During last summer's Israeli-Hezbollah war, Condi Rice assured us that we were witnessing the "birth pangs of a new Middle East."
Condi may be right. But that new Middle East appears to be one in which U.S. influence is visibly waning and America is on the way out. Consider the returns from November.
Bush's war was repudiated in a Democratic triumph. Our NATO allies begged off sending more troops to Afghanistan to fight the resurgent Taliban. After a leaked White House memo insulted him as ignorant or incompetent, Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stiffed Bush by refusing to join him and the king of Jordan for dinner.
Cheney was summoned to Riyadh to assure the king that the United States was not going to scuttle Iraq -- else the Saudis would have to intervene to save the Sunnis in the sectarian civil war sure to follow. The king was telling the veep: If you go, a regional and sectarian war will follow you out.
In Somalia, the Union of Islamic Courts is consolidating control. In Bahrain, the Sunni-ruled sheikdom that is home to the U.S. Gulf fleet, elections brought Shia victories in 16 of 17 legislative races they contested. Liberals and women were routed, with 17 of 18 woman candidates defeated. The lone victor ran unopposed.
King Abdullah of Jordan warns of the prospect of three simultaneous wars -- in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq. The king did not include the five-year war in Afghanistan, where opium exports have reached record highs and British troops, following Pakistan's example, are concluding local armistices with the Taliban.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah is demanding the government cede it veto power, or it will bring down the regime with the kind of street action our proteges used in Beirut, Belgrade, Kiev and Tbilisi
Anbar province has been virtually ceded to the insurgents and their al-Qaida allies. Hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled Iraq to Syria and sanctuary. The Kurds are carving out their own country, including Kirkut, in anticipation of a breakup.
U.S. forces are being moved into the capital for what appears to be a final Battle of Baghdad to prevent a takeover by the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr, our old nemesis, now said to be the most powerful and popular figure in the Shia provinces south of the capital, whence our British cousins will soon be departing.
Bush's meeting with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the Shia cleric who heads the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which runs the Badr Brigades, is not unrelated to the rise of Hakim's bitter rival, al-Sadr. There may soon be a whole lot of shakin' going on in Baghdad.
As for the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process," it is as close to comatose as it has been since before Oslo.
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