June 13, 2011

Lebanon "falls" to Hizballah

This is the logical conclusion of a piece I did earlier this year: Lebanon - failure of American leadership in which I blame President Obama's misguided Middle East outreach policy for the loss of Lebanon as a U.S. ally. The rise of Hizballah is the direct fallout of the utter failure of that policy.

After months of back and forth between the disparate ethnic groups, confessional factions and political parties that define the Lebanese body politic, Hizballah-backed Prime Minister Najib Miqati announced a new cabinet that gives the Iranian-created and Syrian-backed "Party of God" 16 of the 30 seats. That gives a party labeled as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government unprecedented power in the one-time American ally. In real terms, however, this cabinet lineup gives unprecedented influence to the regimes in Damascus and Tehran.

Giving credit where credit is due, Hizballah has done through political intimidation and maneuvering what it could not do by force of arms, although they possess the most potent armed force in the country, easily outclassing the Lebanese Army. With Hizballah now in charge, the Lebanese Army will become another tool of the Islamist organization. Despite almost $750 million of American aid money since 2006 to support the Lebanese Army, it will no longer be a moderating force in the country. Hizballah has now emerged as Lebanon's major power broker.

According to the Lebanese constitution, the proposed cabinet slate must be presented to the majlis al-nuwab (Chamber of Deputies, the legislature). This is a sham exercise. I want to interject a small point of humor here. For those of you who do not speak Arabic, sham is the Arabic word for the Damascus area. To say submitting the names to the Lebanese parliament is a "sham" exercise, I mean that it is merely being submitted for Syrian approval. Of course, the chamber is going to rubber stamp it - it has already been approved in the Syrian (and Iranian) capital.

The Hizballah-dominated Lebanese government has not consulted with Washington - why should it? The current administration has made itself irrelevant by its weak and aimless outreach policy. Prime Minister Miqati is not trying to adhere to American wishes, mainly because he does not know what they are. There has been an absence of American leadership in the region, which has in turn led to American failure in the region.

Looking at what has been labeled the "Arab Spring," where is the United States? There was no policy leadership in Tunisia, none in Egypt - a key American ally, and none in Yemen. Given the half-hearted attempt at shying away from initial leadership and now merely participating in Libya until shamed into it by France and the United Kingdom, it is no wonder many of our Arab allies are losing faith in the United States to address relevant foreign policy issues.

Unfortunately, what is happening in Lebanon is symptomatic of our policies in the region. No one takes us seriously. As I asked in my original article: "So, Mr. Obama, how is that outreach policy working out for you? More importantly, how is it working our for our allies in Lebanon?"

P.S. Mr President, it's a rhetorical question - I know the answer.