Radical Islam's Electoral Setbacks, Israel tries isolate Hezbollah
After the Read More! Amir Taheri argues that Islamist parties, not Pervez Musharraf, was the real loser in the Pakistani elections. Barak tells Assad that Israel is going after Hezbollah and warns him to stay clear. And it turns out the Lebanese public is less enthusiastic about war than Hassan Nasrallah. Plus, Sadr extends his "truce" with the USA. Finally, Assad's cousin, Rami Makhluf is the object of US financial sanctions.
Taheri writes, "The latest analysis of the results shows that the parties linked, or at least sympathetic, to the Taliban and al Qaeda saw their share of the votes slashed to about 3% from almost 11% in the last general election a few years ago. The largest coalition of the Islamist parties, the United Assembly for Action (MMA), lost control of the Northwest Frontier Province -- the only one of Pakistan's four provinces it governed. The winner in the province is the avowedly secularist National Awami Party."
And it's not just in Pakistan either. Taheri claims that radical Islamism's electoral appeal is declining world-wide. The question is why?
Analysts in the West used that prospect to argue against the Bush Doctrine of spreading democracy in the Middle East. These analysts argued that Muslims were not ready for democracy, and that elections would only translate into victory for hard-line Islamists.
The facts tell a different story. So far, no Islamist party has managed to win a majority of the popular vote in any of the Muslim countries where reasonably clean elections are held. If anything, the Islamist share of the vote has been declining across the board.
Peter Wehner, a former Deputy Assistant to the President, writes in an article called "Debating Bush's Wars" in the International Institute for Strategic Studies that we rarely realize the "tremendous damage ... inflicted against al-Qaeda" but that more subtly, fail to appreciate the huge political effects American determination has caused. Wehner argues that prior to 9/11 "American irresolution did in fact embolden jihadists" who were led to believe that they would ride to victory on the tails of some miraculous carpet. But once the US started fighting back their battlefield defeats, and -- Taheri would probably add -- their electoral setbacks now give the radical Islamists pause.
My guess is that the resistance and rejection are intertwined. Radical Islam would have done better at the polls if the West had fled before them on the battlefields of the world. Everybody loves a winner, as Hillary's political strategists must now realize, and the appearance of victory is its own motor. But once the aura of invincibility vanishes, a cause or candidate loses the greatest part of its power. In some fundamental way fighting the foe is essential to winning against it. And if that sounds too trite to be true, consider how often the reverse is believed.
As if to demonstrate the interplay between force and politics, the Jerusalem Post reports that "Defense Minister Ehud Barak relayed a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad through Turkish President Abdullah Gul that Israel is planning to step-up military activities against Hizbullah and Hamas."
According to the report, Barak encouraged Damascus to take a different stance towards Hizbullah, and emphasized that such a move would be seen as a goodwill gesture, and could open up the possibility for peace negotiations between Israel and Syria.
These are the sort of headlines calculated to increase paranoia, if that were possible, among the Hezbollah, because no matter if Assad indignantly rejects Barak's offer, the Hezbollah knowing the cunning hearts of their Syrian masters, can never be quite sure they haven't been sold out.
And of course they will be, if the price right, either in lucre or the avoidance of pain. Hezbollah would do as well for Syria and Syria would for Hezbollah. In 'militant' circles, the question is never 'whether' but 'how much'.
Meanwhile, a Lebanese newspaper say that the public is sick of war and that Hassan Nasrallah's recently bloodcurdling threats to fight Israel are sending people into depression.
The fear is worst in villages in the south where residents have barely recovered from the 34-day war that killed more than 1,200 civilians in Lebanon, a third of them children, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
"Since the last war, I have been living on anti-depressants," said Iman, 51, whose home near the coastal city of Tyre was bombed during the war. "And after the latest threats made by Nasrallah, I have been trying to get a visa to any country that will take me. There is nowhere to hide and I can't take this anymore."
In another village southeast of Tyre that was heavily bombed by Israeli warplanes during the war, Mohammed Balhass, 23, is expecting the worst.
"Nasrallah would not have spoken of open war if Hizbullah couldn't stand its ground against Israel," he told AFP. "But, unfortunately, we are the ones who always pay the price."
One of the reasons people in Anbar eventually gave up on al-Qaeda is that they insisted on acting out their fantasies on their front porches. And when they realized peace would immediately come if no terrorist attacks were made; when it became clear that all you had to do to have peace was to live in peace, then they figured war wasn't such a good idea. Maybe that day will come in Lebanon too.
The AP reports that the "powerful Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is widely expected to extend a ceasefire by his Mehdi Army militia on Friday, a decision Washington says is important to maintain security gains.
I think it's a good move on Sadr's part. That way he can claim that the declining violence in Iraq is due to him. It was better anyway than declaring war on the Coalition and dying in the next few days. Way to go Moqtada.
The Washington Post reports that "the Bush administration yesterday froze the U.S. assets and restricted the financial transactions of Syrian businessman Rami Makhluf, a powerful behind-the-scenes middle man for the Syrian government, in a move targeting the political and economic inner sanctum in Damascus."
"Once you hit Rami Makhluf, you're at war with Syria," said Joshua M. Landis, a former Fulbright scholar in Syria who teaches at the University of Oklahoma. "When you sanction Rami Makhluf, you're also sanctioning all the people who deal with him, including the wealthiest and most powerful people in the country."
Maybe that's the point of the sanction to start with: not just to send a signal but to hurt the Syrian elite where it lives.