How much longer can American prestige survive
the embarrassments inflicted by President Bush?
Bush's demand that Syria immediately withdraw its troops from Lebanon is a
ricochet demand. If Lebanon cannot have free elections while under foreign military
occupation, how, asks the rest of the world, does Iraq have free elections when
it is under U.S. military occupation?
Bush's latest guffaw-evoking bluster is the work of desperation. Every explanation and justification
Bush has given for his ill-fated invasion of Iraq has proven false. There were
no weapons of mass destruction. No terrorist links to Osama bin Laden. No WMD
programs. The penultimate justification – to bring democracy to Iraq –
fast faded when the Islamic Shi'ite winners announced that Islam would be the
basis for the new Iraqi state.
The assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri permitted
the Bush administration to shift attention from its Iraq failure to Syria's
presence in Lebanon, just as the U.S. invasion of Iraq shifted attention from
Bush's failure to capture bin Laden in Afghanistan.
Bush hasn't sufficient troops to occupy Iraq and none to spare with which
to invade Syria. But the lack of means does not stop Bush from issuing ultimatums.
Bush's tough talk plays well to his supernationalist supporters at home.
Syria, of course, has its own reasons for getting out of Lebanon, and Syria's
withdrawal lets Bush claim that his invasion of Iraq is spreading democracy
to Lebanon. Yesterday Iraq. Today Lebanon. Tomorrow the Middle East.
This latest justification for invading Iraq was on no one's mind when the U.S.
invaded. It is likely to be as short-lived as the other justifications. Throughout
the Lebanese civil war from the mid 1970s until 1990, Lebanon was a collection
of armed camps more numerous than those in Iraq today.
The Lebanese government invited the Syrians into Lebanon shortly after the
outbreak of the civil war. Unlike the U.S. in Iraq, the Syrians have managed
to perform the role of peacekeeper in Lebanon without leveling entire cities,
destroying Lebanon's infrastructure, and killing tens of thousands of civilians.
(This is not to say that in 1982 the Syrian government did not brutally
put down an Islamic fundamentalist uprising in the Syrian city of Hama.)
Syria has a secular Alawite
government. Now that Shi'ites are taking over in Iraq, Shi'ites in Lebanon –
and especially the Iranian-sponsored and -controlled Shi'ite Hezbollah movement
– are likely to gain additional political traction as well. Today, we are
witnessing the creation of precisely the Shi'ite geopolitical bloc – the
"Shi'ite crescent from Iran to Lebanon" – of which King Abdullah
of Jordan warned, without effect, a deluded President Bush.
Proud not to be "reality-based," the Bush administration is oblivious
to the situation on the ground. But reality in Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia
is up close and personal. The last thing wanted by the rulers of those countries,
as well as the leaders of Egypt and Pakistan, is more instability that will
play into the hands of such Islamist revolutionaries as Osama bin Laden and
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. But instability is rising, and the rulers of those countries
now fear being swept away.
Syria had absolutely nothing to gain from the assassination of former Lebanese
prime minister Hariri. In fact, the assassination was a catastrophe for the
Syrian government. It is Osama bin Laden's aim, and perhaps Iran's, to destabilize
Lebanon and Syria in order to draw the U.S. in deeper. Instability serves bin
Laden's revolutionary purposes and aids Iran by creating new problems for the
U.S. in the region.
Today, Syria has begun to withdraw from Lebanon not because of U.S. and Israeli
ultimatums but because of the threat of a new axis of Shi'ite power stretching
from Tehran westward through southern Iraq into Lebanon, and then back into
Syria itself from both Lebanon and Iraq. The secular Syrian government now sees
far more danger from Iran and Islamists supported by Tehran than it does from
the U.S. It may well be that Syria would like American protection from a rising
Islamist and Iranian geostrategic revolution. The Bush administration, however,
is too stupid to realize this.
The United States lacks the resources necessary to occupy the Middle East.
Bush has failed to occupy Baghdad, much less Iraq. Indeed, U.S. troops could
not even occupy Fallujah, a small city of 300,000. Unable to take control of
the city, the Americans destroyed it. The U.S. cannot level every city in the
The U.S. invasion of Iraq has brought to power long-suppressed Shi'ite majorities
and shown Islamists that secular rulers can be overthrown. Change has begun
that the U.S. cannot control, change that will exhaust American resources and