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11/21/2006
ASSASSIN STRIKES AT SINIORA GOVERNMENT (UPDATED)
CATEGORY: Middle East

The Associated Press is reporting (and the Daily Star confirms) that Lebanon’s Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel was killed by gunmen near Beirut on Tuesday. Gemayel was the son of former President Amin Gemayel, a respected politician and participant in the National Dialogue which until recently, sought to avert a crisis by negotiations with Hizbullah over a new “unity” government.

The choice of the younger Gemayel as a target was no accident. It sends an absolutely clear signal to the rest of Prime Minister Siniora’s cabinet, written in blood, that no one - not even the Prime Minister himself - is safe:

His fatal shooting will certainly heighten the political tension in Lebanon, where the leading Muslim Shiite party Hezbollah has threatened to topple the government if he does not get a bigger say in Cabinet decision making.

Gemayel was rushed to a nearby hospital seriously wounded, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. and Voice of Lebanon, the Phalange Party mouthpiece reported.

The party later announced that he was dead.

Crude, but effective. I doubt whether Nasrallah himself knew in advance. He doesn’t want civil strife. He’s willing to threaten it but when it comes right down to it, he would prefer to swallow Lebanon whole rather than pick up the pieces after a ruinous civil war.

That doesn’t mean that Nasrallah won’t use his militia to foment a crisis in the streets. But he is hoping that the pressure he can put on the March 14th Forces coupled with international pressure on Siniora to give in to his demands will give him what he wants without a messy sectarian conflict.

No. This attack has Syria’s stink all over it. It’s exactly the kind of crude message that Syria sent by assassinating Rafiq Hariri; oppose Syria and you die. I’m not sure what this will mean politically. Too many boxes within boxes to sort out. Nasrallah will deny involvement to the heavens and perhaps even accuse the government of carrying out the assassination in order to undercut his position with the people. The March 14th Forces must tread carefully lest they be seen as taking political advantage of the death of a member of a much beloved family in Lebanon. And the Christian Phalange party may seek retribution against the Shias - a disastrous turn of events if that occurs.

Nothing will happen until the funeral. We should get a better idea of how things are shaking out then.

In the meantime, the International Tribunal should expand its mandate to include an investigating into this murder as well. Until Syria is brought to account for the murder of Hariri and other anti-Syrian journalists and politicians, the Lebanese people will never really be free. They will always be looking over their shoulder, waiting to see what Syria might do to rob them of their nationhood.

UPDATE: METHINKS THEY DOTH PROTEST TOO MUCH

Both Syria and Hizbullah have condemned the killing:

Syria on Tuesday condemned the assassination of Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, calling the shooting of the anti-Syrian Christian politician in Beirut a “despicable crime.”

The official news agency Sana said in a statement, “This is a crime aimed at destabilizing Lebanon… Syria is careful about preserving Lebanon’s security, unity and civil peace.”

SANA also quoted an anonymous official as saying, “This despicable crime aims to destroy stability and peace in Lebanon.”

The pro-Syrian Hezbollah party in Lebanon also came out against the murder. Hezbollah member Ahmed Melli told Al-Jazeera television, “We strongly condemn and denounce this killing. It was carried out by those forces who want to harm the future of Lebanon.”

Please note that the Syrian statement about preserving Lebanon’s “security, unity and civil peace” does not include the term “independence.”

This makes 5 prominent anti-Syrian Lebanese murdered over the last 2 years:

Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed in a massive car bombing in February 2005. The journalist and activist Samir Kassir and former Communist Party leader George Hawi were killed in separate car bombings in June last year in addition to lawmaker and newspaper manager Gibran Tueni was killed in a car bombing in December.

Tueni was publisher of the largest Arab daily newspaper in Lebanon, An Nahar and was a much beloved figure. And that list doesn’t include 3 or 4 others who have been wounded in assassination attempts including a very popular female TV reporter.

UPDATE II

Via Malkin, a great article by Daily Star Opinion Editor Michael Young in the Wall Street Journal today that calls for Syria to be punished for the Hariri asssassination:

The Iraq Study Group’s report, expected in the coming weeks, will possibly include such an invitation. Syria’s Lebanese foes fear they will pay if the U.S. and Damascus cut a deal.
If so, it wouldn’t be the first time for Mr. Baker. In 1990, he was a leading light in President George H.W. Bush’s administration, which ceded Lebanon to Syria in exchange for President Hafez Assad’s agreement to be part of the international coalition against Iraq. An inveterate “realist,” Mr. Baker is not likely to balk at negotiating with Mr. Assad if it means the U.S. can buy some peace of mind as it transforms its presence in Iraq. His proposal is unpopular at the White House, and last week Mr. Bush made that known to Mr. Baker and his colleagues. However, because of his electoral defeat, the president, pressed by a Congress avidly searching for new ideas, might find less latitude to ignore Syria down the road.

Unless, of course, the U.N. incriminates Syrian officials in the Hariri murder. That Mr. Assad realizes the fatal implications of this connection was evident when British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently sent a senior adviser, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, to Damascus for a chat. The visit, reportedly approved by Washington, aimed to see if Syria could be enticed away from Iran. If The Economist is correct, and the magazine spoke to Mr. Sheinwald upon his return, the Syrian president has four conditions: an end to the Hariri investigation, a guarantee that the U.S. would not undermine his regime, a return of Syrian influence in Lebanon, and the handing back of the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel in 1967. No doubt Mr. Assad would demand much the same from the U.S. if it ran to Damascus to “engage” him on Iraq, assuming the Syrian leader would consider conceding to Washington in a moment of strength what he refused when he was weak.

The key is the Tribunal. All else becomes impossible for Assad if the Syrian government is implicated in the Hariri killing. Syria would become an international pariah and Assad himself might find himself on the outs.

I have a feeling that things are going to go south very soon in Lebanon.

By: Rick Moran at 9:58 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (10)

THINGS AREN’T SO PEACHY FOR OUR ENEMIES EITHER

This article originally appears in The American Thinker

Americans have been in a foul mood recently.

One would think that taking satisfaction from giving the Republicans the heave ho and depositing them in the minority would lift the spirits of our citizenry and buoy their confidence so that we could face the future with that good old fashioned American optimism that has carried the nation through difficult times in the past.

Alas, such is not the case. America awoke the day after the election and realized that kicking the GOP out of power was only part of the problem. The other half of the electoral bargain - passing the baton to the Democrats - has so far, proven to be something of a disappointment. Rarely has a party come to power as the Democrats have with such a paucity of ideas on how to cure what ails us. You can hardly blame them. Their electoral strategy involved keeping their mouths shut while the Republicans self-destructed and events in Iraq played out to their advantage. Not a brilliant battle plan but it worked to perfection - with the help of Mark Foley and the media-savvy insurgents and terrorists who have made Baghdad and its environs a hell on earth.

Unfortunately, now that they are poised to run the legislative branch of government, the lack of specificity about what they intend to do about Iraq, about Iranian nukes, about a slowly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan is coming back to haunt them. This has further soured the mood of our fellow citizens and we approach the holiday season with some trepidation and many questions unanswered.

Events the world over seem to be spinning out of our control as conflicts and crisis in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Darfur, Somalia, and several other hot spots have proved themselves resistant to any solutions we have been able to offer. Whether our efforts have been unilateral, acting in concert with our allies, or even undertaken via the questionable auspices of the United Nations, it seems that the enemies of freedom have it all going their way.

Not so fast, my dejected countrymen. In a surprising number of conflicts and crisis where it appears the enemy has a singular advantage, the fact is that any “victory” they might achieve at our expense will almost certainly come with enormous problems for them as well. And given that their legitimacy is not based on popular sovereignty but rather comes from the barrel of a gun, this makes any domestic problems that may crop up as a result of an American “defeat” a threat to their very existence.

Take the Iranians, for example. As long as we’re in Iraq, the mullahs will continue to do their best to destabilize the government by supporting insurgents and the various Shia militias that are gleefully slaughtering their fellow countrymen who happen to belong to the Sunni branch of Islam. But something has happened in the last few months that even the Iranians didn’t count on. The militias appear to have splintered, many members breaking away from any kind of central command structure and are now operating as independent death squads. Even Muqtada al-Sadr, head of the extremist Mahdi Militia has admitted he no longer controls large numbers of armed men who are roaming the streets of Baghdad looking for victims.

Losing control of their proxies is not the worst of it for the Iranians. The Democratic electoral victory has them even more nervous. Not because they think the Democrats are interested in victory in Iraq but rather because they know that the Democrats want as quick an exit for our troops as can be done without exposing themselves to political charges of cutting and running. The obvious corollary to an American withdrawal is utter and complete chaos in Iraq with not only Shia slaughtering Sunni but also rival Shia militias - the Mahdi Army and Badr Brigades - slaughtering each other in a quest for power.

Ahmadinejad may be a loon, but he’s not crazy enough to tolerate a failed state on his border. The Iranians may be forced to send their own troops into the resulting chaos and quagmire to restore some semblance of order. And wouldn’t that be the irony of ironies as it would be payback time for Iraqis who would gladly transfer their hate from occupying Americans to the Iranians who they fought for 10 long years in one of the more brutal wars of the 20th century.

The collapse of the Iraqi government would also give greater independence to the Kurds in the north who already enjoy a large degree of autonomy from Baghdad. With Kurdish Iranians over the border already seething over their perceived second class citizenship and yearning to be united with their ethnic brothers and sisters not only in Iraq but also Turkey and elsewhere, the Persian nightmare of restless minorities causing trouble within the Iranian border may become an uncomfortable reality. And once a few groups start to rebel, anything is possible including a general uprising against the rule of the theocrats.

Also, any success that the Iranians may have with their nuclear program is a double edged sword. While the chances of an American strike against Iranian nuclear facilities may be fading, the fact is that most of the world is united against the idea of a nuclear armed Iran. The closer the mullahs get to their goal of manufacturing a weapon, the more pressure will result from countries like Russia and China that today seem to be hanging back, reluctant to impose even minimal sanctions.

As the Iranian program progresses, they may find those who have been running interference for them at the United Nations less and less sanguine about radical fundamentalist Muslims having the ultimate weapon. And with their economy in the toilet and nearly 50% of the population under the age of 25 (26% under the age of 14), tough sanctions and the resulting international isolation could create the perfect conditions for a revolutionary overthrow of the government.

Meanwhile, Syria is, if anything, in even more trouble than Iran. Just next door, Israel has been making noises about going after Hezb’allah’s patron and supporter in order to keep the terrorists from re-arming. And while Syrian President Bashir Assad continues to meddle in the affairs of his Lebanese neighbors, his support and encouragement of Hezb’allah may be about to yield the unintended consequence of a civil war. Nasrallah is no Syrian toady and is now following his own agenda that he hopes will bring him to power either directly through new elections or indirectly by giving him veto power in a new “government of national unity.”

Resistance to Nasrallah’s plans may erupt into street violence within the week. And while most observers believe that Hezb’allah would emerge victorious, the resulting fractured society would be almost as hard to govern as next door Iraq. Besides, Assad needs Lebanon virtually intact. The little country has been a cash cow for the Syrian Alawi ruling class as they milked and skimmed the economy in the past for every farthing they could.

It is Iraq where Assad faces the most danger. A precipitous American withdrawal would present the Syrians with many of the same problems faced by Iran with a few extra headaches thrown in for good measure. The 90% of Sunni Muslims who make up Syria’s population would not look kindly on the slaughter of their co-religionists in Iraq. Refugees would pour across the border, straining the government’s resources. And the nightmare prospect of a potential radical Shia state ensconced on his border has been one reason that Assad has cooperated - however minimally - with American efforts to staunch the flow of fighters coming into Iraq via Syria.

Even Russia and China, who would seem to gain from American setbacks in the Middle East, would be facing problems that may, in the long run, actually draw them closer to the United States on some issues.

The nuclear non-proliferation problem doesn’t end with Iran. Both nations realize that it is in their vital interest to keep a lid on the bottle containing the nuclear genie if only to forestall a nightmare future with dozens of nuclear powers, any one of which capable of igniting World War III. This is why eventually, both nations will work with us to keep Iran from getting the bomb. The alternative is just too gruesome to contemplate.

In the Middle East, both nations realize the need for peace and stability - especially China who in a few years will surpass Japan as the second largest importer of oil behind the United States. Russia, with its restless Muslim minorities, also sees peace in the Middle East as a key to its future internal security. Both nations may temporarily profit by US missteps in the region. But ultimately, both realize that it is the United States and our special relationship with Israel that is the key to peace. Anything that reduces American influence in the region also potentially diminishes the chances for stability, something both countries can ill afford.

The bottom line is that as bad as things may seem to us, the fact that our enemies will be limited in taking advantage of our blunders due to consequences beyond their control should, if not make us feel better, at least lift the pall of gloom and doom that emanates from the punditocracy on a daily basis. And it should also remind us that we’re in this war for the long haul. Temporary set backs in Iraq or anywhere else should not deter us from continuing the fight to rid the world of Islamic extremists and the putrid ideology they wish to impose on the rest of us.

By: Rick Moran at 9:04 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (12)

2006 WEBLOG AWARDS
CATEGORY: Blogging

Nominations for the 2006 Weblog Awards are being accepted. You can go here and leave your nominations in the comments.

I was honored to be a finalist last year in the “Best Conservative Blog” category. And the reason I consider it an honor is the same reason I am promoting the awards with this post.

Kevin Alyward of Wizbang is one of the true gentlemen of the right side of the sphere. Without renumeration, he annually exposes himself to the slings and arrows of bloggers who either think the sphere should be a place of purity and light where such contests have no place or who think he left out some blog or other more deserving than those chosen.

Frankly, if it were me, I wouldn’t put up with the crap. I’d say “Fine. Here you go. See if you can do better.”

But Kevin nevertheless perseveres. And for that, every blogger owes him a debt of gratitude.

Nominations will continue for another week.

By: Rick Moran at 8:54 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)

11/20/2006
CIA: “PAY NO ATTENTION TO THOSE MULLAHS BEHIND THE CURTAIN”

More selective leaking from our friends at the Central Intelligence Agency:

A classified draft CIA assessment has found no firm evidence of a secret drive by Iran to develop nuclear weapons, as alleged by the White House, a top US investigative reporter has said.

Seymour Hersh, writing in an article for the November 27 issue of the magazine The New Yorker released in advance, reported on whether the administration of Republican President George W. Bush was more, or less, inclined to attack Iran after Democrats won control of Congress last week.

A month before the November 7 legislative elections, Hersh wrote, Vice President Dick Cheney attended a national-security discussion that touched on the impact of Democratic victory in both chambers on Iran policy.

“If the Democrats won on November 7th, the vice president said, that victory would not stop the administration from pursuing a military option with Iran,” Hersh wrote, citing a source familiar with the discussion.

Of course, the CIA might be wrong - or at least this analysis may be flawed. There are probably other assessments that are much less sanguine regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions but no one leaked those reports. They’re a secret.

And I suppose Iran’s known and verified relationship with Big Daddy A.Q. Khan - father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb - and his travelling nuclear arms bazaar was just a coincidence - a happenstance of fortunate circumstance. Besides, Khan wasn’t selling nukes, he was selling ice cream machines.

Except that this document discovered by the IAEA, proves that either Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons or those ice cream machines have one helluva kick:

A document obtained by Iran on the nuclear black market serves no other purpose than to make an atomic bomb, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Tuesday.

The finding was made in a report prepared for presentation to the 35-nation IAEA board when it meets, starting Thursday, on whether to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose economic and political sanctions on Iran.

The report was made available in full to The Associated Press.

First mention of the documents was made late last year in a longer IAEA report. At that time, the agency said only that the papers showed how to cast “enriched, natural and depleted uranium metal into hemispherical forms.”

The agency refused to make a judgment on what possible uses such casts would have. But diplomats familiar with the probe into Iran’s nuclear program said then that the papers apparently were instructions on how to mold highly enriched grade uranium into the core of warheads.

In the brief report obtained Tuesday, however, the agency said bluntly that the 15-page document showing how to cast fissile uranium into metal was “related to the fabrication of nuclear weapon components.”

Iran is probably claiming the document was accidentally stuck in between instructions on how to make a killer Rocky Road or maybe a sublime Moose Tracks.

Most of the rest of the planet believes that Iran’s heavy water reactors at Natanz and Arak serve no other purpose than to manufacture plutonium, a waste product of the nuclear reactions at the plants. Or perhaps the CIA believes that the heavy water will be used to create a particularly tasty variation of “Magilla Vanilla.”

And all of this secrecy and subterfuge surrounding their nuclear efforts is almost certainly not due to the fact that they wish to hide the development of a weapons program but rather because their recipe for “Black Cherry Surprise” promises to sweep the world.

All kidding aside, one point made by the assessment is probably correct; Iran is no where near having the capability to enrich uranium to the 85-90% necessary in order to build a bomb. And the heavy water reactors are years away from generating enough power to manufacture enough plutonium for a single weapon (although the 40 Megawatt facility at Arak promises to be a veritable plutonium assembly line once its fully operational and producing).

The key to the assessment is that the CIA has found no “firm” evidence of a secret Iranian nuke program. There is plenty of anecdotal and circumstantial evidence that they are, in fact, working hard to build the bomb. But the fact remains that there is no documentary or photographic “smoking gun” that would confirm our suspicions one way or another.

To proceed on the assumption that they aren’t building a bomb would be stupid. To bomb them without some idea of what facilities to hit would be equally dumb. And while negotiations would almost certainly be a waste of time, protocol, tradition, and common sense demands that we talk directly to the Iranians at some point. For this reason - and because they are at least 3 and probably more years from even getting close to succeeding - it would seem politic of us to sit down with the Iranians and discuss nukes, Iraq, and other regional issues that impact our security.

Besides, maybe the CIA will discover Iran’s secret frozen custard capability. That would make talking to the mullahs worthwhile.

By: Rick Moran at 3:58 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (6)

HIZBULLAH TO TAKE TO THE STREETS THURSDAY
CATEGORY: Middle East

The leading Lebanese Arab language daily newspaper, An Nahar, is reporting that Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah will send his supporters into the streets on Thursday in order to “bring down this unconstitutional and illegal government:”

Druze leader Walid Jumblat has warned that Lebanon was on the verge of a coup d’état as Hizbullah supporters were allegedly geared up for mass street protests on Thursday.

The leading daily An Nahar said Monday that the demonstrations would most likely take place on Thursday, the day Premier Fouad Saniora’s cabinet is to convene.

Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah urged his followers and pro-Syrian allies to be “psychologically” ready for mass demonstrations to topple Saniora’s anti-Syrian government.

Jumblat, in turn, warned that “we are on the verge of a coup … through gradual street protests and possible collective resignations from (public) administrations and from parliament … then riots and civil disobedience.”

Nasrallah says that the protests will be peaceful and that even if government security forces seek to provoke a violent confrontation, Hizbullah will not fight back:

He also indicated that no matter what happened, even if security forces attacked the demonstrators, his militia would not be goaded into fighting a domestic battle.

“When we take to the streets we hope that they don’t mobilize their forces in front of ours,” he said. “If they insult us we will tell them, ‘God forgive you.’ If they beat us we will tell them, ‘God forgive you.’ ”

His speech was punctuated by chants from the crowd: “Labbeik ya Nasrallah” or “We follow you, O Nasrallah.”

Indeed, Nasrallah has no need to fight back or initiate a civil war. It is quite possible that he will get everything he desires without firing a shot or fomenting a single riot. This is because pressure is beginning to build on the March 14th Forces to come to some kind of agreement with Nasrallah on a reconstituted cabinet. Since Nasrallah begins from the premise that the cabinet must contain a sufficient number of Hizbullah allies so that he will have veto power over most cabinet decisions, any “national unity government” will, by definition, be the virtual end of the ruling coalition of democrats.

That pressure is taking many different forms, including regional diplomats offering competing compromise plans (all envision either a new cabinet or new elections) and the meddling by the United Nations who has been huddled with Hizbullah patrons Iran and Syria, basically plotting the downfall of Prime Minister Siniora’s government.

Nasrallah himself is playing his role as statesman to the hilt. He doesn’t want a coup, he claims, just “balance:”

Nasrallah rejected suggestions that Hezbollah was taking orders from Iran and denied that he intended to block the tribunal, but he implied that he saw formation of a new government as a way to counterbalance U.S. influence by giving a greater say to pro-Syrian groups.

“Let’s assume we do want to bring back the Syrians. We also accuse them [the government] of representing the Americans and other forces which I will not name,” he said. “If we form a national unity government, their presence will hold back the Syrians and we would keep the Americans at bay. We would achieve a balance.”

That kind of rhetoric resonates with many, many Lebanese from all sects and parties. There is much anger against the United States government for their decision last summer to delay a cease fire in the Israel-Hizbullah war in order to give the IDF more time to degrade Hizbullah’s ability to harm the Jewish state. Nasrallah has played upon US support for Siniora’s government skillfully while dismissing claims that his armed militia is beholden to Iran and Syria.

For their part, the government, besieged by both domestic and international forces, is standing firm. They maintain that while open to compromise, there are two non-negotiable items; the International Tribunal that will hear evidence of Syrian complicity in the murder of ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri must go forward and the election returns of last year will not be overturned by giving Hizbullah the ability to paralyze the government:

Future TV quoted sources close to Saniora as saying the premier rejected Nasralla’s accusations, saying “they lead to more tension and strain.”

Jumblat, however, in a speech published by Lebanese newspapers on Monday, said the ruling March 14 coalition welcomes an “honorable compromise” that would break the political impasse paralyzing Lebanon.

“March 14 Forces are ready for an honorable compromise that would not affect the international tribunal,” Jumblat said at the general assembly meeting of his Progressive Socialist Party.

The ruling majority has viewed Nasrallah’s campaign to overthrow Saniora as a coup aimed at devastating the international tribunal.

Jumblat said that the “compromise should start by endorsing the international court” to prosecute the suspected killers of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The U.N. Security Council is expected to discuss the draft on Monday.

Saad Hariri, son of the slain Prime Minister and Parliamentary leader of the March 14th Forces, dismissed Nasrallah’s sincerity with a scathing insult:

“We approve of the formation of a national unity government, but the mentality required for its creation is missing.”

What does the future hold? Walid Jumblat offered this chilling scenario:

“The opposition groups are on the verge of announcing a coup in the country,” Mr. Jumblatt said Sunday at a televised news conference. “They will start with gradual street protests, then mass demonstrations, then riots and resignation from Parliament. We are until this moment still calling for a compromise.”

There is little doubt that Nasrallah has the ability to create such an outcome. The fact is, however, that a civil war would not be in his interest. He wants Lebanon intact, not destroyed by conflict. But once he sends his bully boys into the streets, all bets are off. This is because there may be counter demonstrations carried out by coalition parties that could lead to violent clashes. And the security services, thought to be loyal to the government, may lose control (or be goaded into violence) by Hizbullah rowdies.

There is also the very real possibility that Syria could foment violence as a way to destabilize the country. It has become apparent in this crisis that President Assad never viewed Syria’s exit from Lebanon as a permanent state of affairs, only a temporary set back. Infiltrating agent provocateurs into the demonstrations for the explicit purpose of fomenting civil strife is a very real possibility.

Nasrallah is about ready to ratchet up the tensions in Lebanon to unbearable levels. Whether the democrats can resist remains to be seen.

By: Rick Moran at 2:12 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

11/19/2006
QUICK HITTER ON MY BELOVEDS
CATEGORY: CHICAGO BEARS

Gametime approaches. My deli is laid out (pickles on the right…knife for the mayo…where the hell is the dip?), the feast is already underway. Zsu Zsu and her damn head cheese. I with my smoked Virginia ham and Wisconsin Braunschweiger. Plochman’s mustard please, damn the Grey Poupon.

I am inching the volume up on the WBBM hometown radio broadcast. Let’s see if they can synch up the radio with the TV today. It actually varies from week to week. Jeff Joniak, Bears homer announcer, tells people to turn down the TV and listen to the radio broadcast instead. I would be more than happy to oblige (the prospect of Joe Buck doing a football game - a BEARS football game - causes my knees to knock and my hands to palsy) except there is something really disconcerting about hearing the play unfold on the radio before the ball is snapped. There have been times when the delay was 5 seconds or more. Clearly, WBBM techies must do a better job.

My cat snowball is curious about Zsu Zsu’s brain food. She sniffs it suspiciously and refuses the offer of a treat. Uninvited, she begins to lick the knife that I used to spread the brauncschwieger. Ah! That’s more like it! Why do you bother with that crap when you have perfectly good food here, she asks with an imperious look that both melts the heart and chills the bones.

My theory about cats is simple; they were left behind by the Olympian Gods to keep an eye on us. And to rule us. Man’s relationship with cats has been one long nightmare of being preyed upon. One of the earliest homo sapiens fossiles is that of a young boy with two holes in the middle of his skull. The holes match exactly the canines of a leopard. The beast leapt from a tree or rock and buried his teeth in the youngster’s head, dragging him away to his doom. This image must be hardwired into our brains. This is why domestic cats engender both awe and fear. Unlike dogs, cats have no problem looking you right in the eye and staring you down. And in that look, we always wonder what they are thinking.

I decided long ago that they had only one thing on their mind when they stare at us like that: Lunch.

Coach Lovie is being interviewed. He sounds confident. He always sounds confident. Therre isn’t a coach in the NFL being interviewed today who doesn’t sound confident. Except maybe Dennis Green of the Cardinals. He probably sounds depressed. Or mad.

Given the way his season is going, I wouldn’t be surprised if his assistants didn’t have him on some kind of hari-kari watch.

Good news. Looks like speedster wide receiver Bernard Berrian will play today. That should stretch the field for Rex “The Wonder Dog” Grossman and perhaps open the underneath a little more for tight end Desmond Clark.

Zsu Zsu wants to change the channel and turn down the radio. She wants to watch the end of this stupid chick flick on Lifetime. I quietly but firmly told her that this was out of the question, that 16 Sundays out of the year there will be no interruptions, no arguments, and no changing the channel to chick flicks on Lifetime.

Now that I’m in the bedroom watching the rest of the pre-game, I think I’ll finish this little pre-game warmer upper. I wish the damn game was web simulcast with the WBBM call of the game overdubbed. Oh well - give the net a few years. Anything is possible.

By: Rick Moran at 12:46 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

UN TO PLY ITS TENDER MINISTRATIONS TO LEBANESE CRISIS
CATEGORY: Middle East

As if it’s not bad enough that every diplomat in the Middle East is taking turns trying to tell Prime Minister Siniora’s government how best to capitulate to Hizbullah’s demands that he resign and that a “Government of National Unity” be formed, the PM now has to deal with that special kind of groveling defeatism that only the United Nations can bring to the negotiating table.

A momentous initiative aimed at finding a settlement to end Lebanon’s critical political deadlock and would soon dispatch a delegate to “tranquilize” mounting tension.
Annan spoke on Saturday with Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about the need for stability in Lebanon.

He “urged them to counsel the parties concerned to exercise patience and resolve their differences through dialogue,” said a statement issued by his spokesman.

Annan’s phone conversation with both leaders came a day after As Safir daily, citing Arab diplomatic sources in New York, said the U.N. chief has decided to “launch a political initiative aimed at tranquilizing the political situation in Lebanon.”

Since Annan won’t mention it and the chances that Assad or Ahmadinehjad will bring it up are just about as close to absolute zero you can get, one fact in this entire crisis engineered as a power grab by Hizbullah seems to have been lost in the shuffle.

To wit: In June, 2005 the Lebanese people went to the polls and overwhelmingly elected the March 14th Forces to represent them in Parliament. The democrats won nearly 3 times the number of MP’s as the next closest party. It was a slaughter. It wasn’t even close.

And now, less than 2 years later, most of the world has forgotten that one salient fact and are rushing to give Hizbullah what they want, all in the name of “stability.”

If the world backed Prime Minister Siniora’s government with half the enthusiasm with which they now wish to destroy it, I daresay that democracy would be on much firmer footing in Lebanon and Hassan Nasrallah and his bully boys would be retreating to southern Lebanon with their tail between their legs to take up commiserations with their French sympathizers in UNIFIL.

Instead, Nasrallah is biding his time, letting his patrons in Syria and Iran orchestrate a diplomatic dance that can only have one possible outcome; the ouster of Siniora and his cabinet followed by either the formation of a government with enough Shia ministers that would give Hizbullah veto power over major government decisions or early parliamentary elections that would give Nasrallah the opportunity to flex his muscles in the streets of Beirut and perhaps bring him to power.

That latter scenario is a longshot to be sure. But the leader of Lebanese Forces Samir Gaeges points out the value of political assassination and how it may be a path to power for Hizbullah:

Geagea told Reuters that the government now has 17 ministers, if 3 of these ministers were eliminated then the government will automatically fall.
Geagea did not rule out appointing Shiite ministers who are loyal to the March 14 the forces but preferred to continue all efforts to bring back the Amal and Hezbollah ministers.

He would not say who might try to kill ministers, but said Syria has some minor allies in Lebanon who may attempt the assassinations to prevent the international court from taking place.

The March 14th Forces are standing firm. Party leader Saad Hariri has made it absolutely clear that Hizbullah will not achieve with bluster and threats what it could not achieve at the ballot box:

Parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri has ruled out giving Hizbullah and its allies veto power in government, assuring that the return of the resigning Shiite ministers to the cabinet would be a first step toward a settlement.

“No one will activate the annulled one-third which is capable of toppling the government any time it decides,” Hariri said in an interview with the leading daily An Nahar published Saturday.
Hizbullah has been threatening to stage street protests to bring down Prime Minister Fouad Saniora’s government if its demands for the formation of a national unity cabinet that would give it and its allies veto power over key decisions were not met.

He said such resignations would “threaten vital decisions, topped by Resolution 1701 which calls on Israel to stop renewed assaults on Lebanon and, therefore, preserve Lebanon from going back into a destructive arena for regional interests.”

“Second of all, is the international tribunal which is going to be created and there is no doubt about that because it is the only guarantee for the Lebanese,” Hariri added.

Kofi Annan is dispatching a special negotiator to Lebanon this week. Since Hizbullah is starting from the premise that the government must go and that no compromise on that score is possible, the UN negotiator will try his best to come up with plans and formulations that will help Nasrallah achieve that goal - perhaps not right away - but too soon for the winners of that glorious election that capped the Cedar Revolution and which held such promise for the Lebanese people.

To watch the whole sickening process of betrayal unfold before our eyes may be too much to bear for those who care about democracy in Lebanon. One more reminder as the world careens toward crisis over Iranian nukes how truly useless the United Nations has proved itself to be.

By: Rick Moran at 12:07 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

11/18/2006
DEMS BETTER NOT BE HASTY ABOUT HASTINGS

The question of the ascension of Alcee Hastings to the position of Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is one that will go along way toward answering the question uppermost in many people’s minds in this post election Democratic honeymoon”

Are the Democrats serious about national security?

Forget for a moment that Hastings would replace a steady, if unspectacular Jane Harmon who has taken a common sense approach to her duties, including a thoughtful appraisal of the domestic spying allegations. Also forget about Hastings impeachment nearly 20 years ago from the federal bench. He was, after all, found innocent by a jury of his peers. And reading this account by Byron York, one can see where reasonable doubt could have played a role in the juror’s decision.

On the other hand, there is an enormous amount of damning evidence as well - including Hastings’ behavior immediately after discovering that the FBI had arrested his co-conspirator. But it is all water under the bridge. It is what Hastings has done since his election in 1992 that should concern us.

And that record reveals a man who believes that the United States is the root of most of the problems in the world today. It reveals an admirer of Fidel Castro. It reveals a man with enormously troubling positions on issues vital to the security of the United States.

A sampling:

Voted NO on deterring foreign arms transfers to China. (Jul 2005)

The bill was supposed to deter arms and technology sales to China. Is it good that a potential chairman of the House Intel Committee doesn’t care about a potential enemy improving the quality of it weapons which could someday be used against the US?

Voted NO on reforming the UN by restricting US funding. (Jun 2005)

While this might be expected of any your run-of-the-mill liberal members of Congress, the fact is that the bill required the UN to initiate common sense reforms on things like budget and personnel matters - issues that any well run organization should be held accountable for. More should be expected from an Intel Chairman than knee jerk ideological reactions.

Voted NO on keeping Cuba travel ban until political prisoners released. (Jul 2001)

Here’s a jawdropper. I’d love to hear Hastings justify lifting the travel ban on Cuba, especially after this bill made the minimum demands that the ban be lifted “only after the president has certified that Cuba has released all political prisoners, and extradited all individuals sought by the US on charges of air piracy, drug trafficking and murder.”

Voted NO on withholding $244M in UN Back Payments until US seat restored. (May 2001)

Should we have withheld our UN payments until a genuine democracy (us) was returned to our seat on the Human Rights Commission? Or should we go ahead and acquiesce while Libya, Iran, and other hell holes and human rights nightmares sit in judgement? Hastings didn’t think so.

Voted NO on making the PATRIOT Act permanent. (Dec 2005)

Even with amendments that addressed many civil liberties objections, Hastings still didn’t think it necessary to support the bill.

Voted NO on scheduling permitting for new oil refineries. (Jun 2006)

The recent spike in gas prices was not so much a crude oil supply problem but rather a refined gasoline supply problem. That’s because we haven’t built a new refinery in this country in 20 years. We actually import refined oil products. This bill would have allowed for expedited refinery approval.

Voted YES on prohibiting oil drilling & development in ANWR.

It all makes perfect sense. Not only oppose new domestic refineries but oppose finding new domestic supplies.

Voted NO on federalizing rules for driver licenses to hinder terrorists. (Feb 2005)

A small matter but experts say that such nationwide standards would make it easier to spot illegal entrants to the US. And the bill also had a provision to toughen asylum requirements by expanding the number of relevant factors - another small but important step in keeping the homeland secure.

Voted NO on continuing military recruitment on college campuses. (Feb 2005)

Where are tomorrow’s officers going to come from? Hastings wants to make it harder for both the military and students to find out.

Voted NO on adopting the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. (Oct 2004)

While not necessarily a bad vote, reforming the intelligence community was the number one priority spelled out by the Commission. One would think that someone deadly serious about our intelligence agencies would have voted for the measure and then worked to shape the reform measures that he though necessary.

****************************************

It should be noted that Hastings, while getting close to a zero rating from most conservative groups, also supported the deployment of SDI as well as voting to continue the Iraq War - despite voting against it at the outset which no one should hold against him. He is not entirely disinterested in improving our military and his record on veterans affairs is exemplary.

But the votes above reveal someone who, in my opinion, does not share the urgency nor the seriousness of purpose that the times demand. For that reason, the Democrats would do well to find another candidate (if Pelosi is deadset on allowing her personal vendetta against Harmon to potentially harm national security) who shows the same kind of thoughtfulness as Jane Harmon brought to the position of Intel Chairman.

Whether that is possible within the current ideological context of the Democratic party will determine whether the nation can trust the party to carry out its responsibilities of governance during a time of war with the zeal and seriousness that our situation requires.

By: Rick Moran at 2:54 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (6)

11/17/2006
HOPES FADE FOR COMPROMISE IN LEBANON
CATEGORY: Middle East

Despite the frantic efforts of Middle East diplomats, it appears almost certain that the March 14th Forces and the opposition led by Hezb’allah are headed for some kind of confrontation - possibly in the streets of Beirut - over the continuing cabinet crisis brought about by the resignation of the Shiite bloc of ministers.

Compromise plans to head off the escalating crisis have come from a variety of sources including the Saudi Arabian ambassador who huddled with Iranian officials yesterday in order to draft a plan that would be acceptable to both the anti-Syrian majority in government led by Prime Minister Siniora and the opposition bloc made up of Hezb’allah, the Amal Party, and the mostly Christian Free Patriotic Movement led by ex-Prime Minister Michel Aoun.

Based on reports from local media, the Saudi plan, which would seem to have the blessing of the Iranians, would include a call for immediate resignation of pro-Syrian President Emil Lahoud and his replacement by a candidate not connected to either side. The next step would be a reform of the outdated electoral laws that tend to favor Christians and Sunnis at the expense of Shia representation in Parliament. This would be followed by a Presidential electoral contest and a pitch for early Parliamentary elections after that.

There have also been calls from western diplomats to restart the discussion for a unity government in the context of the National Dialogue. Breakdown in these talks is what precipitated the cabinet crisis in the first place.

But it appears almost certain that Hezb’allah has no intention of returning to the talks:

Resigned Labor Minister Tarrad Hamadeh ruled out any possibility Thursday of Hizbullah resuming national talks, saying “peaceful street protests” were likely. “This dialogue is a waste of time and does not yield any good results,” Hamadeh, one of two Hizbullah members who resigned from Cabinet, told The Daily Star.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt have called recently in separate statements for the opposition to resume the talks.

“The only way out of the crisis is to sit at the dialogue table and deal with our fears and worries,” Siniora said during a televised interview on Wednesday night

Indeed, one might wonder why Hezb’allah leader Hassan Nasrallah would consider any kind of compromise at this point; not when it is clear that he holds the whip hand both politically and psychologically.

Any compromise offered brings the March 14th Forces closer to total capitulation. And, like any good gambler, Nasrallah appears ready to double his bet as he ratchets up the fear and tension in Lebanon by threatening to practice “civil disobedience” in the streets:

[A] senior Hizbullah official warned that the Shiite group was “putting the final touches on its choice toward resorting to the streets.”

This solidified another statement by Hizbullah’s politburo member Ghaleb Abou Zebib who warned that “civil disobedience is a legitimate option.”

He assured that any attempt by the interior minister to refuse licensing demonstrations or sit-ins by Hizbullah and its allies “will not hamper our actions or activities.”

Acting Interior Minister Ahmad Fatfat has stated that no group has asked for permission to protest yet. But he added that any such demonstration would be considered “an uprising against the government.”

Another compromise plan floated by the Siniora government itself would expand the cabinet to 30 ministers and grant Hezb’allah and its allies “at least” 10 seats according to Walid Jumblatt, an important member of the March 14th Forces. This would seem to give Nasrallah everything he wants. But the canny Siniora included a deal breaker in the compromise; the opposition would have to accept the formation of an International Tribunal to try the criminals who assassinated ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

The Tribunal in a very large sense is the root cause of this crisis. The United Nations Commission looking into the assassination has pointed the finger at high level Syrians (including President Assad’s brother in law Assef Shawkat, head of Syrian intelligence) as well as several prominent Lebanese. The revelations of Syrian involvement in the assassination of the beloved Hariri would have reprecussions both internationally and domestically for President Bashir Assad as well as harm those in Lebanon seen supporting him - namely Hez’ballah and Amal.

It appears that the UN is ready to authorize the Tribunal now that Siniora’s Shia-less government approved its formation on Monday. But President Lahoud has called the cabinet’s action “unconstitutional” given the resignations. And Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri who heads up the Amal party also has called the cabinet’s approval of the Tribunal illegitimate despite his statement last Monday that he believed that as long as 2/3 of sitting Ministers approved, the action by the cabinet was indeed constitutional:

“Any (cabinet) session held now is unconstitutional because it would be in breach of Lebanon’s national pact,” which guarantees a representation for the country’s different religious communities in the government, Berri said

The fact that Berri just returned from 4 days of talks with Iranian leaders probably had something to do with his abrupt about face.

The Iranians, for their part, are willing to bide their time, confident that Lebanon will fall into their lap like a ripe piece of fruit. And Nasrallah can continue to manipulate the fears of the populace over a renewal of the civil war, forcing the March 14th Forces into a political corner where they will either have to accede to his demands for cabinet control or face the fact that his thugs and bully boys will take to the streets. Tensions are high in the capitol and the people are apprehensive of the future.

The next act of the drama may play out in the Parliament as Siniora sends the enabling legislation for the Tribunal to Speaker Berri for action. It is thought that there will then be mass resignations of MP’s loyal to Nasrallah that will force Siniora to call for early elections.

If that happens, anything is possible - including a wave of political violence that would pull down the March 14th Forces and bring Hezb’allah to power. In the uncertainty fostered by Nasrallah, anything can happen.

UPDATE

I contacted Lebanese blogger Anton of the great blog Across the Bay and asked him to double check the translation of Hezb’allah’s proposed “civil disobedience.” I thought the term very western and not something Nasrallah would embrace. Here is his thoughtful response:

Hi Rick, and thanks for your email.

The translation is correct (although their transliteration of his name is wrong. It’s Ghaleb Abu Zaynab, not Abu Zebib). He was asked what kind of measures Hezbollah might resort to, sit-ins, rallies, etc. Then he was asked if they would resort to civil disobedience, and he said that it was possible.

They intentionally are trying to paint this in a democratic and peaceful light. There are reasons for this. One, obviously, is to make it look legitimate, and not a military coup (as they are being accused of doing). Two, they couple this with preemptive accusations against the majority that if any security incidents were to occur it would be the majority’s doing, not theirs (pro-Hezbollah and pro-Syrian papers in Lebanon prefigured this by running stories about how the US embassy was smuggling weapons material — e.g. silencers — to embassy grounds, and training “special forces” on embassy grounds. Others said that the majority leaders had sent their kids abroad in anticipation of security incidents. All this is a set up, to paint any security breach as a plot by the majority and the US and Israel. I wrote about this on my blog in brief.) Three, I think they want to show that they could cripple the government economically through these types of movements. Four, they really are afraid on one level of this move, because it could easily disintegrate in chaos, which would be harmful to them, and could turn into Shiite-Sunni sectarian fighting, which they would want to avoid. The thing is, the Syrians could easily plant people to do precisely that in such rallies.

In other words, it’s supposed to sound “western”! Nasrallah openly said, that you (March 14) took to the streets to topple a government (and the West looked kindly on that), we could do the same. It’s obviously a distortion of reality and a perversion of democratic practice — a fig leaf — but there are enough gullible Third Worldist journalists and writers to buy it and support it.

Bookmark Tony’s blog. His perspectives on Lebanon (and Syria) are valuable additions to our understanding of what’s going on in that confusing part of the world. Also, he was just recently interviewed by Michael Totten for a podcast you can find at Pajamas Media. You can listen here.

By: Rick Moran at 7:39 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

11/16/2006
THE COUNCIL HAS SPOKEN

The votes are in from this week’s Watchers Council and the winner in the Council category was yours truly for my post “Irony So Thick You Can Bathe In It.” Finishing second was American Future for “Why Not Turkey.”

Taking top honors in the non Council category was “The Demand For Perfection” from Rants and Raves.

If you’d like to participate in the weekly Watchers Council vote, go here and follow instructions.

By: Rick Moran at 5:59 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)