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Rashid Khalidi: "Hezbollah Gaining Strength" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE)

Subject:        Rashid Khalidi: "Hezbollah Gaining Strength" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE)
Date:   Mon, 21 Aug 2006 18:33:20 +0300
From:   John Whitbeck
TO: Distinguished Recipients
FM: John Whitbeck

Transmitted below is a perceptive article by Columbia University
professor Rashid Khalidi, published in the CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

*Hezbollah gaining strength where democracy once dwelt*

By Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at the Middle East
Institute at Columbia University

Chicago Tribune, August 13, 2006

President Bush recently said that it was necessary to get to "the root
of the problem" in Lebanon. By this, Bush certainly did not mean
Israel's 18-year occupation of south Lebanon that created Hezbollah
following the 1982 invasion. Nor did he mean Israel's 39-year-plus
occupation in Palestine. For him, the problem is Hezbollah's nature as a
"terrorist organization," which is how it is framed in most of the
American media.

It is worth considering how Hezbollah is now regarded elsewhere. As
recently as a month ago in democratic Lebanon, (touted by the Bush
administration as a great achievement of its Middle East policy), there
were sharp differences over Hezbollah, its armed presence in south
Lebanon and its links with Syria and Iran. The Lebanese government and
much of the country's political establishment were closely aligned with
the United States and France in opposing Hezbollah. Few observers,
however, paid attention to the fact that all the elected representatives
of the largest community in Lebanon, the Shiites, were not part of this
happy consensus.

Now, a month after Israel unleashed its air force against Lebanon,
killing more than 700 civilians, there is near-unanimity among Lebanese
in supporting Hezbollah's resistance to the grinding advance of Israeli
troops in the south, the third such invasion in 28 years. Hezbollah is
once again seen by almost all Lebanese as a resistance movement, as it
was after it succeeded in 2000 in forcing Israel to evacuate occupied
territory (a feat that the Lebanese and Syrian governments, and the
Palestinians, all failed to achieve).

Americans, who have been fortunate never to live under foreign
occupation, may not understand that invasion and occupation inevitably
breed resistance.

Hezbollah's rocket attacks on Israel, initially condemned by some
Lebanese, are now seen as a justified response to Israel's offensive
against Lebanon. For the Lebanese, the fact that most of their
casualties were civilians, a third of them children, and that the
bombing has created a million refugees, severely damaged the environment
and systematically destroyed the country's infrastructure--from bridges
and power plants to airports, milk factories and
lighthouses--substantiates this belief.

The idea that this or any other Lebanese government will act against
Hezbollah after the fighting ends is therefore perfect fantasy. The
"successes" of American and French diplomacy over the last year in
driving a wedge between Lebanese and isolating Hezbollah, a futile
exercise in any case, have gone up in the smoke of Israeli air raids on
every part of Lebanon.

In their place is bitter anger at the United States, which has once more
shown that neither Lebanese democracy nor Arab civilian casualties, nor
anything else in the Arab world, counts in American calculations when
Israel's perceived interests (and President Bush's "war on terror") are
at stake.

This is also the impression left in the Arab world by the reduction of a
third Arab country--Iraq, Palestine and now Lebanon--to smoldering ruins
as part of what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the
"birth-pangs of a new Middle East." No one there any longer takes
seriously the idea that U.S. policy has anything to do with democracy.
The crushing of an elected Palestinian government (many of its leaders
kidnapped by Israel) and the humiliation of an elected Lebanese
government at the hands of Israel and the United States have dissolved
the last illusions in the region as to this flimsy pretext for American

Beyond further angering Arabs and others in the Middle East, U.S.
support for Israel's offensive in Lebanon has also gravely embarrassed
undemocratic pro-American Arab regimes. Some were so unwise as to
criticize Hezbollah publicly in the first days of this conflict, and
have been forced to eat large amounts of crow since then, as their
publics have massively supported Hezbollah. All of these regimes have
now been obliged to line up behind the diplomatic position of a Lebanese
government that is closely coordinating its stand with that of Hezbollah.

So a month of unlimited American support for Israel's war in Lebanon has
been disastrous even in terms of the Bush administration's questionable
Middle East objectives. It has shattered a Lebanese coalition the U.S.
and France painstakingly built up over more than a year, it has exposed
the United States as the enemy of democracy in the region (all of the
bleating in Washington to the contrary notwithstanding), it has weakened
undemocratic Arab clients of the U.S., and it has shown that nothing in
the Middle East counts for the Bush administration as much as the
self-fulfilling ideological obsession with "terror" that it shares with

These policies do not serve the true interests of the United States, or
for that matter those of Israel. American involvement, direct or
indirect, in new Middle Eastern wars, which some zealots in Washington
are calling for, would mean even more Iraqs. The Israeli government and
the Bush administration both suffer from the foolish illusion (one easy
to understand among warmongers in Washington who have never been near a
battlefield) that war is the solution to problems in the Middle East.
The idea that Arabs understand only force, which underlies American and
Israeli policies, is racist and profoundly mistaken. As long as such
dangerous illusions reign, innocents will continue to die in Lebanon,
Palestine, Iraq and Israel.

Copyright 2006 Chicago Tribune
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