Lebanon Once Again Ignites While on America’s Back-Burner

Beirut Gunman, May 2008
Photo: Associated Press

Beirut is once again in flames as Iranian-backed Hezbollah militias and Lebanese government forces clash in the worst outbreak of violence there since the end of the fifteen year civil war in 1990. The underlying political stalemate between the government and Hezbollah-led opposition parties, which has left the country without a president for nearly a year-and-a-half, is still unresolved. And, once again, America stands idly by and watches.

According to the New York Times:

Ms. Rice and other Bush administration officials were on the phone Friday with their counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Lebanon. A senior administration official said the United States, which barely talks to Syria, Iran or Hezbollah, which the Bush administration considers a terrorist organization, was trying to use its Arab allies to send a message to Iran and Syria to stop interfering in Lebanon.

How’s that for diplomatic leadership from a supposed superpower? “Pssst. Iran and Syria should call off the dogs. Pass it on.”

This failure of US foreign policy is both procedural and substantive.

For reasons best known to Mr. Cheney, Mr. Bush, and Ms. Rice the notion that international relations might be improved through the process of negotiation – a tradition as old as nations themselves – was dead-on-arrival when this administration came to power. America under Mr. Bush has treated its allies with arrogant unilateralism and its enemies with schoolyard name-calling, but without direct discussion or engagement. This has been especially problematic in the Middle East, emboldening countries like Iran and Syria. America’s one semi-serious diplomatic initiative for the region during the Bush presidency, the 2007 Annapolis conference, was briefer and less world-changing than most Las Vegas trade shows. Of course, Iran and Syria were not invited to attend at Annapolis. The utter abandonment of anything resembling diplomacy by this administration will long be considered one of the most tragic and baffling non-strategies in the history of international politics.

The Bush administration’s specific neglect of Lebanon, sadly, has considerable precedent. The same neoconservative administration whose purported desire to remake the Middle East led it to launch an illegal war in Iraq – and threaten another against Iran – continues to treat this perennial hotspot, strategic crossroad of Middle East alliances, home-base of significant terrorist organizations, and (despite the foregoing) a potential democratic success story with careless indifference. When Syrian agents assassinated the Lebanese politician George Hawi – after also assassinating President Rafiq Hariri and prominent anti-Syrian journalist Samir Kassir – Ms. Rice’s sole chiding of the Syrians, made via American journalists, was the dismissive, almost incomprehensible, “They need to knock it off.”

It is mystery why the Bush administration doesn’t seem to care about the fate of Lebanon. But it is abundantly clear why it should.

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