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Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 01/25/2011

Another Middle East debacle: Lebanon on the brink

By Jennifer Rubin

News reports describe the current situation in Lebanon:

Iranian ally Hezbollah moved to the brink of controlling Lebanon's next government on Monday, setting off angry protests and drawing warnings from the U.S. that its support could be in jeopardy.

Nearly two weeks after bringing down Lebanon's Western-backed government, the Shiite militant group -- considered a terrorist organization by Washington -- secured support in parliament to name its own candidate for the next prime minister. The feat caps Hezbollah's steady rise over decades from resistance force against Israel to Lebanon's most powerful military and political power.

There is no way to sugarcoat the potential conquest of Lebanon by Iran -- that is what is going on here. It would be a tragedy for the people of Lebanon and horrible setback for U.S. efforts to combat Iran's influence in the region.

Tony Badran of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies wrote in an e-mail to me this morning:

Should Hezbollah take control now, albeit via a coalition, it will be a significant shift for Lebanon, from being a weak state harboring a terrorist group to being a rogue state that will openly violate U.N. Security Council resolutions. . . .In the past, Hezbollah's power hid behind the [Prime Minister] Hariri's fig leaf. Now they've removed him and are forging ahead. They will ask him to join the government with them, but he has declared that he wouldn't. Let's see whether he sticks by it or not.

But clearly the trajectory leading up to the current situation has shown that the main driver is Iran, which is Hezbollah's reference point. Hezbollah is the power on the ground, and the Syrians, although they share the same goals, have really played second fiddle to the Iranians in these unfolding events.

The current situation was several years in the making, but Badran and other Middle East experts assign a great deal of responsibility to the feckless administration, which seemed somewhat taken aback by the pace of events. (Assistant Secretary Jeffrey Feltman is in Tunisia now.)

Elliott Abrams writes:

One can argue that this outcome has been inevitable since May 2008, when Hizballah sent its forces into the streets of Beirut to show that it could and would use its army against non-Shiite Lebanese--and the United States, France, the Saudis and other supporters of an independent Lebanon did nothing. But that's three years ago and only now has Hizballah defied the rest of the Lebanese population and demanded that it name the Sunni who will lead the government. This reflects the continuing reduction in American sway in the region, and especially the "engagement" with Syria. The last straw may have been the decision to send an ambassador to Syria by recess appointment despite the Senate's unwillingness to confirm the Administration's candidate. That foolish gesture must have indicated to the Syrians and to Hizballah that the Administration had learned nothing from two years of insults and rebuffs by Damascus.

Badran asks, "The Syrians are still very much allied with Hezbollah and Iran, and will remain so, and their objectives in Lebanon have not changed, and their armament of Hezbollah has not changed, and so on. So what exactly will the ambassador do there? Chastise them for being naughty?"

Although events are moving in an ominous direction, Abrams cautions that much depends on the reaction of Lebanon's Christians and Sunnis ("Will they keep up a political resistance to Hizballah and to its hand-picked prime minister, with votes in parliament, demonstrations, and requests for international support?"). And equally important, as Abrams points out, is whether the U.S. will assert what is left of its influence to back those resisting rule by Hezbollah.

This is yet one more tragic example of what flows from the Obama administration's weakness and ill-conceived attempts at appeasing aggressors. Oh, and if we are this ill-equipped to contain Iran before it gets nuclear weapons, how is it conceivable that we would do so after it becomes a nuclear power?

By Jennifer Rubin  | January 25, 2011; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Iran  
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Will Hizbulloh play the piano for Obama's WH Dinner ?

Wonder if Lang Lang is available to crank out a few tunes for them.

Posted by: rickz77 | January 25, 2011 2:08 PM | Report abuse

There is something very wrong with an administration that sends Stuxnet to Tehran and Ford to Damascus. It really shows that danger is perceived differently by the same people when it should be perceived equally by the whole Obama administration.

Posted by: fghadry | January 25, 2011 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Bush and Condi's chickens are coming home to roost. When the US stepped aside in 2006 to let the IDF pound hundreds of Lebanese civilians into their undeserved early graves (all of which Condi referred to as the "birth pangs of a new Middle East") . . . did anyone really expect the people of Lebanon to rush to the US's embrace, even after Boy George stepped down.

Rubin is nothing more than an apologist/hasbarist for Israeli policy. I'd trade 1 Tony Karon for 20 Rubins anytime.

Posted by: rober1jf | January 25, 2011 3:13 PM | Report abuse

This is a bipartisan failure of American foreign policy. For Iran to establish a proxy regime in the freest, most cosmopolitan state in the Mideast other than Israel is a major defeat to western interests. Perhaps the Christians and Sunnis will unite to resist, as they did in the Cedar Revolution, but more likely Hezbullah will pick off its opponents one by one.

Posted by: eoniii | January 25, 2011 3:15 PM | Report abuse

What driveling nonsense blaming this on Pres. Obama. Here's a news flash. The US is NOT all powerfull and the rest of the world does not tremble when we speak. We cannot dictate how the other countries of the world select their gov'ts and least of all in the middle east. Our influence in Lebenon is very low and has been for 2 decades. Little more thinking and less pandering would go along way.

Posted by: kchses1 | January 25, 2011 3:22 PM | Report abuse

"One can argue that this outcome has been inevitable since May 2008, when Hizballah sent its forces into the streets of Beirut to show that it could and would use its army against non-Shiite Lebanese--and the United States, France, the Saudis and other supporters of an independent Lebanon did nothing."

Yes one can, and where was Mr. Abranms in May 2008? Why he was in Jerusalem as none other than the Bush administration primary foreign policy advisor for the Middle East.

So we will accept Mr. Abrams guilty plea to having failed in his job, and by extension the complete failure of Bush administraion foreign policy in the Middle East, and commend him for his honesty!

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | January 25, 2011 4:02 PM | Report abuse

It looks like Israeli project for middle east with blind help of US is coming unglued. From Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen to Lebanon and now Palestinian Authority, the wheels are falling off, among it all Israel and its hold on US foreign policy is being exposed. The Palestine papers released by Aljazeera and Guardian is mind boggling. They show more than ever the paranoid and apartheid Israeli regime has nothing in common with American values. nothing at all!!!

Posted by: mbintampa | January 25, 2011 4:51 PM | Report abuse

The WaPo Fifth Column of Islamist apologists faithfully rises to the keyboards!

Jennifer so succeeds in shaking their delicate Stalinist sensibilities to the rotten Cockburn-vanden Heuvel core.

Posted by: Morgan097 | January 25, 2011 8:10 PM | Report abuse

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