The Winners: Hezbollah And Exxon - The Losers: America, Once Again
You’ll remember that Condi and Bush were trumpeting the early opposition of moderate Arab states against Hezbollah when this crisis first broke out. You can now forget that.
At the onset of the Lebanese crisis, Arab governments, starting with Saudi Arabia, slammed Hezbollah for recklessly provoking a war, providing what the United States and Israel took as a wink and a nod to continue the fight.
Now, with hundreds of Lebanese dead and Hezbollah holding out against the vaunted Israeli military for more than two weeks, the tide of public opinion across the Arab world is surging behind the organization, transforming the Shiite group’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, into a folk hero and forcing a change in official statements.
The Saudi royal family and King Abdullah II of Jordan, who were initially more worried about the rising power of Shiite Iran, Hezbollah’s main sponsor, are scrambling to distance themselves from Washington.
An outpouring of newspaper columns, cartoons, blogs and public poetry readings have showered praise on Hezbollah while attacking the United States and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for trumpeting American plans for a “new Middle East” that they say has led only to violence and repression.
Even Al Qaeda, run by violent Sunni Muslim extremists normally hostile to all Shiites, has gotten into the act, with its deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, releasing a taped message saying that through its fighting in Iraq, his organization was also trying to liberate Palestine.
That’s right, Bush has played this so poorly that Al Qaeda is scrambling to catch up with Hezbollah. A poll of the Lebanese by the Christian Science Monitor reveals that Hezbollah’s support is increasing amongst the Lebanese, rather than decreasing. Which means that in his steadfast support for Israel, Bush has killed off the Cedar Revolution and the Lebanese government.
While the Bush Administration has tried to look more multilateralist since Condi took over, all of that was washed away by how she and Bush have fought the rest of the world over an immediate cease fire.
But Ms. Rice lost the public relations war. Reports of the Rome meeting uniformly painted her as isolated in one corner, refusing to yield to impassioned calls for an immediate cease-fire to end mounting civilian casualties in Lebanon.
It all came down to an almost one-hour fight over the wording of one passage in the final communiqué.
While other countries were pushing for a statement that said the group would work toward an “immediate cease-fire,” Ms. Rice insisted on “work immediately” toward a cease-fire. That may be a small point to most people, but it is a huge one diplomatically since it shifts the burden away from an immediate cessation of violence and more toward diplomacy, a shift that also buys Israel more time to keep up its campaign.
Ms. Rice’s insistence on that phrasing gave European and Arab leaders at the meeting the leeway to say truthfully that the United States blocked pursuit of an immediate cease-fire. “Everybody else took a free moral ride while she took the blame,” said Martin S. Indyk, the United States ambassador to Israel in the Clinton administration.
The Bush administration, Mr. Indyk said in a telephone interview from Washington, should have been more sensitive to the perception that the United States, through its backing of Israel, was in part responsible for the civilian deaths in Lebanon. He said President Bush, early in the crisis, should have sent an envoy to Arab capitals — even Syria’s — to show that the United States was trying to broker a cease-fire, even as it worked on the diplomatic package being constructed by Ms. Rice.
It’s just another botched foreign policy adventure for this country, where the only winners are Dick Cheney and the corporatists pushing the Israel-first PNAC agenda.