What Ales Us
"So, what do we do now?"
Juan picked at the remains of the chicken nachos we'd just shared. "Keep writing. Keep reminding those who want to be reminded of the history, and just keep up with the daily outrage."
Well, I suppose that's about all we who bang keyboards can do -- keep at it. I've tried on my end, as you know, though I've let up on the pedal of late, a lightness of foot I intend to reverse this week. But Juan Cole is at it all week long; weekends, too. A little weariness can be seen in his eyes, but that's the only hint of fatigue Juan gives me. The heat might have something to do with it as we both relax outside in downtown Ann Arbor, drinking pints of home-brewed Hefeweizen ale, discussing the evolving brutality of Israel's assault on Lebanon and Gaza, and Hezbollah's increasingly deadly replies.
While serene in temperament and soft-spoken of voice, Juan is keeping his anger in check. He was in Lebanon in June, and smiles when telling me how peaceful and wonderful his time there was. Of course, Juan was in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war in the 1970s, and helped to bring casualties to hospital emergency rooms, so for him a Lebanon at peace was something to savor. And now, the homes he visited, the cafes and restaurants he drank and dined in, have been hit or pounded to rubble by Israeli shells and missiles. And that's the minor damage. As for the rest of the country, especially the south . . .
But it isn't just the wholesale destruction doled out by Israel that has Juan on edge. It's the utter (deliberate?) ignorance of Israeli/Lebanese history displayed by the corporate press, many bloggers, and political commentators that is clearly so frustrating. As I've mentioned in this humble space, the pre-state Zionists had Lebanon in their sites and on their maps, the Litani River long a focal point for those committed to Eretz Israel. And attacking Lebanon is nothing new, nor are the "self-defense" excuses, though the targets and their politics (secular-then-religious) change according to geopolitical need. Since 1978, Lebanon has been Israel's punching bag, if that's the proper name for something you fire missiles at. The Lebanese are well aware of this, primarily those who collaborated with and suffered under the IDF during its 18-year occupation of the south. Aggression breeds reaction (and for Israel, reaction is vital for justification), and currently we're witnessing the latest chapter of this brutal scenario.
Juan and I go back and forth, trading views about whether or not any of this was avoidable. It's all retrospective speculation, since nothing we say changes anything. Indeed, the more you know about the region's history, the deeper the despair, unless you find the present state of affairs acceptable or satisfying. There are a lot of yahoos online and on cable crowing about Israeli violence and advocating more. I doubt that more than a couple (at best) could cite, say, Vladimir Jabotinsky's "The Iron Wall" which, written a quarter century before the founding of the Israeli state, established what would later become the dominant thinking among Israeli elites, especially during those years in the 1970s when the present course was charted. And the funny thing is, many of these commentators would probably agree with Jabotinsky were they familiar with his thinking. Not that this would make today's discourse much better, but it would make it a bit more honest.
Although there are differences in analysis, Juan and I agree that Israel's current campaign, planned well before the killing and abduction of its soldiers, is part of the first offensive on Iran, which is clearly Israel's and the US's ultimate target. "Lebanon has to be pacified, taken completely out of the picture," he tells me, "before any serious action can be taken against Iran." What kind of action can we expect? No one can immediately say with any authority. Certainly, a full-scale US/Israeli invasion of Iran is out of the question, at least for now.
But some kind of expanded aggression is doubtless being planned, and will arrive in due course. As Juan elaborated at his site yesterday:
"It may be that that hawks are thinking this way: Destroy Lebanon, and destroy Hizbullah, and you reduce Iran's strategic depth. Destroy the Iranian nuclear program and you leave it helpless and vulnerable to having done to it what the Israelis did to Lebanon. You leave it vulnerable to regime change, and a dragooning of Iran back into the US sphere of influence, denying it to China and assuring its 500 tcf of natural gas to US corporations. You also politically reorient the entire Gulf, with both Saddam and Khamenei gone, toward the United States. Voila, you avoid peak oil problems in the US until a technological fix can be found, and you avoid a situation where China and India have special access to Iran and the Gulf.
"The second American Century ensues. The 'New Middle East' means the 'American Middle East.'
"And it all starts with the destruction of Lebanon.
"More wars to come, in this scenario, since hitting Lebanon was like hitting a politician's bodyguard. You don't kill a bodyguard just to kill the bodyguard. It is phase I of a bigger operation."
Middle East madness wasn't the only thing Juan and I discussed. We touched on Situationism, Paris Hilton's political effect, the alternative worlds of science fiction (he's a big sci-fi fan), the ceaseless, first-rate efforts of Billmon, whom we both read regularly, Napoleon in Egypt (his current study), and trying to perform political satire before peaceniks who confuse the satirist for the Real Thing. That was my complaint, which Juan knows well, having seen me struggle with a Birkenstock mosh-pit of literal-minded, aging pacifists.
"I've nothing against pacifists, per se," I told him, referring to my many defenses of their antiwar tactics. "But man -- what a brutal audience! I think they save their aggression for comedians."
"Well, these are aggressive times."
We both smiled, had another round of Hefeweizen, and took in the beauty of Ann Arbor near dusk. The war could wait for another hour, at least for us, a luxury that was unspoken but mutually understood.
Keep reading. Keep thinking. Keep writing. Keep at it.