The subtlety of the administration's strategy is its attempt to exploit an Arab split against the Iranian-allied, Hezbollah-enabler Syria. The Saudis and other key Arab states have denounced Hezbollah's initial cross-border attack, and a Saudi cleric has issued an anti-Hezbollah fatwa. The idea is to have the Arabs threaten to isolate Syria, and thus turn it away from its alliance with a Shiite Iran distrusted and feared by the other Sunni-majority Arab states. Whether this play can work is open to doubt, but its status as complex international diplomacy is not: It involves a classic diplomatic tactic of divide and conquer in the service of enforcing a United Nations resolution (1559, calling for the disarming of Hezbollah) and creating a meaningful international force in Southern Lebanon.
All sides can pick at this strategy. Liberals can rue the damage to Lebanon and doubt that the Arab coalition against Syria will hold in light of it. Neoconservatives can denounce the folly of trying to turn a recalcitrant Syria and agitate for the straightforward bombing of Iran instead. The current please-no-one Bush approach is a neorealist synthesis that takes the ambition of changing the Middle East of the neocons and combines it with the appreciation for diplomacy and of small steps toward larger goals of the realists. It is a strategy that makes sense in theory, but as the Iraq War has demonstrated during the past four years, the Middle East is a graveyard for finely wrought theories.
Whether this theory has an unhappy end or gives the Bush administration a major Middle Eastern diplomatic triumph will be known soon enough. But anyone who suggests that the administration is doing nothing is simply blinded by anachronisms.
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