Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Lebanon Elections: Another Unexamined Good Idea from GW Bush?

In one of the year's most important elections, the Lebanese people voted Sunday and Iran's mullahs lost. The celebrations in Beirut were spontaneous, as were the sighs of relief in Washington, most Arab and European capitals and Jerusalem...The result is a victory for moderation in the Middle East and a check on Tehran's regional ambitions. The Western-friendly "March 14" coalition increased its majority by one, winning 71 of 128 seats. Hezbollah -- the terrorist "Party of God" created in 1983 and since underwritten and armed by Tehran -- and its allies lost a seat to keep 57....this election marks a step forward since the 2005 Cedar Revolution ended the Syrian occupation...a vindication of America's policy of democracy promotion...even if George W. Bush also happened to think it was a good idea....Cedar Evolution, Editors, Wall Street Journal, 6/9/2009

It's a funny thing when you base your campaign promises on negatives, on “I won't do this” and “I won't do that”, using eight years of a wartime administration as a contrast to rhetorical posturing about change. An important fact is ignored.

The United States, like any great power, has enormous inertia. As an ocean liner can't turn like a sports car, a great nation's actions evolve over long stretches of time. It's too big to be sporty. Administrations come and go. Occasionally, the bureaucrats notice the passage of distinctive personalities. More rarely, they respond. The previous administration's initiatives, it often turns out, are continuations of initiatives that were started years, or even decades, beforehand, many times by no elected official. Elections, in this context, are not about defining new worlds, but about defining who the leadership will be for often old ideas, campaigns, and promises. Administrations which ignore this, even if they work up the most fabulous storm of presumed dangers and threats, do so at the peril of historical anonymity.

This is because large powers are not driven by one person's, or one group's, ideas. In the case of the U.S., tens of thousands of people are involved in the long- and short-term planning of policy and its execution. Millions more have significant responsibilities. In a rare instance, a panic may make them all turn at the will of one loud voice. But, this rarely happens, especially with panics contrived out of whole cloth, even with the connivance of the press, as is surely the case with the current administration. Those who try to make their vision real at the expense of the national interest, national health, and national security usually find themselves more likely to be guests on Oprah than arbiters of the future.


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