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Lebanese, other Arab papers focus on the U.S.

COMMENTARY | July 24, 2006

Lebanon Daily Star: 'We now have two Arab countries that Bush has trumpeted as models and vanguards of America's policy of promoting freedom and democratic change: Iraq and Lebanon. Neither is a very comforting sight today.'

By John Burke

PARISBetween bombs in Beirut and tirades in Tehran, swears in St. Petersburg added a little levity to world news over the past weeks. But apart from the obvious calls to “get Syria, to get Hezbollah to stop doing their”… ahem… misdeeds, the Middle Eastern press debated what the role of the United States was in the region’s latest conflict.

Lebanese papers were particularly sensitive to the situation, devastated that their delicate democracy, proclaimed to be so important to overall freedom in the Middle East just last year, was begin ignored by the very proclaimers.

Columnists from the rest of the region didn’t hesitate to continue blaming the long-standing American-Israeli alliance as the reason for their woes, seeing the attacks as another act of Uncle Sam’s imperialism.

Whatever their view, disappointment reigned over editorials as American inaction and action were both considered as simply fueling one more drawn-out battle in the world’s most volatile zone: 

A column in Lebanon’s Daily Star concludes that “Bush’s profanity shows he has no clue about Arabs,” and that he will continue to incite anger among various factions unless he engages them in talks:

“I have carefully read and considered U.S. President George W. Bush's words to British Prime Minister Tony Blair that were inadvertently caught on an open microphone during the G-8 Summit in Russia last weekend: ‘See, the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hizbullah to stop doing this shit and it's over’ - and I respectfully conclude that Bush doesn't know shit about shit.

“Bush's comment is worth analyzing because it is very telling of many things, all of them problematic for the United States and the Middle East region. In that single phrase of his, the American president compressed into two dozen words the cumulative negative consequences of Washington's unusual capacity to forge a self-defeating and counter-productive Middle East policy on the basis of a faulty analysis, in turn built on misreading local realities and not speaking to the main actors.

“Almost every part of Bush's statement is either wrong or a consequence of bad foreign policy decisions by the U.S. and Israel, who operate as a single entity for all practical purposes on the issue at hand…

“We now have two Arab countries that Bush has trumpeted as models and vanguards of America's policy of promoting freedom and democratic change: Iraq and Lebanon. Neither is a very comforting sight today. Not many Arabs will sign up for Bush's democracy and freedom plan if this is what they will expect to happen to their countries.

“The real irony in the global political defecation business that Bush should ponder is that American planes, bombs and tanks were directly (in Iraq) or indirectly (through Israel in Lebanon) responsible for bringing Iraq and Lebanon to their current state of turmoil, destruction and pain.

“The real irony in Bush's statement is that he wants others to pressure Syria to pressure Hizbullah to change its policies - at a moment when the central pillar of Washington's Middle East policies appears to be a refusal to speak to some of the most important political groups in the region…

“Bush ignores at his own peril the fact that Islamist political sentiments and resistance movements are the fastest growing sector of national life in the Middle East. For the US to be squarely opposed to and unable to speak with this large part of the public spectrum is foolish enough; it is even more reflective of amateur American foreign policy-making that Washington's policies in the region are an important contributor to the expansion of such Islamist sentiments and organizations.”

Another editorial in Lebanon’s Daily Star calls for America to choose sides not between warring parties “but between right and wrong:”

“No one is calling for a return of Syrian occupation, even though one could argue that Syria's presence served as a deterrent to this kind of Israeli onslaught. No one is asking whether the U.S. government had the Syrians withdraw so that the Israelis could step in and replace them. We are holding out hope that the Americans will be faithful to the values that they have championed and protect us from further harm.

“The Americans now need to choose sides, not between warring parties, but between right and wrong. They must now demonstrate their commitment to freedom, human rights and international law and speak out loudly and firmly against the killing of civilians, the destruction of infrastructure and the brutal collective punishment that all of us are now enduring.”

Comparing the present situation to that in Sarajevo that preceded World War I, the Daily Star ponders the absence of U.S. diplomacy, diplomacy obligatory for diffusing the extremely loaded Middle Eastern situation:

“A week ago, the United States was struggling with two wars: the one it was fighting in Iraq and the one it hoped to avoid against Iran by maintaining a solid coalition to stop its nuclear program. Then came Hizbullah's kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and the ferocious Israeli response. As strategists in Tehran must have anticipated, this third war complicated America's strategy on the other two fronts.

“Given the American stakes in this crisis, the Bush administration's passivity is inexplicable. Hizbullah and Israel have been tossing lighted matches back and forth in a region soaked with gasoline, and the world is waiting for robust American diplomacy. Instead, we see a tongue-tied superpower, led by a president who grumbles into an open mike in St. Petersburg that Kofi Annan should get on the phone to Syria and make it all go away, or maybe Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice should get on a plane to the Middle East.

“Bush's slow-motion diplomacy is partly an effort to allow Israel time to destroy as much of Hizbullah's arsenal of missiles as it can. But what comes next?

“If the Israeli campaign against Hizbullah stretches to weeks and even months, how long will it be before the United States faces a Shiite insurgency in Iraq, which would almost certainly spell a decisive American defeat there? And, ominously, CIA and FBI officials are said to be hearing increased "chatter" about new terrorist attacks in America.

“Are we living through a Sarajevo moment, like the concatenation of events that marched Europe toward World War I? Impossible to know. But given the risks for the US and its allies, this ought to be a week when Americans are aggressive, active diplomats, rather than bystanders. If America means to be a world leader, it cannot appear to be a prisoner of events.”

At the beginning of the attacks by Israel, the Lebanese paper An-nahar asked “Can We Count on America,” wondering where America’s support for one of its beacons of Middle Eastern democracy had gone and if it had left for good:

“A worrisome deficiency in the level of "American protection" for "Political Lebanon" became evident over the past 24 hours, after the runways of Beirut International Airport were bombed and Israel announced it has imposed a sea and air embargo over all of Lebanon. This raises many questions that should greatly concern us, because of the almost complete absence of restraint of these attacks.

“This is now a pressing question: Is this "lack of American protection" temporary, or is it for the long term? The answer is unclear, since President Bush revealed a clear "sensitivity" on the subject of protection, when he declared that ongoing Israeli military operations "should not weaken the government of Fuad Siniora" (Lebanon's pro-Western prime minister)…

“With all of the suspicion about whether the Americans have looked the other way, permitting Israel to expand this confrontation into southern Lebanon and even into Lebanese politics, it is logical to assume that Washington is trying to limit the scope of Israeli operations. But whatever direction events take, logical assumptions are not always correct, like the surprising Israeli pressure on the airport and through the embargo. Washington was expected to prevent such an escalation, based on the theory that it was protecting Lebanese politics, just as it has for the past two years.

“It is beyond doubt that the political and security failure in Iraq (which we have called "the American fiasco") has resulted in "shock" changes to American policy. American commentators are calling it a return to a new "realism" in Bush's second term. It is true, policy changes in major countries often take time before becoming tangible, but countries like Lebanon, that have witnessed dramatic changes under the influence of the "Bush Revolution" must ask some basic questions. For example, do these changes show a weakening or the end of America's commitment to Lebanon's political and economic security?

“It is difficult to accept this opinion, because even if there has been a temporary removal of U.S. protection leading to a certain amount of Israeli military "terror," giving up on Lebanon is not in America's interests. If the Israelis have convinced Washington that putting pressure on Hezbollah requires them to have somewhat of a military free hand, the Americans know Lebanon's limits. Any economic collapse will result in an internal security collapse, which would encourage greater militia violence. This would lead to the fracturing of a country that has been "revived" after having been promoted by and benefiting from Bush policy in the region over the last two years.”

Bush Sings While Beirut Burns,” or so says one columnist for Arab News, who not only blames Bush for just about everything, but also the American press for siding with the Zionists and ignoring both sides of the story:

“Meanwhile, Israel’s biggest cheerleader George Bush, between letting out a few 4-word expletives at the G-8 Summit and attempting to manipulate some neck therapy on the German chancellor, stated that Israel had two of their soldiers captured and they were justified in their response.

“And while the rest of the civilized world calls for restraint and introduction of a UN peacekeeping force in view of the rise of human casualties, this person in charge of a democratic nation that has lost most of its credibility in the region and around the world, vetoes such a move, and continues to shoot off his mouth by first trying to involve Syria and then Iran in this round of the conflict…

“The faces and pictures of those dismembered and killed by Israeli bombs may not appear in Western media, but the people across the Middle East cannot forget the images of those young Lebanese bodies strewn and mutilated by Israeli bombs and missiles, courtesy of George Bush…

“Nor could we easily forget the smiling faces of Israeli children signing off on bombs and missiles just before they were being loaded on Israeli aircraft to deliver their message of death to Lebanese children. Bet you these images never made to any of the pages in US tabloids.

“The US media continues to promote their version of the crimes against the Lebanese civilians as an Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, but the truth is far from that…

“All the while their US cheerleader applauds, and passes misleading information on to his trusting constituents.

“So pathetic and hypocritical is US foreign policy in the Middle East, it is no wonder that George Bush has all but promoted further terrorism by his one-sided stance, all in favor of the Rottweiler of the region, Israel. And that in itself is tragic as the Americans were once looked on as friends and honest brokers of democracy and justice by the people of the region.

“What is happening in Lebanon today is far from that. Justice and democracy have taken a back seat to the Zionist influence on US politics, and even the Lebanese will not be spared.”

A column in the Middle East Times claims that “The Real Aim” for the Israelis in Lebanon is regime change, which puts the United States in a serious dilemma:

“The American policy is full of contradictions. President Bush wants "regime change" in the Middle East, but the present Lebanese regime has only recently been set up by under American pressure.

“In the meantime, Bush has succeeded only in breaking up Iraq and causing a civil war (as foretold here). He may get the same in Lebanon, if he does not stop the Israeli army in time.

“Moreover, a devastating blow against Hizbullah may arouse fury not only in Iran, but also among the Shia in Iraq, on whose support all of Bush's plans for a pro-American regime are built. “

This editorial from Arab View remarks that “Anti-American Sentiments (are) Not Confined to One Particular Region”, blames U.S.-Israeli relations as the reason for the suffering in the Middle East and, from its understanding of American democracy, puts the bulk of responsibility in the hands of the American public: 

“American citizens should do some soul-searching to find out why they are being hated by most of the people in the world. The anti-American feeling is not a sentiment confined to the Muslim or Arab regions arising out of the blatantly unfair US policies that threaten the very existence of the people in Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq. The anger against the US disregard for and violations of human rights has, obviously, been spreading to Europe as well…

“There was a time when people in other parts of the world looked to the United States as the land of liberty, peace and opportunities.

“But things began to change with the US becoming the world’s only superpower. The US high-handedness and intolerance became increasingly unbearable after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. President Bush’s unfair policies designed to please only the Zionists and extremist Christians contributed to a rise in American unpopularity making the world outside more and more insecure for the US leaders as well as ordinary Americans…

“The US dismissal of the Israeli incursions in Gaza as a simple maneuver in self-defense has encouraged Israel to convert the region into a virtual prison for the millions of Palestinian civilians.

“While the US has been callous to the huge humanitarian catastrophe being unveiled in Gaza due to the Israeli military action, the rest of the world has been condemning the Israeli violations. Carried away by the Israeli lobbying, the US has labeled Palestinian people’s struggle for liberation as terrorism.

“The US, unfortunately, believes in double standard. It says nobody has the right to criticize Israel’s missile and nuclear projects. In the same breath US says North Korea has no right to manufacture nuclear weapons.

“The US Congress believes it has the power to interfere in the internal affairs of any country in the world…

“The US administration’s violations of rights are obviously not confined to the “Palestinians and other less powerful countries. According to recent newspaper reports, the US administration has been violating the basic rights of its own citizens over the past several years. The supporters of Bush in the Congress are demanding legal action against the New York Times because it exposed the government’s spying on people’s private accounts. Does it mean that sounding an alarm against the loss of people’s basic rights is a crime?

“The US double standard in its policies aims at serving various political and economic groups in the country. The real power in the country is, apparently, not with the president who is just a tool in the hands of mighty economic powers. The people have the responsibility to make the administration and the Congress behave with accountability. It is the people who should find out the reason why the world hates the US. It should be done without any fear of the Zionist lobbyists and Christian fundamentalists. Then only the American citizens will be able to move freely and safely anywhere in the world.”

Unlike its Arab View counterpart, Egypt’s Al Ahram blames the US administration, not the public, as responsible for the region’s problems. But as it assures its readers that Bush and Co. are implicated in Israel’s decision to attack so that it can use Lebanon to “’Aid and Abet’ U.S. Hegemony”, it also warns of more attacks on American soil:

“While most countries have appealed for a truce and have accused Israel of a disproportionate use of force after two Israeli soldiers were abducted by Hezbollah, Bush and his like-minded envoy to the U.N., John Bolton, have issued statement leave little doubt that the U.S. is an accomplice in the attack. Bolton's action on Friday, blocking a Security Council resolution against the attack on Lebanon, shows that he and Bush could care less about Lebanon's unfolding tragedy, a nation which has barely emerged from an Israeli-instigated civil war and occupation…

“If Bush had seen with his eyes how eighteen civilians, including nine children, were burned alive in a helicopter gunship attack, would he have repeated his refrain that Israel has the “right to defend itself?” If so, then God should have mercy on us all.

“In St. Petersburg, Condoleezza Rice also rejected calls for a truce, saying that a failure to address the underlying causes of the conflict might make things worse.

‘We want a sustainable cessation of violence.’

“Yes, she is quite right that there is no solution other than addressing the root cause of the region's problems. But what is the root cause of the problem?

“Rice cunningly avoids mentioning the actual causes; the occupation and eviction of the region's original residents, and the fact that this is what must be addressed in order to reach any solution. If she happens to know any other path to achieving a permanent peace, she should inform the world…

“Such positions held by the United States are quite unhelpful, especially when the Americans are in such dire need of regional cooperation to halt terrorist attacks and sectarian strife in Iraq. Moreover, its present policy will disappoint Iraq's officials.

“The U.S. claims that it seeks to promote democracy in the region, but its naked support for Israel while Tel Aviv commits such outrages will only backfire and fan the flames of extremism and violence…

“So, the situation is worse than last year, especially after Bush dashed all hope of a united stance on the present situation from emerging at this week's G-8 event…

“By continuing its thoughtless bullying and merciless policies, the United States will become ever-more hated in the eyes of the world, a situation that will be difficult to remedy and could result in harm to American citizens who have no role in such policies.”

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