>BEIRUT -- There's a saying in Arabic: "You drink politics with your mother's milk." But this week's visit to Lebanon by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shows that Iran, and by proxy Hezbollah, is breaking this pattern by directly engaging younger generations in a culture of resistance and radicalism.
On Wednesday morning, children of all ages came out to the airport road to welcome Ahmadinejad on his first visit to the Arab nation since becoming president in 2005: Some had Lebanese flags painted on their faces, others were so tiny their mothers' had to cradle them in their arms. Being the second largest job provider in Lebanon, Hezbollah considered Ahmadinejad's visit a holiday, bringing children from their Mehdi and Houda schools, associations, and scout group's to attend the Iranian president's welcoming festivities. A group of children who did not go to school to celebrate the occasion had the words Revolution Institute on their hats, while a woman had a dress sewn made from the bright yellow Hezbollah flag. White baseball caps with the Iranian flag and a cedar tree, symbolizing Lebanon, dotted the crowd. And one lone man wore a USA shirt in a sea of red, white and green. The older kids sang songs and cheered and one little girl was even dressed in what looked like a wedding dress, with white flowers in her hair and white shiny heels on her feet.
For a certain segment of Lebanon, Ahmadinejad's visit is a major event in their lifetime and one that Hezbollah qualified as a historical visit. Remember, for Shiite Muslim's, many of whom feel ignored by the Lebanese government and the outside world- Iran, and its ally Hezbollah, are the only ones paying attention to them. And any attention is good attention. Iran gives Hezbollah millions of dollars a year, not to mention a slew of weapons.
Zaynab Shaito, a young woman who was waiting for Amadenijad on the airport road on Wednesday, said: "I'm here to pay back the Islamic Republic. I'm here to say thank you for building my house and village, and my country. In times when everybody is against Iran and against Ahmadinejad we are here to support Iran, and we are here to show that no one can stop us from loving the path of freedom and resistance."
After the morning's parade Ahmadinejad's black SUV headed to Baabda presidential palace where the Iranian leader met representatives from Hezbollah, as well as Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Saad Hariri. It was strange to see photos of Hariri and Ahmadinejad shaking hands knowing that a UN tribunal is investigating the assassination of Saad's father -- former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri -- and is expected to indict members of Hezbollah soon. Even before Ahmadinejad's visit, tensions had been mounting between Hezbollah and the pro-Western coalition that leads the government causing many Lebanese to worry there may be another war -- this one bigger and more deadly than those in the past. Given that much of the power -- and money -- behind Hezbollah comes from Iran, Ahmadinejad's visit is a show of strength for Hezbollah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah.
Yet there was no sign of tension between the two countries at Wednesday's meeting. Ahmadinejad referred to Lebanon as his "brother" and said he "feels like at home." He praised the Lebanese army for fighting off "the Zionist enemy" and called the country "the banner of pride and freedom not only for the people of Lebanon, but for all peoples of the region." He pointed out that both countries' goals are aligned and both "Iranian and Lebanese peoples are raising their voices because they want justice." "We want to increase our cooperation in all fields on this day," he said.
Washington has expressed its concern about Ahmadinejad's trip with U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley saying last week that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke with the Suleiman about the visit. Then on Wednesday U.S. Ambassador Maura Connelly released remarks saying that Lebanon is a "sovereign state that can invite or receive anybody." "There is a concern we share with the countries in the region that Iran is not playing a helpful role in the region in terms of stability," Connelly said.
Ahmadinejad will visit several villages in the south of Lebanon that were destroyed during the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war, one of which is only a few miles from Israel. Rumor has it he will throw a stone at the nation he swore to "wipe off the map." In turn Knesset Member Arieh Eldad of the National Union threatened to kill Ahmadinejad if he threw rocks. The timing couldn't have been worse given that the Middle East peace talks are in progress.
Yet peace was not the word on most people's tongues on Wednesday -- more often, the word I heard was "resistance." The image Ahmadinejad supporters seem to have is that Iran and Lebanon need to stick together to fend off their enemies. Hussein Hammade, who was one of the thousands of onlookers waiting for Ahmadinejad on Wednesday morning, said: "I'm here to say welcome to the exceptional man, and I'm here to say thank you. It means a lot to us this visit. It's a visit to strengthen the resistance. In the presence of enemies all working to burn Lebanon, this visit make me feel safer now that we are not alone and we got a strong man representing a strong country in town."
But not everyone in Lebanon is a fan of the Iranian leader. Mustapha Eitani, 27, expressed fear of what the visit is going to mean for Lebanon. "This visit is making me worry," he said. "It is after he is gone that I'm worried about. I think he is here to prepare for the coup d'état Hezbollah is preparing after he is gone. Iran needs to leave us alone, don't turn Lebanon as an arena to settle their differences with the Americans."
After Wednesday's parade tens of thousands of Ahmadinejad supporters gathered in Raya Square in Dahieh, a southern suburb of Beirut and a Hezbollah stronghold.
"Allah, Allah, Allah!" thousands sang. "Let's go Nasrallah!" young girls cheered as the Hezbollah leader appeared, for security reasons, via video link. Girls as young as 13 spoke about how "cute" Ahmadinejad is and stood on chairs to get a better look at him.
A friend who lives in Dahieh invited me to his mother's apartment to drink tea and watch the festivities from her second floor balcony. Amazed by the size of the crowd he explained that "nobody ever comes here," which is why the Iranian leader's visit, accompanied by patriotic music and ten-story posters, is such a big deal in the neighborhood. It's not necessarily that Ahmadinejad is loved by everyone, but his arrival is probably one of the biggest social events of the year and one that is not to be missed.
Of course I couldn't see the many thousands who did not show up for the rally on Wednesday night. But from what I could see, many young Lebanese idolize Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad. Whether it's for the substance of their message or their charisma is another question.
There are prospects for democracy in Lebanon, but the presence of the Iranian regime is certainly one of the challenges facing it. I have met a number of young people here who are pushing for social change using the tools at hand: Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. I have met Shiites with diverse political sensibilities, many of whom are even anti-Hezbollah. But democracy-building is a slow process and the export of Iranian propaganda to a country struggling to forge its own identity doesn't make it any easier.
Reporting contributed by Moe Ali Nayel. Photos by Elinor Collins.
Why Nixon's former lawyer John Dean worries Trump could be one of the most corrupt presidents ever—and get away with it
Sometime early last fall, John Dean says he began having nightmares about a Trump presidency. He would wake in the middle of the night, agitated and alarmed, struggling to calm his nerves. “I’m not somebody who remembers the details of dreams,” he told me in a recent phone call from his home in Los Angeles. “I just know that they were so bad that I’d force myself awake and out of bed just to get away from them.”
Few people are more intimately acquainted than Dean with the consequences of an American presidency gone awry. As White House counsel under President Richard Nixon from 1970 to 1973, he was a key figure in the Watergate saga—participating in, and then helping to expose, the most iconic political scandal in modern U.S. history. In the decades since then, Dean has parlayed that resume line into something of a franchise, penning several books and countless columns on the theme of presidential abuses of power.
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
The Michigan billionaire’s confirmation hearing was heavy on partisanship and light on substance.
Donald Trump advocated on the campaign trail for a $20 billion federal school-voucher program. But during her confirmation hearing on Tuesday evening, Betsy DeVos, the president-elect’s choice to lead the U.S. Education Department, said school choice should be a state decision. She framed school choice as a right for students and families. And she said during the hearing that she was committed to strengthening public education for all students.
While the Michigan billionaire has backed charter schools and vouchers, which let families use public money to pay for private schools, DeVos would not, she said, try to force states to embrace school choice. But a number of organizations, largely Democratic, that had raised questions about DeVos’s commitment to expanding charters and vouchers and about her family’s financial holdings and religious causes were unlikely to find much more of the hearing reassuring.
Betsy DeVos, the nominee for education secretary, and Ryan Zinke, the nominee for interior secretary, will testify on Capitol Hill Tuesday.
Senate confirmation hearings continue this week, as Donald Trump’s inauguration approaches.
On Tuesday, Montana Representative Ryan Zinke, the nominee for interior secretary, will testify before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. And the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hear from Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick to head the Department of Education.
We’ll bring you the latest updates from Capitol Hill as events unfold. Also see our continuing coverage:
The president-elect has yet to name a secretary of agriculture, a delay that has caused controversy and illustrated the difficulties governing will pose.
Three days before Donald Trump is to be inaugurated as America’s new president, just one Cabinet agency lacks a nominee to lead it: the Department of Agriculture.
The pick has become mired in politics and drama, unsettling the agriculture industry and potentially imperiling Trump’s standing with some of his most ardent supporters—the residents of rural America. In the process, it has become a case study in the difficulty Trump will face as he begins to govern, as his sweeping promises and catchy slogans run up against competing interests.
Already, the delay in picking an agriculture secretary has caused alarm. “The lack of quick and decisive action on picking a new Secretary of Agriculture by the Trump administration has given rise to charges that agriculture is not a high priority for the incoming president,” columnist Gary Truitt wrote recently in Hoosier Ag Today. “While this may or may not be true, the fact that this was the last cabinet post to be filled has raised concerns and will produce some challenges for the new nominee.”
The first lady attacks Donald Trump by measuring him against the principles and ideals he fails to uphold.
It has become an unofficial anthem for the Clinton campaign: “When they go low, we go high.” The applause line originated with Michelle Obama, in the remarks she gave at the Democratic National Convention in July. Since then, Clinton has frequently invoked the phrase on the trail.
But what does it mean to “go high” in a campaign against a man like Donald Trump, whose xenophobic rhetoric and casual calls to violence represent a notable low-point in American politics?
“Going high” is how Clinton’s surrogates explained why she wasn’t nastier to Trump in the second presidential debate. While some pundits were puzzled that Clinton hadn’t delivered a death blow to her opponent, jumping on every opportunity to underscore his deficiencies and hypocrisies, her supporters had an explanation: She was focusing on actual issues and ideas. She was simply going high.
Is there room in the movement for people who morally object to abortion?
Updated on Monday, January 16 at 4:05 p.m.
Pro-life women are headed to D.C. Yes, they’ll turn out for the annual March for Life, which is coming up on January 27. But one week earlier, as many as a few hundred pro-lifers are planning to attend the Women’s March on Washington, which has been billed as feminist counterprogramming to the inauguration.
With organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America co-sponsoring the event, pro-life marchers have found themselves in a somewhat awkward position. What’s their place at an event that claims to speak for all women, but has aligned itself with pro-choice groups? With roughly a week to go before the march, organizers also released a set of “unity principles,” and one of them is “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people.”
In its fourth season the BBC show turned its main character into a superhero, and lost everything that made it special in the process.
This story contains spoilers through the most recent episode of Sherlock.
Christopher Nolan is a truly brilliant British creative talent, which makes it all the more ironic that his work seems to have (at least temporarily) unmoored two of that nation’s greatest fictional heroes. In dampening the palette and tone of superhero movies so spectacularly with his trilogy of Batman movies, Nolan created a domino effect that stretched all the way across the ocean, transforming James Bond from a louche, debonair intelligence agent into a tortured, self-medicating hitman, compelled by the death of his parents to hunt down a series of increasingly psychopathic villains. And, as “The Final Problem” revealed on Sunday, Nolan’s influence has similarly transformed Sherlock. A wry detective drama with a twist has turned into a superhero origin story, complete with agonizing childhood trauma, terrifying antagonists with improbable powers, and a final showdown in an ancestral home burned to the ground.
“Trump’s wall is already under construction,” Wole Soyinka says. “Walls are built in the mind.”
Wole Soyinka, the first African writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, once fled to the United States from Nigeria. Now the fickle winds of politics are pushing him in the opposite direction.
Back in the 1960s, jailed for alleged associations with rebels amid the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War, Soyinka composed protest poems on toilet paper in solitary confinement. “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny,” Soyinka wrote in the collection of prison notes he later published. In the 1990s, the Nigerian strongman Sani Abacha confiscated Soyinka’s passport after the playwright urged Nigerians to stop paying taxes in defiance of military rule in the country. Soyinka managed to sneak out of his homeland and take refuge in the United States—a period he described to me as his “political sabbatical, because I never accepted, really, that I was in exile.”Abacha sentenced Soyinka to death in absentia. Soyinka’s crime was said to be treason.
Surfing the app on a trip back home can be a way of regressing, or imagining what life would be like if you never left.
My parents moved out of my hometown almost as soon as I left for college, and therefore I am obsessed with the idea of other people’s hometowns. Over any major holiday or break from a work schedule, hometowns become a sort of time travel, a way for people who have made adult lives elsewhere to return to their origin story.
Going home for the holidays can act as a kind of regression. Most of us know people, whether our friends, our partner, even our own parents, who suddenly turn into their teen or pre-teen self once they step foot in the house where they grew up. My mom used to say that whenever my dad got within 50 miles of his mom’s house, he suddenly became a teenage boy. Our hometowns become a kind of permission and hideaway, a place where we don’t have to be ourselves, where our actions don’t count and we get to be briefly less visible than we are in the adult homes we’ve made for ourselves elsewhere, the places where we expect ourselves to take action and achieve things and move upward through each day. For many of us, hometowns allow the luxury of a brief period of stasis, a rare few days of doing nothing.