America's Influence Declining in Middle East

The new administration in Washington has projected weakness, resulting in many pro-Western Arab leaders moving away from the U.S. and towards the perceived “strongman” Iran and its satellites.

American influence in the Middle East is in decline, and it threatens the global order.

President Obama’s Cairo speech to the Arab and Muslim world and his previous speech in Ankara to the Turkish parliament did little to bolster Arab confidence in him or his government. As strange as it may sound, his appeasement of the Arabs -- and of Iran in particular -- has made many otherwise pro-Western voices switch sides. They are betting on Iran.

Walid Jumblatt is the current leader of the Progressive Socialist Party of Lebanon and one of the most prominent leaders of the Druze community. Jumblatt has been the fiercest opponent of Syria and its Shiite-Lebanese allies, especially Hezbollah. He was also allied with the March 14 coalition. Yet in spite of the seemingly victorious March 14 block of pro-Western forces led by Saad Hariri in the recent Lebanese elections, Hezbollah remains the major force in Lebanon.

Jumblatt, who bravely denounced the long arm of Iran around Lebanon’s neck and mocked the Syrian regime -- especially Bashir Assad, whose father Hafez Assad ordered the murder of Jumblatt’s father Kamal in 1977 -- has undergone a drastic change recently. Not an ideological reorientation, but rather the recognition that Lebanon’s future will be determined by Hezbollah and its Iranian paymasters. Jumblatt realizes that the Shia demographic growth, at the expense of the other confessional communities in Lebanon, has created a new military, political, and social climate.

While the Sunni-Muslim and Christian militias have disarmed as part of returning Lebanon to normalcy, Hezbollah remains the most formidable force in Lebanon. And while Iran and Syria never ceased meddling in Lebanese affairs, the Obama administration has chosen to appease these two allied countries, sending a clear signal to the likes of Jumblatt that America cannot be trusted. In contrast to the Bush administration, which passed the Syrian Accountability Act and ultimately drove the Syrian occupation forces out of Lebanon, Obama’s diplomacy and actions have encouraged the return of Syrian and Iranian influence -- sending a strong message that has secured Hezbollah’s dominance.

The departure of Jumblatt from the March 14 block makes it difficult for Prime Minister Hariri to form a stable government without having to include Hezbollah. In essence, bringing Hezbollah into the government is akin to letting the Iranian “Trojan horse” in. For Jumblatt, however, it was acting in accordance to the dictum “if you cannot beat them, join them.” Jumblatt has joined another defector from the pro-Western camp, General Michel Aoun, a Christian and former prime minister and an adversary of Syria. Aoun was discouraged by the U.S. abandonment under George H. W. Bush during his 1989 clash with the Syrian army, and Jumblatt by Obama in 2009. Both Aoun and Jumblatt have concluded that the U.S. is an unreliable ally.