Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The announcement of the US withdrawal from Syria, albeit still lacking details, has, as mentioned previously, raised the specter of a country divided among the winners: Syria, Iran, Russia, and even Turkey, anxious to protect its flanks from the Kurds. While there is no agreement on how Syria’s massive reconstruction, estimated in excess of $400 billion, will be funded, it will be hard for the GCC to bear part of the burden, as hinted by the Trump administration, if Iran is seen to benefit from its presence in Syria.

That hasn’t prevented deals from being struck. Russia has already inked contracts for major infrastructure projects around Tartus naval port and the Khomeini Air Base it uses; and is rumored to be ready to build a nuclear power plant. It has also signed a 20-year contract with...

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Between the no-shows at the Arab Economic Summit, and the continued stalemate in forming a government, there is little news in Lebanon that provides comfort and assurances either to the Lebanese or to the international community. Despite a Qatari pledge of $500 million to be invested in the dollar denominated bonds of the Central Bank and similar support promised by Saudi Arabia, economic prospects continue to be tamped down. The US withdrawal from Syria reverberates regionally and globally as analysts wonder where the “America First” foreign policy hammer will land next.

The Economist noted that the withdrawal “portends big changes: an American exit, a triumph for Iran and Russia, the return of Syria and the repositioning of everybody else…To many in Washington, Mr. Trump is thus threateni...

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Local activists have signaled a resumption of demonstrations and protests on January 12 although analysts are not sure that there will be much public appetite for a large-scale turnout. According to Karim Bitar, Director of Research at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, “People know perfectly that a new government will not bring about genuine change. The Lebanese are angry, but they are not naive. It is understood that a new government — if or when it is formed — will be a close replica of the current government of oligarchs.” According to Bitar, this general sentiment will also lead to the ultimate die-out of future demonstrations.

That comment reinforces the assessments of The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index for 2018 that looked at the st...

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

In today’s current usage, ‘parsing’ is usually applied to data. As someone who acquired his vocabulary in the last century, I prefer to use ‘parsing’ to refer to the deconstruction of a sentence or expression to determine its meaning. I have been struggling to parse President Trump’s December 19th announcement regarding the imminent withdrawal of US forces from Syria, a statement that has been walked back by National Security Advisor John Bolton and the President’s acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

The torrent (there is no other adequate adjective – yet even ‘torrent’ has acquired a data definition) of commentaries and opinions unleashed by Trump’s statement and subsequent clarifications make it unlikely that any clarity will be forthcoming any time soon. The visits of Secretary Pompeo a...

Monday, January 7, 2019

Too bad the crystal ball on Lebanon’s future has darkened due to a lack of reliable data. There is simply too much conflicting information on what will transpire in 2019. What is clear, however, is that Lebanon will know no sustainable peace whether domestic or regional, unless the current order is dramatically restructured, a remote likelihood as the political culture of Lebanon mitigates against progress if it entails restructuring the political and economic souk that characterizes its norms.

For months we have watched as the competition among Lebanon’s internal players, abetted by their foreign patrons, has ensured that no government is formed that does not reflect Hezbollah’s dominance of the political process. This does not have to be the situation but Hezbollah’s alliance with the Fre...

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