Friday, May 21, 2010

Does Anyone in the U.S. Government Notice that They've Pushed Lebanon Into Iran's Arms?

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By Barry Rubin

Not long ago, Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt was a lion in standing up to the threat that Hizballah and its Iranian and Syrian sponsors would gain hegemony over Lebanon.

Now, he's a lion siding with Hizballah, Iran, and Syria. He identifies Israel as Lebanon's immediate enemy but--guess what?--also views the United States as Lebanon's enemy. So who is Lebanon's friend and protector? Iran and Syria.

Jumblatt is no coward but he's also no fool. If the Obama Administration won't stand up against tyrants and Islamists he sees no reason to sacrifice himself in a losing battle.

In his interview with the BBC Arabic television, as translated by MEMRI, Jumblatt says:

"The Western countries always want to sow strife in the Arab and Islamic world. Thank God that we have managed, along with the March 8 Alliance...we have avoided the sectarian strife that was planned for Lebanon....There used to be no sectarian disputes in Lebanon. Who tore Iraq to pieces if not America and the West? They manufactured this sectarian dispute, and slaughtered Iraq."

So here's the man who was formerly America's most courageous ally in Lebanon saying that the United States wanted to divide Lebanon and cause civil war but, thanks to the deity, this American plot has been avoided.

How's that popularity working out for you, President Obama?

Jumblatt continues to say that Lebanon should ask the United States for weapons with which it can fight Israel, but if Washington says "no," as he predicts, Lebanon has other friends.

As for Israel, he advocates a special relationship (code for subservience) to Syria. And while he doesn't want to attack the neighbor to the south, "We want neither peace nor a settlement with Israel." Even if Israel turns over the West Bank and east Jerusalem to a Palestinian state, that wouldn't be sufficient for peace because, says Jumblatt, it also has to let all the Palestinian refugees and their descendants live in Israel.

Here's how I think Jumblatt's thinking goes. Note this is me speaking, not him:

"We cannot defeat Hizballah. They have the strongest militia. They have full backing from Syria and Iran. I and the Sunni Muslim and Christians have no backing from the United States or Europe. Therefore I must sell my soul to the devil in hopes of getting it back in future. This isn't the first time I have had to do something like this.

"We must avoid a civil war not only because it is bad in itself but also because we are likely to lose. Therefore, I must do everything possible to get along with Iran, Syria, Hizballah. And if the price is Syrian hegemony (at least, it's less than it used to be) and Hizballah highly armed and in government, and a verbal commitment to fight Israel, that's a price worth paying.

"The Americans have abandoned me so I don't owe them anything. I will mouth the line that they are the villains in order to keep Iran, Syria, and Hizballah happy.

"I hope Israel won't attack Lebanon and Hizballah doesn't attack Israel. If that happens, we're all in a lot of trouble. But I'm more afraid of Hizballah than of Israel; more afraid of Iran and Syria than of America. And so as the wind blows so I will sail in order to survive."

In short, his strategy is one of appeasement. There will be many more going down that road in the coming years. This is the fruit of Obama's policy, though in Lebanon, at least, the problem began during the Bush years.

It seems that the Obama Administration has no concept of how much damage its policy is doing to U.S. interests. After Jumblatt, one can watch for the "desertions" of U.S. allies first in Iraq and Afghanistan, with Arabic-speaking leaders next, at least to a limited extent.

Even if it is not U.S. policy, allowing high-level officials to speak about engagement with Hizballah--without punishing or firing them--sends a signal to moderates that one better get in good with the radicals because America isn't going to help you. You're on your own. And so make the best deal you can with Iran and Syria (or China, Russia, Venezuela, depending on where you are in the world).

Bonus feature! A great brief article by the masterful Michael Young which sharply explains the difference between the worldview of Washington idiots--oops! I meant decisionmakers--and reality on the ground.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; The West and the Middle East (four volumes); and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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