Why US looks to others in Mideast crisis
(Page 2 of 2)
A key factor will be to what extent the US will choose to reverse course – it has mostly remained disengaged from high-stakes diplomatic involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the Bush presidency – and assert itself. "It's true [Mr. Bush] has been rather busy with other things," says Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "It hasn't been at the top of his agenda."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The unanimous statement on the current flareup may help to put Bush in closer alignment with his G-8 partners, at least in public. Last year Bush was the odd man out at a summit in Britain that focused on climate change.
But Israel's conflict with Hizbullah, and in particular Israeli strikes in Lebanon, had earlier divided the US from its partners.
In comments here, Bush made clear he lays full blame for tensions at the feet of Hizbullah – and with its sponsors Syria and Iran. The president says Israel is exercising its right to act in self-defense, although he did caution Israel to use "restraint."
Other leaders here, headed by summit host Vladimir Putin, had taken a different tack – condemning Hizbullah's abduction of Israeli soldiers, while also castigating Israel for responding disproportionately by bombing Lebanon, from which Hizbullah operates. Some also suggested Israel is using the tensions to pursue broader goals.
"One could ask if Monday there is not a sort of will to destroy Lebanon," President Chirac said before arriving here Saturday. Mr. Chirac's position stood out all the more, since the US and France had managed to overcome bitter differences over Iraq in part through deepened cooperation on Lebanon.
But Chirac also offered a veiled implication of Syria and Iran in inciting the new conflict – a position that aligns with the US view. "I have the feeling, if not the conviction, that Hamas and Hizbullah would not have taken the initiative alone," he added.
That convergence of perspectives offers a basis for international action, some experts say.
"The question now will be whether the Syrians and Iran can be pushed harder to call back the forces they've unleashed or face some real consequences, or if the direction will be something they'd like to see, like compromise on other issues to get their cooperation," says the Washington Institute's Clawson. "It's a real testing moment."
Syria and Iran are seen by many experts as having taken advantage of a moment when the US is preoccupied with Iraq and Israel was focused on Gaza to signal to the militant Shiite organization Hizbullah an opening to act. "The Syrians are saying, 'You've got to take account of us and our interests,' " says Mr. Hughes, describing a motivation that others assign to Iran as well.
The problem, as Hughes sees it, is that the means of pressuring the two countries are limited, especially when the US has only a "relationship of hostility" with either one. "The only people who can call [Hizbullah] back are the Iranians and Syrians," he says. "But what quids are there?"
Clawson says he was "amazed" to see Israel turn to Russia to make contact with Syria – a measure of the US's fallen standing in the region. But the US still might use the summit's multilateral environment to influence the turn of events on the ground, he says.