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July 27th, 2006


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09:16 am - Michael Totten goes native
Wikipedi doesn't have a useful entry on the term "going native."  Which is unfortunate.  It refers to a tendency of oversea-stationed personel, particularly diplomatic ones, to not only understand the frame of reference of the locals, but to adopt the frame of reference of the locals, which is very much not a good thing.  The purpose of a diplomat, after all, is to represent his or her government in foreign lands, and aid in communication. 

In the US, this seems to happen often in State department staff stationed too long in "friendly" Arab countries.  It's not hard to imagine one of them coming home to his luxurious apartment in Riyadh, hanging up his jacket next to his wife's abaya and niqab, and saying, "Sheesh, honey, the Zionist dogs are really asking for more trouble from Allah, peace be upon him."

It just doesn't apply to diplomats.  Michael Totten is a freelance journalist, whose reporting on the Middle East is well worth reading, even -- perhaps particularly -- when he misses the point.  He spent much time in Beirut and, understandably, fell in love with the people and the culture in the liberal seaside areas, and thinks of it as his second home.

Which isn't a reason not to read him; on the contrary, it's a good idea, down to the "Insha Allah."  Start here.

But please do what he doesn't do -- keep the actual facts on the ground in mind.  (Picture gakked from vitalperspective.com.)  When he shows you a bombed-out building -- which is just fine -- take a look at the map, and note that the area's that Israel's attacked in Beirut are, in total, just about the size of the Beirut race track.  (You won't get it at first glance.  The bombed areas aren't the yellow or the red ones -- they're the little black circles and ellipses.) 

And then read him talk about "By bombing all of Lebanon rather than merely the concentrated Hezbollah strongholds..."

He's gone native; Israel hasn't even hit most of Beirut.  That's not the objective reality; that's the native spin. 

Totten's gone native on the Lebanese issue.  That makes him an excellent spokesman for the non-Hezbollah Lebanese position --
To paraphrase:  "There's not a darned thing we can do about Hezbollah, but we were busy, if slowly, working toward disarming Hezbollah.  Lots of us loved Israel as long as the Israelis were willing to leave Hezbollah alone, too, but by attacking Hezbollah the might actually trigger a civil war here, but we can't win a civil war against Hezbollah.  If we get a ceasefire, though, we'll promise to think about what we could do real soon."
-- and, read that way, he's still very much worth reading. 

Just remember some received knowledge built into his thinking and writing -- and think about whether or not it's wrong (you'll have to look into the comments section for much of this):

Totten:  Hezbollah is invincible; it's the strongest military force that the Arabs have ever known.  It's also about 2000 guys. 

Totten:  80% of Lebanon wants Hezbollah disarmed, but it's impossible, no matter what they do.  And the first hints that the Lebanese are not only getting tired of Hezbollah but that some are doing something about it are distressing.

Again:  he's worth reading.  Just remember that he's gone native.

(15 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 27th, 2006 06:46 pm (UTC)
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Somehow I doubt that the perjorative nature of the term "go native" ('This expression is closely associated with the often contemptuous view British colonists had of indigenous peoples. --dictionary.com) is lost on you.
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From:joelrosenberg
Date:July 27th, 2006 07:09 pm (UTC)
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Of course it's a perjorative term; ambassadors, say, aren't supposed to adopt the frame of reference of the locals, whether they're respected by their own governments or not. They should be expected to understand the locals -- even when the locals are, say, the UN and its bizarre culture -- but to adopt their term of reference is go to to far.

You could ask Ambassador Kurtz about it, I suppose . . .

In the case of Michael Totten, I'm certainly criticizing -- he's bought into the Vichy neutrality of the Beirut cafe set, and I hope I made it clear that that's my opinion.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 27th, 2006 07:15 pm (UTC)
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Tell me more about this concept of the "Beirut cafe set."
From:joel_rosenberg
Date:July 27th, 2006 08:22 pm (UTC)

You'll learn more about them from Totten than...

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... you will from me. Read his Lebanese reminscences, and the blogs of his friends. The folks that Totten identifies with aren't the Hezzies that he occasionally interviews (and then makes fun of from a sufficiently safe distance; that's wise of him) -- they're people like his friend Lebanon.Profile, who makes it clear that he was comfortable with his deal with the devil -- see http://lebop.blogspot.com/2006/07/becoming-refugee.html

You've gotta -- well I've gotta -- feel sorry for him. He just wanted to practice journalism, raise his kid, grow his stock portfolio, hang around with his Hezbollah-supporting friends, send his --

Waitaminute. Hezbollah-supporting friends? Well, yeah. Now, he wants to "take power in his country." With, presumably, a larger stock portfolio? Or is it with an extra shot in his latte?

Or consider Totten's buddy "The Perpetual Refugee", who measure the "progress" in Lebanon by a performance of "the Vagina Monologues" being permitted.

I sympathize with these nimrods, truly, I do. They just want to carve out a nice westernish environment for themselves with a Lebanese flavor, and stay out of things. The rats in the cellar -- Hizbollah -- are something that they will not support, but not resist. It's not their problem, after all. Maybe the "international community" will apply enough "pressure" to get the Hezzies to cool it -- the fact that quite the opposite is going on on the other side of Beirut doesn't matter. It's not their problem. Six years ago, the IDF withdrew from Lebanon as part of a deal that Hezbollah was to be disarmed, not enhanced -- but that's somebody else's problem.

They -- understandably -- just want to patronize the hot Beirut clubs, drink their coffee and tea in the lovely cafes overlooking the Med, and pretend that what they've got is a modern, civilized country...

... while they've let the Visigoths run wild.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 27th, 2006 09:02 pm (UTC)

Re: You'll learn more about them from Totten than...

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Vichy, Visigoths . . . so is Beirut like Vichy France, or the late Roman Empire?

I have difficulty mustering much contempt for those Beirutis wishing to do nothing more than patronize clubs and cafes when so many of us seem content to comment on world affairs from the safety our comfy chairs.

By the way, I greatly enjoyed the Guardians of the Flame series.
From:joel_rosenberg
Date:July 27th, 2006 09:17 pm (UTC)

Re: You'll learn more about them from Totten than...

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For the second, thanks.

For the first, I'm sorry if I don't express myself clearly enough -- I have a lot of sympathy for them, and I love the fact that the ability of my country's military to do a great job of killing people and breaking things, and of my country's law enforcement folks of rounding up people who would try to blow themselves up at my closest pizza parlor, gives me the freedom to comment on world affairs from safety and comfort of my desk, or from a coffee shop or pizza parlor. Naturally, like millions of sensible Americans, I routinely do carry a handgun -- but I think it's pretty unlikely I'll ever have to take it out for serious yet again; more unlikely that I'll ever have to put my finger on a trigger other than on the range, and incredibly more unlikely that if I do, it'll be pointed a terrorist.

I like that. I enjoy that. My luxury was paid for in blood, mind you, at places like Little Round Top and Ancreville and others.

And I like lattes, too. As well as looking at hot girls. (My wife tolerates that; she was aware, when she married me, that I'm a heterosexual.)

I'm delighted that, inflated and profoundly stupid rhetoric from some of my countrymen aside, we don't have Visigoths/Hamassholes/Hezbollards running wild here, and we get to do that.

But the Lebanese don't have that luxury, and while the cost of their self-deception has been remarkably low, to date, the cost is there, regardless of whether or not they choose to accept it.

But they've let the Visigoths run wild; that has consequences, and not just on other folks. If they want a decent life in the future, that'll be paid for, in blood -- and not just the blood of Israeli children playing in the yard.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 27th, 2006 09:39 pm (UTC)

Re: You'll learn more about them from Totten than...

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I can appreciate what you're saying. At the same time, I can also appreciate what I've read from a number of Lebanese bloggers (who likely visit cafes, at least infrequently) who say that they were not content to let Hezbollah run wild, but were instead trying to figure out how to get them to disarm. Now perhaps they should have tried harder, but faced with a group getting funding and arms from Syria and Iran, I don't see how they would have come close to succeeding as well as the Israeli army has--and Hezbollah isn't exactly rolling over for them. These folks just now managed to get the overt Syrian presence largely out of their country (though obviously the covert presence is still there, along with the stooge Lahoud), and I can't see how they have any assurances that anyone would rush to their aid should the Syrians decide to roll back in. Perhaps many were in denial about Hezbollah, but I wouldn't want to make any great generalizations about their disregard for others' lives, Israeli or otherwise. After so many years of war, I can only imagine that they were desperate to live in (relative) quiet. As Michael says, it's a terrible situation.
From:joel_rosenberg
Date:July 27th, 2006 09:45 pm (UTC)

Re: You'll learn more about them from Totten than...

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Yeah, I know, that's the pravda, and I'm sure that they believe it. But getting Hezbollah to disarm isn't rocket science. Doing it bloodlessly isn't possible, no matter how many committees that endlessly discussed the issue around tables at cafes.

The IDF is a terrific conventional army, but there are things that they can't do -- and additional things that they won't do -- that a "resistance" can do.
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From:unix_jedi
Date:July 28th, 2006 12:56 am (UTC)

Re: You'll learn more about them from Totten than...

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At the same time, I can also appreciate what I've read from a number of Lebanese bloggers (who likely visit cafes, at least infrequently) who say that they were not content to let Hezbollah run wild, but were instead trying to figure out how to get them to disarm.

How are they going to "figure" that out?
It's like Life of Brian. "Boy, we HATE the Romans. And we're going to sit here and stew about it, and plan and plot, and SOMEHOW we'll get them!"

In all seriousness, that's the view that Monty Python was parodying. No, it's not easy. And I don't know what I'd do in the same situation - it's human nature to sit back while things aren't great, and try and wait it out.

But Hezbollah wasn't going to go away by themselves.

I can't see how they have any assurances that anyone would rush to their aid should the Syrians decide to roll back in.

No. Nobody would, as they didn't the last time.
The only potential allies are the guys who are getting rocketed from the streets next to the cafes.

Just like most other crime/violence - it exists because most people let it. They try and duck and avoid their confrontation with it directly. Directly attacking violent people is likely to cause great immediate harm. It's extremely hard to get groups up to confront such evil. Want a "local" example? Look at the 1920s or so and the Ku Klux Klan.
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From:joelrosenberg
Date:July 27th, 2006 08:25 pm (UTC)

Re: Relevant, (perhaps apocryphal) quote

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What isn't hypocritical -- and is, I think, significant -- was much of the past and present criticism of John Bolton, of him not supposely not respecting the institution he would be (and is) representing . . .

. . . and there's some truth to that. Sort of. He doesn't and didn't much respect the UN. But the institution that he's representing is the United State of America, not the UN.

Cheap shot du jour: when Totten -- or anybody else -- finds himself on the same side as Pat Buchanan, it's time for some careful reconsideration.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 29th, 2006 06:48 pm (UTC)

Going Native and Dogs that don't bark in the night

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First an aside from 1997 when I was living just South of Paris. I remember very clearly seeing reports and reading reports in the papers (online) about Lady Di's death in the auto crash. The immediate facts were that 3 people died and one survived. My immediate unanswered question was which of those was wearing a seat belt? I felt I knew the answer, I just wanted someone in the media to ask the question. After about 3 or 4 days the question was finally answered in an aside. Nothing was made out of it. I kind of understand. Lady Di was an icon and nobody wanted to come out and say - "Hey, she had shit for brains, broke the law and paid the price of stupidity as did her boyfriend and driver while her bodyguard wore his seatbelt and survived"

When I read the news that the Israelis spent a day bombing the shit out of a UNIFIL obervation post until eventually the thing collapsed and killed the four UNIFIL observers I had a similar "Dog that didn't bark" moment. Nobody has raised let alone answered the obvious questions this raises, namely - given that UNIFIL have been operating in the area for such a long time (28 years) that several of their member soldiers have settled down and married Lebanese women, was the reason that the Israelis pounded this particular post into dust because some UNIFIL soldiers in the area have literally gone-to-bed with Hezbollah to the extent that in some places UNIFIL allows Hezbollah to use their facilities?
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 29th, 2006 08:17 pm (UTC)

Re: Going Native and Dogs that don't bark in the night

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Check this out -
http://www.garth.ca/weblog/2006/07/26/united-sad/

It contains an email from one of the Canadians killed in the UNIFIL post. In particular check out his entry for 3rd February and his reference to what everybody in the UN is supposed to call the "Shebaa Farms"
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From:unix_jedi
Date:July 27th, 2006 07:42 pm (UTC)

Very nicely said.

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My attempt from last week:
http://unix-jedi.livejournal.com/14207.html.
(Not as good as yours. Almost like you, you know, write for a living!)

I was also replying to a angrier screed, however. His latest is more thoughtful, less attacking. It's got a definite aura of wishful thinking - and I'm certain that there were Great Plans concocted to deal with the Hezbollah issue.
But unfortunately, reality intervened.
And that's where I think he fails to understand. The Israeli cafes have had rockets raining down on them for a long time. It might have been peaceful in Beirut. Not so South of it.
Totten is right, in my opinion, as to the problems with disarming Hezbollah. The power of Hezbollah relative to Lebanon, and the lack of unity among the Lebanese groups (All of whom would fear backstabbing from others).
But he then falls for the "But Israel should have...". Sure. Israel could have kept sacrificing their people, waiting for another cause. But kidnapping uniformed soldiers can only have one response. And Michael could have sat in the cafe, and written about grand plans.

But if the Lebanese are to be freed of Hizbollah, I'm afraid it means that they've got to be taken out, militarily,strategically, and politically. The only forces that *have* that capability are the IDF, US Armed Forces, and probably the British. The French Foreign Legion, perhaps, but I doubt there would be any Internet cafes standing after they fixed it their way.
Lebanese can't openly ally with Israel. Admittedly, I don't totally understand that. But they can't/won't. So the best option right now, is to let the IDF pound the Syrian/Iranian proxy. When they get done, it should be possible for the "weak" [in terms of arms] Lebanese - if they're willing - to stop what's left from re-arming, and re-dominating.
My sources and friends in Beirut tell me most Lebanese are going easy on Hezbollah as much as they can while the bombs are still falling. But a terrible reckoning awaits them once this is over.
Good. That's what needs to happen if they don't want this happening again in 5, or 8, or 10 years.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 13th, 2007 07:16 pm (UTC)

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