There is a country in the Middle East where democracy could flourish. In that country, however, democracy has been crushed repeatedly by foreign-supported autocrats. Elections have been postponed in order to prevent the rise of truly liberal democrats; international observers have stood silently by as authoritarianism has run roughshod over civil libertarianism.
That country is, of course, Lebanon. This week, Lebanon postponed its upcoming presidential election for the fourth time. It did so in order to enable Hizbollah, the terrorist group, to put forward a viable alternative to a candidate backed by Western-friendly Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. The current president of Lebanon is Emil Lahoud, a Syrian-backed politician due to leave office this week. Lahoud refuses to relinquish power to Siniora’s allies. Instead, Lahoud plans either to create a breakaway government, declare a state of emergency and seize power, or to turn the government over to the Hizbollah-friendly military chiefs.
The response from the mainstream media has been deafening silence. While The New York Times agonizes over Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s decision to declare a state of emergency, the Times’ coverage of Lebanon has been scandalously scant. The Times railed against Musharraf on November 14: "General Musharraf must lift martial law, reinstate constitutional processes, release political detainees, unfetter the media, give up his army post and accept whatever ruling the Supreme Court makes on his eligibility to be president." But so far, the Times has said nothing about the situation in Lebanon.
Presumably, the same principle is at stake in both Lebanon and Pakistan: bolstering democratic movements in Islamic countries. Yet the anti-democratic, Syrian-backed action to prevent elections in Lebanon is met with shrugs, while the anti-democratic action by Musharraf draws heavy scrutiny.
Why? The mainstream media’s hatred for George W. Bush drives it to attack a tentative ally in the War on Terror — Musharraf — while ignoring an open enemy — Syrian-supported terrorists in Lebanon. Musharraf, for all his egregious faults and inhumanities, is necessary to the maintenance of an anti-terror front in Pakistan. Bush, rightly, is resistant to toppling Musharraf. When John F. Kennedy allowed corrupt South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem to fall in 1963, he paved the way for a line of weak South Vietnamese leaders who were unable to stem the tide of communism. Deposing Musharraf would open the door to the accession of Islamic extremists — cultured, corrupt Benazir Bhutto would either deal with them or be cast by the wayside.
The media’s utopian desire to replace strongman Musharraf with Bhutto springs from its ardent wish to deal Bush another defeat – and to place Bush in the uncomfortable position of choosing between democratic principles and victory in the War on Terror.
The media wishes to castigate Bush for his broadly pro-democratic worldview, labeling him a hypocrite. The media sees no such anti-Bush opportunity in Lebanon, where anti-Western leaders are Syrian-supported tyrants. If George W. Bush’s failure to dump Musharraf amounts to hypocrisy, it is at least a hypocrisy calculated to forward America’s national interest. The media’s hypocrisy in failing to cover the crisis in Lebanese democracy, by contrast, demonstrates its disregard for democracy as a whole.
When it comes to international politics, the media has only one priority: humiliating George W. Bush. Musharraf provides a useful tool to that end. Lebanon does not.