Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Review of 'Farewell' (2009) (French)

Review of L'affaire Farewell (2009)

The French have made a fiction-based Soviet-era spy movie to tout the importance of French intelligence gathering to the Western victory in the Cold War. I say that not because I despise French self-importance but because that is the only logical explanation for the large number of scenes that have Mitterrand and Reagan even though those scenes do exactly bubkes in moving the plot forward.

Having said that, the movie is actually interesting in showcasing a type of traitor that betrays his country because he is a patriotic idealist and thinks he is doing the right thing for his country. Actually in the movie the traitor might perhaps better be described as a revolutionary traitor than a patriotic traitor given his commitment to destroying the system to see it rebuilt in a 'better' way. Now, there are a lot of negative value judgments in the word 'traitor', but in this case I am just using it to denote someone that betrays the trust placed in him by the institutions of his country. The Soviet system was evil to its core and betraying it was not in itself a reprehensible act. At the same time I sincerely doubt it that the traitor's family would be quiet as understanding in real life as they were in the movie. I can imagine them not being ideological communists but it is hard to imagine them not being completely conflicted about the situation that they find themselves in. Even if his family were not committed communists, the man did betray his country, but worse yet, he put them in personal danger thus undermining an even more basic familial trust.

The Americans are shown to be reprehensibly amoral as usual in contrast with the morally upright French main character. There isn't much difference in how spy agencies work so the use of Americans to demonstrate the inherent cruelty of the spy business is telling.

The other aspect here that is interesting is the way it presents the inclusion of the French Communist Party in Mitterrand's government. The American objection to such a scenario is presented as unreasonable interference in the internal affairs of an ally, even where it is a historical fact that the French Communist Party was a creature of the Soviets going all the way back to its beginning as a party. As such, the American concern was quite legitimate.

The grand political aspects of the movie are superfluous. They add very little to what makes the movie actually good - and that is a parallel view of the family drama that takes place in the lives of the French and Soviet spies and the close conspiratorial relationship that develops between the main characters who are both superbly acted.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The way negotiations are conducted in the Arab middle east is wonderful.

So, lets say you have two sides, lets call them Ahmed and Abdul that are negotiating through a mediator. Both have certain interests and demands of the other. The mediator is trying to construct a compromise document that will be the basis of an agreement. Now both Ahmed and Abdul will verbally promise absolutely anything to the mediator as long as it doesn't make it into the agreement. If one of Ahmed's conditions for an agreement is that Abdul's son's donkeys must stop grazing in Ahmed's yard, Abdul will promise to force his son to slaughter the donkeys. Once that promise is made, Abdul will ask that the condition remain outside the document because he will take care of it within his own family and putting it into the document undermines Ahmed's control of his own son. The moment the agreement is signed leaving out the donkey clause, Ahmed will enter into lengthy negotiations with his son. Eventually he will declare that they have reached an agreement that half the donkeys will be moved to a different grazing area, but the consensus within the family is that the other half of the donkeys must stay continue grazing on Abdul's land.

The way the Iranians conduct negotiations is even better.

First, before you get into negotiations you must have pre-negotiations on the terms of the negotiations. You will discuss what can be discussed, what must be discussed and what can't be discussed. Second, once you get into negotiations, you will not know if you are negotiating with the person that is capable of making a commitment. Third, the negotiators' conditions and terms will change day by day with no particular pattern. Fourth, verbal promises made are not worth much (see # 2,3). Fifth, once an agreement has been reached verbally you will realize that you have really agreed on none of the conditions and negotiations must start again in order to write all the conditions down (see #3). Sixth, once an agreement has been reached on paper you will realize that the person you were negotiating with who swore that he is authorized to negotiate isn't authorized to commit to the document agreed to (see # 2 again). Seventh, if you actually do reach and sign an agreement with someone authorized to commit to it, you will realise the agreement is only good while the other side is incapable of asking for better terms. Eighth, you will also realize that the other side is continually trying to improve its position so that it can very soon try to renegotiate the contract. Ninth, in the next negotiations the previous agreement and all others will be completely ignored and you will start all over.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Done blogging about this war. Some things are very clear to me. I'll write them down somewhere and read over them once in a while to see if I was right. Thats the other function of blogs. That is to go back in time and read about the opinions you once held. And though it is easy to go back to 'correct' any blog entry it is a bit harder to lie to yourself that you were right while you are doing it. Its not that I have often been wrong in what I write, its that I feel like an ass writing about some things.

Past couple of weeks I got a small taste of what the Israelis go through every time there is a war. I know several people that are definately in Lebanon and a bunch that may have been called up and sent. Israelis my age would probably directly know a very large number of people in the army or the reserves. Looking for familiar names in lists of dead soldiers is shitty.

I am not going to write about what the state of Israel should or should not do when the fundamental consideration behind many of the policy calculations is how many Israeli soldiers will die. Olmert, Peretz and Halutz will have their day in court, so to speak, without me chiming in.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

This ceasefire is a joke.

Peacekeepers are being deployed but without the ability to shoot, so what exactly is their mandate and what can they really be expected to do?
The Lebanese government is meant to deploy south, and do what?
The Lebanese army is supposed to disarm Hezbollah. However this will have to be done with Hezbollah's acquiescence since the Lebanese army can't do this itself.
The Hezbollah is supposed to withdraw north of the Litani. What the hell does that mean? The Hezbollah is a guerilla force. They take off their uniforms (if they are actually wearing one) and they are civilian residents of the South Lebanese villages.
What is the mechanism for the 'unconditional' release of soldiers?
What happens if Hezbollah refuses to allow additional French/Spanish/Turkish troops to enter South Lebanon?
What happens if Hezbollah decides to launch missiles from north of the Litani?

This ceasefire is like throwing a bucket of water on a burning forrest. You can claim that you are doing something and pat yourself on the back, but the fire will keep burning.

1) The Israelis have another 24 hours to get to the Litani. They are doing this through airlifts and setting up a line on the Litani.

2) Hezbollah will keep fighting 'as long as Israeli soldiers are on Lebanese soil'.

3) The international force is nowhere near being assembled. Getting 15,000 troops organized and to Lebanon will take longer than 7-10 days (Rice's estimate from yesterday)

4) As long as the international force doesn't yet arrived the Israelis will continue operations.

This 'cease-fire' if it ever actually gets implemented will be very, very short with both sides getting ready for round 2. The next round will likely involve the Syrians.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Israelis decided against a wider operation because they are afraid that Syria might get involved. At the same time they are calling up reservists. I doubt the reserves will just sit around the Lebanese border when they do get called up....

They are calling up 3 divisions.

This isn't going to do much to reassure the Syrians.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Israel has just run out of options...

The only reasonable option left is a full-scale invasion of South Lebanon.

If the Israelis do not launch a massive invasion of Lebanon within the next 2 days this will end badly. The conditions being postulated in Rome for a ceasefire to be imposed on Israel are absolutely horrendous for Israel...

Foreign troops will prevent Israeli operations into Lebanon.
Foreign troops will not disarm Hezbollah.
Lebanese troops will not disarm Hezbollah.
Hezbollah will not be disarmed.
Nasrallah will claim victory (justly).
The soldiers might [not] be returned in a prisoner exchange.
Iran will continue to supply weapons to Hezbollah.
Hezbollah will fire missiles at will.
Moderate regimes will be destabilized.

This is a terrible conclusion and makes an absolute joke out of the Israeli objectives when it set out on this operations. If there is a reasonable man among the Israeli leadership he will understand that to agree to a cease-fire now is absolutely insane.

If this operations ends under the Rome ceasefire conditions, it will create the conditions for war with Syria within 2 years. This is both because it undercuts Israeli deterrence in the eyes of the Syrians and because it will make the Israeli government weaker and more prone to aggressive actions.

There has been a failure in communications between Israeli intelligence and the Israeli government. As a result there is a complete disconnect between the objectives outlined by the Israeli government and the means used by the IDF to try to carry them out. This is probably a combination of several factors. The first is the fact that both the Israeli prime minister and defense minister have no serious military background. The second is the fact that the current Chief of Staff of the IDF is an Air Force general. The Air Force has a distorted view of war, in as such as it seriously overestimates the possibility of winning a war against a determined and prepared foe via airstrikes alone.

So, plan A appears to have been to win through airstrikes. I guess if Hezbollah was completely unprepared and had all their katyushas/missiles/positions exposed and unfortified that might be possible. However, Hezbollah had clearly prepared its positions, bunkers and command structures to sustain heavy airstrikes and heavy artillery fire and still remain operational.

Plan B was not ready.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

No massive escalation = little chance for victory.

Since Hezbollah positions are heavily fortified all over south Lebanon there is no chance to take them out from the air. This has been shown over the past 12 days by the fact that the Hezbollah is still capable of sending 80-150 missiles per day into northern Israel despite the attempts of the IAF to knock out the launchers.

The following are the victory conditions for the various parties:
- Unconditional return of captured soldiers
- Forced end to rocket/missile attacks on Israel
- Destruction of Hezbollah military capabilities
- Elimination of Hezbollah leadership
- Recreation of deterrence vis-a-vis the northern border.

- Trade of captured soldiers for prisoners held by Israel.
- Maintenance of capability to keep hitting Israel with rockets.
- Maintenance of organized ability to operate within south Lebanon.
- Keep Hassan Nasrallah alive
- Maintenance of deterrence vis-a-vis Israel.

- Ability to maintain resupply lines to friendly Lebanese parties.
- Prevent any arrangement that doesn't take Syria into account.

Clearly the Israelis have been unable to obtain any of their goals except for the last one. I would assume that some element of deterrence has been established by the massive damage inflicted on Lebanese infrastructure. Whether this will be enough to prevent a future outbreak of violence depends on how much restraint the rest of the Lebanese actors can force upon the Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has proven itself highly effective. It has been hitting Israel with rockets for 12 days. Israeli airstrikes have been unable to stop them. Israeli limited ground attacks have encountered heavy resistance resulting in Israeli military losses. Nasrallah is the visible symbol of Hezbollah's leadership, and he is still appearing every couple of days on Arab TV stations. While he is alive and missiles/rockets are hitting Israel, any and all Israeli damage inflicted on Hezbollah has minimal value.

Syria can talk to both Hezbollah and Iran. It can resupply Hezbollah. It is trying to deter Israel from a full invasion of Lebanon. It will have to be consulted in any agreement.

As it stands now Hezbollah has fought Israel to a standstill. The following possible steps for Israel are ALL problematic.
1) Invasion of south Lebanon and recreation of security border zone.
- The optimistic idea behind this is that once this zone is created some agreement can be reached relatively quickly with the Lebanese government, the Syrians, the Europeans and the US to hand the border zone over to the Lebanese government and an international force. First there will be heavy casualties from fighting in the rugged terrain of Lebanon against the Hezbollah. This is also problematic because once Israel invades South Lebanon it is in a bind. It needs desperately to obtain an agreement so that it can leave and declare victory. In this situation the Syrians and Iranians are in no way interested in a fast agreement. The Hezbollah, Syrians, Iranians would once again try to inflict damage on the occupying Israeli forces and to deny the chance for any arrangement. Over time Hezbollah gets more support from within Lebanon and the refugee/humanitarian situation that is created in Lebanon by an Israeli invasion works consistently against Israel. Israel is denied victory.

2) No ground invasion of Lebanon. Provocations (airstrikes inside Syria) against Syria in order to threaten escalation and signal readiness to attack Syria.
- If the Syrians don't back down this is a war. Who knows if the Iranians do anything stupid. In any case, provocation towards Syria will increase international pressure on Israel to cease the fighting. If the Syrians do back down there is a chance that Hezbollah will stop shooting missiles and that some sort of agreement can be reached to put in a temporary international force in south Lebanon. Once things quiet down the Syrians will again destabilize Lebanon by funding/supplying Hezbollah or a different proxy that will threaten northern Israel and force the international force out or into inaction.

3) Refuse ceasefire and continue limited ground operations in order
to try to weaken Hezbollah.
- This increases pressure in the short-term on Israel to sign a ceasefire and seems unlikely to be able to force an end to all Hezbollah rocket fire at Israel. In the longer-term the continuation of low-intensity fighting with no chance for escalation on the north border can decrease the international pressure on Syria/Hezbollah for an agreement, while at the same time maintaining a situation of uncertainty/constant threat on the northern 1/3 of Israel.

4) Agree to a ceasefire and start negotiating. The ceasefire will function as a bandaid. The urgency for an agreement will decrease significantly, which means that international pressure for such an agreement will quickly dissipate. The ability of Israel to restart military operations in Lebanon will be limited. Effectively this is a return to status quo ante.

5) Invasion of Lebanon with no intention of creating a security zone. Take Lebanon up to the Litani, clearing Hezbollah and destroying its infrastructure within the area. This must be followed by an immediate unilateral withdrawal back into Israel, while using special forces and airstrikes to disrupt Hezbollah's ability to reestablish its positions in south Lebanon. This weakens Hezbollah, provokes Syria and eliminates most of the rocket/missile threat from northern Israel. The military steps allow the declaration of victory. The political result creates the conditions for at least a temporary agreement. However, there are risks involved here. First Hezbollah might fire long-range missiles from north of the Litani, which might suck Israeli forces into fighting north of the Litani. Second the Syrians might join the fight in Lebanon. Third the Lebanese army might join the fight against Israel. Fourth this might result in many Israeli casualties during fighting against the Hezbollah. Despite these problems this might be the most reasonable option.

These are all bad, its just a question of picking the best of the worst options. I am sure there are other options, but I don't see them.