Lebanese Intellectuals Unite

In a stirring editorial in today's Guardian, former British Foreign Office press secretary John Williams declares, "This crisis is a terrible failure for President Bush's championing of Middle East democracy." His rebuke stems from the fact that Israel's invasions of Gaza and Lebanon seem, at the present time, to have rendered moderate leaders like Mahmoud Abbas and Fouad Siniora impotent and marginal, while strengthening the hands' of extremists such as the leaders of Syria and Iran.

In the meantime, the Bush administration, and the neocons lauding its response to the crisis in Lebanon, can take comfort, perhaps, that Lebanese civil society—a crucial component of democratization—seems to be strengthening. In a letter being circulated online among intellectuals inside the country and abroad, 50-odd journalists, professors and poets have signed on to a core set of declarations and demands for their government and their peers. The unity comes with strong language:

We the undersigned declare:

1) Our conscious support for the Lebanese national resistance as it wages a war in defense of our sovereignty and independence, a war to release Lebanese imprisoned in Israel, a war to safeguard the dignity of the Lebanese and Arab people.

2) Our unambiguous refutation of the logic that accuses HizbAllah of having provided the "pretext" for the Israeli invasion. Israel did not invade Lebanon, destroy its infrastructure, displace and murder its populace because of the heroic operation carried out by HizbAllah. Israel has never needed a pretext to breach the sovereignty of Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, or other nations… How strange that Israel should wish to be the policeman in charge of executing UN Resolution 1559 when it has not yet executed any of the previously issued UN resolutions addressing its own actions, with the exception of the partial implementation of Resolution 425, which resulted essentially because of strikes inflicted by the armed Lebanese Resistance.

3) Our staunch condemnation of official American support for, and contribution to, the Israeli aggression. The war crimes Israel is currently committing, as well as those it committed in the past and will commit in the probable future, would not have occurred or occur yet without America's political and military support for Israel, that which is unmitigated by its allegedly unswerving espousal of Lebanese freedom, sovereignty, and independence.

But then, that's probably not what quite what the White House had mind…

Yesterday, the New York Times ran an interesting story about how men between the ages of 30 and 54 are voluntarily dropping out of work, unable to find a job that interests them, and preferring instead to live at home, doing things that they find more fulfilling. The numbers are hardly insignificant: about 10 percent of men in this age group—roughly 3 million workers—are out of work and not looking for jobs.

The article mostly delves into the causes of this trend—in particular, there's the decline of stable, unionized jobs, especially in manufacturing and technology, and the unwillingness of those who are laid off to seek work that's beneath them, preferring instead to pursue other interests. In that case, the fault resides with an economy that's chiefly creating low-paying, unfulfilling, and overly stressful jobs. There's also the fact that roughly 2 million men in this age group have prison records, thanks largely to the surge of drug-related convictions in the 1980s and '90s, and have trouble finding work.

Let's take stock. Who's pleased with the way things are going in the Middle East? After the IDF allegedly killed at least 57 Lebanese civilians in Qana over the weekend, including 37 children, a lot of people in Lebanon certainly aren't very pleased. The citizens of Bint Jbeil don't seem pleased that their city has been bombed into rubble and is "no longer a place of the modern world." On the other hand, according to the Financial Times, neoconservatives are extremely pleased with all this, and back in the Bush administration's corner after a spate of dissatisfaction earlier this year:

Neo-conservative criticism [of the Bush administration] reached a peak after Ms Rice, secretary of state, offered conditional talks to Iran in late May on its nuclear programme. But their attacks on Mr Bush ceased after 12 July, when Israel launched its military campaign against Hizbollah.

"This is exactly the right strategy, which you could call 'Don't just do something, stand there [while Israel continues its military campaign]'," said David Frum, a former speechwriter to George W. Bush, who helped draft the president's 2002 'Axis of Evil' address.

Well as long as a former speechwriter sitting comfortably at his phone far away from the carnage is pleased, things must be going well, no?

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Bush administration slowly seems to be realizing that Israel's offensive in Lebanon isn't going to accomplish much besides leaving a lot of civilians dead and stir up a lot of potentially deadly resentment towards both Israel and the United States:

A senior administration official said the U.S. believed Israel would have only a matter of weeks to strike Hezbollah before international pressure for a cease-fire forced an end to the fighting, especially if civilian casualties climbed. Now, the official said, the U.S. is beginning to fear that it could be left both with mounting regional fury and an emboldened Hezbollah that has withstood the initial assault without losing its ability to inflict casualties on Israeli troops and civilians.

No kidding. Perhaps the next step is for administration officials to realize that the same goes for the war in Iraq. An overwhelming air war is completely counterproductive when it comes to defeating insurgent groups that have broad civilian support. Kevin Drum has a number of good posts on this very subject, especially this one.

Now that's good journalistic timing. Jon Lee Anderson had a New Yorker article last week asking who would succeed Fidel Castro should the Cuban dictator die, and now, today, Castro is temporarily handing over the reins to his brother Raúl. So we should all read Anderson's article, which… sadly isn't online.

So you'll just have to trust my summary. The short answer is that Raúl would succeed Fidel. But Raúl's already 75, and he might not be long for this world, either. So after Raúl, Cuba would probably be run by a civilian triumvirate made up of Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Rocque, National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón, and Carlos Lage, the "country's economics czar." All of them seem keen on continuing Cuba's socialist government, although historically triumvirates don't always go as smoothly as planned. So we'll see. Meanwhile, the Bush administration has its own plans to take advantage of an uncertain transition period in Cuba:

In December, 2003, President Bush appointed Senator Martinez as cochair of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, along with Colin Powell. Their mandate was to find ways to "hasten the end of Castro's tyranny," and to develop "a comprehensive strategy to prepare for a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba." The result of their work was a five-hundred-page report, issued in May, 2004, that included guidelines for everything from setting up a market economy to holding elections. It also recommends "undermining the regime's 'succession strategy.'"...

The report, which the Bush Administration adopted as policy, recommended the appointment of a Cuba transition coördinator. The person named to the new post was Caleb McCarry, whose previous position was staff director for the House Foreign Relations Committee's Western Hemisphere subcommittee. When I spoke with McCarry, he said, "My function is to be the senior U.S. official in charge of planning and supporting a genuine democratic transition in Cuba, and to work on it now." He is, in effect, the Paul Bremer designate of Cuba. As with Iraqi however, the United States is hampered by its inability to operate openly in Cuba, and by its reliance on information from exiles and dissidents. And it does not seem to have a candidate for Castro's replacement.

McCarry said that, while the transition would be in Cuban hands, "we will be there to offer very concrete support." The U.S. is already channelling money and aid to the opposition. Two leading dissidents, Osvaldo Paya and Elizardo Sánchez, have said that this tactic has been counterproductive, and criticized it as heavy-handed meddling. Many of the dissidents arrested in 2003 were accused of illegally receiving American funds. (In a speech, Castro called them "mercenaries.")

McCarry emphasized that the Administration would not regard the accession of Raúl Castro as a satisfactory outcome, even if it was accompanied by economic reforms. "We will continue to offer support for a real transition," he said. "You know, this is not an imposition. It's an offer, a very respectful offer, with respect for the sense of Cuban nationhood."
Not surprisingly, a number of Cuban exiles are apprehensive about the idea of the United States meddling in yet another foreign country, trying to impose democracy and the like from without. That's true not least because many Cubans fear that any American-backed government that came to power would take away their homes and give them to their old owners from the Batisto era. So it's certainly something to keep an eye on.


As he undergoes emergency surgery, Fidel Castro has temporarily handed over power to his brother, Raul. Here, via AP, is the text of the letter from Fidel Castro that was read on state television Monday by his secretary.

Because of the enormous effort involved in visiting the Argentine city to attend the Mercosur meeting, at the closing of the Summit of the Peoples in the historic University of Cordoba and the visit to Alta Gracia, the city where Che (Guevara) lived in his childhood and immediately afterward attending the commemoration of the 53rd anniversary of the attack on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes barracks, the 26th of July of 1953, in the provinces of Granma and Holguin, days and nights of continuous work with hardly any sleep, have caused my health, which has withstood all tests, to fall victim to extreme stress and to be ruined.

This has caused in me an acute intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding that has obliged me to undergo a complicated surgical operation. All the details of this health accident can be seen in X-rays, endoscopies and filmed material. The operation will force me to take several weeks of rest, away from my responsibilities and duties.

As our country is threatened in circumstances like this by the government of the United States, I have made the following decision:

1) I delegate in a provisional manner my functions as first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba to the second secretary, comrade Raul Castro Ruz.

2) I delegate in a provisional manner my functions as Commander in Chief of the heroic Revolutionary Armed Forces to the same comrade, Army Gen. Raul Castro Ruz.

3) I delegate in a provisional manner my functions as president of the Council of State and of the government of the Republic of Cuba to the first vice-president, comrade Raul Castro Ruz.

4) I delegate in a provisional manner my functions as the main driving force behind the National and International Program of Public Health to Politburo member and Public Health Minister, comrade Jose Ramon Balaguer Cabrera.

5) I delegate in a provisional manner my functions as the main driving force behind the National and International Education Program to comrades Jose Ramon Machado Ventura and Esteban Lazo Hernandez, members of the Politburo.

6) I delegate in a provisional manner my functions as the main driving force behind the National Program of the Energy Revolution in Cuba and cooperation with other countries in this field to comrade Carlos Lage Davila, member of the Politburo and secretary of the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers.

The relevant funds for these programs — health, education and energy — should continue to be assigned and prioritized, as I have been doing personally, by comrades Carlos Lage Davila, Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers; Francisco Soberon Valdes, Minister President of the Central Bank of Cuba; and Felipe Perez Roque, Foreign Relations Minister, who have accompanied me in these duties and should constitute a committee for this purpose.

Our glorious Communist Party, supported by mass organizations and the entire public, has the mission of carrying out the duties outlined in this proclamation.

The summit meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement, to be held Sept. 11-16, should receive the greatest attention of the state and the Cuban nation so it is held with the most brilliance possible on the scheduled date.

The 80th anniversary of my birthday, which thousands of people so generously agreed to celebrate next Aug. 13, I ask that it be postponed for Dec. 2 of this year, the 50th anniversary of the landing of the Granma.

I ask the Central Committee of the party and the National Assembly of Popular Power to give their firmest support to this proclamation.

I do not have the slightest doubt that our people and our revolution will fight to the last drop of blood to defend these and other ideas and measures that are necessary to safeguard this historic process.

Imperialism will never be able to crush Cuba.

The Battle of Ideas will continue.

Long live the fatherland!

Long live the revolution!

Long live socialism!

Always toward victory!

Fidel Castro Ruz

Commander in Chief

First Secretary of the party and President of the Councils of State and of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba.

July 31, 2006

6:22 p.m.

Lest we forget there's a war going on there...

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Bombings and shootings across Iraq killed at least 52 people Tuesday, including 24 people in a bus destroyed by a roadside bomb. The attacks further damage the U.S.-backed government's efforts to establish control over the country. (AP)

August 1, 2006

Ynet News, a big Israeli news net, reports: "The Yesha Rabbinical Council announced in response to an IDF attack in Kfar Qanna that 'according to Jewish law, during a time of battle and war, there is no such term as 'innocents' of the enemy."

"All of the discussions on Christian morality are weakening the spirit of the army and the nation and are costing us in the blood of our soldiers and civilians,'' the statement said.

Military commanders in northern Israel knew nothing about Olmert's deal with Rice for a short ceasefire. And it appears they paid Olmert little heed. The Israeli press is up in arms at what they take to be Olmert's weak-kneed leadership. Yedioth Ahronoth, a mass market paper wrote, "If Israel fails in this war, it will be impossible to continue to live in the Middle East."

The paper wrote a speech for the prime minister to make to world leaders: "Gentlemen, it is time for you to understand: The Jewish state will no longer be trampled underfoot ... I serve as a mouth today for six million bombed Israeli citizens, who serve as a mouth for six million annihilated Jews, who were burnt to dust by savages in Europe ... And you, just as you did not take the matter seriously at the time, you are ignoring it now."

Economists estimate between 10 and 20 percent of the people who fled the country will never return. Many Lebanese companies will go offshore rather than risk another Israeli attack.

"And look, it's a terrible situation when innocent people lose their lives," Mr. Bush said. "And yesterday's situation was awful. We, I understand that. But it's also awful that a million Israelis are worried about rockets being fired from their, from their neighbor to the north."