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Wednesday, May 21, 2008


positive news from the mideast

first, a long-rumored positive development in levantine politics is confirmed -- syria and israel are in peace talks with the intermediation of turkey.

Peace with Syria would require Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed. Today, the heights are home to 18,000 Israelis and roughly the same number of Druse Arabs who regard themselves as Syrian nationals. Syrian and Israeli forces are separated by U.N. peacekeepers.

A committee representing Israeli settlers on the Golan said [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert's move "put the State of Israel's survival at risk."

"The people of Israel will not support such a deluded and irresponsible move, which would hand over such a vital Israeli strategic asset to the Arab axis of evil," the Golan Residents Council said.

The announcement comes as Olmert finds himself mired in yet another corruption probe — the fifth investigation into his conduct since he took office in 2006. His dismal approval ratings have sparked widespread speculation about his ability to clinch a deal with the Palestinians or even survive in office much longer.

Opposition lawmakers charged the new announcement was designed to divert attention from Olmert's legal woes.

"Evidently the prime minister is so corrupt that he is not only taking cash money in envelopes but he is ready to trade the Golan Heights and our most vital interests in an attempt to save himself from criminal investigation," said lawmaker Yuval Steinitz of the hardline Likud Party.

with dissenters like these, one must suspect that olmert is doing something right. but it must be noted that talks are not peace, and some well-informed doubters of the capacity of the process and its particular participants see an israeli-syrian war as inevitable. nevertheless, one can be sure that the israeli objective in return for conceding the golan heights is the weakening of hezbollah.

and that leads to this: the downward spiral of lebanese politics appears to have been stayed as representatives of the western-propped lebanese government led by fouad seniora and saad hariri and the hezbollah-centered opposition agreed on a power-sharing outline which amounts to a major concession to hezbollah.

After over a year and a half (556 days, to be precise) since five opposition ministers resigned from the Lebanese cabinet, precipitating the worst political crisis since the Civil War, a solution was finally reached between Lebanese politicians in Doha, early this morning.

The agreement brings to a close a turbulent period which saw downtown Beirut shut down by demonstrators, dozens of civilians killed in street clashes, the Nahr al-Bared conflict, a string of political assassinations, and the return of ugly displays of sectarianism, which threatened to drag the country back into civil war.

more from usa today. and not a moment too soon, following a show of force from hezbollah last weekend, routing government- and western-sponsored militias in beirut. the situation appears to be that civil war has been avoided if for no better reason than no one has the capacity to oppose hezbollah physically except possibly the lebanese army -- and the army is sympathetic to hezbollah. political concessions to hezbollah followed, providing another slap in the face of the bush administration.

So is it over? Militarily speaking, and barring outside intervention, the answer is probably yes, as the defeat of the government camp has been so complete that there is hardly anything left to fight with. The question remains what the Americans want, and if they know what they want, and whether they are even free to think about it. No doubt, the demise of the Seniora government, praised right left and centre by anybody in the Bush administration who ever said a word about the Middle East, is another black spot on the Middle Eastern report card of this administration, and not exactly reassuring for those Arab regimes who rely on American support for their own survival. Are they going to do anything about it? Can they do anything about it? Is this still part of a “grand plan”? Really a plot to sabotage Israeli-Syrian peace (as if Olmert has any authority or credibility to see such a thing thru)? Or just another addition to a long book of blunders, a list of assorted self-inflicted messes that Mr. Bush will happily bequeath to a democratic successor, or which a republican successor will happily convert into an occasion for a new show of force (though I am not sure a democratic successor will deal any different). Most likely, however, the fading Bush administration will have just enough momentum or rather inertia left to continue supporting Seniora, and pressure its Arab allies to do the same, thus keeping the living corpse that his government is propped up in the Saray, possibly prompting the other side to push even further.

these concessions reflect what is widely perceived as the outright failure of the bush administration to achieve any of its goals in the area, in spite of opening supplying sunni militiamen through something called "secure plus" at the insistence of hardliners -- as had been broken originally by sy hersh. more from joshua landis, who all but pisses upon the ridiculously hyperbole of the frustrated neoconservatives of the wall street journal in contempt -- and more still, in disbelief at the amateurish efforts of washington.

it's debatable at this point as to whether or not olmert's approach to syria is an admission of the failure of the united states, israel and saudi arabia to oppose syria and hezbollah in lebanon effectively. maybe this is finally the rightminded diplomatic attempt, in light of the failure of first military and now paramilitary attempts, to weaken hezbollah. perhaps it is also adjunct to the ongoing israeli-palestinian talks, which are rumored to be at impasse. perhaps it is simply motivated by the internal politics of israel. perhaps it is intended as a none-too-subtle israeli provocation pointed toward the united states, in effect demanding more and better engagement "or else". and maybe it is an important piece in a puzzle of comprehensive peace compatible with the geopolitics of israel which has eluded the levant since zionism found an ally in post-war london.

and maybe it is nothing but cover, a false pretense, a prelude to war of the kind nir rosen sees neoconservatives like the brookings institution's michael o'hanlon advocating with respect to iran.

Any actual expert on the region, or any sincere person with even passing familiarity with it would know that genuine peace has always been easy to achieve, it requires Israel to abandon all its settlements and occupied territories, allow for the return of the refugees and compensate them for their dispossession. It also means granting equal rights to the Palestinian citizens of Israel. The so called "peace process," nothing of the sort, is merely a way to enshrine the dispossession of the Palestinians using unpopular but pliant and hand chosen collaborators like Mahmud Abbas.

Real peace requires dealing with Hamas, Hizballah and Syria. It requires a recognition that there is a hegemonic Zionist aggressor here, with Arab victims, not two equal sides. There can never be a Mideast peace process when the American secretary of state declares, as Rice did on April 29 that "I still remember my first time visiting Israel: It felt like coming home to a place that I had never been. And every time I return, as I look upon the land where Israelis have made the desert literally bloom, and as I drive past the aging hulks of Israeli tanks, which recall the dear cost that generations of Israeli patriots have paid for their nation's survival, as I see all of these things, it is clear to me that a confident Israel can achieve things that many think impossible." Can we imagine an American secretary of state paying tribute to the dear cost generations of Palestinian patriots paid for their nation's survival while attempting to reclaim the homeland from which they were ethnically cleansed?

Anyway, O'Hanlon in the end calls for talks with Iran, not because they will produce any breakthroughs, he says, but because they are a prelude to violence. Talks will get more countries to support the new American war. "By trying to talk," he writes, "we better position ourselves to get tough and have others join the effort." Remarkably, he hopes the talks would fail. "Only by patiently trying to work with Iran, and consistently failing to make progress, will we gradually convince Bush-haters and U.S. doubters around the world that the real problem does not lie in Washington."

Knowing that the propaganda war leading to the invasion of Iraq failed, O'Hanlon wants this war to be more efficient. He wants the US to work harder "to prove we are the reasonable ones" but he also wants Senator Barak Obama to use more "tough talk." O'Hanlon calls for talks to help shed the image of "Texas cowboy foreign policymaking" but in the end it is only to further the same cowboy foreign policy, just maybe with a few more Tontos at the side of the Lone Ranger. Beware, the worst is yet to come.

the reaction from the administration will be interesting to watch. these appear as major setbacks for a presidency which has been blind with zeal over refusing even to speak with "terrorists" and their sponsor regimes. it is seeing its lebanese puppet forced to cede power to hezbollah, and its primary client state in this or any region negotiating with a country that is in effect the fourth member of the so-called "axis of evil".

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