From Robert Satloff
If early returns hold up and the March 14 coalition emerges victorious in Lebanese parliamentary elections, sending a resounding defeat to Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, then one of the most important “unsung heroes” in the vote will have been… Vice President Joe Biden.
Biden’s surprise visit to Beirut on May 22 was not just gutsy. By reminding Lebanese voters that Washington will review financial assistance and other aspects of our relations with Lebanon depending on the outcome of the election, Biden played Middle East hardball. Lebanese voters—especially the critical swing Christian voters—seem to have gotten the message. They cast their ballots in droves for candidates opposed to the Hezbollah-backed alliance and, in so doing, appear to have turned the tide in the election. (Of course, those voters had ample reason to say “enough” to Hezbollah and its Aounist allies, but Biden may have pushed them over the top.)
Biden’s Lebanon foray is a salutary reminder for the Obama administration in its overall engagement with the Middle East. Elsewhere in the region, the administration seems to be directing a policy devoid of sticks (except toward Israel’s settlement policy, which is another story altogether). The President’s Cairo address to the world’s Muslims, for example, included not a single hint of “negative incentive”; while he eloquently made the case for religious freedom, democracy, women’s rights, and peaceful nuclear energy, there were no suggestions of negative repercussions for any country that rejects the President’s entreaties. After the polite applause is forgotten, the result is likely to be indifference on the part of most Arab and Muslim leaders (except, again, on settlement policy).
In Lebanon, Biden’s timely reminder to locals of what they might lose by cutting deals with radicals and extremists suggests that Chicago politics is alive and well in the Middle East. The Chicagoan in the White House should pay attention.
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