June 10, 2009
That's the sound of the sinking feeling I get when I realize that all the average university-educated American will know about the Lebanese elections he or she will learn from today's Tom Friedman column. But hey, Tom Friedman was once a universally respected reporter for the Times in Beirut before he went on to become, well, what he is now. And although he cartoonishly tries to make this election about a choice between Obama and Ahmadinejad -- which it certainly wasn't for the Sunni Islamists in the north -- he gets one thing right:
While the Lebanese deserve 95 percent of the credit for this election, 5 percent goes to two U.S. presidents. As more than one Lebanese whispered to me: Without George Bush standing up to the Syrians in 2005 — and forcing them to get out of Lebanon after the Hariri killing — this free election would not have happened. Mr. Bush helped create the space. Power matters. Mr. Obama helped stir the hope. Words also matter.
That bit at the beginning is probably correct, so I hope people remember it. I have only been hammering away at this for the past three days -- what the Lebanese did and did not do matters a lot more than what any U.S. policy-maker did or did not do. We need to remember that before we start drawing sweeping lessons from the Lebanese elections about what this means for U.S. policy in the Middle East.