Belmont Club

Bookends

Is revolution brewing in Georgia? And will Russia get involved? Another memory of Beirut, this time from Jamie Kirchik at the City Journal. Jamie contrasts the March 14 rally, with the Hezbollah rally a few days that followed. He attended both and contrasts the movements behind the symbolism. The Asia Times RSS feed reports that “Going far beyond previous policies of mindless containment, the Barack Obama administration plans to ease the standoff on Iran’s nuclear program – and stage a comeback in Central Asia – by offering Tehran access to a global nuclear fuel bank in Kazakhstan. Tehran has welcomed the strategy, and the likely involvement of Japan serves up other geopolitical dimensions favorable to the United States. Moscow is less enthusiastic.” I think President Obama will be challenged very soon across a broad front. In the coming months, Hope might not make an appearance, but Change undoubtedly will.

Stratfor describes what’s brewing in the Caucausus. The country that is proximate to both Lebanon and Georgia is Turkey, which itself is in a state of flux.

Opposition parties inside Georgia are planning mass protests for April 9, mainly in the capital city of Tbilisi but also across the country. The protests are against President Mikhail Saakashvili and are expected to demand his resignation. This is not the first set of rallies against Saakashvili, who has had a rocky presidency since taking power in the pro-Western “Rose Revolution” of 2003. Anti-government protests have been held constantly over the past six years. But the upcoming rally is different: This is the first time all 17 opposition parties have consolidated enough to organize a mass movement in the country. Furthermore, many members of the government are joining the cause, and foreign powers — namely Russia — are known to be encouraging plans to oust Saakashvili.

Kirchicks’ account of the his trip to Lebanon describes the choices that country is facing.

But the greatest difference was in tone. The message of March 14th is ultimately one of sovereignty, secularism, and forging a way past the Lebanese confessional political system that has doomed the nation to internecine warfare. Hezbollah, by contrast, is obsessed with external enemies and the cult of death. Here, in addition to the faces of its “martyrs,” the jumbotron relayed endless footage of armed men in camouflage running through forests, missiles launching, explosions, and the Israeli flag drowning under water. A giant banner on the back wall bore the words, “Oh Zionists, Oh Zionists, if you want this type of war, SO BE IT,” surrounding Arabic calligraphy bearing the same message in the form of a mushroom cloud. Participants at the March 14th celebration flew the banners of the many constituent camps that make up the diverse coalition—ranging from the cedar-encircled symbol of the Christian Lebanese Forces to the pen and hammer of the Druze Progressive Socialist Party—but the Lebanese flag was ubiquitous. At the Hezbollah rally, only the emblem of Hezbollah was displayed. …

For now, Lebanon remains on tenterhooks. “Both the majority and the opposition believe they can win,” says Nassib Lahoud, a former ambassador to the United States and a leading anti-Syrian politician, explaining why major violence has yet to break out. “That’s the best insurance policy.” Given the history of this country, few Lebanese are ready to contemplate whether such equilibrium will last past June.

The Asia Times says that the administration’s new Central Asia/Afghanistan plan is shaping up. And it much more “nuanced” than the Bush administration’s, allowing the Iranians to have enriched uranium under international controls in exchange for an undertaking not to weaponize it.

It now appears that the US might cede to Iran’s nuclear program. The Wall Street Journal reported last Friday that as part of a policy review commissioned by Obama, “diplomats are discussing whether the US will eventually have to accept Iran’s insistence on carrying out the [enrichment] process, which can produce both nuclear fuel and weapons-grade material”. The newspaper assessed that the Obama administration’s message to Tehran is increasingly shaping up as “Don’t develop a nuclear weapon” – a nuanced stance that would not rule out a deal accepting Iranian enrichment as such. It pointed out that Obama’s articulations on the subject have become much less specific than those of former president George W Bush, who never minced words in crying a halt to Iran’s enrichment.

The new thinking is that the priority should be to win greater access for UN inspectors to the Iranian nuclear establishments, as compared with the current limited inspection regime, which has led to diminishing information regarding Iran’s nuclear program. In other words, why not trust Iran to retain its enrichment activities so long as its program can be effectively verified.

In this scenario, it is significant that following talks with Ahmadinejad, Kazakhstan President Nurusultan Nazarbayev chose the venue of their joint press conference on Monday in Astana to make the public offer that his country is willing to host a global nuclear fuel bank as part of a US-backed plan to put all uranium enrichment under international control. “If such a nuclear fuel bank were to be created, Kazakhstan would be ready to consider hosting it on its territory as a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and as a country that voluntarily renounced nuclear weapons,” Nazarbayev said.