Sunday, July 23, 2006

Thank you, Nasrallah.

Thomas L. Friedman, NY Times-Profiles of the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah always describe him as the most “brilliant” or “strategic” Arab player. I beg to differ. When the smoke clears, Nasrallah will be remembered as the most foolhardy Arab leader since Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser miscalculated his way into the Six-Day War.

First, Nasrallah has set back the whole fledgling Arab democracy movement. That movement, by the way, was being used by Islamist parties — like Hezbollah and Hamas — to peacefully ascend to power...Does this mean Hamas and Hezbollah will never get another vote? Of course not. Their followers will always follow. What it does mean is that if the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, or Islamists in Jordan or the Gulf, had any hopes of taking power through electoral means, they can forget about it. I don’t see their governments ever allowing elections that might bring Islamist parties to power, and I don’t see the U.S. promoting any more elections in the region, for now. The Arab democracy experiment is on hold — because if Islamist parties can’t be trusted to rule, elections can’t be trusted to be held.

All Arab dictators say, “thank you, Nasrallah.”

But let’s assume Nasrallah doesn’t care about democracy or a Palestinian state. He has to care about his own standing. His adventures have led to the devastation of his people — what is happening to Lebanon is a terrible tragedy — with relatively little damage to Israel. He launched a war on behalf of Iran that ruined his people, and the best outcome he can expect is a cease-fire that requires Hezbollah to move away from the Israeli border. Moreover, Iran gave Nasrallah missiles to deter any Western or Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program. By frivolously playing their missile card now, Hezbollah and Iran have exposed and weakened Iran’s deterrent. Really dumb.

Can America capitalize on Nasrallah’s foolishness? To me, the big strategic chess move is to try to split Syria off from Iran, and bring Damascus back into the Sunni Arab fold. That is the game-changer.

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