Obama Helps Tilt Lebanon

As I noted in my post yesterday, one of the most important things Obama did with his Cairo speech was to blunt the appeal of would-be terrorists throughout the Middle East. The Islamic extremists are reportedly getting nervous.

Now we have an election result in Lebanon — the American-backed Christian coalition defeated the Iranian- and Syrian-backed bloc that includes Hezbollah — which many experts are attributing, in part, to Obama’s speech.

For Middle East watchers, it was a surprising election result, defying the conventional wisdom that Hezbollah would win easily.

Here’s a news analysis today in the New York Times (“Hopeful Signs for U.S. in Beirut Vote”):

… For the first time in a long time, being aligned with the United States did not lead to defeat in the Middle East. And since Lebanon has always been a critical testing ground, that could mark a possibly significant shift in regional dynamics …

Reporters across the Pond are drawing a similar conclusion.

In the lead commentary on worldjewishdaily.com this morning, Simon Tisdall, writing for the British Guardian, concludes:

… The calmer, unconfrontational tone adopted by Washington on Middle East issues since George Bush trudged home to Texas appears to have struck a chord in a country that was teetering on the brink of sectarian civil war one year ago …

The result is a setback for Iran, which has sought enhanced influence via Hezbollah. And it confirmed Lebanon’s 2005 rejection of Syria as the master manipulator of its affairs, confounding suggestions that Damascus was inching back.

It’s not just the speech, of course. Analysts say the Obama administration laid the groundwork for the vote, with pre-election visits to Lebanon by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden. And at the end of the day, all politics is still local. But it certainly looks like Obama’s speech may have helped tip the scales.

Will there be a ripple effect in Iran, were voters go to the polls Friday — a referendum on the anti-Israel, anti-Semitic President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Most agree that the moderate challenger, Mir Hussein Moussavi, still has an uphill battle. But Moussavi did draw 30,000 supporters to an exuberant rally last month, an extraordinary event, as the Times reported, “because the supporters were not paid, given free food, bused in or ordered by their workplaces to attend, a tactic sometimes used by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s campaign.”

As Tisdall writes:

It’s possible that watching Iranians will be encouraged in their turn to go out and vote for reformist, west-friendly candidates in Friday’s presidential election. Lebanon may be just the beginning of the ‘Obama effect’.

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4 Responses to “Obama Helps Tilt Lebanon”

  1. Gerald says:

    You know what’s also very interesting? I’m beginning to think that Buchenwald trip wasn’t as much for the Jewish community as it was for the Iranian electorate. In recent days, Madinthehead’s challengers have been specifically calling him out on his Holocaust denial, which they say has subjected Iran to ridicule. Obama made a very strong statement at Buchenwald about Holocaust denial, as he did in his Cairo speech.

    In fact, I would be happier if the Buchenwald trip was more for the Iranians, because, as an appeal to Jews, I thought it was ham-handed (no pun intended). Can Jews possibly be allayed on the troubling aspects of Obama’s Mideast policy by a visit to a concentration camp? I sure hope not. Let’s see what happens in Tehran. Cheers,

  2. neurotic democrat says:

    G, A really interesting point. The more you look at Obama’s speech –
    in particular the timing – the more it seems obvious that they had Lebanon
    and Iran in mind. I hadn’t realized that anti-holocaust denial had become a
    Populist cause in Iran. That’s pretty incredible – and encouaraging! Nd

  3. Loyal says:

    Guys,
    I think it was even broader act of ledership than that. What Obama did in Cairo was to provide a framework – a road map if you will- for Arabs to find common ground with Israel or the US without giving up any policy for negotiations. By calling out Holcaust demial and antisemitism, Obama distinguished hate speech from policy.

    Inthe past, seriousness of purpose or signals of interest had to be shown in one of two ways– a policy concession, or entering into a serious negotioation on issues of policy. Here, Obama showed that a way to show yourself as a moderate player was to acknowledge historical fact and to reject antisemitism, rather than to concede policy, or to engage in politically difficult negotiations. This represents many opportunities, including an opportunitiy to change the atmosphere in both camps.

    Let’s see what happens.

    Loyal

  4. Neurotic Dem says:

    Loyal,
    Changing the atmosphere is key.
    But I know that the administration is engaging in the Middle East — at the same time — through all the normal back-channels, and through envoys, equally important.
    -ND

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