The Screaming Pen

Providing Global Insight, Context, and Perspective

Israel’s Fog of War

Guest Author KPC Weighs the Costs of Battle in the Middle East

August 19, 2006 – The Israeli-Lebanese conflict entered a new phase on Monday, August 14 when a cease-fire negotiated by the United Nations came into effect. Now as the fog of war dissipates, Israel must weigh the outcome of the fighting against the objectives of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Despite 33 days of intense bombing of Hezbollah strongholds and a ground assault, which pushed North to the Litani River, Israel may have done more harm to its interests than good.

The most recent Middle East conflict was ignited on July 12 when agents of Hezbollah crossed the Israeli border, killed eight Israeli soldiers and captured two others. In retaliation, Israel launched a military campaign against Hezbollah’s fractious state within Lebanon.

Olmert’s decision to mobilize the military was based largely on his determination to save the captured soldiers, deter future terrorist attacks, cripple Hezbollah and cut off the militant group’s supply of arms from Iran and Syria.

Which way home?

As Hezbollah began to launch hundreds of rockets each day into Northern Israel, Olmert also sought to push Hezbollah out of range of Israel’s densely populated cities.

While Israel has a right to protect its interests and defend itself against attacks, it is difficult to determine how Olmert’s recent military campaign has served these interests.

In the first days of the fighting, Israel seemed to garner support from countries around the world, including moderate Arab states such as Egypt. Even many within Lebanon initially viewed Hezbollah’s incursion as an unprovoked and foolish attack. But as the days wore on and as images of Lebanese civilian casualties flooded the mass media, anti-Israeli sentiment began to spread at a pace that rivaled Israel’s rush to destroy Hezbollah targets.

As sympathy for Israel has declined, support for Hezbollah and its charismatic leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, has surged within Lebanon and throughout the region. Nasrallah has galvanized a resistance movement that has spread well beyond Lebanon’s borders, creating a burgeoning group of followers eager to challenge Israel’s military might, if not its very existence.

Israel forged its status as a regional superpower in 1967 when it vanquished a coalition of Arab armies in six days, capturing Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. But now, unable to claim a decisive victory over Hezbollah, Israel risks tarnishing that reputation, which has long served as a deterrent to militant groups.

In the wake of the fighting, Nasrallah has become an international hero. From Iran to Palestine, followers chant his name, wave his image as a banner of defiance and revere him for defending Lebanon against a Zionist “oppressor.” Not to be outdone, even al-Qaida has issued statements praising Hezbollah and its leader. Nasrallah has become a hero because he is viewed as a man who accomplished what a host of Arab armies failed to do in 1967.

This hero worship will only grow as Hezbollah, with financial support from Iran, begins to help rebuild the areas of Lebanon devastated by Israeli bombing. Hezbollah’s reconstruction project will also have the effect of marginalizing Lebanon’s democratically-elected government.

Contrary to Olmert’s aims, Hezbollah—although weakened—remains in possession of its arms and has gained hero status among hoards of militant groups. Olmert has failed to secure the safe return of the captured Israeli soldiers, and worst of all, Israel has called its own military strength into question.

In the days to come, Israel must fight hard to garner through negotiations what it could not achieve in battle.

August 27, 2006 Posted by | Israel, Middle East, Palestine | Leave a comment

Classic Pen: The New Amsterdam

Minorities Crime & Drugs in China

The meanest bowl of la mian – steaming sweet noodles and meat that renew life on a frosty winter evening – you’ll ever find will be in a Uighur restaurant. Fortunately for survival, the dish can be found for 40 cents in noodle stalls located in neighborhoods throughout China. Less auspiciously for Chinese authorities, the widespread presence of ethnic minorities is, combined with the drug trade, making domestic control increasingly harder to maintain.

People from the Xinjiang (the place) Uighur (the people) Autonomous Region, China’s most western province, are noticeably different-looking than the ethnic Han that make up around 95% of the nation’s population. On average, the Uighurs are taller, with sharper features and lighter eyes. They appear more like Central Asians as they are indeed from that corner of the world. Unlike the officially atheistic Chinese, they are Muslim and wear a doppa, or Uighur hat.

Visine: Gets the Red Out

Uighurs are overwhelmingly a friendly, hospitable, and decent people. As is inherent in human nature, however, a small minority exists with less savory motives and the will to resist. They also have legitimate grievances: Xinjiang was only really pulled into Beijing’s orbit in the 1950’s when the People’s Army arrived. In a successful effort to prevent independence – similar to that witnessed in former Soviet states with similar histories in Central Asia – China has been moving its citizens to the province by the millions in an effort to pacify the Uighurs through demography and breeding; the Han now make up 50% of Xinjiang’s population. Furthermore, widespread human rights abuses and the absence of choice in the political arena lead to increasing frustration and unrest among Uighurs. Beijing’s solidarity with America’s war on terror is frequently thought to stem from domestic desires in Xinjiang. Remember the screeching woman on the White House lawn during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s speech in April? She was Uighur, and never would’ve been heard in China.

Yet as long as the central government possesses a monopoly on force restive groups find it virtually impossible to challenge its rule directly. Instead, dissent will undermine the state through other outlets. With little stake in a system that discriminates against them, some minorities seek profit through street crime and drug smuggling. Noodle stalls and niu rou (meat stick) vendors often sell hasheesh alongside their edibles. During 2005 they became even bolder, approaching shaggy-looking foreigners on Shanghai’s main tourish promenade. They also sustain a healthy trade in stolen goods, lifting cell phones and wallets, and push imitation Marlboros.

An Unhappy Bunch

The Uighurs are not the only groups in China with varying loyalties: Tibet has long been a high-profile cause celebre, and the people in Southern China – Guangdong and Hong Kong – don’t consider themselves Chinese because they aren’t Han and don’t speak Mandarin, but Cantonese. Economic dynamism has led to relative calm from Hong Kongers who were more than a little uneasy when the People’s Army arrived as the British pulled out in 1997. And while they have very different aspirations and live under widely divergent conditions than the Uighurs, they are increasingly pushy about their freedoms. Mongolian, Laotian, and Burmese groups also call the PRC home.

Definitely Worth the Trip

Nationalities from far beyond Asia are developing a presence in the country as well. In May, in conjunction with the United States, China seized 300 pounds of cocaine from a Colombian narco-gang with local partners in Hong Kong and mainland China.

Even more disturbingly, less than a mile from Zhongnanhai – the Chinese leadership’s central headquarters in Beijing- lies Sanlitun Rd and its shady cousin, Sanlitun South. The former is a dull stretch of karaoke bars with awful beer that guidebooks tout as having the best nightlife around. Just a few blocks away, hidden on all sides by apartment blocks, emerges an expatriate college student’s dream: a dusty dirt road where animals roam freely, lined by tiny alleys with wild-west bars that stay open all night serving Coronas for 50 cents. Indeed, the latter looks more like Mexico than what you’d expect to find in the heart of the Chinese capital. Less benignly are the Nigerian lookouts that man each end of the street offering everything from marijuana to crack to the passerby.

In a country that places a premium on prying into both its own citizens’ and foreigners’ lives, combined with the blatant visibility of the practice, one wonders how it can exist without the authorities’ complicity. This is doubly so given that the Nigerians are legally in China on student visas. How they got the visas is not so difficult to discern: Nigeria is a significant source of Chinese oil imports, and thus the necessary immigration papers get filed rather quickly. Yet the opacity of the government means that its role in the drug trade – whether through tacit approval and taxation or active facilitation – cannot be ruled out. Do high-ups have knowledge of it? Could it be that the Colombian drug bust accomplished two tasks at the same time: cracking down on a rival gang without connections while showing America’s Drug Enforcement Agency that it’s a good-faith partner in the War on Drugs?

If so, not only is it grossly illegal and disingenuous but illogical. Both petty and violent crime are on the rise in China, and figures will continue to climb in the future. China’s leaders should be careful about the short-term profits they seek from the trade, as the networks it creates will undermine their authority and prove impossible to stamp out. Politically, the communist party exerts a firm hold on power, but increasing revolts – numbering 87,000 last year according to party reports – will lead to a day, unlikely to be soon, when this changes. When it does the Uighurs, Tibetans, Cantonese and others will hardly help slow its fall.

August 26, 2006 Posted by | Asia, Business, China, Emerging Markets, War on Drugs | 1 Comment

Classic Pen: On Prose and Politics

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot, The Four Quarters

Of the events of the 1930’s leading up to the Second World War, no other event inspired young ideologues more than the Spanish Civil War. Young Intellectuals enlisted in droves to fight on both sides, including the writers Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell. The socialist backed International Brigade, funded in part by the Soviet Union, allied with Spanish Republicans in an attempt to defeat the Spanish fascists led by General Francisco Franco in a war that served as a precursor to the war that by 1940 engulfed most of Europe.

A portrait of the artist as a young man

Nancy Clare Cunard, a left wing intellectual living in Paris at the time, sent out a questionnaire to two-hundred writers living in Europe. She posed the following question: “Are you for or against the government of the Republican government of Spain? Are you for, or against, Franco and Fascism? For it is impossible any longer to take no side.” The Anglo-American poet T.S. Eliot responded with a “neutral”, leading to the assumption by Cunard and others that he was either politically ignorant or sympathetic to the fascists. This was not true, however, as he was a believer in “via media” or the “middle way”, a belief that moderation is the only stance that takes into account the shortcomings of human nature. During a debate between T.S. Eliot, a fascist writer, and a communist writer, T.S. Eliot mentioned the following:

“Fascism and communism, as ideas, seem to me to be thoroughly sterilized. A revolutionary idea is one which requires a reorganization of the mind; fascism and communism is now the natural idea for the thoughtless person. This in itself is a hint that the two doctrines are merely variations of the same doctrine: and even that they are merely variations of the present state of things…. What I find in both fascism and communism is a combination of statements with unexamined enthusiasms.”

Eliot believed that these “unexamined enthusiasms” led to irrational decisions during a time when rational thought was completely necessary.

This example of moderation is still relevant today, as we are faced with an increasingly polarized nation where sides are being taken and decisions are being made, sometimes irrationally. It is always important to take a step back and objectively examine issues in context. At we attempt to place news events in context, while providing non-partisan analysis and perspective.


August 22, 2006 Posted by | Author: JPL, Business, China, Energy, Europe, Financial Markets, Flat Tax, Uncategorized | Leave a comment