Iran’s involvement in Lebanon is destabilizing, to be sure. An international confrontation with Tehran would be serious indeed, and Hezbollah’s political power within Lebanon is cause for concern. But the [Bush] administration has allowed the focus on Iran and Hezbollah to result in policy that is dangerously blind to other dynamics at play.In the context of the current political stalemate, the administration cannot afford to view the possible selection of a consensus candidate acceptable to Hezbollah as a greater danger than the failure to select anyone at all. And, beyond this week’s crisis, the focus on Hezbollah and Iran has distracted from the rise of Al Qaeda-inspired Sunni radical groups in Lebanon — groups that represent a far greater strategic threat to the U.S. and its allies.
These groups don’t have the popular support in Lebanon that Hezbollah boasts. But that also means they have no “red lines” of violence they will not cross. And, while Hezbollah wants to play an expanded political role in the Lebanese state, the Sunni extremist groups would like nothing more than to see the collapse of the state into anarchy and civil war – truly a worst-case scenario both for Lebanon’s fragile democracy and for regional security.
– Andrew Exum and Stephen McInerney, Beirut Is Not Tehran
(h/t abu muqawama)
More on Lebanon’s burgeoning political crisis from Milton Viorst and Robert Fisk, who penned a sobering report last month that detailed the recent influx of weaponry into the increasingly unstable region, seemingly on the verge once again of civil war.
Related: Blake Hounshell, referencing Exum and McIerney’s op-ed, is blunt–and expansive–in his condemnation of “a mistaken U.S. approach to foreign policy that dates back decades and across administrations of both parties”:
Here’s how it works: The United States says it supports democracy, but ends up backing pro-Western leaders when push comes to shove. Take the case of Pervez Musharraf, whom U.S. President George W. Bush described Tuesday as “somebody who believes in democracy” despite the fact that the Pakistani leader has suspended the Constitution, thrown many of his opponents in jail, and gone after independent media outlets. Or consider the Palestinian territories, where the White House called for elections and then blanched when the distasteful Hamas won them fair and square. Is it any wonder that U.S. rhetoric on democracy isn’t taken seriously?