One could almost hear a collective gasp across the Middle East when Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri made a most astonishing statement earlier this month. After vehemently accusing Syria of orchestrating his father's murder in 2005, after leading a revolt that pushed Syrian troops out of Lebanon on the strength of that accusation, after galvanizing what seemed an unstoppable political movement on the power of those charges, Hariri said it had all been just one big mistake.
The reversal marked the passing of a short-lived era in Lebanese history and of Western influence in Lebanon, a country that serves as a microcosm of the entire Middle East, showcasing ongoing conflicts and often presaging the ones to come. To the dismay of progressive Arabs, the moment also marked an ominous loss for moderate forces in the region, especially in Lebanon, and the disheartening evanescence of America's ability to play a meaningful role in shaping events.
When U.S. envoy George Mitchell traveled to Beirut a few weeks ago to secure Lebanese participation in Mideast peace talks, his hosts flatly rejected the request. Arab observers attributed the snub to the Lebanese government's outright fear of Hezbollah. It was a startling turn of events.