Juan Cole is skeptical about the results of the Iranian election yesterday, pointing out what appear to be some rather glaring red flags. The big question that’s on a lot of people’s minds is the effect that Obama is having on this and other recent elections in the Middle East. I’ve been fairly pleased with Obama’s approach to the region so far. His speech in Cairo was well-timed and struck the right chords. But I also tend to agree with Josh that it’s wrong to give him all the credit for Hezbollah’s poor showing in the Lebanese elections earlier in the week.
That said, I disagree with this:
Let’s rewind with a little context: Contrary to all conventional wisdom (even conventional wisdom in Israel), Israel’s war on Hezbollah in 2006 was actually successful. It was not, as everyone reported, a sort of mini-Vietnam for the Israeli army. I’ve been arguing this for a while. And anticipating Hezbollah’s troubles.
Check it out: Israel routed Hezbollah out of Southern Lebanon.
I think this AP report provides better context for what happened there. While the author contends that Obama actually did weigh on the minds of Lebanese voters, concerns over Iranian influence were the main impetus behind the rejection of Hezbollah.
Lebanon is a nation used to being caught in the middle of larger battles, between Israel, the U.S., Syria and Iran. The Lebanese Civil War on the 80s splintered the country into a number of factions, many of which became specifically aligned with one or more of those outside powers. The recent trend in Lebanese politics has been to oppose whichever faction appears to be taking the hardest line within those larger conflicts and raising the temperature in Beirut. When that faction was Israel in 2006, Hezbollah gained in strength. Today, that faction appears to be Iran. And while I agree that Obama’s speech in Cairo didn’t necessarily directly inspire Lebanese voters to vote one way or another, the perception of change that Obama’s election has brought to how the U.S. will deal with the region most likely altered the perceptions of who many Lebanese see as a greater threat to their stability.
UPDATE: Gary Sick has an interesting post on what’s happening in Iran.