The U.S. Administration vis-à-vis Lebanon


by Hooman Majd
If there were ever a perfect example of the Bush administration’s utterly bankrupt, and provably impotent, foreign policy, it would have to be the State Department’s reaction to events in Beyrouth over the last few days. The laughably weak U.S.-backed Lebanese government, in what can only be described as a moment of insanity, decided last week to take on Hezbollah by cutting off their private telephone network, an act that Hassan Nasrallah, perhaps the Arab world’s most popular leader, described as an act of war. And war he brought, completely taking over West Beirut in a matter of hours, and humiliating the hapless pro-Western government and its allies. And what was the U.S. up to as Beirut burned? This, according to the New York Times:

“Ms. Rice and other Bush administration officials were on the phone Friday with their counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Lebanon. A senior administration official said the United States, which barely talks to Syria, Iran or Hezbollah, which the Bush administration considers a terrorist organization, was trying to use its Arab allies to send a message to Iran and Syria to stop interfering in Lebanon.”

Trying to use its Arab allies to send a message to Iran and Syria to stop interfering in Lebanon. Hmm. I’m sure Supreme Leader Khamenei is quaking in his slippers, and President Assad in his bespoke brogues. Hezbollah was indeed created by Iran in the early eighties, and has been supported by her and Syria ever since (and it might be good to remember that one of Sheikh Nasrallah’s official titles, perhaps his most important, is “Representative of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, in Lebanon.” That would be Ayatollah Khamenei. And Hezbollah’s flag shares a symbol with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, their mentors.) But Hezbollah, which in the minds of at least most of the Muslim World handed Israel it’s first real military defeat, this week proved what everyone, except the Bush administration and the Lebanese government, already knew: there will be no peace in Lebanon, nor will there be real peace between Lebanon and Israel, without Hezbollah. And yet our government will not speak to Hezbollah, nor will it speak to its creator, Iran. It can pick up the phone, however, and beg its Arab allies to ask Iran and Syria to stop interfering in Lebanon. Does that message come with a please? Does America still really believe that Iran is afraid of her?

A couple of months ago, after the latest UN resolution on Iran’s nuclear program passed, I was chatting with a senior Iranian diplomat. He asked me if I thought America really believed that Iran, or Iranians, were afraid of the U.S. “Don’t they know us?” he asked. He asked another diplomat in the room to tell me how old he was when he went to the front during Iran-Iraq war. “Sixteen,” replied the other diplomat. “And how old was your brother when he was martyred at the front?” continued the first diplomat. “Fourteen,” was the soft reply, and I saw the diplomat fight back tears. “This,” said the first diplomat, making a gesture, “is who we are. We have seen the worst. Do you think we’re now afraid of anything? Do the Americans really think that threats will work on us?”

Send a message…stop interfering in Lebanon. And this is what American foreign policy has come to. There are still three candidates in the U.S. presidential race, and two of them would continue the Bush foreign policy with respect to Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. Senator Barack Obama, however, who has indicated that he would at least speak to our adversaries, might be able to do more than just beg, through intermediaries, that they stop embarrassing us.