Paul Greenberg

There is a tide in the affairs of men, and the unexpected outcome of this election isn't just good news in itself, but an indication that things can change -- sometimes even for the better, sometimes even in the Middle East. Even a great cedar begins as a vulnerable little sapling thrashed about by the wind and rain. But if it can remain supple, and bend with the storms, it may yet grow strong, towering, sheltering. There is a momentum to democracy, just as there is to dictatorship, and the election returns from Lebanon indicate that the pendulum is swinging back toward a free and stable Lebanon free of foreign influences of the worst sort.

There is no shortage of elections in the Middle East; it is free and fair ones that are so rare there, which makes them all the more valuable. Even dictators respect the results of an honest election, for they lend a legitimacy to the victors that force never can. Which is why tyrants try to avoid them. Or if they can't, to manipulate them. Or if they can't do that, minimize their significance. They'll try to shrug off the results of this one, too.

But it won't be easy. This vote was a clear defeat for Iran's mullahs and its fiery president and demagogue-in-chief, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That regime's support for Hezbollah seems to have set off a reaction among Lebanon's voters. Chastened by the election's results, Hezbollah (literally, the Party of God, which strikes us as a rather insolent claim) may now be much less interested in starting still another disastrous war with Israel. This time the side with the most inflammatory slogans lost an election in the Arab world -- an occasion rare enough to be worth savoring. It may be a small sign, but it is a sign.

There's still many a slip 'twixt electing a pro-Western, pro-democracy, pro-peace slate in a country like Lebanon and forming an actual government. Lest we forget, the politics of Lebanon are at least as byzantine as your average Southern primary. Hezbollah retains enough clout to be part of that country's next government, but it may no longer be able to call the shots, literally. That's dramatic progress for the Middle East, where the news tends to run the gamut from bad to completely disastrous.

How did this happen? What explains these election results, which were as surprising as they are welcome? It's tempting to think Western help played some part in this happy outcome, if ever so discreetly. But the news is so good it's hard to believe the CIA had anything to do with it. Lebanon's own voters and its democratic leaders deserve the credit. And so do the repressive, not to say murderous, tactics of the Syrians and Iranians--tactics that may have finally set off an electoral reaction. A reaction that is most welcome. Indeed, it was beautiful to behold, like the cedars of Lebanon.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.