International disapproval of
Israel’s campaign against Lebanon has been widespread, but one of the
most important voices was added on Wednesday. Iraq prime minister Nuri
Kamal al-Maliki denounced
Israel in unmistakable terms: “The Israeli attacks and air strikes are
completely destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure … We call on the world
to take quick stands to stop the Israeli aggression.”

Al-Maliki
was actually more supportive of his fellow-Shi’ites in Hezbollah than
the Sunni leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been; the ties of
religion are evidently a stronger force than the thousands of American
troops backing his government.

Under Saddam Hussein, of course,
Iraq had been an inveterate enemy of Israel, even launching scud
missiles against it during the 1991 Gulf War. The neoconservative
boosters of the Iraq war were almost all strong supporters of Israel,
and their project was supposed to produce a democratic government that
would also be pro-Israel. There was no shortage of voices at the time
pointing out that this was an impossible goal. Now they have been
proved right.

For several days now, the neocons and their
backers have been congratulating themselves on the fact that the Sunni
regimes in the Middle East have been restrained in their criticism of
Israel. But the flipside is that this moderation is unpopular with
their citizens. As The New York Times says, “the longer the conflict drags on, the more these leaders are finding their credibility called into question.”

Democratisation
doesn’t necessarily mean moderation – not in the short run, anyway.
Islamic movements like Hamas and Hezbollah had already gained
credibility as an alternative to the corrupt and authoritarian Arab
establishments. Now, passivity in the face of (by their lights) Israeli
aggression is yet another complaint against those establishments and
another boost to the extremists.

George F Will, writing in the Washington Post (extracted in today’s Oz)
points out that “there also is democratic movement toward extremism”,
and describes the neocon response as “so untethered from reality as to
defy caricature.” Either consistent support for democracy or unabashed
imperialism might have worked better, but the attempt to combine the
two certainly has not been a success.

Peter Fray

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