As will soon be apparent, the Iraq Survey* Group, of which Mr. Gates is a member and to which I'm an adviser, has not discovered any way for the U.S. to exit Iraq -- except under catastrophic conditions. Its recommendations will probably be the least helpful of all the blue-ribbon commissions in Washington since World War II because it cannot escape from an unavoidable reality: We either declare defeat and withdraw completely tout de suite, or we surge troops into Baghdad and fight. The ISG will surely try to find some middle ground between these positions, which, of course, doesn't exist.
President George Bush has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make "a last big push" to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he may increase US forces by up to 20,000 soldiers, according to sources familiar with the administration's internal deliberations.
Being a Washington Wise Man does not require much wisdom. Baker has a "conviction," said a Baker colleague quoted in The Post on Sunday, "that Iraq is the central foreign policy issue confronting the United States." Wow. Now there's an insight. Actually, it is a nice small insight into the Baker mentality that he apparently can imagine a war that is killing large numbers of young Americans every month but that is not our central foreign policy issue. Baker also believes that "the only way to address that issue successfully is to first build a bipartisan consensus." Now, that is a conviction you can sink your teeth into. People like Baker always favor a bipartisan consensus.
They don't really believe in politics, which is to say they don't really believe in democracy.
Attacks in Iraq reached a high of approximately 180 a day last month, reflecting an increasingly complicated conflict that includes sectarian clashes of Sunni and Shiite militias on top of continuing strikes by insurgents, criminal gangs and al-Qaeda terrorists, according to the directors of the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency. [...]
In unusually harsh terms, the two intelligence directors spelled out how quickly the violence in Iraq has escalated this year, from about 70 attacks a day in January to about 100 a day in May and then to last month's figure. "Violence in Iraq continues to increase in scope, complexity, and lethality" despite operations by the Iraqi government and the U.S.-led coalition, Maples said. He described "an atmosphere of fear and hardening sectarianism which is empowering militias and vigilante groups, hastening middle-class exodus, and shaking confidence in government and security forces."
"Great news from America!" the cashier at my local Beirut bookshop shouted at me yesterday morning, raising her thumbs in the air. "Things will be better after these elections?" Alas, I said. Alas, no. Things are going to get worse in the Middle East even if, in two years' time, America is blessed with a Democrat (and democratic) president. For the disastrous philosophers behind the bloodbath in Iraq are now washing their hands of the whole mess and crying "Not Us!" with the same enthusiasm as the Lebanese lady in my book shop, while the "experts" on the mainstream US east coast press are preparing the ground for our Iraqi retreat - by blaming it all on those greedy, blood-lusting, anarchic, depraved, uncompromising Iraqis.
We still do not know what has become of our sons, husbands and brothers since all males over 15 years old were taken away last Thursday. They were ordered to strip to their underwear, handcuffed and led away.
It is not easy as a mother, sister or wife to watch those you love disappear before your eyes. Perhaps that was what helped me, and 1,500 other women, to overcome our fear and defy the Israeli curfew last Friday - and set about freeing some of our young men who were besieged in a mosque while defending us and our city against the Israeli military machine.
We faced the most powerful army in our region unarmed. The soldiers were loaded up with the latest weaponry, and we had nothing, except each other and our yearning for freedom. As we broke through the first barrier, we grew more confident, more determined to break the suffocating siege. The soldiers of Israel's so-called defence force did not hesitate to open fire on unarmed women. The sight of my close friends Ibtissam Yusuf abu Nada and Rajaa Ouda taking their last breaths, bathed in blood, will live with me for ever.
Later an Israeli plane shelled a bus taking children to a kindergarten. Two children were killed, along with their teacher. In the last week 30 children have died...
Shortly after announcing his project to democratise the Middle East, President Bush did all he could to strangle our nascent democracy, arresting our ministers and MPs. I have yet to hear western condemnation that I, an elected MP, have had my home demolished and relatives killed by Israel's bombs. When the bodies of my friends and colleagues were torn apart there was not one word from those who claim to be defenders of women's rights on Capitol Hill and in 10 Downing Street.
Why should we Palestinians have to accept the theft of our land, the ethnic cleansing of our people, incarcerated in forsaken refugee camps, and the denial of our most basic human rights, without protesting and resisting?
The lesson the world should learn from Beit Hanoun last week is that Palestinians will never relinquish our land, towns and villages. We will not surrender our legitimate rights for a piece of bread or handful of rice. The women of Palestine will resist this monstrous occupation imposed on us at gunpoint, siege and starvation. Our rights and those of future generations are not open for negotiation...
Nineteen inhabitants of Beit Hanun were killed with malice aforethought. There is no other way of describing the circumstances of their killing. Someone who throws burning matches into a forest can't claim he didn't mean to set it on fire, and anyone who bombards residential neighborhoods with artillery can't claim he didn't mean to kill innocent inhabitants.
Therefore it takes considerable gall and cynicism to dare to claim that the Israel Defense Forces did not intend to kill inhabitants of Beit Hanun. Even if there was a glitch in the balancing of the aiming mechanism or in a component of the radar, a mistake in the input of the data or a human error, the overwhelming, crucial, shocking fact is that the IDF bombards helpless civilians. Even shells that are supposedly aimed 200 meters from houses, into "open areas," are intended to kill, and they do kill. In this respect, nothing new happened on Wednesday morning in Gaza: The IDF has been behaving like this for months now.
The election of a Democratic majority in the House and Senate is unlikely to result in any serious challenge to the Bush administration’s support for Israeli attacks against the civilian populations of its Arab neighbors and the Israeli government’s ongoing violations of international humanitarian law.
The principal Democratic Party spokesmen on foreign policy will likely be Tom Lantos in the House of Representatives and Joe Biden in the Senate, both of whom have been longstanding and outspoken supporters of a series of right-wing Israeli governments and opponents of the Israeli peace movement. And, despite claims—even within the progressive press—that future House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a “consistent supporter of human rights,” such humanitarian concerns have never applied to Arabs, since she is a staunch defender of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his predecessor Ariel Sharon.
A clear and warm November evening; sun sets in a violence of color to the west over the sea and a full luminescent moon on the rise over Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip. As if on cue, the buzz of the pilot-less drones overhead begins as their nightly circling ritual gets underway. The taxi driver's hands grip the wheel of the car more intently as we speed along the winding road to Erez past the village huddled in the shadows a few hundred meters away to our right. At the Palestinian side, the driver gets out of the taxi, my passport in hand, and takes it into the shack of an office where a handful of scruffy, uniformed security figures are sitting. Darkness is creeping in from the East.
This is Islam al-Atamna. A girl of 14. She is sitting in her black mourning clothes. Eight close relatives - including her mother, grandparents, uncles and aunts - were all killed before her eyes, one after the other. They were killed in the street after they awoke at home in horror at the sound of the first shell that exploded and then fled outdoors, where the next shells caught them. About 11 fell on a residential neighborhood, one shell a minute, a rain of death, pursuing them in their flight. Fatherless for some time already, the girl is left alone in the world with her two little sisters and her 3-year-old brother Abdullah, whose legs were severed and who is hospitalized in the Al-Hilal Hospital in Gaza.
What should we say to Islam? What can we say to Islam? That the chip in the radar system is to blame? That the electronic component is responsible? Perhaps that the Palestinians are to blame?
The Road Map to Nowhere: Israel/Palestine Since 2003 by Tanya Reinhart
An urgent and searing exposé of the "peace process" by a prominent Israeli thinker.
The Road Map to Nowhere is a devastating and timely book, essential to understanding the current state of the Israel/Palestine crisis and the propaganda that infects its coverage. Based on analysis of information in the mainstream Israeli media, it argues that the current road map has brought no real progress and that, under cover of diplomatic successes, Israel is using the road map to strengthen its grip on the remaining occupied territories. Exploring the Gaza pullout of 2005, the West Bank wall and the collapse of Israeli democracy, Reinhart examines the gap between myth—the Israeli leadership's public affairs achievement that has led the West to believe that a road map is in fact being implemented—and bitter reality. Not only has nothing fundamentally changed, she argues, but the Palestinians continue to lose more of their land and are pushed into smaller and smaller enclaves, surrounded by the new wall constructed by Sharon.
This is a good overview of the last three years of the Israeli destruction of the Palestinians. It's not based on secret documents but on published accounts in the Israeli press. Unfortunately the most telling accounts are in the Hebrew only press. The published English versions, such as Haaretz, are often whitewashed accounts. A must read.
This is the final chapter of Road Map to Nowhere – Israel/Palestine since 2003
The Struggle: Expanding the Prison Cells With Israel turning the West Bank into a system of prisons, the most immediate question is how this process can be resisted, stopped and reversed. As Noam Chomsky has said, in many areas of the world today the struggle is to expand, or sometimes even just to maintain the size of the prison cells. For years now the Palestinians have lived in a prison system monitored by Israel, but, as we have seen, Israel’s policy under Sharon and his successors is to shrink the area of the cells still further. Now, the focus of the struggle is on preventing the completion of this prison system – on pushing away the narrowing prison walls. Largely unknown and unreported, since 2003 a new form of popular resistance has developed along the route of the wall in the West Bank. Palestinian farmers whose land is being robbed, together with Israeli opponents of the occupation, stand day after day in front of the bulldozers and the Israeli army. Along this route, the story of the other Israel-Palestine is being born. It deserves a book of its own, but I would like to tell here just some of its inspiring history, focusing on how it has developed on the Israeli side.
Your book covers the history of the Israeli occupation of Palestine in the last three years, a period dominated by Ariel Sharon's leadership. You argue that during this period it became evident that in Israel, decisions are taken by the military, rather than the political echelons. Can you elaborate?
Israeli military and political systems have always been closely intertwined, with generals moving from the army straight to the government, but the army’s political status was further solidified during Sharon’s ascendancy. Senior military officers brief the press (they capture at least half of the news space in the Israeli media), and brief and shape the views of foreign diplomats; they go abroad on diplomatic missions, outline political plans for the government, and express their political views on any occasion.
In contrast to the military stability, the Israeli political system is in a gradual process of crumbling. In a World Bank report of April 2005, Israel is found one of the most corrupt and least efficient in the Western world, second only to Italy in the government corruption index, and lowest in the index of political stability. Sharon personally was associated, together with his sons, with severe bribery charges, that have never reached the court. The new party that Sharon founded, Kadima, and which now heads the government, with Olmert as Sharon's successor, is a hierarchical agglomeration of individuals with no party institutions or local branches. Its guidelines, published in November 22 2005, enable its leader to bypass all standard democratic processes and appoint the list of the party’s candidates to the parliament without voting or approval of any party body.
The Labor party has not been able to offer an alternative. In the last two Israeli elections, Labor elected dovish candidates for prime ministry Amram Mitzna in 2003, and Amir Peretz in 2006. Both were initially received with enormous enthusiasm, but were immediately silenced by their party and campaign advisors and by self imposed censorship, aiming to situate themselves “at the center of the political map”. Soon, their program became indistinguishable from that of Sharon. Peretz even declared that on “foreign and security” matters he will do exactly as Sharon (but he will also bring a social change). Thus these candidates helped convince the Israeli voters that Sharon’s way is the right way. In the last years, there has never been a substantial left-wing opposition to the rule of Sharon and the generals, since after the elections, Labor would always join the government, providing the dovish image that the generals need for international show.
With the collapse of the political system, the army remains the body that shapes and executes Israel’s policies. During the recent Israeli attack on Lebanon (not covered in the book), it became common knowledge in Israel that the military is leading the government, with Peretz, now Defense minister, often appearing on tv looking like a puppet operated by the generals surrounding him.
Congressional Democrats say they will press new legislation next week to restore the power of a federal agency in charge of ferreting out waste and corruption in Iraq and greatly increase its investigative reach.
The bills, the first of what are likely to be dozens of Democratic efforts to resurrect investigations of war profiteering and financial fraud in government contracting, could be introduced as early as Monday morning.
The move would nullify a Republican-backed provision, slipped into a huge military authorization bill, that set a termination date for the agency, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The agency’s findings have consistently undermined Bush administration claims of widespread success in the reconstruction of Iraq.
Oversight, the power wielded by Congressional committees to demand information and internal documents and to haul executive branch officials to hearings, by subpoena if necessary, is reverberating through Congress as a Democratic battle cry.
The impending Democratic takeover of the Senate, lawmakers and administration officials agree, will produce a vast change in an area that has produced some of the sharpest partisan battles in recent years: President Bush’s effort to shape the federal bench with conservative judicial nominees.
This is fucking pathetic. For the last time in his sad, failed life, W needs daddy to bail his ass out. And we know how that ends, with a wave, a goodbye and president Hagel sometime at the end of next year.
Cheney is going to be shoved aside. Cheney is a man who needs to be listened to, and he knows Poppy Bush will only listen for so long before blowing him off. W can protest as he likes, but he fucked up, daddy had to come onboard and present the exit path. What people forget is that when you have daddy save the day, W is soon gone from the picture.
How pathetic is it that a 60 year old man needs his daddy to save his ass. It would be funny if we hadn't killed all those Iraqis in the process, and crippled 20k, and killed 2800 Americans.
When Dick Cheney woke up on Wednesday morning, his entire world had changed. The House and Senate was in control of the Democrats, Bush Senior’s buddy Robert Gates had taken over at the Pentagon, and his most-trusted ally, Don Rumsfeld, had been thrown overboard.
Cheney knows that the story about a “Democratic sweep” is utter nonsense. He knows who operates the voting machines and how get the results he wants. The normal procedures for rigging the election were simply put on hold.
He also knows that the Justice Dept had sent out over 80 attorneys to various parts of the country where the Republicans anticipated legal challenges after the elections, but there were no legal challenges. Someone decided that there would be no fight at all, even in the close senatorial races where recounts might have made a difference.
River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West by Rebecca Solnit
Muybridge's motion studies are the forerunners of todays motion pictures. To make those pictures he had to invent shutters to freeze the action. Then he had to take sequentional picture and put them together. The opening paragraph of the book:
In the spring of 1872 a man photographed a horse. The resulting photograph does not survive, but from this first encounter of a camera-bearing man with a fast-moving horse sprang a series of increasingly successful experiments that produced thousands of extant images. The photographs are well known, but they are most significant as the bridge to a new art that would transform the world. By the end of the 1870s, these experiments had led to the photographer's invention of the essentials of motion-picture technology. He had captured aspects of motion whose speed had made them as invisible as the moons of Jupiter before the telescope, and he had found a way to set them back in motion. It was as though he had grasped time itself, made it stand still, and then made it run again, over and over. Time was at his command as it had never been at anyone's before. A new world had opened up for science, for art, for entertainment, for consciousness, and an old world had retreated farther.
Cultural historian Solnit, an original and penetrating thinker with a gift for inventive metaphors and syntactical grace whose previous books include Wanderlust (2000), brings her fascination with the American West, photography, and technology's impact on the environment and culture to the story of the man who made motion pictures possible, photographer Eadweard Muybridge. An Englishman turned California bookseller, superb landscape photographer, inventor, murderer (he killed his wife's lover), and pioneer in stop-action photography and the study of animals, including humans, in motion, Muybridge is fascinating and significant, as is his turbulent milieu. Solnit recounts Muybridge's strange life and immensely influential work within the context of the tragic war against Native Americans, and ties his achievements to the world-changing repercussions of photography and the railroads in particular, and industrialization in general. Her exhilarating argument leads her to declare that California, home of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, is the true capital of modernism, and to claim that we haven't even begun to come to terms with its legacy: our estrangement from nature and utter immersion in the mesmerizing "river of shadows," the endless stream of images generated via film, video, and computer. Masterly and creative, Solnit's far-roaming synthesis is as unsettling as it is compelling.
Muybridge was actually a lot more than the founder of stop-action photography. Solnit covers his amazing career and looks at how it has changed us.
Democrats are dancing around the head of Donald Rumsfeld like a scene from Lord of the Flies, heating up the tar buckets and plucking the goose in eager, nay, wild, anticipation. Personally, I love the smell of tar and feathers in the morning and am quite willing to march on the White House as we speak. I like revenge as well as the next guy. But I also consider myself a compassionate man, one perfectly willing to let Bush's cabinet choose whether they wanna play the mommy or the daddy in the Big House, then move on to the real problems, such as the fact that a gallon of Old Grandad is nearly 50 bucks here in Virginia, or the fact that we are still a nation of people, half of whom were happy to elect a bunch of war criminals -- TWICE! -- and still are.
Ah, but lo and beshit, the Democrats have rescued us. If you can call running around like chickens with their heads up their asses while the Republicans did what they always do -- get caught stealing the national silverware, while bombing the hell out of some miserable piece of dirt as a distraction, thereby self-destructing in 12 years as usual, but getting obscenely rich in the process.
Pardon my cynicism, but the view is pretty damned sorry from here in the cheap seats. From down here it looks like every Yankee liberal north of Virginia seems convinced they are now shitting in such tall cotton, that all they need do from here on out is foist Hillary Clinton on the many poor miserable bastards unfortunate enough to be called heartland Democrats because we don't have the balls to become heavily armed libertarians. Nominating Hillary might just drive us to it.
Meanwhile, we watch the only woman who can give the ambitious Hillary a run for the money when it comes to "the sneer behind the smile," Nancy Pelosi. (Sorry Nancy, I used to get hot in unmentionable body areas when you stepped in front of the cameras, before I saw your financial reports and the shiv in your stockings. Now, call me a chauvinist, but somehow, you come off much the same as Condi Rice and Hillary.) Then it's on to the main act, in which we watch Honey Boy Obama "pass" in elite liberal society as a goddamned negro, for christ sake! Will wretched wonders never end?
I don't know a single black person who is nearly as impressed with Barack Obama as they are with Bill Clinton, and yes, most of them DO understand that Clinton fucked everybody who works for a living with his shell game called NAFTA. Not to mention the cruel farce of "workfare." Obama, the child of a black/white student tryst in Honolulu, (natural daddy was from Kenya and a Harvard man) was raised in Indonesia by a diplomat step-father and white mother, then he was sent off to Punahou School, Hawaii's equivalent of Sidwell Friends in DC, where Chelsea and similar children of royalty go. B.O. just doesn't fool American blacks into believing he sweats bullets every time a police car lights up behind him in the traffic. Unlike Clinton, he does not gain weight easily and does not even attempt to play the sax. To Obama's credit, he does have at least as many body guards as any hiphop star ... and let's face it, he only has to pass with white urban liberals to be deemed the great mocha hope of urban liberal Americans who swear they have not an ounce of race consciousness.
Aw shit. Now I've gone and pissed in the liberal punch bowl again, so I guess it's no more fancy little water crackers with brie and truffle preserves for me at the next Democratic fundraiser. I'm too fat anyway.
Mark Klett has been photographing the American West for about 30 years. Klett is a 1974 graduate of St. Lawrence University. He was a geology major, so he approaches his work as an artist, and a scientist. In the late 70s, he directed the Rephotographic Survey Project. He and his team revisited and rephotographed places first captured during surveys of the West in the late 19th century.
Last year, he published “Yosemite in Time” with photographer Byron Wolfe and writer Rebecca Solnit. They photographed some of these iconic landscapes yet again. They wanted to understand how well-known photographs have guided our interpretations of the land, and the concept of wilderness. They were thinking about time, too, and wondered how they might visualize the relationship between change and time. Some of their panoramas are now up at St. Lawrence University. The show is called Time Studies. It also includes images exposed over periods ranging from 10 minutes to two days.
The day after the impressive Democratic election victory, Senate Majority Leader-to-Be Harry Reid declared that a top priority for the new congress would be policy leading to "energy independence" for America. The time of jubilee will certainly come, but not in the way Harry Reid thinks it will -- nor in the way the rest of the country imagines this idea.
When politicians flog the term around -- "energy independence" -- they invariably mean that we will continue enjoying the happy motoring utopia by other means than imported oil (which makes up 70 percent of all the oil we burn). Get this: the day is not far off when, for one reason or another, the flow of imported oil to the US will cease. But when that day comes, we will not be running our shit the way we have been running it. That day will be the end of the interstate highways, Walt Disney World, and WalMart -- in short, the way of life we are fond of calling "non-negotiable."
We are not going to run that shit on coal liquids or tar sand byproducts or oil shale distillates or ethanol or biodiesel, or second-hand french-fry oil. Nor on solar, wind, nuclear, or hydrogen. You can run things on that stuff, but not the biggies we run at their current scale. If the Democrats really want to get serious and act responsibly, they'd better not squander whatever is left of our credit and collective confidence in a futile campaign to keep this racket going. They'd better prepare the public to start living differently.
So anyway, here's a funny little story illustrating all this:
Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen came to talk at Yale in 1988, just after I arrived. Following schmancy Yale tradition, he had tea with a small group of students and then ate dinner with an even smaller group. I weaseled my way into attending.
Gary Hart had recently flamed out in the '88 presidential race because of Donna Rice. And at dinner Cohen told all us fresh-faced, ambitious, grotty youths this:
The Washington press corps had specifically tried to push Hart out of the race. It wasn't because Hart had had extramarital affairs—everyone knew this was the norm rather than the exception among politicians. So Hart wasn't at all unusual in this respect. Instead, Cohen said, it was because the press corps felt that Hart was "weird" and "flaky" and shouldn't be president. And when the Donna Rice stuff happened, they saw their opening and went after him. [...]
But the point is the powerhouse media and their politician lovemates truly do feel there are things normal, grubby Americans simply can't handle. Moreover, it has nothing to do with political parties. Everything I've seen in my life confirms that, with few exceptions, they feel this way across the (extremely narrow) political spectrum.
With that kind of scaremongering about, let’s not imagine that common sense is necessarily going to prevail just because we have the Democrats in Congress — not when you can bet that AIPAC is going to make the hard-line on Iran a test of loyalty to Israel. The AIPAC types have long opposed the sort of rapprochement with Iran that a broad array of U.S. interests objectively demands, and you can bet that when James Baker suggests that the U.S. open broad-ranging discussions with Iran with a view to stabilizing Iraq, the Likud lobby will be in the forefront of moves to block that option. Just a guess. Juan’s right, of course, that the neocons have lost a lot of their influence in the Administration, and it’s a safe bet that they’ll be eclipsed by the grownups when it comes to making Iraq policy within the corridors of power, but the Likud lobby’s reach is much broader. They don’t need, in fact, to push back on talking to Iran about Iraq specifically, because as long as they can make sure Washington assumes an aggressive posture on the nuclear issue, Tehran won’t see an incentive to help pull Washington’s chestnuts out of the fire. With the Democratic leadership looking to 2008, and the Likud lobby presenting an aggressive stance on Iran as a litmus test of loyalty to Israel, I’m not sure that the Congress is going to act as much of a brake on Bush going to war with Iran. (Remember, William Perry, Clinton’s former Defense Secretary, recently insisted that the U.S. launch a preemptive military strike on North Korea — these chaps are out to show their chest hairs, and if they’re given an opportunity, could get the U.S. into an even more catastrophic confrontation than is currently under way in Iraq.)
I’d keep a watching brief on this one; I suspect the Likud lobby is going to work hard to start a war with Iran in the lame duck years of the Bush Administration. Rummy is gone, of course, but I’d be a lot more comfortable if Cheney was replaced by Baker himself.
But as much as Israeli leaders insist their position on Iran is based on the idea that Tehran is a mortal threat to the Jewish State, their own position on Iran doesn’t really offer Israel very much of a future in the region beyond that of a garrison state locked into perpetual war with increasingly sophisticated and determined enemies. Iran’s regime is not going anywhere, and, if anything, its influence in the region is growing as that of the U.S. declines. Neither Israel nor the U.S. can really afford to get into a confrontation with Iran, right now. So, rather than fight Baker and what he’s trying to do, the Israelis might do better to heed the advice he’s giving Bush — Israel, too, should be talking to Iran, and encouraging the U.S. to do the same. Because the last four years have graphically illustrated the failure of the hard line to achieve stability or security for any of the peoples of the region.
I took these pictures of a portable street photo studio in New Delhi, India (I think) around 1975. I saw similar set ups in many parts of the Indian subcontinent (like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal) in those years. They all operated the same way. It's a low cost, low tech way of doing instant photograpy. Here's how the system works.
Conflict in the Middle East is Mission Implausible The UN troops claim they are in Lebanon to protect the Shia. The Shia think they're there to protect Israel from Hizbollah. Is this because the peacekeepers are really a Nato army in disguise? by Robert Fisk
The blue and white UN flag looks good in the morning over these soft, pale hills. For all of 28 years, it has flown beside Irish battalions, Nepalese battalions, Senegalese battalions, Finnish battalions, all kinds of battalions, from every worthy neutral nation you can imagine. But now the flag snaps over French battalions, Spanish battalions, Italian battalions, German naval units, over the offices of four Nato generals, two French, one Spanish and one Italian.
Unifil, the United Nations - wait for it - Interim Force in Lebanon, is now in effect a Nato force which has all this power and anti-aircraft missiles and tanks and artillery spread over these beautiful hills. It is a "buffer" force, so it claims to the Shia villages among whom it lives. It is there to "protect" them from the Israelis who bombarded them so savagely after the Lebanese Shia Hizbollah army captured two Israeli soldiers and killed three others last July - and then fought off the Israeli army for 34 devastating days in which almost a hundred Israeli civilians and well over a thousand Lebanese civilians were killed (10 to one being a normal casualty count around here).
But life has changed. The Unifil force is not the friendly, neutral, soft army it used to be, backed up by Indian troops (among the best) and Nepalese (among the worst) and Fijian (among the friendliest) and Ghanaian soldiers, but a "robust" army - to use Tony Blair's distinctive un-robust semantics - with Nato soldiers trained to fire back and to take no nonsense from the militias of southern Lebanon or from the Israeli army. To which one can only say: ho hum.
A few days ago, for example, French troops got to within "two seconds" of firing their anti-aircraft missiles at an Israeli pilot who was making mock attacks on their battalion headquarters at Bourj Qalawiyeh. This, at least, is what the French Defence Minister said when she objected to Israel's continued over-flights of Lebanon. The reality is somewhat different. Ever since they took casualties from a helicopter in Ivory Coast, the French government will not deploy troops without 155mm artillery, Leclerc tanks and anti-aircraft missiles. The rockets are programmed to fire when a non-transponder attack aircraft approaches French positions; French troops - desperately trying to prevent their own missiles from firing at an indisciplined Israeli pilot - were two seconds short of allowing their rocket to shoot at the Israeli when they managed to pull the computer disk out of the firing mechanism. [...]
Down here in southern Lebanon, of course, there are other arguments. The French and the Spanish and the Italians and even the Irish, who have returned to their beloved southern Lebanon with 160 men, are creating a new economy, buying up the milk, souvenirs, camouflage jackets and cedar trees on sale - a good enough reason to maintain Unifil in the eyes of the Shias.
And the Hizbollah - here is a fact which will not sit happily with the John Boltons of this world at the UN - are watching every car that drives south of the Litani river. For they know that if a suicide bomber attacks the French, they - the Hizbollah - will be blamed. They will not be to blame. It will be the Sunni Muslim al-Qa'idists to the north who wish to attack Nato. So Hizbollah will be the most powerful defenders of the European armies in southern Lebanon. Now there's something to think about.
Tuesday afternoon my second Epson V700 scanner arrrived. The lamp is still working so this one looks to be a keeper. I was up until 3 in the morning trying out the film holders and different software when all the lights went out. It had been pretty windy. There are a lot of trees on the Island and sometimes they fall down on power lines. The lights came on about 8:30 in the morning. I made my coffee and checked to see if the world had come to an end when the lights went out again. They were out all day. This evening I heard that a tree had fallen on a substation north of Oak Harbor and it would be 2 to 3 days before the power would return. I called the power company to find out that there were 100,000 others in the dark. I was getting ready to go to bed at 8:30 (it's surprising how tired you get when it's dark outside and inside) when the lights came back on. Most of the day without a computer. How barbaric.