While the Lebanese deserve 95 percent of the credit for this election, 5 percent goes to two U.S. presidents. As more than one Lebanese whispered to me: Without George Bush standing up to the Syrians in 2005 — and forcing them to get out of Lebanon after the Hariri killing — this free election would not have happened. Mr. Bush helped create the space. Power matters. Mr. Obama helped stir the hope. Words also matter.
“People in this region have become so jaded by the ability of their states to dominate everything and hold sham elections,” said Paul Salem, analyst of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “And mostly the world never cared. And then here came this man [Obama], who came to them with respect, speaking these deep values about their identity and dignity and economic progress and education, and this person indicated that this little prison that people are living in here was not the whole world. That change was possible.”