Yeah, it’s the mother of all flip-flops, but serious kudos to the Bush administration for employing a somewhat defter touch in Lebanon by extending an olive branch to Hezbollah:
After years of campaigning against Hezbollah, the radical Shiite Muslim party in Lebanon, as a terrorist pariah, the Bush administration is grudgingly going along with efforts by France and the United Nations to steer the party into the Lebanese political mainstream, administration officials say.
It’s possible, of course, that those unnamed “administration officials” are nothing more than a few sane voices in the wilderness, futilely trying to convince gullible New York Times reporters that cooler heads are prevailing when, in fact, the Bush administration is still harboring serious antipathy for Hezbollah. That’s possible. But bringing Hezbollah into the political fold remains the vastly more sensible move. And, after all, it’s not like we’ve never invited militia-strapped Shi’ites to take part in fledgling democracies before. The primary argument for continued opposition to Hezbollah, however, is that Israel certainly wants to see the militias disarmed. Without wading too much into it, it’s far from clear that the Bush administration will buck those demands, though further kudos if they decide to put sensible policy ahead of relatively narrow Israeli interests.
At any rate, from where I sit Hezbollah looks to be the key to events over the next few weeks. After the group’s “pro-Syria” rallies yesterday, Syria felt confident enough today to install the old prime minister back in his spot, and as the Times reported today, “Syria seems now to have regained the initiative.” Of course, the Syrian occupation still faces massive opposition—from Lebanon’s Christians, Druze, and Sunnis—and if that opposition can extend a hand to Hezbollah, it will be difficult for Syria to keep dipping its fingers in Lebanese affairs. As noted yesterday, it’s entirely possible that Hezbollah hasn’t sided so vigorously with the opposition mainly because it thinks it will be targeted by an U.S.-dominated “liberation” of Lebanon. But Hezbollah doesn’t want a civil war—it’s not clear that they’d win or come out better for it—and would no doubt prefer to strike a deal with other Lebanese if a deal can be made. If all that is in fact the case, the White House’s newfound terrorist-appeasement policies could end up doing a lot of good.