NYT: Roger Cohen on Lebanon

NYT: U.S. Illusions in Lebanon

Some select quotes from Roger Cohen’s latest piece…

Once upon a time a U.S. secretary of state spoke of the “birth pangs of a new Middle East.” That’s now the most laughed-at phrase in gravity-defying Lebanon, a country with two armies, a “unity” government too divided to meet, a wild real estate boom and a time bomb called the “international tribunal.”

Yes, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is definitely a ticking time bomb.

Dahiye, the Hezbollah-controlled southern Beirut suburb flattened by Israel in 2006, now bustles with construction and commerce, including state-of-the-art juice bars and risqué lingerie stores. It feels about as threatening as New York’s Canal Street.

I’d tend to agree with this. Those juice bars are damn good.

And America continues to dream, albeit in sobered fashion. Sure, the “new Middle East” has joined “axis of evil” in the diplomatic junkyard. But U.S. policy still involves an attempt to ignore reality.

Hezbollah, Iran-financed and Syrian-backed, has assumed a pivotal role in Lebanese politics. It’s a political party, a social movement and a militia for which the term “terrorist group” is entirely inadequate. It has also become the single most powerful symbol of what is known throughout the Middle East as “the resistance.”

This is an unpalatable truth. It’s also, I suspect, an enduring one. For the United States to shun any contact with Hezbollah amounts to trying to play the Middle Eastern chess game without several pieces. As recent history suggests, that’s a recipe for failure.

This is what I’ve been saying for years. And yes, if you’re playing chess in the Middle East, you can’t afford to ignore the movements of critical pieces on the board.

An indictment from the tribunal is imminent; rumors are rife that it will name Hezbollah members. That could ignite tensions across an explosive Shia-Sunni (Iran-Arab) fault line. It would also cast Hariri as Hamlet: heading a government including those accused of murdering his father.

As I’ve said before… politics in Lebanon is masterpiece theatre at its finest.

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