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Candide’s Latest: Thursday, August 31, 2006
Lebanon's George Wallace

The UN's only friend in South Lebanom

Fouad Siniora became Lebanon’s new hero during the latest war, positioning himself as the true voice of Lebanon without seeming to pander either to Hezbollah nor to the international community. Is his fame going to his head? Siniora the demagogue just made an appearance. “Lebanon will be the last Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel,” he said Wednesday according to Beirut’s Daily Star, “vowing that he would not hold "direct or indirect contacts" with Israel or have his government resign. " Lebanon will be the last Arab country to sign a peace agreement with Israel after 300 million Arab citizens sign it. There will be no agreement with Israel before there is a global peace deal that is just and lasting.” Why the conflation of two entirely separate issues? Go figure: Gen. Michel Aoun, the true demagogue in the picture, and the odd-couple ally of Hezbollah (Aoun, a Christian, was once the voice of the Christian “resistance” under Syrian occupation and fought one of the bloodiest segments of the 1975-1990 civil war at its tail end) wants the Siniora government to resign. But that’s because he wants to be caliph in place of the caliph (“je veux être caliph à la place du caliph,” says the vizir in one of the great Asterix episodes). Siniora has rewritten George Wallace's "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" stand to fit Lebanon's relationship with Irsael. Too bad. For a moment there it looked as if something constructive might just come out of the 34-day folly. Michael Young in the Daily Star McEnroes the latest wrangles: “The thinking was that since a major overhaul of the country was in motion, then why not toss out the corrupt political class with the debris of Bint Jbeil and Qana? This reasoning was shallow, particularly with regards to a new Cabinet. Negotiating a fresh division of power would be so divisive, so certain of leading to prolonged deadlock, that Lebanon would be unable to adequately manage the aftermath of Israel's onslaught.” The United Nation’s humanitarian chief on Wednesday had a few words for Israel’s use of cluster bombs in south Lebanon—and the bombs’ timing: “What's shocking -- and I would say to me completely immoral -- is that 90% of the cluster bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict, when we knew there would be a resolution,” Jan Egeland said. “Every day people are maimed, wounded and are killed by these ordnance.” Amnesty International, which declared that war crimes were committed by both sides during the war, is urging the European Union to back an inquiry into the war. The odds of that happening are roughly the same as George Bush developing a conscience sometime in the next eighteen months.

Finally on Lebanon, Lebanese author Selim Nassib, exiled in Paris since 1969, wrote a brief history of Lebanon’s inferno for a German magazine.

Ehud Olmert as LBJ? Yoav Fromer, New York correspondent for Maariv, the Israeli newspaper, writes in TNR Online: “While it's far too early to count out Olmert just yet, there appears to be at least one casualty that has already been sustained: realignment. As the Israeli press has been reporting in past weeks, Olmert's revolutionary plan for unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank--modeled after the one from Gaza last year--has slinked sheepishly off the agenda, leaving many to wonder if it took the raison d'être of Kadima (Olmert's party) with it. All of which, come to think of it, has a familiar ring to it: An ambitious leader's promising career and noble vision are both cut short by an unwanted and unwinnable war. This has all the makings of a classic tragic narrative, only much closer to home. Is Ehud Olmert Lyndon Johnson all over again?” The rest of the answer here…

In Other Worlds

The US military wants Africa: It isn’t enough for the Pentagon to have military commands in virtually every time zones, North America included (the Pentagon created a North American Command for the first time since World War II after 9/11). Now “Defense Department officials are giving “increased consideration” to creating a combat command specifically for Africa, a Pentagon official said Wednesday. Time magazine first reported that the Defense Department was considering adding an “African Command” to the Unified Command Plan, which establishes each combatant commander’s mission and geographical boundaries.

Vicky Gray on military newspeak and the militarization of the American language: “What is military newspeak? It is a mumbling, numbing speech by an Al Haig or a George W. Bush. More subtly, it is a TV ad by Boeing - soft music and soothing voices over images of bombers gliding noiselessly through the clouds. Their mission? To defend our freedoms. How? We don't need to ask. We know. They will soon be dropping bunker busters on un-shown apartment blocks, producing ... well ... "collateral damage" - all off-screen of course. Military newspeak is, in short, a mèlange of obfuscating euphemisms designed to hide the truth, desensitize our sense of morality, and re-image reality. Like that Boeing ad, it can manifest itself in non-verbal, sometimes subliminal, forms such as that little American flag that keeps flapping in the upper left hand corner of the Fox News screen or the steady drum beat (literally) that opens each CNN newscast, virtually shouting "War, War, War! Terror, Terror, Terror! Fear! Fear! Fear!" It's all designed to jangle your nerves, disorient you, instill fear ... and conflate fear with patriotism.”

Tale of Two Cities: While America declines, China’s rise carries on. On Wednesday, the U.S. government revised its GDP figure for the second quarter to “an annualised 2.9 per cent between April and June, higher than the earlier estimate of 2.5 per cent, and largely bringing it into line with Wall Street expectations of 3 per cent growth. The economy grew at 5.6 per cent in the first quarter.” (See the government’s report’s highlights here.)Enjoy it while it lasts. It won’t, and most of that growth is attributable to paper gains from the housing bubble, which popped. Meanwhile, Chinarevised its 2005 GDP—to 10.2 percent. The size of China’s economy is now $2.289 trillion ( America’s is $13.5 trillion).

Literary Redemptions

An interview with Nigeria’s Wole Soyinka, who just published his memoir, You Must Set Forth at Dawn. “At this point in your life, do you think about "the verdict of history" as well as the future of the country? Wole Soyinka: No, I think in contemporary terms. How is the nation fulfilling the just, the fair expectations of the rest of the continent and of the world? I think the answer to that is obvious. We're way, way, way below … Ron Singer: You say in the book that Nigeria's white-and-green flag, adopted by means of a contest at the dawn of independence, "misrepresented the sum of a nation's imagination". What would the colours be now? Wole Soyinka: If I wanted to create a new Nigerian flag, I would just utilise the method of action painters. Just fling some paint.”

A few more words of appreciation for Naguib Mahfouz.

“Did you hear the one about Hitler?” “A new book about humor under the Nazis,” Der Spiegel reports, “gives some interesting insights into life in the Third Reich and breaks yet another taboo in Germany's treatment of its history. Jokes told during the era, says the author, provided the populace with a pressure release.”

And for a little anti-redemption, here’s Michael Standaert on the “Left Behind” series, that inferno of pseudo-fiction.

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