Even though many Lebanese people and several Arab governments criticized Hezbollah for instigating the crisis with Israel, the Israeli air attacks -- including the killing of many civilians -- have now quieted the criticism, and in fact have worsened the already poor standing of the United States in the Arab world.
Given the last two weeks in the Middle East — client entities like Hizbollah provoking a conflict, the Saudis and Egyptians speaking without power from the sidelines, Western uncertainty about the role of Syria and Iran — is it possible to draw a new map of the Middle East?
This is a dangerous moment for the Middle East, because the conflicts in Gaza and Lebanon could easily escalate to involve the broader region. Any strategy to address the present crisis must deal with the realities of the Middle East as they are now, not try to leapfrog over them by seeking to impose a grand new vision. Such a vision would be bound to fail as it did in the case of Iraq.
Over the last few decades most, if not all, Arab-Israeli crises have occurred when the United States has been either unable or unwilling to play an aggressive role as a mediator; and most have only abated after the United States has finally thrown itself into the middle of them.
The regime of Bashar al-Asad is under pressure from Syrian citizens who want a different political system and from the United States, which wants Syria to change its regional policy. As a result, it is impossible to separate completely a domestic process of political reform from the external pressures.
The lack of democratic breakthroughs worthy of mention in Arab countries has spurred debate about barriers to change. The debate would be incomplete, however, without a discussion of the means by which authoritarian Arab regimes control their societies, particularly the critical roles performed by security services.
Political reform in Syria is influenced not only by domestic forces but also by regional developments and the policies of Western countries, particularly the United States. At present, those policies are not helping the cause of political reform.
The assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri has forced the Lebanese to confront one another on the question of Syria’s role in the Lebanese political system and has pitted pro-Syria politicians with vested interests in the status quo against an increasingly vocal opposition movement backed by popular demonstrations.
US representatives have given the Iranian government little reason to give up its weapons program. At the same time, administration rhetoric seems to be boxing the US into a position where Washington may feel that it has no choice but to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites itself, or allow Israel to do so. This could easily lead to a spiral or retaliation leading eventually to full-scale conflict.
Current US strategy in the "war on terrorism" is a kind of zombie. It has been killed, slowly and painfully, by the Iraqi Sunni Arab insurgency of recent months. Its rotting corpse still walks around as if alive but as time goes by more and more bits are going to fall off. The question for uncommitted European governments is whether they should join this spectacle.