Saturday, May 10, 2008

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 05/09/2008 | Beirut fighting once again troubles Bush Mideast plans
Beirut fighting once again troubles Bush Mideast plans
By Warren P. Strobel | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Iranian-backed Hezbollah's seizure Friday of large swaths of Muslim Beirut in a blow against the U.S.-backed Lebanese government is the latest in a string of setbacks to U.S. allies in the Middle East and the latest bad news for President Bush from a region that he set out to remake five years ago.

Less than two years ago, in the summer of 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice bet that an Israeli attack on Hezbollah in Lebanon would weaken Hezbollah and its foreign patrons and described the resulting war as "the birth pangs of a new Middle East."

Three years ago, when Beirut erupted in pro-democracy demonstrations that were dubbed the "Cedar Revolution," Bush and Rice made it a showcase in their drive for Arab democracy.

Instead, analysts said, Hezbollah's new power play may have permanently altered Lebanon's precarious power balance and weakened the Washington-supported government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

"In a test of strength against the government, Hezbollah came out swiftly on top,"

said Jon Alterman, the director of the Middle East program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It is a balance of power that is much less favorable to the allies of the United States."

A senior State Department official acknowledged that, "Hezbollah has made advances in terms of control of territory on the ground."...

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