The Magazine

Going Backwards in Beirut

Hezbollah still holds power despite losing the election.

Nov 30, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 11 • By PETER BERKOWITZ
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In these difficult circumstances, the United States can take several steps to advance America's interests in Lebanon, which, as it happens, would also advance the interests of liberty and democracy. First, the Obama administration can stop encouraging the widespread view, rooted in decades of pan-Arab rhetoric, that the key to Middle East peace is solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians should be assiduously pursued, but to suppose that the absence of a final agreement between them is what stands in the way of security and stability in the Middle East is to play into the hands of Arab governments that cynically use the conflict to shift their people's attention from their own countries' internal failings and destabilizing ambitions.

Second, the United States can expand programs to support civil society in Lebanon, particularly K-12 education, and also economic development, particularly in the south, since one way to loosen Hezbollah's grip is to enable the Lebanese government to better provide the social services and financial support that, thanks to Iranian financing, Hezbollah now delivers. Third, the administration can redouble efforts to degrade Iran's ability to deliver cash and transfer funds electronically to Hezbollah. Fourth, it can place at the heart of engagement with Syria an insistence on cutting off the enormous flow of ammunition, machine guns, bombs, rockets, and missiles that Iran pumps through Damascus to southern Lebanon.

When all is said and done, notwith-standing its daunting complexity and multifaceted exceptionalism, Lebanon--like the Arab Gulf monarchies and Israel too--faces one looming national security challenge that encompasses all others, and its name is the Islamic Republic of Iran. Regional stability depends most of all on crafting strategies to thwart Tehran's export of Islamic revolution. In the near term, that task depends most of all on thwarting Iran's drive to acquire nuclear weapons.

Peter Berkowitz is the Tad and Dianne Taube senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.