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Lebanon on the Brink

9:00 AM, Jan 21, 2011 • By HILLEL FRADKIN and LEWIS LIBBY
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The finely tuned ears in the region have not failed to catch the sounds of Washington edging toward the door. Just last week, before sealed indictments were filed, Secretary Clinton, echoed by the State Department spokesman, already pronounced our readiness to treat charges as limited to “individuals,” not “the groups to which they belong.” This must strike oddly Middle Easterners, who have long heard us call Hezbollah a “terrorist organization” and repeatedly proclaim that the U.S. is determined to end impunity for political murder in Lebanon.

Ironically, even as the Saad Hariri government fell, Secretary Clinton lectured the region on the virtues of political courage and the strength of American will. In Doha, she urged Arab leaders “to put away plans that are timid and gradual” and make bold, democratic reforms. “This is a test of leadership for all of us,” said Clinton. “I am here to pledge my country’s support for those who step up to solve the problems that we and you face.” Did some in the chamber think, “Lebanon?”

The Hezbollah leader, in his first public comments since toppling the government, mocked America’s empty promises of support. He publicly warned Hariri that the West had promptly turned on its former ally, the recently toppled leader of Tunisia, by denying him sanctuary.

In days to come, the region will recall Hariri’s fate, much as the assassins intended. If your friends can neither protect you nor deter attacks to come, then you best curb your course or face your fate. There is nothing exotic in this wisdom of Beirut; it sounds the same coming from the streets of old Chicago.

The West stumbles forward along the precipice of a slow motion defeat. Lebanon’s complexities focus us too often on the tactical, but it is the strategic shift to which the region responds. It has been years, not days in the making. Democratic forces in Lebanon have been the best, most peaceful, long-term hope for containing the terrorists of Hezbollah and blunting the forward edge of Iranian power. Tremors will be felt in the Arab-Israeli dispute and in countering radicalization across the region. Prospects for peace grow dimmer.

The future of a region that we still call vital lies in the shadows of such troubled places as Lebanon. We may have a limited taste for bearing burdens in such places; but then we should not be surprised at the course events take or the price we pay in the end.

Hillel Fradkin is director of the Center on Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World at the Hudson Institute. Lewis Libby is senior vice president of the Hudson Institute.

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