Analysis: Lebanon War Hurting U.S. Goals

The Associated Press
Saturday, August 5, 2006; 8:56 PM

CAIRO, Egypt -- Anger toward America is high, extremists are on the upswing and hopes for democracy in the Middle East lie dashed. The Lebanon war is creating dangerous ripples in the war on terror, the future of Iraq _ even the effort to keep nuclear weapons from dangerous hands.

"America, we hate you more than ever," Ammar Ali Hassan wrote in the independent Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, in the kind of visceral, slap-in-the-face rhetoric boiling across the region.

So far, the violence has not led allies to take steps that directly hurt America's strategic interests, such as forcing the military from its regional headquarters in Qatar or its naval base in Bahrain. And there are those who see the conflict as the bloody but necessary prelude to a real assessment by the Arab world of its choices: democracy and peace, or Islamic extremism and warfare.

Yet so far, almost every U.S. and European goal for the region _ keeping oil prices stable, promoting democracy, fighting extremists, strengthening moderates _ is suffering.

Jordan's pro-American King Abdullah gave the sharpest warning last week: Even if Hezbollah loses the military battle, its rising popularity among Arabs mean a like-minded group could pop up anywhere in the Middle East, even in his own country.

Others worry terror groups may already be directly benefiting. Al-Qaida's No. 2 leader has called on supporters to wage holy war against Israel in a clear effort to turn the hostility to its advantage.

More broadly, a wide swath of even progressive, middle-class people across the Mideast are outraged at the Israeli bombing of Lebanon and in part blame the United States. That means the long-sought U.S. effort to win Arab and Muslim "hearts and minds" _ so crucial to fighting terrorism _ has suffered a huge blow.

The signs are everywhere grim:

_ Moderates such as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have become almost irrelevant. All hope of an Israeli-Palestinian "land for peace" deal lie in tatters for the foreseeable future.

_ Iran has received a prestige boost as a key Hezbollah backer, and it has gained some relief from its own problems: U.N. efforts to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions still limp along, but have taken a back seat.

_ The effort to calm Iraq has been "complicated," because the Lebanon war has boosted the prestige of Shiite extremists who are pushing Iraq toward civil war, said a senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.

The fighting even led to tension between Washington and Iraq's Shiite moderates, when the country's prime minister was harshly criticized by Democrats for condemning only Israel, not Hezbollah.

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