Sunday, 27 August 2006

Stateless Challenges for the State

27th August 2006
The Malta Independent on Sunday

The month long war between Israel and Hizbollah is thankfully over. Whether it is a mere pause or a something more permanent remains to be seen.

It seems that in the twenty first century the nature of wars has changed. In a post cold war era, where everybody hoped for lasting peace and prosperity as countries switch more resources from defence related expenditure to economic growth investment, we are experience hot conventional wars but of a different kind.

It is no longer country against country, or a group of countries against another group of countries. It is guerrilla wars between countries and stateless organisations that subtly dominate proper states, like Afghanistan and Lebanon, rendering them as a threat to their neighbours.

It started with 9/11. Nothing has been quite the same again since.

As a result the only super-power has been engaged in a war on terror. How does one make a war on an abstract like terror? Who will sign the surrender pact when and if terror is defeated? Can terror be defeated? Or is it the case that those we term terrorists are perceived by the stateless warring opponents as freedom fighters? Could the war on terror in fact be the best process for the recruitment of more terrorists, making such war impossible to win?

These considerations seem to have escaped the sole super-power when it was hurt in its core pride by the events of 9/11. America’s reaction was emotional but irrational and shortsighted. It spent the international sympathy and political capital it earned in a bullying war against a country that had pretty little or nothing to do with the events of 9/11. Rather than target Al Qaeda in their Afghan hideouts in accordance with a valid mandate from the UN, it diverted its energies and military resources in the occupation of Iraq on very flimsy pretext and without proper cover of a UN resolution.

Rather than spend its political capital to grow America’s influence in a framework of multilateralism, the Bush administration wasted it in the execution of pre-conceived plans to bring a regime change in Iraq in full denial tof the long held wisdom of better- the-devil-you-know.

This mega mismanagement of the proper discharge of responsibilities that come with the package of being the world’s sole super-power has left the world with a power vacuum that is being filled by uncontrolled stateless organisations like Hizbollah and Al Qaeda. They have no embassies, no ministers and no seats in the UN. They are amorphous, take cover as sleeper, religious or charity cells within normal communities and are motivated to the point of suicide attacks mostly by their hate of what they perceive as western arrogance typified by America’s unreserved support for Israel even when the latter go beyond the provisions of UN resolutions in the pursuit of their national security. They are offended by the use of different weights for same measure when Iraq was invaded twice in twelve years for the similar breach.

Now that the guns have stopped in Lebanon and Israel, is it true that Hizbollah has been weakened? Is the fact that the UN brokered ceasefire seems to be holding indicative that Hizbollah are in fact being disarmed? I doubt it. A more likely scenario is that Hizbollah is now shifting its resources to repairing the damaged infrastructure and help dislocated people return to their homes. In the process they engage more ‘freedom fighters’ and gain general patronage in preparation for the next fighting round.

Iran, as Hizbollah main state sponsor, has through its accolade’s performance in this war, punctually delivered the message that use of military power against it to stem its nuclear ambitions will be no piece of cake. That leaves trade sanctions as the only feasible threat. Trade sanctions would suit the regime in Iran fine, as they would not block their quest for nuclear capability knowing how ineffective such sanctions are in blocking trade, but how effective they are in validating the regime’s domestic support.

If Iran proceeds relentlessly to nuclear capability it will be the second of the three members forming the ‘axis of evil’ (North Korea, Iran and Iraq) who would have made the dubious grade. This will motivate other nations to harbour similar ambitions knowing that only non-nuclear Iraq was effectively invaded. For the nuclear capable countries it is at worst trade sanctions discipline, which can hardly be expected to deliver regime change.

It is time for reflection. Can we afford the risk of proliferation of nuclear capability till it becomes accessible to stateless states, or terrorist organisations if you prefer? Or should we step back and realise that the only real solution is across the board nuclear disarmament in the entire region, Israel included.

Can’t the world realise that like the Russians before them, Palestinians and Hizbollahs love their children too and would rather live in peace and resultant prosperity if their security could be guaranteed and differences addressed through diplomacy.

For this to happen these organisations cannot remain stateless. The fact that Hamas are now the elected government in Palestine is a good opportunity to engage them in diplomacy for a two state solution. Hizbollah must be forced to form part of Lebanon’s military structure rather than continue to be a stateless state within a state.

Iran has to be persuaded that it does not need nuclear capability to deter a military intervention seeking regime change; that this is best achieved through diplomatic engagement with the objective of disarmament in the whole region.

Active diplomatic engagement by honest state and UN brokers is the best way to prevent another war and to protect the respective integrity of the various states in the region.

It is ironical that the traditional state is being squeezed from both sides. Stateless organisations are challenging the political and military authority of the state within its own borders. Globalisation on the other hand is rendering the state quite powerless on the economic front as it can no longer dictate the rules but can at best only manage internal change to adjust to the new rules of globalisation.

No wonder the future of the state is being brought into question as individual states are seeking to form alliances for wide multi state co-operation under the aegis of supranational organisations like the EU, NAFTA, and ASEAN.

This leads to the burning issue of Turkey’s aspiration to gain accession to the EU. It is simplistic to argue that Turkey should be refused entry, as it is not a European country with typical Christian traditions. Should we neglect the risk of Turkey becoming a failed state if the national unity achieved by its European accession project is replaced by internal strife of the various factions that make Turkey what it is today? No matter how difficult, diplomatic engagement for Turkey’s distant accession into the EU must be kept going at all costs.

Friday, 25 August 2006

Benchmarking Shame

25th August 2006
The Malta Independent - Friday Wisdom

I hate it when it happens to me and I regret it is happening more and more often. Whenever I visit a foreign country without many expectations, I often remain marvelled at the development and quality standards I find which put a shameful benchmark on the state of our country in spite of our greater potential.

Occasionally, when I would be returning to a country I had visited before, I can have tangible proof that other countries have been racing forward while we have been running on the spot digging the ground beneath our feet.

This week my travels took me to
Madeira, a Portuguese island in the Atlantic nearly two hours flight west of the continent. It is an archipelago with a resident population of 200,000 people most of whom live on the main island and a small minority on a sister island separated by a ferry crossing that takes some 90 minutes.
Madeira is basically a mountain island where people reside on the coastal areas. There is pretty little history as the island was uninhabited till three centuries ago but it is rich in environmental scenery and fertile volcanic soil.

Its economy is almost totally dependent on tourism with visitors all year round offering hotels stable occupancy rates even though the prices change on seasonal patterns as the island attracts different a profile of tourist every season.

It is clearly a bubbly place with a healthy and stable tourism industry, which has given the island an average GDP close to the EU average even though the average of mainland
Portugal is still some 75 per cent of EU average. In short, the Madeirans enjoy a better standard of living than the average Portuguese in spite of the disadvantages of living insularly without economies of scale.

What hits you right between the eyes the moment you land there is the advanced stage of their road infrastructure and the general air of cleanliness and organisation generated by strict enforcement of environmental standards, including the obligation of the private residences to keep a clean and decorated exterior fa├žade.
Madeira must have the world record of the kilometres per resident capita of tunnels and bridges which make road transport easy and comfortable in spite of the mountainous terrain. A lot of investment, disproportionate to the size of the population, must have gone into such projects reflecting three factors.

Firstly, it reflects the generosity of EU funding at the time when
Portugal joined the EU in the 1980s. It reflects also the ability of the islanders to negotiate a disproportionate allocation of such funds to Madeira probably resulting from the political role that candidates elected from the autonomous region often have in the formation of coalition government.

But most importantly, it reflects the diligent application of such funding by the autonomous administration of Madeira to ensure that such funding is not wasted in projects that have to be done and re-done or in projects which start and never finish even though they go multiple times outside the original budget, but in well-designed and executed projects which have a start date and a short finish date.

Keeping an efficient road network in such a mountainous terrain involves tremendous capital investment in suspended road building and tunnelling through granite cliffs. Even the airport runaway had to be extended by suspending it like a bridge over a deep valley. In short, in
Malta a similar road network development should cost much less as the land mass is much smaller and the terrain less demanding.

Yet even in our main traffic junctions we still have to roundabout with resultant jamming and accidents. Take the Msida roundabout in the juncture leading from Msida to Gzira, San Gwann and St Julian’s. A suspended road system for traffic in directions of St Julian’s and Msida to drive through without having to roundabout should be fairly simple and inexpensive to construct and would resolve the daily routine of blocked traffic during peak hours. Yet, despite having amassed a national debt well above 70 per cent of the GDP we have not found it to give the country decent road infrastructure, even in its hottest traffic distribution points.

The same can be said of the traffic system in downtown Msida near the GWU monument. The place is crying for a suspended road system which gives straight through driving facilities to traffic coming down from St Julian’s and going to Valletta and vice-versa without having to roundabout and criss-cross with the traffic coming from Birkirkara and from Ta’ Xbiex.

We have a country which has many times more potential than
Madeira. We have an unmatched history which enriches the visitors’ experience and which should attract the high-value tourist searching for more than just for a seaside vacation. We have easier access from most European mainland countries, being located right in the middle of the Mediterranean rather than two hours flight into the Atlantic. We have spent a frightening amount of money which has run up our national debt to unsustainable levels and yet we are nowhere near having an infrastructure which can sustain a high growth development that is necessary if we are to achieve European average GDP during my lifetime.

We benchmark very badly with other countries that have raised their standards during the last 20 years while we have been fiddling with petty inter-party political piques and wasting money in vote-producing clientelism rather than in planned long-term infrastructure development.

We should not be in the least surprised that the chickens are coming home to roost in falling tourist visitors, diminishing earnings and under-utilised facilities. And it is useless blaming the government, as after all, each country gets the government it deserves.

We have chosen leaders on the strength of their words, arguments and short-term electoral tactics and discarded leaders with vision who were delivering unpalatable programmes of reform that in the long term are needed to deliver the real growth that can give us a better standard of living based on production and earnings rather than on debt and consumption.

A mea culpa from each one of us is a good starting point towards charting a more promising way forward.

Friday, 18 August 2006

What if We Fail the Euro Test

18th August 2006

The Malta Independent - Friday Wisdom

In an ideal world, the euro issue should not be a dividing line separating our political camps. However, this is not an ideal world, and like it or not, there are observable trends which indicate that the government is planning to use euro accession as a key platform in its bid for re-election.

Having tried and tested the effectiveness of making the EU issue a key test for the 2003 election, it is almost natural for the PN to resort to a “tried and tested” formula in their quest to secure a refreshed mandate within the next 15 to 20 months. Given the high level of dissatisfaction with the government’s performance on the economic front, as evidenced by ongoing pollsters and by the consistent negative results in local and EU elections, the temptation to make euro accession a key issue for next elections becomes almost irresistible.

For doing so, the government is ably assisted by the misguided policies of the opposition, or at least of the Opposition Leader.

In 2003, against all advice, external and internal, he attached the EU accession issue to the result of the general election when Labour’s interest was in doing the exact opposite, i.e., to separate the general election from the EU membership issue and argue in favour of holding a binding EU referendum soon after the general election.

As if the 2003 bitter experience has not rubbed any wisdom on the Opposition Leader, he is positioning the party as practically the lone voice of doubt on the timing and the rate of conversion. He has in fact in the past expressed his preference for a gradual depreciation of the value of the Maltese lira against the euro before we fuse into the monetary union, and for the implementation of such fusion to be postponed until we achieve more stability and better growth in our macro-economic performance.

There are solid economic arguments that can be made in favour of such policies, although it escapes me how gradual depreciation could be implemented without causing a severe destabilisation of our financial markets, which is not in anybody’s interest, not even that of a prospective alternate government.

From a political view, however, these arguments are misguided. Devaluation of a currency in one single shot, or its depreciation in graduated steps, is not something a party in opposition should talk about. If the opposition is convinced that this is the right policy for engineering an economic turnaround, it is something they should hold under wraps and then execute in the very early stages of the mandate given by the majority at general elections.

After all, the advantage of being in opposition is the facility to focus policies on the objectives to be achieved during the whole term of the upcoming legislature without having to spell out in detail the actual measures being contemplated to get to such objectives. This is not unlike the medical surgeon who explains to the patient the long-term benefit of the surgical intervention without emphasising the discomfort and pain of convalescence in the period immediately after surgery.

By unwisely exposing preference to a delayed euro accession at a rate lower than the current level of just under 43 cents per euro, to which the government and the monetary authorities are committed, Labour is giving the PN the facility to present themselves for re-election in the autumn of 2007, just before the planned euro accession date on 1 January 2008 and present the electorate with a stark choice. Vote for PN, warts and all, and get one euro for every 43 cents of your Maltese liri financial assets or elect Labour on record that they will delay the euro accession project and engineering – a gradual depreciation which will erode the real value of your financial savings.

The PN are obviously hoping that by presenting this stark choice at the front end of their electoral offerings, it would be possible to push into the blurred background the issues which could fail them the electoral test, particularly the bread and butter issues which are eroding standards of living by the very process of shaping up for the euro.

If a week is too long in politics, then the 15 months to an election in the autumn of 2007 is an eternity. There could be developments which could remove the euro platform from under the PN’s feet.

The most obvious development would be for the opposition to define its financial policies to take back the free advantage that their policies so far have given to the PN. Change of policies need however to have a strong wrapper of credibility and it is difficult for this to happen by a mere shift in policies unless such shift is pedalled by new faces uncommitted to the old policies. Otherwise it would be like inviting someone not to think of a white horse.

If change of leadership is too late to contemplate, then at least, the deputy in charge of finance should show that he has the final say in key policy areas under his portfolio, and issue fresh policies related to the euro which will remove the unfair advantage his leader has freely given to the PN.

Yet, there is something else which could do the same without any intervention by the opposition. What if we fail the euro test and like
Lithuania this year we will be constrained to postpone the euro accession project by a few years? Our 12-month moving average HCIP inflation index as at June 2006 was 2.9 per cent well above the average of EU 25. Will we come within 1.5 per cent of the average of the best three low-inflation countries by next spring? Don’t bet your pants on it.


   

Friday, 11 August 2006

Little to Smile About

11th August 2006
The Malta Independent - Friday Wisdom

The smiling faces of a young family looking at the future with confidence adorns the front cover of the pre-budget document 2007, which has been distributed as part of a wide consultation exercise.

Objective and thorough reading of its contents however provide pretty little to smile about. Following the introduction, there is one chapter that gives an analysis of the Maltese economy and seven chapters that tackle different aspects for future strategy, including fiscal measures being considered for inclusion in the 2007 budget.

It is important for our confidence to be built on the reality of the present situation and therefore, there has to be a relationship between the current state of the economy and our expectations for the immediate future. In many cases, this relationship gets lost and the vision conveyed by the document seems more like a wish list rather than a determined action plan to achieve the set targets within a reasonable timeframe.

The credibility for the future vision is therefore largely dependent on the economic performance being currently achieved and publication of the document should have been delayed by a couple of weeks in order to beef up the economic analysis by half- year data for 2006.

Deficient as it is due to the absence of more current information regarding 2006 performance, an unmistakable conclusion is that government has in fact very little room to manoeuvre the economy out of its dull performance.

Cumulative real growth over the five years 2001-2005 is a measly 0.6 per cent, while private consumption over the period has increased by 4.4 per cent. In simple language, we have been consuming more than we have been producing and to do so, we have had to erode our past savings and/or incur consumption debt.

And this happened simultaneously with a trend where the impact of taxation has grown from 28.3 per cent of the GDP in 2000 to 35.1 per cent in 2004 – meaning that while we have been producing less and consuming more, we have also been paying more taxes. So while government was repairing its fiscal deficit, the private sector was dislocating its own balance sheet while trying to maintain its consumption patterns.

This is clearly reflected in our Balance of Payments performance, where we only registered a small surplus in 2002 due to exceptional factors related to sale of aircraft by Air
Malta, and are experiencing growing balance of payments deficits reaching 11 per cent of the GDP in 2005 with the deteriorating performance extended to the first quarter of 2006. Although the Balance of Payments performance is not one of the formal tests for euro entry, it is ominous to lock up into a monetary union while experiencing such huge imbalances.

Further worrying is the fact that the miserly growth we have achieved has been underpinned by unsustainable consumption and government investment, which will run its course when the Mater Dei project and the Italian protocol and EU pre-accession funds come to their natural end in the near future.

The productive sector has been under stress. Tourism is bad and getting worse. Manufacturing performance is highly dependent on the performance of ST Micro-electronics which in turn is highly dependent on the state of the micro-chip market for the level of value added to the GDP. Even this could be misleading to understand the real state of the sector as given the entire foreign ownership of the productive units the value added measured in the GDP generally leaks out on profit distribution in the GNI (Gross National Income).

The same is the increasing experience of the financial sector as it shifts from local to foreign ownership, which adds value to the GDP and takes it back through external profit distribution in the GNI. The healthy performance in tourism would have a much wider positive ripple effect as residents own most of the productive units in the sector and there would be little external leakages through profit distribution. Putting it simply, a positive performance in tourism is doubly more important than a positive performance in manufacturing, even if the value added content is the same.

Given this shaky performance that leaves us anchored in the prescriptive phase of the projected economic turnaround, one would in normal circumstances would not even dare to think of taking measures to increase private consumption through tax reduction. Furthermore, it is economically risky to start building structural subsidies into the economy as in the case of the subsidy approved to keep the price of bread stable in spite of the increasing cost of its production inputs.

However these are not normal times. The election is starting to loom on the horizon and the best working assumption is that it will be held in the fall of 2007 in order to replay the euro issue just as the EU issue was made to dominate the 2003 elections and give backstage importance to other bread and butter issues where government has little credit to reap. All governments want to create a “feel good factor” in an election run up and human nature being what it is, or has unfortunately become, feeling good seems to depend almost entirely on increased consumption.

To complicate matters this has to be achieved in the context of discipline for euro accession and in the context of a harsh environment for energy prices that are likely to exert a cooling effect on international economic performance going forward.

Maybe this explains why the government has put up for consideration a shopping list of measures which would cost many tens of millions to finance but in the end had to warn us of the need to prioritise to keep the bill within Lm8 million. This is a relatively insignificant amount, which could be compensated by better enforcement without introducing additional tax measures.

Sunday, 6 August 2006

Billboard Branding

6th August 2006
The Malta Independent on Sunday

Our tourism authorities seem to think that a strong brand for our tourism product can be built by declaring an intention to do so on billboards splashing the eight pointed cross as a cognitive campaign logo, reminiscent of the 1973 Air Malta launch.

They probably have no idea of what brand building is all about. Our tourism brand has to convince its consumers, the tourists, and not its providers, the resident population. Given that roadside billboards are for domestic consumption one can only presume that the aim of such a campaign is to engage the entire population to form part of the brand building effort.

This is not the way to do it. If the broad population has to be engaged one cannot do so by pushing cognitive logos but by explaining that our bread and butter depend on healthy growth in our tourist industry. That success depends on providing tourists perceived value for their money so that not only do they leave satisfied with their Malta experience, but they actually recommend it to others.

The product has to be created quietly and persistently before actual branding can begin. The creation is 90 per cent of the work while branding is the final 10 per cent. Trying to brand our product before it is brought up to the necessary quality levels will simply backfire.

If, as the billboard says, our brand is a promise then by promising a sub-standard product we will be pushing the wrong brand. It would be an illusion to think that branding can be a catalyst for upgrading of the product. It simply does not work that way.

Before we start spending money on the visual and cognitive end-part of the branding exercise, we must first dedicate all our resources and effort to building the product up to an acceptable quality. When this is done and tested, then branding leverages the value by creating an aura of perceived superiority to the sum of the underlying constituent inputs.

The larger the difference between the perceived value and the sum of the intrinsic value of the product, the greater the value added of brand.

If all T-shirts were unbranded and of the same quality, one would simply choose the cheapest one. However, branding distinguishes between a T-shirt of the same superior quality because one could perceive that buying a T-shirt with a polo logo could bestow upon its wearer a better status than a perfectly similar T-shirt with a crocodile logo. Once the underlying product meets one’s basic quality requirements i.e. it meets the basic need to wear a T-shirt, the brand than guides one’s decision for the purchase to meet also one’s emotions.

To satisfy emotions one might be willing to pay a premium price to declare one’s status by wearing a cognitive logo rather than another.

But no one would ever pay a premium price for the product with the logo satisfies emotions unless that it also meets basic needs. If by any chance it fails to meet such basic needs, then it would have failed to deliver on its promise and it will soon extinguish emotions, ensuring that no repeat purchase will ever follow. Poor quality would destroy the brand as good advertising kills a bad product faster than bad advertising.

It is inappropriate to start building our tourism brand before we first build our product. How can we waste money in brand building before we truly upgrade the entrance to our capital city? What impression do tourists get if they have to negotiate their way through on-coming buses to make it to the bridge outside City Gate? How can we think of removing all greenery from
Castille Square before we create underground facilities for the bus terminus to incorporate, walk ways, escalators, underground taxi bays and retail shopping in order to clear the ugly bazaar from the main entrance to our capital city?

How can we create our brand before we build protective covers for our historical temples and deny easy access by admitting only a very small quota every day, creating an aura of scarcity and pricelessness around them and guiding the masses to replicas in purpose built auditoriums, with visual performances conjecturing how they were built and used?

Before building our brand we need to open up our majestic buildings in
Valletta to public access against reasonable payment. Why do we insist on using such edifices like The Palace and the surviving Auberges in Valletta for administrative purposes rather than turn them into tourist attractions?

Can we build a good brand out of the Bugibba filth and the drainage that flows into the sea right where the new artificial sandy beach has been laid?

Brand building in the positive sense is an arduous task that takes time and needs extensive skills of persuasion. How do you persuade the taxi owner that it is not in his interest to overcharge? How do you persuade the horse cab driver (tal-karozzin) that there is more gusto if he wears a uniform in the style of a traditional Maltese peasant? How do you persuade all service providers that rather than the price per se, it is the perception of being ripped off that truly hurts our product?

We are putting the cart before the horse. And speaking of horses, the man who really loved them and who for good and for bad branded Malta of the seventies today turns ninety. Ad Multos Annos Dom.

Friday, 4 August 2006

My Friends make me appreciate my Enemies

4th August 2006
The Malta Independent - Friday Wisdom

I admit to plagiarizing Mark Twain’s thoughts about human relationships forcing him to love his dog. These are exactly my feelings regarding the atrocious developments in the Middle East where people I share western civilization with (friends) are forcing me to appreciate other people I had disdain for, and whom I used to consider as fundamentalists in a crusade against western liberties (enemies).

I will come to the Lebanon tragedy later but let me start with Iraq first.

As the trial of Saddam Hussein inches to an end I think the biggest mistake that can be made is condemning him to death, making a victim out of a tyrant. I never had any appreciation for the way Hussein ruled Iraq, crushing all opposition and forcing his country to several useless wars. Whilst I always considered the US invasion of Iraq as a grave mistake and a destabilizing force for the whole Middle East peace process, I felt no compunction about the removal of Hussein.

Now I do. Never a day goes by without news that several tens, sometimes hundreds, have been killed through sectarian violence between the various factions of the Iraqi society. Innocent people are being killed everyday without as much as a whimper by the international community who seem to argue that it is okay for the Iraqis to kill themselves as long as they do not kill foreign forces who destabilized the country and are trying to make eggs out of an omelette.

Consequently I am starting to give Saddam the benefit of the doubt that only through his hard-fisted leadership one could keep together a disparate society that was artificially put together by past colonisers to suit their interest, without any regard to the grave risk of such artificiality eventually leading to a civil war. I can even start understanding Saddam’s need to keep the country at a constant state of war with an external agent to prevent it from fall into a war within itself. May be Saddam had to make a choice of the lesser evil. Just as Communism disintegrated on its own without outside aggression, tyranny in Iraq needed a long time spanning several generations to smoothen its conversion into a democracy. Forcing a democracy through battle tanks clearly does not work.

The invasion of Iraq has only favoured the country that really poses a threat to western interests i.e. Iran. Iran has now indirect control over the Shiite majority which has effective power in Iraq and this at a time when the US military capabilities is fully stretched making the threat of military action against Iran sound hollow.

The escalating resources and belligerence of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon simultaneously with the growing influence of Iran over Iraq is no accident.

The distaste of Iraqi youth for what they regard as the occupation of their homeland provides a fertile ground for recruitment of ‘freedom fighters’ to join Hezbollah in the crusade for the liberation of Palestine.

With America practically abandoning its indispensable role for a diplomatic two-state solution for the problem of Palestine, Israel feels threatened by the growing role of Iran whose President has vowed to wipe off Israel from the Middle East map.

For as long as America was considered as a genuine peace broker, even if tilting on the Israeli side, there was hope for a diplomatic breakthrough. However since the Iraqi invasion America has lost its influence and is no longer considered as a suitable broker for a Middle East solution, so much so that the United Nations requested both the US and UK to adopt a low profile in the search for a cease-fire to the Lebanon conflict.

The failure of the EU is that it failed to fill the diplomatic gap created by America’s involvement in Iraq, for a diplomatic solution for Palestine. And where diplomacy fails belligerence and war succeeds.

With a growing threat on its northern border Israel argued that conflict was inevitable and that now was better than later as time was only working to increase the threat. Israel will no doubt succeed militarily is pushing Hezbollah a few kilometres away from its international border and will re-occupy southern Lebanon until a UN sponsored military force can take control of the buffer zone. But if such a buffer zone force has to be put together during a crisis, why was it not put together through diplomacy across all Israeli borders in order to give it a sense of security without having to resort to armed conflict?

In the process hundreds of thousands of innocent people are suffering. As Israel wins back territory it loses friends and sympathy and for every terrorist they kill, they give birth to hundred freedom fighters.

To get a glimpse of the tragedy innocent Lebanese are going through, here is an extract that a business friend of mine in Lebanon sent me:

“I decided to drive around to get a first hand look on the refugees fleeing the South of Lebanon & the Southern Suburb of Beirut. I spent most of the day driving refugees out of Beirut to safe villages in the Christian areas (north east of Beirut). As of July 17 I have adopted a refugee centre housing 45 families (i.e 243 persons mostly mothers and children). This centre is public garden. On July 18 I have added to my commitment another close by centre housing 152 families (i.e 770 persons mostly mothers and children). This centre is the Faculty of Law of the Lebanese University. Realizing that I will not be able to feed a thousand persons a day for long, I have drafted a plan with our staff and friends to support the relief operation on a sustainable manner while engaging the refugees as well.

I have been averaging 4 hours of sleep a day. (even this is not sound asleep. Israeli war planes manage to interrupt our sleep regularly.)”

America’s invasion of Iraq is the root cause of the Middle East turmoil and there can no scale - down in armed conflict in the region before the White House gets occupied by a team that truly believes that American Supremacy has to flow through its diplomacy, with military solution being used as a very last resource and only with specific UN mandate.