Friday 5 June 2009

Change we can believe in?

It is easy to dismiss Obama's speech, and rightly. Noam Chomsky points to the substantive trap the US president finds himself in:

A CNN headline, reporting Obama's plans for his June 4 Cairo address, reads 'Obama looks to reach the soul of the Muslim world.' Perhaps that captures his intent, but more significant is the content hidden in the rhetorical stance, or more accurately, omitted.

Keeping just to Israel-Palestine — there was nothing substantive about anything else — Obama called on Arabs and Israelis not to 'point fingers' at each other or to 'see this conflict only from one side or the other.'

There is, however, a third side, that of the United States, which has played a decisive role in sustaining the current conflict. Obama gave no indication that its role should change or even be considered.

Those familiar with the history will rationally conclude, then, that Obama will continue in the path of unilateral US rejectionism.


But there is an edge, especially his criticism of Israel. Haaretz points to the problems Obama has with the new Israeli government:

During long, personal conversations with his inner circle over the past week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted that he had no idea what US President Barack Obama would say in his speech in Cairo. "We have no information," he said. He does now.

Netanyahu now understands what he already knew before the speech: The moment of political reckoning that he so feared is now rapidly approaching.

The thunder he hears in the distance is the sound of the Likud legions and the West Bank settler hordes rolling down the mountains. The light on the horizon is not that of a new day, but of a train coming right at him — a night train from Cairo.

Netanyahu will have to decide over the coming weeks whom he would rather pick a fight with: the powerful US administration, whose president sees himself in an almost messianic role, or his own coalition and members of his party.


In these circumstances it is easy to dismiss Obama's words as rhetoric, and we know that he faces deep problems reconciling the tensions inside US imperialism with its Arab allies. But tension there is, caused by popular anger over Palestine and hatred of the Arab regimes.

But Obama is not Bush Lite... it is deeper than that. The US hoped that its invasion of Iraq would project its power, instead it has laid bare its weakness.

If you turn the prism you can see the light refracted in a different way. Here is a black man trotting the globe apologising for what the white men did. This is significant, because it will be the Israelis who will ensure that he fails.


For the record here is Omaba's speech.

Note the reference to the struggle against slavery... he is saying that the Palestinians are like the slaves in the US. Anyone familiar with this history will understand that those who helped the slaves are heroes.

Here is the Bush "axis" speech.

Thursday 4 June 2009

Is all OK, right?

Yes the economy is fine, says Forbes magazine:

Lebanon has been one of the unlikely success stories of the global financial crisis. The vital tourism and construction industries are booming, and capital is flowing into the country.

As optimistic Lebanese leaders, bankers and businessmen have emphasized, the success is primarily due to conservative bank-lending and bank-investment regulations, limiting exposure to mortgage-backed instruments and other products that have hurt the balance sheets of other international banks, including many Gulf countries.

A result of the country's long experience with perpetual instability in the national and regional political environment, conservative lending policies, backed up by a solid flow of remittances from millions of Lebanese abroad, have immunized the Lebanese economy from political turmoil.

Apart from the months immediately following the 2006 war with Israel, the Lebanese economy has experienced uninterrupted growth since 2001.

Healthy bank sector. A few years back, Lebanon's state regulations were subjected to heavy criticism from domestic and international bankers. Now the financial crisis has turned Lebanese banks into a safe haven in the region, and the economy has thrived:

--Bank deposits have grown steadily, rising 15% in the first three months of the year from the year-earlier period.

--Foreign currency reserves were estimated at 17.6 billion dollars in January 2009, up from 9.8 billion at the end of 2007.

--Foreign liquid assets stood at 22.3 billion at the end of March 2009, a record high.

Impact of the financial crisis. The banking sector's success is remarkable but does not detract from the fact that Lebanon's economy is well integrated into the global economy and will therefore inevitably feel some effects of its downturn in 2009. Private investors have incurred great losses in national and international investments, and the Beirut stock market alone has lost more than $5 billion since mid-2008.

The lack of capital investment will be felt in the crucial construction, telecommunication and service sectors in the medium term, particularly if the crisis continues throughout 2009.


But this optimism hides a slow burning crisis, writes Bassem Chit in Socialist Review:

Rafiq Hariri’s policies since the 1990s have mainly focused on borrowing money and then selling the US$40 billion accumulated debt to local banks with sky-high interest rates. As a result the state is going bankrupt.


Election battle

Kaveh Afrasiabi writes in Asia Times on what is at stake in the Lebanese elections:

Where Iran has Hezbollah, Israel has Jundallah, given Israel's apparent efforts to destabilize Iran by playing an "ethnic card" against it. This, by some reports, it is doing by nurturing the Sunni Islamist group Jundallah to parallel Tehran's support for Lebanon's formidable Shi'ite group, Hezbollah, that is favored to win parliamentary elections on June 7.

Should the Hezbollah-led coalition win as anticipated, the result will be even closer military-to-military relations between Iran and Lebanon, reflected in Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrollah's recent statement that he would look to Tehran to modernize Lebanon's army.

Afrasiabi develops this theme in a second piece :

Israel, it appears, is not wasting any time in cultivating the seeds of a future conflict with Lebanon, where a military defeat for a Hezbollah-controlled government would be devastating to Hezbollah's political fortunes.

It has recently been revealed by former Israeli chief of staff General Dan Halutz that Israel failed to assassinate Hezbollah's political leader, Hassan Nasrallah, during the 2006 Lebanon war.

This, together with the Lebanese government's arrest of nine Lebanese who were spying for Israel's Mossad, reflects the basic tenor of Israel's one-dimensional security approach toward the evolving political developments in Lebanon.

Conspicuously absent in the US and Israeli calculations about the political and geostrategic implications of a Hezbollah victory is any appreciation of how this may actually deepen Hezbollah's moderation.