These are all the Blogs posted on Tuesday, 10, 2012.
Tuesday, 10 July 2012
A Literary Interlude: An Arundel Tomb (Philip Larkin)
An Arundel Tomb
Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd–
The little dogs under their feet.
Such plainess of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.
They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends could see:
A sculptor’s sweet comissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.
They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
Their air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they
Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the grass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,
Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:
Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone finality
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.
Posted on 07/10/2012 8:06 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 10 July 2012
Michael Singh: Oil Sanctions Against Iran Are Not Enough
From The Washington Post:
Oil sanctions against Iran will not be enough
By Michael Singh
Predictably, last week’s “expert level” talks between Iran and world powers were no more fruitful than previous rounds, leaving little optimism for a negotiated resolution to the nuclear crisis anytime soon. Western policymakers, buoyed by their success in reducing Iran’s oil exports , appear content to give sanctions more time to work, in the hope that once Tehran feels their full effect negotiators will return to the table, more ready to compromise.
The evidence, however, suggests that sanctions’ effect on oil exports will not increase over time.
First, Western policymakers tend to focus more on what Iran has lost than what it has retained or gained. That’s fine for a political debate but bad for making sensible policy. It is true that Iran’s oil exports have declined from 2.5 million barrels per day to 1.5 million. But that reduced level is hardly meager: Iran is still one of the world’s top oil exporters, from which it earns billions in hard currency. And nothing suggests that the drop in earnings has stunted Iran’s nuclear program, which is the target of Western ire. Iran is enriching uranium faster and to higher levels than ever before. If any party appears to feel a need to compromise, it is the “P5 + 1” (the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany). They have dropped demands that Iran fully halt enrichment in favor of requesting that it merely cap enrichment at a low level.
Furthermore, the historical evidence does not suggest that sanctions’ effect on regimes grows over time. Numerous examples — including Moammar Gaddafi’s Libya, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and present-day North Korea — demonstrate that such regimes are resilient and can hold out for a long time in the face of sanctions — and can even adapt to or circumvent them. There is also good reason to believe that states that reluctantly complied with oil sanctions will not make further reductions and may even increase oil imports from Iran as economic activity — and thus oil demand — recovers. Recent data suggest that Chinese oil purchases from Iran have increased despite a dropoff in the first quarter of this year.
So while policymakers may hope that oil sanctions will continue to pay dividends, it is likely that the full effect has already taken hold. If the United States and its allies wait to see which is the case, the result could be a prolonged period of inaction similar to the one that followed the June 2010 passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929 and lasted until Congress and the European Union passed oil sanctions in late 2011. Like any good pugilist, Washington should follow the heavy blow of oil sanctions with further unrelenting pressure.
The most recent sanctions have been so significant because they seized on Iranian dependence on oil-export revenue — one of the regime’s key vulnerabilities. To meaningfully increase the pressure, policymakers should identify and exploit the regime’s other vulnerabilities.
One is Iran’s limited international support. The regime has few true allies. The most important of them is Syria, and bolder international efforts to oust the regime of Bashar al-Assad would considerably weaken Tehran’s position, as would greater emphasis on interdicting arms and funding flowing to and from Iran.
Another key Iranian vulnerability is the regime’s growing internal isolation. The West should not be shy about cultivating Iranians outside the narrow circle around Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei or providing support to dissidents in Iran.
Finally, Washington should bolster the credibility of its military threat. Recent steps to strengthen its force posture in the Persian Gulf are a good start. They should be accompanied by more serious statements about U.S. willingness to employ force and an end to statements exaggerating the downsides of military action. This is likely to garner attention in both Tehran and Beijing. If the alternative is military conflict in the Persian Gulf, China may see further reductions in its Iranian oil imports — which would be the most significant way to strengthen the current sanctions — as prudent.
Western policymakers’ assertions that there is time for sanctions to work are a bit like a marathon runner saying he has plenty of time to finish the race. There may be time, but the latest round of talks’ failure to make progress despite mounting pressure on Iran suggests we also have a long way to go.
Posted on 07/10/2012 8:12 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 10 July 2012
Jonathan Kay: Why The Alawis Hold On
Jonathan Kay on Syria: How Assad’s fall will lay ruin to the Alawis’ once-in-a-millennium promised land
Jonathan Kay, National Post
Jul. 9, 2012
A small, marginalized people, kicked around the Middle East for centuries by Muslim empires, finally carves out an independent home for itself on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. But life remains precarious: Islamists seek to delegitimize the newly established homeland, declaiming the ruling sect as a gang of infidel occupiers. Now, the simmering hatred of the occupied people finally has transformed into an unstoppable political and military intifada — cheered on by Western human-rights advocates.
The country I have just described is Syria. For all the pathological hatred that President Bashar Assad and his father Hafez have focused on Israel, the histories of the two countries betray some striking similarities. And those similarities help explain why the Assad clan and its hangers-on refuse to be dislodged from Damascus.
Like Israel’s Jews, members of the Alawi sect in Syria regard their control of the nation as an existential issue. There is only one Alawi state, just as there is only one Jewish state, and its destruction would mean the end of the Alawis as a political entity on the world stage — probably forever. With the passage of generations, it might even mean their gradual assimilation into other nations, as with Zoroastrians, Samaritans and a hundred other now-obscure Middle Eastern peoples.
For purposes of journalistic similitude, I am skating over huge and uncountable differences between the Syrian and Israeli origin stories. The Alawis never suffered a holocaust. And they comprise just an eighth of the Syrian population — as opposed to Jews, who comprise a majority within Israel. But I raise the broader parallel to explain why Bashar Assad seems willing to kill thousands, and even tens of thousands, of Syrians to protect his regime. He doesn’t see himself as the rest of the world does — as a power-mad monster in the twilight of his power. In his mind, he is a champion of a long-oppressed people who are one step away from history’s dustbin.
For insight into Assad’s perspective, a useful resource is Fouad Ajami’s newly published book, [external] The Syrian Rebellion. The Lebanese-born American knows the region as well as any popular Western author writing today, and his scholarship does a fine job explaining how ancient history has led Syria to modern bloodshed.
The Alawi sect, he explains, first appeared in the late ninth century, as part of the general crisis in mainstream Shia Islam caused by the death of the eleventh imam and the disappearance of his infant son (the so-called mahdi, or “redeemer,” who still plays the starring role in ongoing end-times Shia mythology). The Alawis originally called themselves Nusayris, and settled in the eponymous mountain range that forms the spine of northwestern Syria.
Like many Shiites, the Alawis (as they came to be called by the French in the early 20th century) emphasized the role of Imam Ali, the Prophet Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law. But they took the veneration of Ali to a new level. “For both Sunni and Shia Muslims alike,” Ajami writes, “the Nusayris were ghulat (extremist) exaggerators who carried the veneration of Ali beyond the bounds of Islam.” The influential fundamentalist theologian Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328), who died in Damascus, described the Alawis as enemies of Islam who embraced “pure unbelief.”
This label would persist for centuries. When the Ottomans stumbled on the Alawis in their mountain redoubts in the 16th century, they branded them al-milla-al-dhalla — “the lost nation” — and promptly forgot about them.
The Alawis’ fortunes began to change when they came down from the mountains to till the farms of absentee Sunni landlords. (“Always go down, never go up,” went the Alawis’ self-improvement mantra, Ajami reports.) Then came the collapse of the Ottoman empire. During the interwar years, under France, Greater Syria was chopped up into political units, with the Alawis assigned their own autonomous zone, dubbed Jebel Ansariyah, with the capital of Latakia.[and, in the 1920s, the Alawis, like the Armenians and the Druse, were one of the minorities who constituted the "Troupes Speciales" of the French Mandatary [note sp.], whom the French rightly trusted to help them hold the fanatical Sunni Muslimis in check.]
The Alawis, fearful that they would be victimized within a larger Sunni-dominated Syrian entity, began agitating for the outright independence of an Alawi mini-state. In an extraordinary June 11, 1936 letter to the French government, the Alawi leaders described a “spirit of hatred and fanaticism imbedded in the hearts of the [Sunni] Arab Muslims” who surrounded them. An independent Alawi state, they reasoned, would help protect their group from “annihilation.”
And here is where history becomes surreal (at least in retrospect): In making their case for a safe and independent Alawi homeland, the community’s leaders held up the example of … the Jews.
The “good Jews” in Palestine had “contributed to the Arabs with civilization and peace, scattered gold, and established prosperity in Palestine without harming anyone or taking anything by force,” the Alawis wrote in their letter to the French government. “Yet the Muslims declared holy war against them and never hesitated in killing their women and children, despite the presence of England in Palestine and France in Syria. Therefore, a dark fate awaits the Jews and other minorities in case the Mandate is abolished, and Muslim Syria is united with Muslim Palestine.”
It is notable that in this letter, as in other documents, the Alawis refer to themselves as separate from “Muslims” — i.e., as “minorities,” like the Jews. Equally notable is the second signatory on that 1936 Alawi petition: Sulayman al-Assad, father to former Syrian dictator Hafez Assad, and grandfather to incumbent dictator Bashar Assad. I wonder: What would this apparently Jew-loving Alawi have thought of his anti-Semitic grandson’s 2001 speech to Pope John Paul II, in which the Syrian President claimed that Jews “tried to kill the principles of all religions with the same mentality in which they betrayed Jesus Christ and the same way they tried to betray and kill the Prophet Muhammad”?
In any event, the Alawi petition failed: The independent Syrian state that emerged in 1946 would subsume the Alawis into a Sunni-dominated nation. Yet in the end, the Alawis found a way to seize control of their destiny, anyway.
Seeking a path out of poverty, many Alawis had enlisted in France’s Troupes Speciales de Levant, while the Sunnis disdained this foreign corps. Two decades later, one of those impoverished Alawi enlistees — air force commander Hafez Assad — seized power under cover of a Baathist revolution. Since then, the country has been ruled by an Assad-run Alawi elite, co-operating, where necessary, with useful allies within the Sunni commercial class.
As this Alawi dynasty crumbles — to be replaced by who knows what sort of cobbled together Sunni-dominated autocracy or theocracy — it is worth pausing to consider its historical significance. For the Alawis, Assad-led Syria has been nothing less than an Israel of their own — a promised land for a lonely, persecuted people. No one can defend the barbaric means that Bashar Assad has used to try to protect this status quo. But you can understand why his fellow Alawis are so anxious and fearful as their moment in history slips away.
Posted on 07/10/2012 7:56 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 10 July 2012
What Sealed The Deal
I was in New York this weekend, and while I was tempted to simply loll about on Saturday morning, with coffee and orange juice in a sunny chair, duty called, and I managed to marshall my strength and put on my almost-new Rockports, and I started off, determined not to backslide in the creation of the new, improved me, and so I chose to take my constitutional on Madison Avenue, where I reasoned that the store displays would provide enough of interest to keep me going. And it was on Madison (but I won't tell you the cross street, you'll just have to figure that out for yourself) where I came across a used book shop, not quite the last of its clan (keeping afloat as best it can), and I had to stop my walk, I had to go in. For I can't leave any decent bookshop unentered. And as I conned the shelves, and subjected the titles on display to my judicious review, I found one title that caught, and held, my attention: Favorite Flies, by Mary Orvis Marbury. What could it be about? Could it be a plaster-cast-collecting groupie's memoir about what she hazily remembered repeatedly doing in the late 1960s and the early 1970s? After all, this was a bookstore in New York; it catered to a sophisticated New York clientele. Or could it be -- another distinct possibility -- a guide and tribute intended for an audience of those interested in the achievements of modern medicine, that is a book on the usefulness to Homo scientificus of that all-purpose genus, Drosophila, especially now that it had lost its pride of place among experimenters, and other organisms, or other ways of conducting research in genetics, have caused it to lose its prominence. No, Favorite Flies turned out to be a reprint (Wellfleet Press - -with subtle hints of Edmund Wilson, Mary McCarthy, Harry Levin, and a long finish redolent of Paul Chavchavadze) of a book originally published in 1892, and meant --oh, but you already knew this, you guessed this right away, two sentences ago, I know you -- for all those who enjoyed fly-fishing and wanted to learn more about the history of American fly-tying.
But I am not among those who cares about fly-tying. I used to go fishing decades ago, in that prelapsarian paradisiacal world, when all the world and love was young, and truth on every shepherd's tongue. On weekends, or sometimes on the one weekday when school got out at noon, my mother would give me and my brothers not fishing rods, but some string and some hooks and a jar full of worms, and would get us out of the house, and pile us into the car, and take us to the greensward on the banks of the Charles River, where we sat, and sat, and talked, and no doubt fought, and never caught anything, but always believed that we could, that we just might, we were bound to catch something next time, and a good time was had by all. For as my mother knew, young boys want but little here below. I haven't gone fishing since, not once. One of my brothers became a wonderful fisherman. Though a doctor, he spent a lot of time on the sea, and would go out on his small boat, by himself or with one helper, even 20, 30, 50 miles from shore, and catch what he could. He was one of the last to call the "striped bass" the "stripèd bass." When Japan and its money were all the rage, he bought himself a boat to catch tuna, which imagined tuna he planned to sell, for a huge sum, to a Japanese agent then stationed on Cape Cod, and that tuna would then, he knew, be airlifted to Tokyo, there to be made into expensive sushi. He didn't catch a tuna. The hundreds of thousands of dollars he dreamed he might make never materialized. But he kept on with his fishing, and he did catch a lot, if never a tuna. And a good time was had by all. I, on the other hand, have remained the most incompleat of anglers. But in the book shop, the pretty illustrations in Favorite Flies held my male gaze, and the price was right. Still, why should I have bought, knowing that I would have to lug home, a book on a subject in which I really had, and have, no interest?
Here is what sealed the deal.
The bookstore was on Madison. The book's author was Mary Orvis Marbury. I had run across the store while taking my constitutional. What more could anyone ask?
Posted on 07/10/2012 11:03 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 10 July 2012
Franck Salameh On An Alawite State
From The National Interest:
An Alawite State in Syria?
A postcard of Alawite musicians from northwestern Syria (1920s).Many Middle East analysts view Syria through one lens: a troubled state in need of regime change. But recent events indicate that a new paradigm is needed—one that accepts that the Alawite drive for communal survival may preclude survival of the present Syrian state.
Quite a few commentators described the Houla massacres of May 2012 as "a turning point" in Syria’s sixteen-month-old uprisings. “This is Syria's Srebrenica” they clamored, evoking the memory of the 1995 slaughter in Bosnia. Some called for sterner international pressures, ranging from the imposition of more debilitating sanctions against the Alawite regime of Bashar al-Assad to further isolating his government to putting boots on the ground to support the armed opposition and create civilian "safe havens." Yet the brutal killings continued, an undaunted Assad went on flouting international denunciations and, save for a litany of jeremiads about the regime's cruelty, precious little has changed on the ground in Syria. If anything, Assad seems to have raised the stakes, in late June downing a Turkish military jet that had presumably breached Syrian airspace. This too, along with news of fresh new massacres in the Damascus neighborhood of Douma, met with international mutism—and, curiously enough, with Turkish resignation.
There was the recent ballyhooed Geneva conference and before it the histrionic expulsions of Syria's diplomatic corps from key Western nations—with the Obama administration, true to form, demurring. But those remained perfunctory, timorous and largely ineffective slaps on the wrist. For beyond the killings, the world's indignation and the Syrian regime's continued recalcitrance, there lurked a method to Assad's madness that very few observers have deigned address: what animates Assad are communal-survival concerns and Alawite group contingencies; that the international community and the Syrian opposition’s oratory about Syria’s unity and national integrity are the least of the regime’s preoccupations; that it might be too late at this point in the game for the Alawites to abdicate their reign and resign themselves to a subservient future in Syria; that many assumptions about the current shape of the Syrian state are broken beyond repair; and that the Alawites would rather dismantle their existing republic and retreat into fortifications in the mountains than share power with a Sunni-Arab majority ill-prepared to grant either democracy or clemency to its erstwhile wardens.
The Syria Construct
Save for analysis published in The National Interest throughout 2011 and early 2012 , with most analysts, diplomats and policy makers invested in Syrian affairs seem beholden to spent paradigms about the country; namely that Syria is somehow a single unitary entity that shall remain so whatever the cost and whatever the outcome of the current uprisings, to be ruled in its entirety by a single dynasty beholden to a unified ideology and political culture. Yet if anything, the events of the past sixteen months—and more recently the Houla and Douma massacres—have demonstrated that the Alawites, not unlike other Syrian communal and ethnic groups, have yet to overcome their regional, sectarian and subnational loyalties for the sake of a uniform "Syrian nation." Historically speaking, there was never anything resembling this vision of a homogeneous Syrian entity, and there is precious little today that would justify this artificial construct remaining intact.
The grisly massacres running riot through the Syrian countryside are not mere sectarian outbursts or bouts of senseless killings and retaliatory counterkillings; they bear the telltale markings of what became known in Yugoslavia of the 1990s as "ethnic cleansing." Like their twentieth-century Balkan precedent, Syria’s massacres of civilian populations are deliberate, controlled and methodical, aimed at removing "from a specific territory, persons of a particular ethnic group . . . in order to render that area ethnically homogenous." The parallels don’t end there. As in the Balkans, geographic Syria—including today’s troubled Syrian Arab Republic—was once part of the Ottoman dominions. It remains at once a crossroads and a rugged mountainous refuge where many linguistic families, multiple ethnic groups, and bevies of religious and sectarian communities—among them Kurds, Turks, Armenians, Arabs, Shias, Sunnis, Greek-Orthodox, Druze, Syriacs, Alawites, Maronites, Jews and others—have for centuries lead an uneasy existence and a tenuous coexistence. The conditions that led to the twentieth-century rending of the Balkan states into multiple ethnic formations may be different from those responsible for Syria’s travails today. But the ingredients are hardly dissimilar: restless ethnic, religious and linguistic mosaics forcibly brought together under the banner of a homogenizing authoritarian pan-national idea.
And so today’s strings of wanton murders, sexual assaults, torture, arbitrary detentions, targeted bombings and destruction of neighborhoods—and what they entail in terms of displacements, deportations and population movements—are nothing if not the groundwork of a future Alawite entity; the grafting of new facts on the ground and the drafting of new frontiers. No longer able to rule in the name of Arab unity (and in the process preserve their own ethnic and sectarian autonomy), the Alawites may retreat into the Levantine highlands overlooking the Mediterranean. The area in question is a sanctuary that the Alawites called home for centuries and which the French helped them create and protect as an autonomous “ethnic state” during the first half of the twentieth century.
By no means will the population of this new Alawite state be homogeneous, but its Alawite element will be an overwhelming majority that is well prepared to stand up and be counted. What’s more, the largely Christian coastal regions of Tartous and Latakia have remained “neutral” throughout the uprisings—and have in effect signaled (even if tacitly) their acquiescence in an Alawite-dominated state. Furthermore, the buffer zones of Masyaf and Cadmus to the east are home to a large Ismaili community, which has thus far remained loyal to the Alawites. Heading northeast, beyond the Turko-Syrian border town of Idlib, the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) seems to have already begun establishing the foundations of autonomous rule, with Alawite blessings and encouragement. Though its industrial resources are quite limited, this projected Alawite region benefits from a well-developed infrastructure, rich arable highlands, fertile coastal plains, abundant water sources, Syria’s only deep-water harbors—Tartous and Latakia—and an international airport that would make an emerging state self-sufficient and supremely defensible.
When it comes to Syria, the earth is flat no more—and its current shape makes no sense to an empowered group unwilling to return to servility. It is high time prevalent images of Syria and its future—as a cultural and ethnic monolith—moved away from this cognitive dissonance. This is not a prescription. It is a gentle reminder that a model for the future can be found in Syria’s Ottoman and French-Mandatory past, and that a single, unitary Syria locked up in its current map is neither sacrosanct nor a law of nature. It is a historical anomaly that arose in 1936—a date prior to which, politically and geographically speaking, Syria as we know it today did not exist. Given these realities, diplomats and those invested in Syria and its people’s well-being should explore all possible solutions to the current crisis—not only those dictated by dominant paradigms and comforting ideological predilections.
Franck Salameh is an assistant professor of Near Eastern Studies, Arabic and Hebrew at Boston College and the author of Language Memory and Identity in the Middle East: The Case for Lebanon (Lexington Books, 2010).
Posted on 07/10/2012 11:05 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald