Before we leap into today’s topic, let me first make you, the readers of the People's Weekly Brief, a firm promise: Should I ever run for president of this wonderful country of ours and by some miracle of social science actually win, and then should I preside over four years of a decidedly below-average administration, I promise I will not come back to slag off any other presidential administrations that may or may not be as mediocre as was my own.

I don’t know how many of you remember the Carter administration. It existed sometime between the Paleozoic Period and the Disco Period when large inflationary creatures roamed the continent and the United States was covered in a layer of gloom and depressing, self-loathing funk.

Despite efforts to have the memories permanently removed (along with a tattoo of Scooby Doo with the words “Meddling Kid”), occasionally I still find myself recalling those glory days of gas shortages, high prices, rising crime, hostages held in Tehran for 444 days and endless replays of the Peaches & Herb hit “Reunited.”

What’s my point? It’s simple, really. Jimmy Carter is a really fine ex-president: honorable, kind, generous, industrious — hell, the Swedes even gave him a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. Even Bono hasn’t got one of those. But as a president, well, hey… did I mention he’s a really decent guy?

I would understand if Carter decided to criticize and insult other Nobel Peace Prize winners or maybe throw a slander or two at other dudes who help build houses for charity. He’s got a fine, impressive record in those areas.

But to throw stones at another president? That’s like a player from the old Washington Senators saying that the new Washington Nationals stink.

Now, mind you, this isn’t the first time that the former president has opened up a can of whoop-ass on the Bush administration. One fine example is an interview in the German news magazine Der Spiegel in August 2006 during that summer’s escalating violence between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

It’s worth digging up online, particularly with the recent conflict over the past few days in Lebanon between Lebanese forces and the radical, Al Qaeda-aligned group Fatah Islam, which brought that region back into focus.

In response to a question about whether the former president believes the Bush administration is acting immorally, Carter offers up the following: “Our country always had a policy of not going to war unless our own security was directly threatened, and now we have a new policy of going to war on a pre-emptive basis.”

This statement provides a very telling look at the mindset of many who either minimize or discount entirely the nature of the enemy that we are battling.

Many argue that we are not being threatened directly, that we have no business with a proactive stance against Al Qaeda and their radical jihadist ilk who are responsible for countless attacks against us stretching back well before Sept. 11, 2001.

They argue that our actions overseas tick off the fundamentalists and fuel their hostility. As the logic goes, ultimately we are responsible for the attacks against the U.S. and its allies.

Wait.

That national self-loathing, the gloom coming over the horizon, the faint sounds of Peaches & Herb... maybe its 1979 all over again.

Let’s move on. Under the category of “Haven’t we seen this before?” I recommend that you take some time to read about the strife in Lebanon. While some suggest that the fighting over the past few days between the Lebanese military and the radical terrorist group Fatah Islam is a local matter, I would argue that nothing that happens in that beautiful but always unsettled country is local.

It’s a small sandbox lorded over by several snot-nosed playground bullies all out for their own interests. And by that I am referring to the Iranian, Syrian, Hezbollah, Palestinian and Al Qaeda-linked snot-nosed bullies who constantly are meddling in Lebanese affairs and working out their own agendas to the detriment of the Lebanese people.

People who now deserve a few centuries of peace and stability. And, of course, I’m going to include Israel in that list of players as well. I’m assuming no one is going to try and argue that Israel doesn’t have an agenda in Lebanon and takes up space in the sandbox.

There isn’t enough room on the Internet to fully analyze the political, religious and social ins and outs of Lebanon. I have Lebanese friends in academia, politics and business who have lived there all their lives and still can’t understand the landscape.

But given its importance to key regional players, the potential for any small conflict between the various factions (and there are well over a dozen officially recognized religious sects at any given time vying for elements of power) to escalate to neighboring countries and the potential for the U.S. to be drawn in as a result of Israel, it’s a flashpoint in the world that deserves constant scrutiny and concern.

The current conflict involving Fatah Islam is a good illustration of the typical complexity of this country’s problems. As a service to our readers who tend to be busy and require news in quick, digestible bites, the following is a primer on the current fighting:

— Fatah al Islam (FI) is a group numbering in the hundreds that was founded in 2006 as an offshoot of the more established Fatah Intifada (a Syrian-supported Palestinian group). The recruits come mostly from the ranks of the disaffected, unemployed, easily led and recruitable young men living in the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon.

— FI was started by a Palestinian named Shakir al Absi who has publicly announced admiration for Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda’s goals. He desires to bring all the 350,000 Palestinian refugees residing in camps in Lebanon under strict Islamic Sharia law, was sentenced to death in absentia, along with the now dead Abu Zarqawi (remember him — leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, pancaked under a large exploding projectile?) for the murder of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley in Jordan back in 2002, hates Israel, the U.S., U.S. allies and disco music.

— Absi was released in 2006 from prison in Syria, at which time he made his way to a Palestinian camp in northern Lebanon and started the boy band FI.

— Lebanese authorities believe the group FI has links to Syrian intelligence. Syria claims not to know anything about these links. Lebanese officials believe Syria is once again behind the violence.

— Syria, some say, blew up Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri back in 2005. Others think that Syria had a hand in several other assassinations in Lebanon involving vocal critics of Syria. Syria, not surprisingly, claims not to know anything about these killings.

— Palestinian officials have distanced themselves from FI as an organization.

— Lebanese military sources claim that among the dead of the FI during the past couple of days have been fighters from Bangladesh, Yemen and other Arab countries.

— FI claims it has been training fighters to go to Iraq and join the insurgency against the U.S., Iraq and their allies.

— There are some in U.S. political and big-brain think-tank circles who believe we need to engage Syria in dialogue as part of the effort to find a solution in Iraq.

I hope the above helps, in a simple way, to convey the convoluted, opaque and multifaceted nature of conflict in Lebanon. The entire region is linked together by the machinations and dealings of the various players; there’s no such thing as a local conflict.

It’s likely that a truce will be brokered shortly and the various players will retreat to their respective sections of the sandbox. But like any gathering of bullies, further conflict is inevitable. It’s in their nature.

That’s just my opinion. As always, we look forward to your comments and insight. Please send your thoughts to peoplesweeklybrief@hotmail.com. Till next week, stay safe.

Respond to the Writer

Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector, including most recently Prescience LLC, a global intelligence and strategy firm. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on such issues. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks" as well as major motion pictures. In addition, Baker is a writer for a BBC drama to begin production in July 2007.