Saturday, November 25, 2006

Lebanon May Signal Defeat for U.S. Mideast Goals

This week's crisis in Lebanon has raised the spector of a total collapse of U.S. goals of democracy promotion in the Middle East. As this Los Angeles Times story notes:

The assassination Tuesday of Pierre Gemayel, a Cabinet minister and scion of one of the countries' leading Maronite Catholic families, has renewed fears of civil war and raised suspicion that Syria is again asserting itself in the affairs of its restive neighbor.

"You're now seeing the last strand" of failed U.S. policy endeavors, said Nathan Brown, a specialist in Arab politics at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former United Nations consultant. Lebanon's "Cedar Revolution," which gave power to anti-Syria forces, was heralded along with the 2005 elections in Iraq, Egypt and the Palestinian territories as part of a new movement that was going to be "as important as the fall of the Berlin Wall," Brown said.

But the changes that followed have dashed U.S. hopes in country after country, he said.

Palestinian voters have since granted power to the militant group Hamas, which the administration has yet to recognize. Egypt's reforms have stalled. And in Iraq, the government has proved unable to run the country amid increasing violence and rising U.S. casualties. Many Iraqis say they would prefer a return to authoritarian rule.

President Bush on Wednesday condemned Syria and Iran as fomenting instability in Lebanon, and officials promised that the United States would do what it could to support its allies in the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

But U.S. officials acknowledged that they had limited influence to deal with the crisis, which could damage U.S. interests in multiple ways. Analysts see the Lebanon situation as another sign that American clout is shrinking in the Middle East.

A collapse of the Lebanese government would mark a further expansion in the influence of Hezbollah — and of Syria and Iran, which back the Shiite Muslim militant group — many of the analysts said.

It would be a setback to the U.S. goal of uniting the country around a stronger central government, and to hopes that an expanded Lebanese army could protect Israel from Hezbollah attacks.It also would end the Bush administration's goal of making Lebanon a democratic model for the region.
Caroline Glick in yesterday's Jerusalem Post offered a penetrating analysis of the implications of the Gemayal assassination for the long-term security of the region. Glick suggests that Syria and Iran are seeking to replace the current Lebanese anti-Syrian government with a pro-Syrian, pro-Iranian coalition led by Hezbollah. She notes that Washington's new Democratic congressional majority has embraced the Baker plan for an American withdrawal from Iraq. These developments, to Glick, are parts of a larger constellation of forces working to defeat U.S. interests and destroy America's democratic allies in the region:

Baker fervently believes that US foreign policy should revolve around being bad to its friends and good to its enemies. Consequently he thinks that the US can avoid the humiliation of the defeat he proposes by buying off Syria and Iran, the forces behind most of the violence, instability, subversion and terror in Iraq. If the US accepts their conditions, they will temporarily cease their attacks to enable a US retreat that will look only mildly humiliating to the television viewers back home....

BAKER'S CURRENT dealings with Iran and Syria parallel closely Israel's talks with the Palestinians in the lead-up to its withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria last year. As Baker does today, at the time Israel appealed to the Palestinians to restrain themselves temporarily to enable an orderly Israeli surrender of the territories.

Last year the Palestinians demanded that Israel hand over the international border between Gaza and the Sinai in exchange for their cooperation. By forcing the IDF to withdraw from the Philadelphi Corridor, the Palestinian Authority transformed a tactical and symbolic victory for jihad into a strategic victory for jihad. Without Israel controlling the border, Gaza was rapidly transformed into a major base for global terrorists.

Today, the Iranian and Syrian price tags for cooperation are similarly high. The Iranians demand international acceptance of their nuclear weapons program replete with European abandonment of Israel. Their demands have apparently been met....

Syria set its price for cooperating with the US in Iraq when it murdered Gemayel. That is, in addition to pressuring Israel to give up the Golan Heights, the US will be expected to accept the reassertion of Syrian/Iranian control over all of Lebanon through a new government controlled by Hizbullah and its allies which will replace the Saniora government. The fall of the Saniora government will also spell the demise of the Hariri murder tribunal. Iran and Syria also demand that the US abandon its policy of regime change in both countries.

Another similarity between Israel's retreat from Gaza and northern Samaria last year, its withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000, and the proposed US retreat from Iraq today are the obvious consequences of such a retreat for the US, the region and the world. Far from bringing peace and stability, as the champions of the withdrawal policy mindlessly claim, a retreat will cause more war, more instability and more suffering in Iraq, in the region and throughout the world.

In the wake of a US (and Coalition) withdrawal from Iraq, the country would become an Iranian-Syrian-controlled base for global jihad. Battle-tested, heavily armed terrorists, cocky after their victory over the Great Satan, would use Iraq as a stepping-off point for attacks throughout the region and world. Israel and Jordan, as allies of the defeated great power, would be first on the list of targets.

Israel will find itself beset by an emboldened, nuclear weapons building Iran, an exhilarated Assad and by Iranian proxies from Gaza to Ramallah to Beirut....

The most pressing question today then is whether Bush will give in to Baker and the Democrats and agree to capitulate to Iran and Syria in Iraq, Lebanon and indeed throughout the world. Unfortunately, things look bleak given that Bush relies most heavily on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rice has been blocking US action against Syria and Iran for the past two years. She was the primary architect of UN Resolution 1701 this summer, has been pushing for dangerous Israeli concessions to the Palestinians and is known for her good relations with Baker.

Although a great blow to Bush's vision of democracy in the Middle East, Gemayel's murder can still serve as an opportunity for the reinvigoration of that vision. If Bush sees this murder as the warning sign it is of what awaits Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Iraq and indeed the entire world if the US removes its forces from Iraq or is perceived as moving in that direction; if he finally recognizes that Iraq is not a separate war, but a great battle in a larger struggle, then Bush will be able to formulate a new strategy for victory.

Such a strategy, founded on an understanding of the regional and global nature of the war, will change the emphasis of US operations in Iraq in a manner than weakens, rather than strengthens Iran and Syria.

Such a strategy is the only way to ensure the continued functioning of the Saniora government and indeed the survival of Lebanon as an independent nation.

Most importantly, such a strategy will be the only way to ensure that a policy will be formed and adopted by the US and Israel that will prevent Israel's annihilation at the hands of an Iranian nuclear bomb.

All is not lost, however. Foreign Affairs has a symposium on the Middle East in their current issue, and two articles -- one by Ze'ev Schiff and the other by Volker Perthes -- suggest that the Syrian government has less influence over Hezbollah than is often suggested, that the government of Bashir al-Assad has an ultimate interest in regime survival (especially if sectarian violence in Iraq spills over to threaten the Damascus government), and that Israel may have a diplomatic opportunity to negotiate an agreement with Syria that establishes Damascus as a regional buffer between Israel and Iran.

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