Argos just returned from some wanderings in Jordan, Sweden, and Hungary. This report focuses on his first stop: Jordan and its neighbors.
First, a quick refresher. Argos has a new job in which he jets about the globe as an adviser to his organization’s regional leaders and gathers information for corporate. Whenever he gets back stateside he gives me a call to share his observations. His first trip took him to Belgium.
Second, a caveat: these write-ups are anecdotal but hopefully insightful.
They are snapshots of perspectives and are not intended to be generalizations. Case in point, when Argos was in Hungary he met some Western Ukrainians who wanted to know why certain Americans liked Putin (the Western Ukrainians, naturally, feel little love for Putin). Argos responded that conservatives in America are frustrated by the current administrations listless foreign policy, the whining, and the false red lines. Putin is the opposite in many ways and certain Americans admire that. Argos pointed out this perspective was more common among conservative and was not ubiquitously American. A helpful new insight—”Ahhh, we understand now.”
On to Jordan.
Argos’ boss likes predictability so naturally, instead of sampling the local cuisine, the fearless leader excitedly guided the team to PF Changs and Chilis for their meals. Fake Chinese and fake Mexican in a very real Jordan. Three cheers for corporate America. To make matters worse, Argos can’t remember the time he had worse food. In particular, he is considering writing PF Changs and asking: “What the fuck is going on in Jordan?” Fortunately a Lebanese contact took him to a Lebanese restaurant the last night in Amman and that meal more than made up for the deprivations of previous dinners.
Argos traveled a bit during the four days but the ambiguous security situation in Jordan limited his roaming. On the first day the Marriott hotel staff encouraged Argos to stay in the compound unless he took one of the hotel shuttles to a secure zone. As one who likes to walk about, Argos was a bit perturbed by this and inquired why. The staff explained there was always a chance a Westerner could get snagged by ISIS. Argos, taken aback, asked whether this had been happening regularly. The answer: “No, but its possible.” Argos stared with an inquisitive look: tell me more. “Look,” they said, “just stay about the hotel.” Needless to say, Argos took full advantage of the hotel shuttle and got a view of the city and some of her archaeological cites. “Amman’s got nothing on Jerusalem or even Cairo for that matter,” Argos told me. “Cairo may be an armpit, but it’s huge and impressive.” Amman was just a very meh armpit. A lot of hills, white box houses, heat, some dingy souks next to shiny, Western Malls—a general impression of uniformity and grime. Final assessment: he’d never say, “Let’s go to Amman for vacation!” It should be noted that even the most dingy has its charm, and Argos is not a snot. He’s lived in his fair share of armpits and grown to love them. His comment had more to do with Amman as a tourist attraction, not it’s innate value.
Back to security, Jordan seemed stable. Syria, of course, is the big cancerous sore that festers to the north and Argos’ contacts were very concerned about Aleppo falling and the spread of ISIS or al-Nusra. Assad, far from a villain, was the firewall against extremism. The one factor directly affecting Jordan is the flood of refugees from Syria. But how many Syrian refugees have come to Jordan? While there are some numbers, the Jordanians have been deliberately vague. In fact, they’re irritated by the UN trying to count and release numbers. The Jordanian position is simple: its not good to count people. This seems somewhat odd at first glance but makes sense.
Jordan is home to a large Palestinian population. For decades the Hashemite monarchy has dealt uneasily with Palestinian refugees in their midst. With the rise of the PLO, a state-within-a-state came into existence. In 1970 the situation exploded as Yasser Arafat and the PLO with the help of Syria launched a war to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy. The Jordanians managed to stave off this assault but have never forgotten how refugees threatened the power of the monarchy and the stability of the country. As with the Palestinians before them, the current influx Syrians threatens the status quo and the publication of refugee numbers would blow away the political fog and give refugees the ability to calculate their power vis a vis their host country. If such knowledge is acquired, Jordanians fear PLO type disruptions with the even more dire threat of such an uprising linking arms with ISIS or al-Nusra. The humanitarian and data obsession of the UN, then, threatens to make a bad situation worse by destroying the safety of ambiguity. That said, “People did not seem overly freaked out.”
Although Argos did not travel to Lebanon, his Lebanese contact gave him the rundown in his homeland. First, Lebanon is approximately one third Shiite, one third Sunni, and one third Christian. As a Christian, the Lebanese contact was most concerned about Al Nusra and ISIS. This, oddly enough, makes Christian and Shiite political parties natural allies in Lebanon. Hezbollah, far from being a existential foe, has aligned itself for years with Christians to combat a common foe whether it be Israel or the extremists in Syria. The good and the bad don’t trust each other, but they both know they both hate the ugly. Of course, just because one is Sunni does not make one pro-ISIS or al Nusra. And yet the Lebanese contact brushed this off. If you’re Sunni in Lebanon, you’re sympathetic to the uglies in the north. That perspective is anecdotal, but suggestive.
Not a soccer fan (note: “soccer”), Argos was unsure what all the fuss was about one morning as he walked into the lobby of the hotel. A mass of people were milling about, cameras flashed, and a handsome bunch of men dressed in sports uniforms signed autographs and posed for pictures. Jordan had beat Australia the day before and the Jordanian team was staying in the hotel. Curious, Argos walked up to a player quietly standing on the fringe and asked him what sport he played. “Football,” the young man answered him. Argos paused. The player smiled and clarified, “Not the kind of Aaron Rodgers plays. We play the real kind.” An oddly informed and thereby respectful comment followed by a dismissive one. That Sunday Rodgers threw for 241 yards and 2 touchdowns. Jordan’s national team beat Tajikistan a couple days later and is still chasing a World Cup berth.
And with that, Argos hopped on a plane to Sweden. Check in later.