Friday, July 14, 2006

Prospects for Democracy, U.S. Influence, Peace All Seen at Risk

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Washington --- Israel's two-front conflict with Hezbollah warriors in Lebanon and Hamas Palestinians in the Gaza Strip spotlight how strong a role Syria and Iran play as guerrilla patrons and how weak Lebanon's moderate Western-backed government really is. And, perhaps most ominously, the renewed fighting reveals how fragile democracy is in the Middle East.

President Bush said as much Thursday when speaking about the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, elected 13 months ago amid celebrations on the streets of Beirut.

"My biggest concern is whether or not actions taken will weaken the Siniora government," Bush told reporters traveling with him in Germany. "Democracy in Lebanon is an important part of laying a foundation for peace in that region."

Joshua Landis, assistant professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Oklahoma, calls the violence a blow to U.S. plans for the region.

"America was counting on Lebanon as a cornerstone for its forward policy in the Middle East --- democracy and winning allies to the U.S. side."