Stephen Zunes : Lebanon
There are more than a few ironies regarding the Oct. 31 election by the Lebanese parliament of former Gen. Michel Aoun, a Maronite Catholic who received his military training in the United States, as the country’s new president. One of the most striking is his shifting allegiances and the inconsistencies of U.S. policy toward Lebanon.
Leading congressional Democrats are outraged at British Petroleum and others responsible for the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But that stands in sharp contrast to their outspoken support of those responsible for a major oil spill in the eastern Mediterranean in 2006, the largest in that region’s history.
In recent visits to Lebanon, both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear that the United States would react negatively if the March 8th Alliance — a broad coalition of Islamist, Maronite, leftist, nationalist, and pan-Arabist parties — won the upcoming parliamentary elections. These not-so-subtle threats have led to charges of U.S. interference in Lebanon’s domestic affairs. What prompts U.S. concerns is that the largest member of this coalition is Hezbollah, the populist Shiite party which the United States considers to be a terrorist organization….
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. military intervention in Lebanon, and 25 years after a second U.S. military intervention which left hundreds of Americans and thousands of Lebanese dead, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a resolution by a huge bipartisan majority which may lay the groundwork for a third one. At a minimum, this move has crudely and unnecessarily inserted the United States into Lebanon’s complex political infighting….
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert continues to resist pressure that he resign following the publication late last month of the interim report by a special Israeli commission on Israel’s war on Lebanon last summer. Military chief Dan Halutz has already been forced to step down and Defense Minister Amir Peretz has announced he will also be resigning shortly.
The ongoing popular challenge to the pro-Western Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora marks yet another setback in the Bush administration’s attempt to impose a new order on the Middle East more compatible with perceived U.S. strategic interests.
The election of a Democratic majority in the House and Senate is unlikely to result in any serious challenge to the Bush administration’s support for Israeli attacks against the civilian populations of its Arab neighbors and the Israeli government’s ongoing violations of international humanitarian law.
The UN Security Council resolution for a ceasefire to the fighting in Lebanon is certainly good news in terms of ending the carnage. Passed on August 11, Resolution 1701 is also a marked improvement over the original U.S. draft and contains some positive language. Both sides, for instance, are called upon to honor ?a full cessation of hostilities.? And Israel must provide the UN with maps of landmines planted in southern Lebanon during Israel’s 22-year occupation that ended in 2000.
There is increasing evidence that Israel instigated a disastrous war on Lebanon largely at the behest of the United States. The Bush administration was set on crippling Hezbollah, the radical Shiite political movement that maintains a sizable block of seats in the Lebanese parliament. Taking advantage of the country’s democratic opening after the forced departure of Syrian troops last year, Hezbollah defied U.S. efforts to democratize the region on American terms. The populist party’s unwillingness to disarm its militia as required by UN resolution?and the inability of the pro-Western Lebanese government to force them to do so?led the Bush administration to push Israel to take military action.
The Bush administration’s unconditional support for Israel’s attacks on Lebanon is emblematic of the profound tragedy of U.S. policy in the region over the past five years. The administration has relied largely on force rather than diplomacy. It has shown a willingness to violate international legal norms, a callousness regarding massive civilian casualties, a dismissive attitude toward our closest allies whose security interests we share, and blatant double standards on UN Security Council resolutions, non-proliferation issues, and human rights. A broad consensus of moderate Arabs, Middle East scholars, independent security analysts, European leaders, and others have recognized how?even putting important moral and legal issues aside?such policies have been a disaster for the national security interests of the United States and other Western nations. These policies have only further radicalized the region and increased support for Hezbollah and other extremists and supporters of terrorism.