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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Whither U.S. Policy in the Middle East

US foreign policy needs to get real on Lebanon. Hezbollah made a reckless mistake in provoking Israel. Shame on Hezbollah for bringing this disaster upon Lebanon by embedding its “heroic” forces amid civilians. I understand Israel’s vital need to degrade Hezbollah’s rocket network. But Hezbollah’s militia, which represents 40 percent of Lebanon, the Shiites, can’t be wiped out at a price that Israel, or America’s Arab allies, can sustain — if at all.

According to experts, you can’t go into an office in the Arab world today without finding an Arab TV station featuring the daily carnage in Lebanon. It’s now the Muzak of the Arab world, and it is toxic for us and our Arab friends.
Despite Hezbollah’s bravado, Israel has hurt it and its supporters badly, in a way they will never forget. Point made. It is now time to wind down this war and pull together a deal — a cease-fire, a prisoner exchange, a resumption of the peace effort and an international force to help the Lebanese Army secure the border with Israel — before things spin out of control. Whoever goes for a knockout blow will knock themselves out instead.

Will Syria play? Syrians will tell you that their alliance with Tehran is “a marriage of convenience.” Syria is a largely secular country, with a Sunni majority. Its leadership is not comfortable with Iranian Shiite ayatollahs. The Iranians know that, which is why “they keep sending high officials here every few weeks to check on the relationship,” a diplomat said.
So uncomfortable are many Syrian Sunnis with the Iran relationship that President Bashar al-Assad has had to allow a surge of Sunni religiosity; last April, a bigger public display was made of Muhammad’s birthday than the Syrian Baath Party’s anniversary, which had never happened before.

Syrian officials stress that they formed their alliance with Iran because they felt they had no other option. One top Syrian official said the door with the U.S. was “not closed from Damascus. [But] when you have only one friend, you stay with him all the time. When you have 10 friends, you stay with each one of them.”
What do the Syrians want? They say: respect for their security interests in Lebanon and a resumption of negotiations over the Golan. Syria is also providing support for the Sunni Baathists in Iraq. The Bush Administration tried fight everyone at once and get where it needs to go. The Obama administration should not make that mistake. There will not be a peace force in south Lebanon unless it’s backed by Syria. No one will send troops.

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