Washington Babylon — May 21, 2008, 2:26 pm

Lebanon: Another Bush foreign policy defeat

Augustus Richard Norton, a professor at Boston University and expert on the Middle East, sends this note about the latest developments from Lebanon:

Lebanese politicians reached agreement last night in Doha to break the stalemate that has kept Lebanon in crisis since December 2006. The agreement provides for the election of a president of the republic (the chair has been empty since last November) as well as a new government in which Hezbollah, which led last week’s show of force, gained its objective of a “blocking third” of cabinet votes (in effect, restoring the normal consensus rule to the Lebanese government). Lebanon will thus return to the logic of “no victor, no vanquished,” epitomized by a government that rules by consensus.

The new formula gives the pro-U.S. parliamentary majority 16 seats, with 11 to the opposition and three to the new president. In addition, agreement has been reached for an election law for parliamentary elections next spring. As one Beirut paper notes, Lebanon has turned a new page.

As the negotiations continued in Doha, Lebanese demonstrated on the airport road with signs saying “if you don’t reach agreement, don’t bother coming back.” These signs captured the public mood.

If the agreement holds, this is a significant reverse for the United States and for Saudi Arabia, which have both urged the pro-U.S. government to hang tough.

The U.S.-supported Internal Security Force–widely seen in Lebanon as Sunni-dominated gendarmerie–disappeared as soon as the Hezbollah-led opposition forces moved into West Beirut on 7 May. Only in recent days did it reappear well after the clashes ended. As for Saad al-Hariri’s private militia, it simply crumbled. As happened last summer in Gaza, U.S.-encouraged forces intended to stand up to a well-organized Islamist group were completely ineffectual.

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