Middle East May 2008

Just as Israel was attempting to draw Syria into this “circle of peace,” Syrian client Hezbollah was sinking its claws deeper into the government of Lebanon. Earlier this month, Hezbollah set off the worst round of killing in Lebanon since the end of the civil war in 1990. Now Lebanon’s weak government has given the Hezbollah-controlled opposition enough cabinet seats to veto any policy it opposes.

More of the ongoing bad news in the Middle East. Now in contrast with the continuing progress in Iraq:

Meanwhile, the “failure” in Iraq makes steady, substantive progress. In remarks yesterday to the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Petraeus noted that much of the reduction in violence in Iraq is due to “recent operations” in Basra, Mosul and Sadr City. Those operations have succeeded in no small part from the increasingly positive performance of the Iraqi army. In Baghdad’s Sadr City this week, the Iraqi troops deployed through its neighborhoods without direct support from U.S. forces. Residents living in the grip of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militias openly welcomed the Iraqi troops, as long-closed businesses reopened.

Earlier this month, a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation moved into Mosul. This isn’t just another village but a city of some two million residents. Located in northern Iraq (close to Syria), it has long been a stronghold of al Qaeda in Iraq. Virtually the entire city has been brought under control by the coalition forces, and violent incidents are down dramatically the past month.

The significance of these countervailing trends should be apparent. In Iraq since the onset of the surge, U.S. policy has been clear and consistent. By contrast, U.S. policy toward Syria has been impossible to discern. Obviously the two examples are not alike. Iraq is a U.S. military operation, while the rest of the region falls under the portfolio of State’s diplomats. But absent the will to make Syria pay a price for its destructive mischief, a U.S. policy vacuum exists. It’s no surprise the Syrians are taking advantage of it.

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