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’.