As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Burnt Cedar

Among the many off notes in the President's speech, particularly the unpaid advertisement for children's toys, this one struck me as the most off:

In the last two years, we have seen the desire for liberty in the broader Middle East - and we have been sobered by the enemy's fierce reaction. In 2005, the world watched as the citizens of Lebanon raised the banner of the Cedar Revolution ... drove out the Syrian occupiers ... and chose new leaders in free elections.

I know Bush likes to say that he doesn't read the papers, but surely his speechwriters do?

Hezbollah and its allies paralyzed Lebanon today, sending out thousands of demonstrators who seized control of major roads, brawled with government supporters and smothered the capital in the acrid smoke of burning tires.

Scores of people were wounded in clashes that erupted among feuding Christian groups and between Sunni and Shiite Muslims around the country.

The Hezbollah-led opposition had called for a general strike and the roadblocks gave people little choice but to stay home. The only road to Beirut's airport, symbolically important as the sole vein between this restive nation and the outside world, was impassable — clogged with heaps of sand, garbage and roaring fires. Many flights were canceled and passengers were stranded at the airport.

By nightfall, the capital was still locked down by opposition checkpoints. Hezbollah leaders have said that today would mark the beginning of a steady escalation; it was unclear whether they planned to lift the roadblocks overnight or whether the paralysis would continue.

The tense seizure of the country's roads took many Lebanese by surprise and marked an escalation in Hezbollah's campaign to overthrow the U.S.-backed government.

At least three people died in the clashes. This happened THE DAY BEFORE the President talked in such glowing terms about all those Lebanese hotties calling for freedom in 2005. Since then, the country was devastated by an Israeli bombing campaign supported at least tacitly by the United States, and Hezbollah is now stronger than ever, more organized than the government in the aftermath of the war and more organized today:

Security forces gave free rein to the protests. While young men barricaded neighborhoods and manned extralegal checkpoints, soldiers and police stood by watching. Security forces in riot gear lined some streets and armored personnel carriers crunched over the rubble. Still, to the delight of some Lebanese and the disgust of others, police and troops didn't interfere.

"They are on our side," crowed Kamal Yehiya, a 20-year-old Hezbollah supporter [...]

Like most events that involve Hezbollah, the demonstrations were carefully organized. Trucks loaded with tires for burning were parked along the roadsides. At every intersection, older men with walkie-talkies supervised the younger demonstrators. Young men on mopeds buzzed from one corner to the next, passing along news and instructions.

You'd have to be on Limbaugh-strength OxyContin to point to Lebanon as an example of the transformative power of democracy. Just ask this Lebanese citizen:

"This is not democracy," sputtered Noha Qaisi, a 48-year-old housewife whose sunglasses were shoved up into her highlighted hair. "My kids are saying they're suffocating from all the smoke inside."

But that's just the blazing fires of freedom, right? Burning the idea of liberty into the minds, and onto the arms and necks, of all who pass its flame.

UPDATE: Juan Cole gives even more context:

Note, too, that the "Cedar Revolution" government was joined by the Lebanese Hizbullah. It was a national unity government. The US ambassador in Lebanon encouraged this development. What destabilized that government was the brutal Israeli war on Lebanon of last summer. Bush collaborated in that war and even worked against the early cease-fire called for by the Seniora government. Bush can't pretend to be a friend of the Lebanese government and yet approve publicly of a sanguinary war on it by Olmert. Bush puts all the blame for instability in Lebanon on Syria, which is implausible.