Monday, June 08, 2009

"March 14" Group Wins in Lebanon

Obama 'n Co. caught a break today, as the somewhat pro-Western "March 14" Alliance wins in Lebanon.

The alliance, known as the March 14 coalition, won the majority in the 128-member parliament with 71 seats, compared with to 57 for the Hezbollah-led coalition, according to official results announced Monday by the government. The results represent a significant and unexpected defeat for Hezbollah and its allies, Iran and Syria. Most polls had showed a tight race, but one in which the Hezbollah-led group would win.

The winners celebrated in the streets, setting off fireworks and driving around in motorcades honking hours before the official results were even announced, The Associated Press reported. The victory may have been aided by nearly unprecedented turnout. Preliminary results showed that about 55 percent of the 3.26 million registered voters cast ballots.
The NYT emphasizes that this is a victory of pro-Western types over Iranian influence; I'm not quite so sure. Juan Cole makes a few good points that the alliance may not be as laudible as it seems: some members have tried (and failed) to start their own militias, others were anti-American until fairly recently, and at least one has apparently been convicted of terrorism. But even Cole admits that this means that "maybe Obama will be able to make some headway after all."

Of course, that's if he wants to. The tenor of progressive responses to Obama's Cairo speech really do suggest that there are a lot of questions swirling around out there about his commitment to transparency, international convention, and the rule of law. The Cairo speech is being overshadowed by the "preventive detention" speech and the Abu Gharib photograph debacle, and I suspect that Obama can no longer take his "base" for granted. He needs to show them that the issues he campaigned on are still uppermost in his mind, or he may get a nasty shock when the vitriol from the right is matched by that from the left.

In that respect, this is a positive development. It will give him more latitude to make his actions fit his words. It's up to him to use it.

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