Saturday, January 27, 2007

The events in Lebanon last week were an early implementation of the new Rice strategy

Joseph Samaha comments on where Lebanon fits in Condoleeza Rice's new "realignment" strategy, outlined in a WaPo column by David Ignatius yesterday. There are the "moderates" on one side and the extremists on the other, but in the middle are the Iraqis, Palestinians and Lebanese, democracies that need to be helped and supported by the (non-democratic) "moderates" to resist the "extremists", but these target administrations are also required to take aggressive actions themselves in order to earn this support. That means, for instance, that Maliki is supposed to support the occupation in exchange for US help, and if he doesn't then there are the threats that will be implemented; Abbas is supposed to topple the elected Hamas government with the help of US arms and funding; and in the case of Lebanon, we had the very instructive picture of moderate nations pledging billions of dollars in aid on the same day, last Tuesday, that government factions were working to escalate the general strike into a sectarian confrontation with Hizbullah. The domestic crisis resulted in more pledges, and the pledges presumably further encouraged the government factions. With all the differences, the overall picture, at least in the mind of Condoleeza Rice, is the same: Aid from the "moderates" to encourage the target populations to confront the "extremists." This is the "realignment".

Going back to origins, Samaha says this new policy is the result of the failures of the US in Iraq and of Israel in Lebanon, which presented Bush with the choice between Baker-Hamilton on the one hand, or Kagan on the other. Bush chose escalation, and Samaha says it is important to realize just how wide-ranging and all-encompassing this escalation is: More battleships to the Gulf; deployment of Patriot missiles in the region; invasion of Somalia; provoking Iran; cutting off any chance of talks with Syria; sharpening the Hamas-Fatah split; more troops to Iraq. The events in Lebanon this past week have to be seen in that overall context, he says, and for one thing that means Hizbullah has to consider more than mere tactical issues.

Samaha's point is that Lebanon, formerly a "moderate" government, has now been reclassified, along with Iraq and Palestine, as a target, which in exchange for assistance from the "moderates" is required itself to take specific action to confront the "extremists". And that is what played out for the first time in Lebanon lasts week. Instead of just offering its American and Israeli allies relatively soft or passive "services" (such as keeping the Hizbullah-led opposition out of meaningful participation in government), the governing factions were proactive in trying to escalate the general strike into a secarian confrontation. And the quid pro quo for this more active participation in the Rice strategy was the increased commitment for financial aid. It was the new Rice strategy of "realignment" in action.

Of course, Samaha concludes, the whole thing is a shell game.
The Bush administration itself is even more isolated domestically than the Siniora administration; it is less popular; it is more of a burden to its people, and more bereft of parliamentary support than the Siniora administation. And yet, the Lebanese administration wants to assist it [Bush] even more, it seems, than it wants to help itself! No. It cannot be done. It is not conceivable that Bush would be able to mount a scheme of this nature when he has already wagered himself into this place of his in history and his party into its current place in the US politics.


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