By William Pfaff
The laws of physics say that actions produce equivalent counteractions, and in international relations these may not be what’s expected.
American policy in the Middle East under George Bush and Condoleezza Rice has sought to polarize the region’s forces in the belief that it benefits by promoting a clear confrontation between those, as President George W. Bush said in 2001, “who are with us and those who are against us.” Washington reckons that it wins because it is, in conventional terms, the more powerful.
But suppose the situation is not a conventional one, and the application of power produces ricochet, indirect or asymmetrical reactions. Take the case of Lebanon, whose modern history is one of compromise among the communities that make up the country, which are not automatically hostile to one another but have distinct and divergent interests, and historically have also been the object of foreign intervention and attempts to set the communities against one another.
American policy has never acknowledged the fact that, to exist as a nation, the divided Lebanese have to compromise. Washington and Israel have both consistently seen Lebanon as a country that could be divided, polarized and toppled into their camp, or made to serve their interests inside the Arab camp.
Both have promoted policies intended to put the Christians in power over the Muslims, and if that proved impossible (as it has), to promote an alliance of Sunni Muslims, Druze and Christians against the Syrian- and Iranian-supported Hezbollah.
Take what has just happened. Hezbollah, the movement that has mobilized what historically has been the poorest and least powerful Lebanese community, that of the Shiite population, has seen its power and prestige vastly increased by recent Israeli actions. Israel’s bombardment and invasion of Lebanon in 2006, provoked by Hezbollah, intended by Israel to destroy or decisively weaken Hezbollah by causing the other communities to hold it responsible for the war, was a failure.
This did not happen. Hezbollah was hailed as the victor over Israel. Lebanon nonetheless has since been in a political stalemate between what usually has been described as the “American-backed” prime minister and the hostile Shiite sympathizers of Hezbollah, over nomination of a new president.
In May, the prime minister ordered dismantlement of a secret Hezbollah-controlled communications network, clearly built to improve Hezbollah’s military performance in another war. Another crisis ensued, during which Hezbollah and allied Amal armed militants displayed their military strength by occupying western Beirut, and their political sophistication by going no further. They accepted a proposal by the secretary-general of the Arab League and the emir of Qatar for talks to settle the crisis.
This Arab intervention was an unpleasant surprise to Washington, but produced agreement for a new government under a new president, the former head of the carefully neutral Lebanese army. He has been sworn into office.
(Continue reading: Truthdig)