But there is no excuse for our failure to engage in Lebanon. The effects of this policy failure will be far-reaching; we may well see them in the still-uncertain outcomes in Egypt and other parts of the Arab world. There is a real sense in which the turning point of January 2011 is principally about us, and what we have not done. The Hezbollah coup in Lebanon functioned as a test of what the US reaction would be, and unless something changes in the coming days, the answer is now obvious.
We could have acted as a limiting factor in Lebanon this month by engaging with the diplomatic process – the ad hoc negotiations among the factions in Lebanon – spearheaded by the Saudis. It’s probable that the act of doing that would have signaled to Hezbollah that the timing was still inauspicious for attempting a takeover. But we didn’t make even that effort. I’m not sure American readers fully understand that we simply weren’t there. Hezbollah is playing it safe for the time being with a non-radical candidate for prime minister, a move that seems to be a nod to the expectations that prevailed in the status quo we are leaving behind. But in the coming days, we can expect Hezbollah to maneuver as much for the impression on regional rivals like Saudi Arabia and Turkey as for Western governments and the Western press.