As for Israel’s disproportion, it is worth remembering that Israel is but one state — with a majority of Jews but a substantial Arab population. The Arab states number 22. The land-mass comparison is some 10,000 square miles compared to over five million square miles. That does not include Iran. The Palestinian Authority, situated now in the southwest of Israel, is a Hamas entity — it is more lethal and Islamist than Arafat’s PLO.
President Bush, in articulating the post-9/11 doctrine, stated: “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”
In some respects it is unnecessary to ask whether Lebanon “harbors” or “harbored” Hezbollah; but one definition of “harbor” is “to provide refuge” and there is no question that at the bare minimum, Lebanon allowed Hezbollah to operate in its country — gave it ministerial portfolios in the cabinet and allowed the seating of its elected officials in parliament. It may, as a fragile, burgeoning, democracy have had no choice but to do this. But the question remains: Was that fragile democracy slowly moving to eradicate Hezbollah from its midst or was Hezbollah growing stronger and stronger?
We know this about terrorists groups: As nature abhors a vacuum, terrorists thrive in them — that is where they grow and empower themselves. And at least since Israel left Lebanon six years ago, Hezbollah has not gotten weaker. Further, if Hezbollah had believed Lebanon was constricting it rather than allowing it to thrive, it would not have launched an incursion into Israel.
Nonetheless, Israel has not deliberately targeted the Lebanese government. Still, the question arises, however, that if the U.S. sides alone with Israel, would that not be a terrible message to send to the broader Middle East democracy initiative. This is the question that is the most lopsided of them all.
We have long believed that, paraphrasing former CIA director Jim Woolsey, democracy is not one vote, one time. Israel is in the Middle East and is a democracy that passes the Woolsey test and has done so for almost 60 years. Lebanon has had one election in recent times and it weaved Hezbollah into that democracy. The PA had an election and it put Hamas in charge. It seems to us that if one wants to further the Middle East democracy project — and not be cynical about it — the U.S. is doing precisely what it should: showing support for the established democracy, not the fragile and inept one that allows, tolerates or — at a minimum — turned a blind eye to Hezbollah in its midst.
At the end of the day, if Middle Eastern democracies are desired, and they are, does one not want models to point to? What model should the U.S. be pointing to to the Iranian dissidents, the Egyptian dissidents, the Saudi dissidents? Would we be right to say, “Vote and behave like they did in Lebanon, and erect a government like that (where 400,000 people live under Hezbollah control),” or “Look at Israel: It comes to the aid of others around the world, it has a minority population with full democratic rights that even serve in government, and its economy, free of oil, works.”
It may be wishful thinking to assume Arab peoples will fully want Israel as their model, indeed it is probably naive. Nonetheless, if the U.S. is to be held accountable for initiating and supporting democracies, the one that is one year old and hosts Hezbollah is not the model we should be propagating. So the next time the question is asked about the Middle East democracy project in light of Israel, Lebanon, and the Middle East — the reminder needs to be made: Israel is a democracy and it is in the Middle East. And one final point: If Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran were to be victorious in their military actions and ideology, two things would not exist: 1) Israel and 2) Lebanese democracy of any kind.William Bennett is the Washington fellow of the Claremont Institute, the author of America: The Last Best Hope, and the host of Bill Bennett’s Morning in America. Seth Leibsohn is a fellow of the Claremont Institute and the producer of Bill Bennett’s Morning in America.
Originally appeared at National Review Online