February 21, 2009

So what, exactly, was Hitchens doing in Beirut in the first place?

Unless my alma mater has suddenly ceased to be the stingiest institution in the Levant, I'm thinking the American University of Beirut wasn't the one that paid for Christopher Hitchens to travel to Beirut. The word on the street is that Hitchens was in Beirut as part of a junket paid for by Lebanon's March 14th coalition and its stateside lobby.

If you're looking for more dirt on Hitchens' ass-kicking or his talk at AUB, by all means check out my friend Sean's blog as well as Qifa Nabki, a blog I had not seen before but which has an amusing "take-down" of a piece that ran in Forbes. (This Hitchens thing has been a source of much hilarity for the journalists and scholars who make Beirut their home. This is at least as amusing for them as it is for me when Major Junior writes on Hizballah.)

I find this whole thing really interesting for an entirely different reason. Whatever your position is on Lebanese politics, there can surely be little disagreement that March 14th was left wrong-footed by the U.S. presidential election. For several years, March 14th cultivated an enthusiastic group of defenders in the U.S. media and think tanks: Tony Badran, Lee Smith, David Schenker, and Michael Totten -- just to name a few. The problem was, almost all of these guys only have influence in a very narrow band along the ideological spectrum. Put another way, a favorable op-ed printed in the Weekly Standard carried a lot more weight in 2004 than it does today. And if you're looking to carry the March 14th message to policy-makers in Barack Obama's Washington, none of these guys -- nice enough guys, all of them -- are really going to be effective.

For the life of me, I have no idea why they weren't doing this in 2006 and 2007, when, after the mid-term elections, anyone with half a brain could see the way the political winds were starting to change in the U.S.