January 21, 2007

All In The Family


TIME’s new Middle East blog has a visually interesting piece about Lebanon, and the way the political battle for hearts and minds, in that graphically-sophisticated country, is playing out rather large on the country’s billboards.

I encourage you to see the post, especially the dueling “I Heart” campaign.Too bad, though, Andrew Lee Butters simply reduces the battle into pro-Western and pro-Eastern (or pro-Washington and pro-Tehran) camps.  For TIME or TIME’s audience, it seems that’s as far as it goes.  What I was mostly interested in, however, was the image above, which Butter’s reports was too hot for a billboard, but has been circling the internet.

Doctoring a typical family photograph, the photo shows father Ahmadinejad and mother (Syrian President) Assad posing with daughter (Lebanese President) Emile Lahoud and and baby (Christian Free Patriot Movement leader and recent Hezbollah ally) Michel Aoun.  (Speaking of Hezbollah, by the way, its interesting to consider how Hassan Nasrallah fits into the family.  Butters indicates that the leader is so intimidating, though, anti-Hezbollah/Iranian/Syrian “visual activists” won’t touch him.  As the post notes, anytime Nasrallah’s supporters think he is being disrespected, they riot.)

So, how does the U.S. fit into the picture? 

The recent Iraq Study Group report urged the Administration to pursue dialogue with both Iran and Syria.  The White House, on the other hand, has propagated the impression that both are hard-core, untrustworthy antagonists and that neither would be receptive.

Recent events (if not, political reality), speak to differ.  First of all, to frame Iran in monolithic terms, or to speak of Iran and Ahmadinejad as synonymous is simply inaccurate.  The growing dissatisfaction with the Iranian President (both from clerical and secular quarters) clearly reveals a more complex and diverse set of forces at play.  If Ahmadinejad is the head of an adopted family in Lebanon, he’s got to be a very distracted dad with all the trouble he’s having with his brood back home.  (The fact that he and the missis are looking past each other seems to reflect as much.)

Most interesting of all, however, is that depiction of President Assad.

As much as Bush paints Assad as subservient, one might look at the English- and French-educated leader rather differently.  Forced into a political role only after his brother died in an auto accident, the enigmatic Bashar (married to a Syrian Sunni who grew up in England) is, if anything, subservient to the Syrian military.  That said, the enigmatic Assad seems well capable of playing forces against each other to perpetuate his own political survival.

Given the recent discovery that Damascus has spent the past two years negotiating  a peace deal with Israel, maybe with  a few flowers, and the offer of a little protection from Hezbollah, Israel and Tehran, perhaps George or Condi could be accused of cozying up with Assad too?

(image: JG. via TIME.com)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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