Saturday, March 05, 2005

# Posted 4:28 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LEBANON: THE LIBERALS DOTH PROTEST TOO MUCH. There's just no way I can compete with the avanlache of Lebanon coverage provided by blogosphere conservatives. But what I can do is take a look at how some prominent, middle-of the road liberal bloggers are dealing with the issue.

Early on, just a day or so after Hariri's assassination, Josh Marshall decided to he wouldn't say much about the situation in Lebanon since
I don't know enough yet about the probable suspects behind the Hariri assassination in Lebanon or the precise geopolitical situation that surrounded it...

But it is more than a little unfortunate that I at least find it hard to take at face value anything this administration says about the probable perpetrators.
Apparently, Josh still hasn't learned much about the situation in Lebanon since he has only put up one more post about it, a one-liner that read: "Important: Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah says Syrians must leave Lebanon." Instead, Josh has focused his habitual monomania on the Social Security debate. That's a good and important subject, but it really does beg the question of whether Josh can only get interested in a story if it reinforces his perception of George Bush as evil, stupid or both.

Also at TPM, guest-blogger Ed Kilgore is offended by the suggestion that his indifference to events in Lebanon is evidence of his partisan inability to give credit where credit is due. Ed writes that
It literally never crossed my mind that Bush's fans would credit him with for this positive event, as though his pro-democracy speeches exercise some sort of rhetorical enchantment.
Perhaps Ed should remember the encouragement that Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa in Ronald Reagan's condemnation of Soviet tyranny. It's hard to identify direct lines of causation, but I'm more than confident enough to wager that there are thousands and thousands of Lebanese who were just a little bit emboldened by the knowledge that the United States wanted them to succeed and would not remain silent if Syria tried to crush their protests with force.

But if you still think that rhetoric doesn't matter, then think about the tangible fact of all those purple fingers waving in the air in Baghdad, Najaf, Erbil and Karbala. Again, lines of causation are hard to draw. But would anyone suggest that the Lebanese opposition wasn't encouraged by this sudden and unexpected triumph of those who have suffered so long from Ba'athist oppression?

The triumph of Jan. 30 belongs to the Iraqi people, but it could not have happened without the unrelenting support of the United States government. By extension, we can take pride in the unexpected benefits that come along with the election in Iraq.

Like Ed, Kevin Drum weighs in with the requisite post explaining why Bush doesn't deserve any credit for what's going on in Lebanon. Kevin's first point is that Bush doesn't deserve credit because promoting democracy in the Middle East wasn't the reason we invaded Iraq. But it was the reason we stayed in Iraq when liberals started denouncing the occupation as quagmire (as early as the summer of 2003).

Remember how John Kerry voted against a funding bill for the occupation (after he voted for it)? Remember how he talked about wanting to bring the troops home? Remember how he wanted to close firehouses in Baghdad so we could open them in Ohio (as if it were impossible to do both)?

But Kevin may not buy this argument since he says "Bush actively opposed Iraqi elections." Maybe Bush did have hopes of a leaving Iraq be after installing an interim government led by Chalabi. But did Bush ever suggest that Iraq shouldn't be democratic? Kevin is a great guy and a very smart guy, so I'm just going to assume he put that post up on a very bad day.

(To his credit, Kevin links to a pair of solid pro-administration posts by the ever-insighful Greg Djerejian)

Compared to TPM and Washington Monthly, Matt Yglesias has been pretty good about recent events in the Middle East. To be sure, Matt has put up the requisite posts about why Bush doesn't really deserve credit for anything that's going on. According to Matt:
Indeed, between Election Day (actually, somewhat earlier) and today, Bush seems to me to have basically been implementing the Kerry foreign policy. So I'm a bit bitter. But, you know what, good for him. The Bush foreign policy was terrible.
I guess my question for Matt is this: If Kerry had won, and then spent November, December and January living up to his promise to start thinking about a withdrawal from Iraq, would the insurgents have had better luck in disrupting the election? Would fewer Iraqis have risked their lives on the way to the polls?

I don't know. Maybe not. The insurgents still killed lots and lots of people. And Iraqis didn't go to the polls in order to vindicate George Bush. But I am pretty confident that what we've seen from George Bush vis-a-vis Iraq isn't John Kerry's foreign policy.

With regard to Lebanon, Matt has two posts explaining why the outlook for democracy there is problematic in spite of recent progress. Both posts have important points that deserve to be made and which often get lost amidst the euphoria of those covering the positive events. But Matt wanders off into la-la land a bit when he writes that
There's no really clear sense in which the Syrian sphere of influence in Lebanon is bad for the United States of America. [Emphasis in original]
And that:
There simply doesn't seem to me to be any major geopolitical windfall we could possibly reap from any outcomes in Lebanon.
Syria is already handing over Iraqi insurgents to the United States in order to buy some for itself in Lebanon. I wouldn't call that a major windfall, but it's a beginning. If you're very optimistic, you may see events in Beirut the beginning of the end for Assad. That might result in chaos, but it also might result in the end of Syrian intervention in Iraq, which would count as a major windfall.

But let's focus on Lebanon for a moment. As Matt points out, real democracy in Lebanon means dealing with the challenge posed by Hezbollah, which commands widespread support among Lebanese Sunnis.

But what if Hezbollah can accept its role as one party among many in a democratic Lebanon? Might that lead to peace between Lebanon and Israel? And deprive Syria of an excuse for perpetuating its conflict with the Israelis?

So if all these options aboud, why is Matt stuck in some sort of Kissingerian realist mode in which he insists that bringing down malevolent dictatorships does nothing for US security?

Let me suggest that Matt and his fellow liberals suffer from what one might call "reverse Trent Lott syndrome". Remember when Lott decided to oppose Clinton's war in Kosovo because he wanted to "give peace a chance"? That was a ridiculous thing for a Republican to say. If a Republican president decided we had to use force to stop ethnic-cleansing, would Lott have said something so idiotic? Of course not.

So now, with things in the Middle East as they are, even the very smartest liberals have lost touch with their core ideals. Which is not to say that Matt or Josh or Kevin or Ed opposed good things happening in the Middle East. But they have lost they ability to get excited about those good things because they redound to George Bush's credit.

Now imagine if John Kerry were President today and the election had gone of well in Iraq, Mubarak promised elections and Syria was on the defensive in Lebanon. Wouldn't almost every liberal pundit talk about how getting rid of that noxious Bush fellow led to a sudden revitalization of reform and pro-American sentiment in the Middle East?
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