[ . . . ] THEN THERE is the unfolding drama in Lebanon. It is hard to think of a greater slap on the face than the one Hizbullah and Syria delivered to Obama last Wednesday. Hizbullah brought down Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government with the open and active support of Syria while Obama was meeting with Hariri in the Oval Office.
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The Tunisian revolution provides several lessons for U.S. policymakers. First, by reminding us of the inherent frailty of alliances with dictatorships, Tunisia demonstrates the strategic imperative of a strong Israel. As the only stable democracy in the region, Israel is the U.S.’s only reliable ally in the Middle East. A strong, secure Israel is the only permanent guarantor of U.S. strategic interests in the Middle East.
Second, the U.S. should proceed with great caution as it considers its ties with the Arab world. All bets must be hedged. This means that the U.S. must maintain close ties with as many regimes as possible so that none are viewed as irreplaceable.
Saudi Arabia has to be balanced with Iraq, and support for a new regime in Iran. Support for Egypt needs to be balanced with close relations with South Sudan, and other North African states.
The current tragedy in Lebanon
is a blow to U.S. prestige because
Washington broke its promise to stand by
the March 14 movement against Hizbullah
As for engendering democratic alternatives, the U.S. must ensure that it does not make any promises it has no intention of keeping. The current tragedy in Lebanon is a blow to U.S. prestige because Washington broke its promise to stand by the March 14 movement against Hizbullah.
At the same time, the U.S. should fund and publicly support liberal democratic movements when those emerge. It should also fund less liberal democratic movements when they emerge. So too, given the strength of Islamist media, the U.S. should make judicious use of its Arabic-language media outlets to sell its own message of liberal democracy to the Arab world.
Tunisia’s revolution is an extraordinary event. And like other extraordinary events, its repercussions are being felt far beyond its borders. Unfortunately, the behavior of the Obama administration signals that it is unwilling to acknowledge the importance of what is happening.
If the Obama administration persists in ignoring the fundamental truths exposed by the popular overthrow of Tunisia’s dictator, it will not simply marginalize U.S. power in the Middle East. It will imperil U.S. interests in the Middle East.