
Youssef hunkering down created a stalemate to be resolved in the future. Nahhas is trying to resolve the situation now, because…
Enter Najib Miqati, and the situation becomes an emergency for both FM and FPM, which is why they are behaving so badly at this precise moment. The Miqati billions were created through telecommunications. Taha Miqati was a small time construction contractor in Khaleej until he established his satellite communications up link, which created enough profit for the Miqati brothers to make their billions. Their business relationships with the Assad regime (and more specifically with Rami Makhlouf) involve telecommunications.
If Miqati gets the telecoms portfolio in the next government, Hariri will cut a deal and Youssef will get his pay out (and he’s been waiting a long, long time). Aoun and Bassile get screwed. However, Hariri has a much worse hand with which to negotiate if Youssef doesn’t have a full network and doesn’t have a large base of operations that he controls.
Miqati has the political might to privatize the telecoms networks, or at least upgrade them, but he will have to cut deals all around, including with HA, Berri, and Jumblatt. Hariri is in a much better position if Youssef is in a dominant position. Youssef can throw a wrench in the works of any future privatization deal.
Nahhas technically had the right to take his action with the equipment, but the FPM isn’t following the “no victor, no vanquished” consensus model of Lebanese politics. They made it personal, and Future is responding in a surprisingly immature manner given how much they have to lose in this.
Dios mio! #400
-> If the Iraqi war creates a precedent (still supported by you)
Well the qualifier “still” really is not accidental. If I were not “still” supportive of it, I would be a hypocrite, no? I can’t let hindsight change my position. It would be dishonest. Pre-American invasion, I thought Iraq would simply see a more conservative Shia emergence. But their democratic rights were more important to me than the potential for them to abuse those rights. (I thought time would correct that). I did not expect incessant suicide bombings etc.
-> And please, don’t tell me that the “jihadi” thing as you call is that much important that it deserve to be mentioned here.
“Jihadi”. “Suicide Bombing”. “Sectarian Clashes”. Call it as you will. I don’t have the statistics. How many people in Iraq have died as a result of suicide bombings and other “sectarian” attacks?
Now for your specific questions:
I don’t think that things are so black and white. I don’t think that “Neo-Con” is so monolithic. I think there were several reasons and motives behind the Iraq war. Some driven from greed. Others, well intentioned. (See below for my arguments). Obviously, you can call me “Neo-Con” for supporting this war, but I am certainly not benefiting from it, and I would like to think that my reasons are not so ill-intentioned. You may of course disagree with this reading of things.
At least, the “stated” position of the US was, for the first time- in a very long time, that they supported the people’s will and not The US’s son-of-a-bitch of the day.
Remember that Saddam was supposedly the vanguard of the US/Saudi against the Iranian menace (they bankrolled his war against Iran!) And yet, after a terrible war that claimed millions of lives, the Americans went in and handed- yes, handed- the country to figures that are closers in mindset to the Iranians. [It was not Chalabi or Alawi that came to power!]
I cannot accept that the rationale was nothing but nefarious. The Americans have yet to reap any economic benefits from their little experiment.
That’s why I asked you the series of questions on your feelings about Milosevic, the current Libyan foray, etc. (You have yet to answer!).
Yes. In my view yes. Ideally, it would not be the US. But the UN. I wish it were a more honest organization and that it it interfere in countries where rights are flagrantly abused. It should have been there to protect the Kurds, or the Shia in Iraq. As it should have been there to protect the Bosnians and Croats.
And as I think it should be there to protect the Syrians.
You say you support regime change in Syria. But you want it to be homegrown.
To date, if you believe the reports, upwards of 1000 people have been killed by the regime. I assume you support a homegrown change still.
What is the magic number, the threshold, that will make you flip and support an external intervention?
10000 dead? 50k? 100k? 1 million?
I am a pacifist at heart. I think weapons should all be banned. I don’t believe in armies, or wars. As i wrote in the beginning, I think the US is responsible to a large extent for the state of the region as it is.
But in 2003, the Iraqis were jaded, and powerless. Beaten to a pulp. I don’t know if you personally know Iraqis (I know many, and I mean many). People my age looked 30 years older than they were. I don’t think back then it was acceptable to continue crippling the country with more sanctions and BS “Oil for Food” programs.
And I do think that the improved political representation in Iraq will pave way for a better Iraq in the future.
Only time will either prove or disprove my position. And I see you are restless with the time it has already taken, but I think it will take longer time still than what has already elapsed.
See above question on Syria. What will the turning point for you be?
Also, out of curiosity… did you support ousting Milosevic?
As per above. I am not a war-monger. Nor do I support wars. Nor obviously do I think that the US should be fixing the world’s problem, (and bankrolling them!). If there are issues with in North Korea, what is the US to do? North Korea was supported for years by China. Still is. Should the US start a war with China for its appalling (and yes, it is appalling) human rights record?
There’s a billion Chinese. Where will it end?
But I don’t think this is an argument for complacency. Or for stating that where a difference can be made, it should not be made.
If a genocide is taking place in Timbuktu and we have the ability to prevent it (even if that means a military intervention), then why not prevent it. I cannot accept the argument that we don’t prevent 50 other attrocities as a reason of not acting on a particular one.
Surely there must be a middle ground!
This is why I wrote what I wrote above. I don’t want to change my view just because things didn’t pan out exactly as I had hoped for them to.
We were where we were in 2003. And the situation was bad. I agree with you. I think it would rather hypocritical to just defacto say the decision was good because a Mad dictator has been removed!
I don’t think that this should be the reason to decide one way or another.
But back in 2003, there were:
(1) Debilitating sanctions against Iraq. Even before the War in Iraq and before 2001, these sanctions were blamed for killing Iraqis from malnutrition, lack of medication, etc).
(2) The situation was doing no favors to Western countries who imposed those sanctions. In fact these sanctions increased resentment of the West, promoted support for groups like Bin Laden’s etc.
(3) Those sanctions made it even less likely that a homegrown movement would be able to topple Saddam.
(4) You had a horrible mad dictator.
Something had to be done then. My view back then was that removing Saddam from the picture was the right course of action.
Oh man, you want to keep me up tonight, I’m tired as hell !!
The “Jihadi” aspect of my comments was related to yours, where I didn’t understood extacly why you brought it in the discussion. But anyway, let’s skip it, ok?
No problem for the “still supported by you”, I’ve just mentioned it to validate that you haven’t change your mind (pre-2003 vs 2011). By the way changing his mind about an issue, is not necessarily hypocrisy, maybe just a eye-opening! (only idiots don’t change their mind, isn’t it?)
Also, do not be that thigh on wording. I used Neo-Con, not à la HK (i.e. as a monolithic bloc), but to sum up the US administrationS objectiveS in that war. I’m aware there is more “granularities” in this, to use military jargon.
But still, from all these multi-faceted reasons for war, do you agree that at the end of the day the benefit to get from this war was:
1. immediate and short termed benefits
– $$$ for US private sector (military industry, oil corps, rebuilding corps)
– better image amongst US public opinion (protecting america from WMD, Al Qaeda threats, and etc,,, you name it…)
2. medium and long term benefits
– consolidation of the US domination in the region (economically and militarly), especially by putting more pressure on regional (Iran) and global potential competitors (China, maybe Russia).
I’m not saying that these objectives has been reached.
So I’m hardly seeing any non ill-intentioned objectives here, and definitely no support of the will of the people. However, the will of the people at that time was to get rid of their local butcher, so what a chance for the US! Notice that a previous example showed us that the US doesn’t care if the people is supporting or not the guy they want to remove (Mossadegh). They will remove it anyway.
“The Americans have yet to reap any economic benefits from their little experiment.”
I’m not sure to understand this take… you mean that the US is not getting economic benefits from this war (either now or tomorrow)? If you believe that, then we don’t have the same informations.
Also, you ask me about a threshold that triggers an intervention…well, when you state “where rights are flagrantly abused”, do you have a threshold in mind ??
Dude, do not worry about how much Iraqis I interfere with, I trust your word, so trust mine. I know quite a few as well.
Concerning the NKorea example, if I’m not misunderstanding, you are basically saying that the US can’t do anything because of China’s backing? So it means only isolated dictatorial countries can be striked by the US?
I’m sure I have missed other things in your answer, and sorry for that
But still see below:
1- Milosevic scumbag:
OK for his ousting
2- Lybia crazy rulers:
OK for their toppling
3- KSA in Bahrein:
I condemn this move
for 1-2, we do agree, BUT the ways it (has been/is done) is where we need to agree to disagree.
for 3, I might suspect that you were not expecting this answer 😉 *
*on another note, as of my readings of QN blog, I’ve not found any evidence of our resident iceman “raining” on Bahrainis and clapping at the Saudis for their move there.
nite nite (its 00:04 in Dublin, I haven’t sleep for almost 2 days)
Loaded response. Briefly as it will be a few days before I address ur points….
By the way changing his mind about an issue, is not necessarily hypocrisy, maybe just a eye-opening! (only idiots don’t change their mind, isn’t it?)
Well the issue would have to be broad-based. example: foreign intervention, etc.
The situation in Iraq has happened. There’s really no point saying I don’t support toppling saddam when in fact I did, and he was in fact toppled! Nor would it be honest to say that after supporting his ouster to go back and say (if proven wrong) that I do not support his ouster.
The best I could do is admit being wrong.
But I think judgement on this matter is still premature. We will have to see how the Arab springs unfold and where Iraq ends up to properly assess who was right and who was wrong on this matter.
Loaded questions. Will have to tackle them one at a time.
I actually don’t agree with this statement.
When I opine I have to put the 2003 hat on and respond accordingly.
Back then I argued that after the US went in, the ensuing regime would not necessarily be very US friendly and will patch things up with Iran.
In fact almost 9 years later, we see that this is in fact what has happened. Iraq is less liberal. It is more Iran leaning. Sistani made the American design bend to his will. Not the other way around
None of this was unexpected to me.
So to say that the medium to long term plan was to put pressure on Iran is something I don’t agree with.
As for China and Russia. I don’t have strong views. It costs money to solve world problems. This war has cost the US trillions (?) Or billions at the very least. I don’t have the figures.
It was a highly risky economic proposal and it hasn’t paid off (yet). I don’t think the Neocon gamble was that naïve. I think still that history will look positively at this point if democracy takes proper root.
Impressive. You actually went back in time and read, LoL.
Not here to taint Iceman’s good name. You ought to judge for yourself. But in fact he did make those statements. Perhaps the verb “clapping” was a slight dramatisation of his views :). LoL
Anyways, whatever else one may think of Iceman, one thing he is, is brutally and unabashedly honest. (Wrong maybe, but honest in expressing how he sees things).
So I’ll tell you what, why don’t u ask him, point blank those questions, and see what he tells you :).
If he denies it, I’ll spend the time digging up the specific posts and you can be the judge.
The Ain El Remmaneh bus, the spark of the devastating Lebanese civil war, has been found. It was used as an exhibit in Beirut:
I am of the opinion that this relic must be restored to the shape that it was in on April 13, 1973 and should anchor a permanent exhibit about the civil war in Lebanon.
I further think that the financing should be accomplished through a wide reaching campaign and not through either the government or a few wealthy individuals. What do you think? Should we pursue this project?
Issa,, surely we can judge the merits of something contemporary without having to go back in history (Mossadegh)!
If it were up to the Americans, surely, you must believe that they would have had different choices for elected leaders than those who actually came to power!
Would you not, at the very least, agree with this statement?!?
I’m not an economist or a numbers person. I just read snippets from the news. And to date, all i”ve read is how much money the US is losing on a daily basis in Iraq. If this information is not true, then point me to the right information, and I’ll reconsider my position.
As for the now or tomorrow part. Obviously the US is hoping to reap some rewards, cement new relationships etc. Otherwise the US would be the most altruistic “Empire” to have existed in history. But that is not a certainty, it is/was a gamble. We have (I believe) not seen it “pay” off yet.
That’s a question I asked you about Syria. There are people dying there now. So far 1000+.
At what point do you think the “international community” should step in. Surely you must have a threshold. Otherwise, your opposition to the regime in Syria will ring very hollow indeed!
There is no magic number I am expecting you to respond with. Just curious about your views.
And from the ones you know (hopefully recent ones that came out of Iraq). Didn’t you find them jaded and worn out? Looking many years more than their age?
Isn’t that a plain and obvious truth? Isn’t that why countries covet nuclear weapons. The “deterrent” option if you will?
For 1-2 we don’t necessarily disagree. I support removing those figures. Strategy is another matter altogether.
For 3. I don’t pre-form ideas. So really, I had no expectations of an answer ;).
I’ve clearly stated that the war objectives that I mentionned was OBJECTIVES NOT NECESSARILY REACHED.
So, regarding the benefit that the US is having from the war, in my first comment I said that it is the private sector who is benefiting from it, and of course not the Us economy in general (some say 3 trillion $ total cost !!)
I’m not a bean counter either, but just have a look at how the US military is doing: nice graph
…and I’m sparing you the gigantic profits of oil companies, private defense contractors, infrastructure rebuilding companies etc…all of them directly benefited from the war on Iraq.
Do you agree with the statement saying that the US administration engaged in Iraq has very specific ties with the private sector interested in the war?
Concerning the “threshold”, again I’m sending you the question back. I have no figure in mind..and you?
Well, I know a couple of Iraqis who left the country back in 1995 I guess, because they simply cannot support living under the rule of Saddam. However, the Iraqis I know who fled after the war has been started against their country in 2003 was indeed just cheerless and afflicted after what they had to go trough. The US invasion has been lot more catastrophic to them (imho)
Regarding your answer about the US prevented from attacking countries with a powerful backing, so basically it means that the way the US sold the war i.e. “toppling the dictator” and “promoting/establishing democracy” is not really a general standard that the US has? Rather, I would rephrase these standards that way: “toppling the isolated dictators” and “promoting democracy in isolated countries”,,,would you agree with that idiomatique?
Don’t you feel that we are going round in circles here?
(1) I understand that oil/reconstruction companies, the military etc may have made money out of this. But I think the issue of economic benefit should be a little grander in scale. I am sure the US eyes competition from its global competitors and how to position itself more importantly than lining the pockets of Fulan and Fulan with millions of $. I agree with you, the specific administration that promoted the war and went into the war did have specific “conflicts of interest”. But I don’t think that the US- the foremost superpower- is a banana republic that is so fickle that it will take a nation to war that costs it trillions only to satisfy a few companies here and there. Maybe I am stupid and naive to believe this.
(2) I don’t have a number/threshold for intervention. But philosophically, I am not the one who shied from the position that I can be for foreign intervention. You did. So that’s why I ask you the question.
It’s tough to come up with an answer. But are you saying that you are willing to concede that some threshold exists where your position can be changed? Or do you simply believe that no such threshold exists and a people should always be left to their own devices to affect change?
(3) The Iraqis were jaded from the war with Iran. From the First Gulf war, from Sanctions, and from the current war.
(4) In life, we all go round in circles :). Issa, it’s the journey that matters, not the destination. So we’re getting to understand each other’s positions/thinking processes. There’s value in that, no?
I’m giving you the same answers because you are asking the same question (or repeating the same ideas) – & VICE VERSA 😉
1. I don’t say that the US is a banana republic, I just say that removing saddam, or maybe correcting the mistakes of the past, or maybe promoting democracy has NOTHING TO DO with the motives that led the US to war. I tried to state the other true objectives (100% cynical) i.e. greed of the private sector & desperate moves to consolidate the “””Empire””” (3 brackets aren’t enough I guess)
2. So you told me that, ideally, you would like the UN to deal with foreign intervention matters, not necessarily the US. So you are advocating the foreign intervention is necessary. And again, I told you that I don’t have any morbid threshold in mind, that’s why I asked you back. Also, you wanted to position me regarding Lybia, Bosnia etc. I stated that I was in favor of ousting the ruling scumbags, but I specifically mentionned that we will disagree on the way to do it. Again, I repeat that I prefer a revolution of the oppressed people against their rulers if they deserve it.
3. Really, the war with Iran was devastating to the Iraqis, but if you really hear what these guys has to say (at least from my own experience), it is the West interventions that were the most destructive to them. And indeed, the Gulf war I was hard, but nothing compared to the criminal embargo, and definitely, the Iraqis didn’t need Gulf war II to finish them.
4. Believe me I’m doing my best to see the value of all this – no offense ya Jibril :o)
Also, on a different note, but related tough, do you agree that the campaign for the promotion of the war was full of lies (you know all the manipulation, false evidences/testimony) ?
If yes, since I understand that you are “still” supporting the war, how can you combine these 2 elements (i.e. a big lie a the beginning, and according to you a “general” positive result of the war). ?
(if that question doesn’t sounds English to you please let me know and sorry for that)
oh by the way, you didn’t tell if you agree with my rephrasing?
[quote] Rather, I would rephrase these standards that way: “toppling the isolated dictators” and “promoting democracy in isolated countries”,,,would you agree with that idiomatique?[/quote]
how can I get this bloody quote marks once for all ???
Issa, Resp Part 1:
– I enjoy the banter. Take this not as an statement of offense, but as a complement :).
(1) This is where I disagree with you… I think promoting Democracy and serving the interest of “Empire” are in fact correlated. The American scheme of supporting a SonOfABitch of the day has failed miserably. And I do think they have to support democracy and support it sincerely. Taking that position will create meaningful relations between East and West. I don’t think you are opposed to this principle. But you are focussing more on the cynical reasons. My point is that those cynical reasons might have lined Fulan’s pockets or Fulana’s pockets but are not long term strategic goals. Whether willingly or not, America has ended up supporting the democracy project in Iraq.
(2) Yes, I understood what you wrote. But in my view, you might as well not call X, Y or Z a scumbag. That means, all you are willing to do is to sit in a far-away land and say… Yes, X may be a scumbag, but really his people should deal with him. And X may kill 1000, or a million, or be like Stalin and kill 10s of millions, and oh well. I think that humanity should have a moral responsibility to protect humanity.
(Different Note) Issa, I think that there is a difference between us bantering and discussing issues, and what I consider the marketing campaign of selling a war. The type of analysis we provide is at a slightly different level than President Wotshisname standing on a podium trying to convince Mrs WotsHerName to put her son in harm’s way.
To answer specifically your question. No. I don’t agree the campaign was based on lies. I think it was a marketing campaign. And like all marketing campaigns it had elements of truth to it.
Saddam had an excellent scientific program, and was quite capable of making “chemical” agents. If that were not enough, the US supplied Saddam with chemical agents themselves. They should know! They gave him the damn things themselves!
I am not one of those people who said… “See, the Americans went in and where were those weapons? It was all a lie!”.
Who knows, maybe he destroyed them. Maybe he passed them off to Iran/Syria. Or maybe yes, he didn’t have them at that point of time.
Really, does Saddam having WMD warrant a war against him?!? In my view NO. Otherwise. Why not declare war on Russia and the US and China. For all their stockpiles of Nuclear weapons!
I also don’t make a distinction between “WMD” and Not-“WMD”. Dying is dying. And killing is killing.
So I don’t put a focus as you do on the nature of the reasons this or that administration went to war. I see them purely as a marketing campaign, and treat them as such.
For the quotes, I think the HTML code is blockquote. That’s what I use.