Hassan Fattah is the Times' man in the Middle East. He begins with the assumption that the U.S. government is actually promoting democracy in the Arab world. As some of you will know, I have long been identified with supporting political reform, liberalization and even democratization under the right conditions (in other words, not the two-aspirins-at-bedtime variety that the Bush adminstration has promoted). I won't belabor the point here except to note that it is amply demonstrated that the U.S. has been very selective in its embrace of democracy. One needs to look no further than Egypt or Palestine to see the evidence.
Fattah then proceeds to argue that any group supported by the U.S. is bound to lose, that U.S. support is a curse. No doubt, U.S. Middle East policy is seen by many people in the Arab world as a disaster, and they are clear-sighted in my view. The problem is that the U.S. has often backed candidates, think of Iyad 'Allawi or Ahmed Chelabi in Iraq for instance, who may be willing tools of U.S. policy but are simply unpopular. Their unpopularity is not simply a function of U.S. support but the views and domestic interests that they represent.
Also, Fattah reduces the recent by-elections in Lebanon to a contest between the U.S. on one side and Iran and Syria on the other. He pays no attention whatsoever to the important role that ideology plays in voter choices. Michel Aoun and his opposition allies, notably Hezbollah, offer a critique of the political system in Lebanon that many Lebanese (by no means all) find compelling. For many voters, it is at least as likely that they were voting against corruption, inefficiency and unresponsive government than they were cast a ballot in a geopolitical popularity contest. Aoun has many faults, but to reduce his political support to him being a pro-Syrian pawn is ill-informed at best.
Finally, there is a strange analysis of the 1958 U.S. intervention in Lebanon. In Fattah's telling the intervention was successful because it preserved the pro-western government of President Camille Chamoun against pro-Nasser Arab nationalists. In fact, the crisis in Lebanon was provoked, in part, because Chamoun was seeking an unconstitutional second presidential term in office. If the U.S. intervention was successful, it was because Chamoun was persuaded to leave office on schedule. He was replaced by General Fouad Chehab, who is often described as one of Lebanon's best presidents, and one who understood the need to address regional development in the country.
U.S. Backs Free Elections, Only to See Allies Lose - New York Times