Posted by Joshua on Monday, July 21st, 2008
[Landis comment] Jay Solomon et. al,'s article (copied below) is excellent. My only nit to pick with it is the choice of ending with Walid Jumblatt's quote, "Where was America when Hezbollah took over in May?" The implication is that America should have done something. Solomon lets this criticism hang in the air – as if Jumblatt is correct and the US really should have sent troops to Lebanon to fight Hizbullah. I am sure Solomon does not believe that America's military footprint in the region is too small, but the WSJ is a conservative, Bush supporting newspaper. To criticize the Bush administration – even by pointing out that its ally, Jumblatt, was being completely unrealistic would be to ask too much.
The real criticism to be made of Washington is not that it has used too little military force or that it has drawn too few lines in the sand. On the contrary, Washington should never have led Jumblatt and Hariri down the garden path to believe that they could rely on US troops to defeat Hizbullah and Lebanon's other opposition parties. The US should have let Hariri, Jumblatt, and Siniora know early on that it could not defeat Hizbullah or overturn the Syrian regime on their behalf. Pumping them up in the false belief that the US would ride in with the cavalry was irresponsible and stupid. The March 14th forces were going to have to compromise sooner or later. Washington should not have been so naive as to think that brow beating, chest thumping, and moralizing by President Bush would magically make the most powerful forces in Lebanon cower in fear and disarm – especially not a militia like Hizbullah, which drove Israel out of Lebanon after 20 years of sacrifice and struggle and which stood up to Israel's full power in 2006 for over a month.
If anything, Solomon should have praised Hizbullah for its patience and sober restraint – normally an Israeli characteristic – for waiting 16 long months before pulling the plug on the March 14 forces. Instead, Solomon writes that "for nearly 16 months, Mr. Siniora's supporters refused to cave into demands by Hezbollah." Such praise only shows how far Washington has strayed from realism. As Bashar al-Asad said after the Doha agreement was signed, "The March 14 coalition could have signed the same agreement a year ago" and well they could have, without loss of life or the terrible economic price of letting the economy stagnate for 12 extra months. Instead, Siniora, Hariri, Geagea, Jumblatt and their American backers clung to a losing hand and refused to recognize the reality that was so clear once Israel had failed in 2006 to put a real dent into Hizbullah's power and supremacy in Lebanon. Hariri kept on repeating that Hizbullah and Lebanon's Christians led by Aoun intended to carry out a coup, but of course they did not. Quite the opposite, they wanted a compromise.
The reason they were so patient with the obstinate March 14 movement and the US was precisely because they did not want a coup. They did not want to use force to assert themselves. That is why they waited on Hariri and allies for so long. They waited until the Lebanese public were so fed up with political paralysis that they welcomed Hizbullah's move and the Doha agreement. They waited until Jumblatt made his fateful mistake and convinced Siniora to move against Hizbullah's security network, then in less than 12 hours Hizbullah and the Lebanese opposition pulled the plug on the March 14th government. They did not "take power" or carry out a "coup;" instead, they allowed Siniora to form a new government, giving the opposition the blocking third that they had insisted on for the better part of a year.
I am surprised that hard bitten Wall Street types who usually praise politicians and businessmen for knowing when to compromise are now siding with Jeronimo, or in Lebanon's case, Jumblatt. Does anyone really think that the US should have sent troops to Lebanon to keep Jumblatt from having to compromise with Nasrallah and Aoun?
(by the way – if anyone wants to know which Syrians are in town to meet with the State department, they are Daoudi, the lead negotiator with the Israelis in Ankara, Samir Taqi, the head of Syria's leading think tank, and Sami Moubayed, who needs no introduction to SC readers.)
Here is the WSJ article:
Mideast's Balance of Power Shifts Away From U.S.: Regional Players Bypass Washington In Brokering Deals
Wall Street Journal
July 21, 2008; Page A6
A handful of Middle East nations and groups are pursuing talks that are dramatically shifting the region's balance of power in ways that could undercut U.S. interests.
The various diplomatic efforts come as the Bush administration moderates its policy of isolating the governments of Iran, Syria and their regional allies. The State Department's point man on the Middle East is scheduled to meet this week with a delegation of Syrian academics and lawyers that includes the top legal adviser to the Syrian government team involved in indirect talks with Israel, according to Syrian officials.
And over the weekend, the State Department's third-ranking official met with European diplomats and Iranian officials as part of talks to restart negotiations over Tehran's nuclear program.
The weekend contact — the highest-level exchange between the two sides in years — ended inconclusively Saturday. Tehran refused to commit to halting its uranium-enrichment program in exchange for a set of economic incentives it was offered. European Union foreign-policy chief Javier Solana said negotiators gave Tehran another two weeks to respond more concretely.
Still, the presence in Geneva of William Burns, the U.S. under-secretary of state for political affairs, marked a significant course change in Washington's dealings with Iran.
It comes as regional players — both friends and foes of Washington — begin to work together to solve their own problems and those of their neighbors. The talks have supplanted what was once a key role for Washington: regional power broker.
As President George W. Bush's term in office approaches its end, his administration's diplomatic heft has predictably diminished. Washington's missteps in Iraq and Afghanistan have also sapped the region's confidence in the administration's vision. "In many ways, the countries in the region are looking past the Bush administration and seeking their own answers to the region's problems" said Imad Moustapha, Damascus's ambassador to the U.S., in an interview.
A collection of peacemakers, some unlikely, has stepped into the breach. In May, Qatar successfully pushed a peace deal in Lebanon that saw Iranian-backed Hezbollah gain extensive new political powers at the expense of Beirut's Western-backed government. Last month, Egypt brokered a military truce between Israel and the Palestinian faction Hamas, an Iranian ally that last year violently overran the Gaza Strip.
Turkey is mediating indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria. Even impoverished Yemen is getting in on the act, pushing for reconciliation between Hamas and rival faction Fatah.
Through the negotiations, say diplomats and analysts, Israel and Arab governments are positioning themselves for a shift in American foreign policy, no matter who wins November elections.
Hammering that home, Sen. Barak Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, is touring the Middle East this week. He has advocated stepped-up engagement with Iran and Syria.
"The U.S. administration is a lame duck, and regional players are working to serve their own interests," says Diaa Rashwan, a Cairo-based political analyst.
The State Department has denied that U.S. influence in the region is waning and said it welcomes the region's recent diplomatic efforts.
Israel, in particular, has seized the initiative from Washington. In recent weeks, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has moved to cut deals aimed at easing every national-security threat along Israel's borders, though Mr. Olmert may be too politically weak at home to see any of the deals through.
But his efforts come after Israel's once-unquestionable regional military superiority has been severely tested. In 2006, Hezbollah fighters bogged down a larger and more advanced Israeli army during a month-long battle in Lebanon. And Israeli military incursions into the Hamas-held Gaza Strip failed to dislodge rocket-firing militants.
In May, Israel said it was indirectly negotiating a peace deal with Syria, which, along with Iran, is a key supporter of both Hezbollah and Hamas. Last month, Israel agreed to a cease-fire with Hamas.
At the same time, Israel has sent much stronger signals than the U.S. about possible military intervention against Tehran. Last month, U.S. officials said Israel had conducted military exercises that appeared to be training for a possible attack against Iran.
U.S. officials are preparing a package of economic sanctions they hope they can push through the United Nations if Tehran fails to take up new talks on halting its nuclear program.
Perhaps no Middle East country has been the beneficiary of the region's diplomatic moves more than Syria. In March, U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt snubbed the country by refusing to send high-level representation to an Arab League summit in Damascus. The U.S. Treasury in February initiated a string of unilateral sanctions against some of Syrian President Bashar Assad's closest political and business allies. The U.S. and France, meanwhile, were closely working to limit Syria's political influence inside Lebanon.
Today, Syria has largely emerged from its diplomatic isolation. Mr. Assad was welcomed in Paris this month by President Nicolas Sarkozy. The two leaders talked about enhancing economic and strategic ties.
Damascus and Jerusalem are set to enter a second-round of Turkey-brokered talks to resolve their dispute over the Golan Heights this month. And many world leaders praised Syria's role in promoting a political pact for Lebanon in May.
Amid that backdrop, the State Department's point man on the Middle East, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, is set to meet top Syrian academics and attorneys this week, according to Syrian officials. Mr. Welch's planned session is raising hopes Washington may more aggressively support the Damascus-Jerusalem peace track. The State Department didn't comment on the meetings.
Mr. Moustapha, Syria's ambassador, said the Bush administration's willingness to meet the Syrian delegation is a step in the right direction.
If Syria has gained the most from Washington's diplomatic absence, the West-backed government of Lebanese President Fuad Siniora appears to have lost out more than others.
In 2006, Israel launched a war in Lebanon, largely in response to the capture by Hezbollah of two Israeli army reservists in a cross-border raid.
The fighting ended inconclusively after 34 days, but Hezbollah's reputation for resistance against Israel soared. The Shiite political group — designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. — led a boycott of Mr. Siniora's coalition government.
For nearly 16 months, Mr. Siniora's supporters refused to cave into demands by Hezbollah for major concessions in a new government. When Mr. Siniora tried to crack down on the group in May the group took to the streets.
Qatar's emir stepped in. He pushed both sides to accept a deal that reinstalled Mr. Siniora as prime minister but also gave the Hezbollah-led opposition veto power.
"Where was America when Hezbollah took over in May?" complained Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Lebanese Druze sect and an ally of the U.S.
–Mariam Fam in San'a, Yemen, and Margaret Coker in Abu Dhabi contributed to this article.
Write to Jay Solomon at email@example.com,