Do you think it’s an accident that when the neocons were in charge Hezbollah led the Lebanese elections but when we ditched the neocons, the Lebanese ditched Hezbollah? Do you think it’s an accident that when we ditched our far-right extremist government here in favor of a realist liberal that the liberals in Iran advanced their cause remarkably? Much further than anyone had a right to hope? ~E.D. Kain’s friend

Leaving aside some of the questionable descriptions in this quote (far-right? liberals in Iran?), yes, it was an accident! Perhaps the only thing more annoying than the use of green fonts and the sheer earnestness of some Westerners about the last two weeks is the maddening desire to describe events incorrectly to relate events in the Near East to our own political process. The Lebanese didn’t “ditch Hizbullah.” They maintained the status quo and kept the incumbent government in power, which means that Hizbullah remained in the opposition despite the fact that the opposition won the most votes. No one seems eager to paint their blogs yellow and ask where the Shi’ites’ votes went, and no wonder. Most people aren’t really that interested in having every voice be heard and fully represented, are they? We already know where their votes went–the Lebanese system is geared to misrepresent the population in parliament according to established rules that govern the settlement after the civil war. If winning 55% of the vote means that “the Lebanese ditched” the opposition, what would an opposition victory look like?

Suppose that a couple of districts had voted slightly differently, and the opposition had prevailed. We would undoubtedly hear from hawks how Obama’s election had “caused” a Hizbullah/FPM victory, but that wouldn’t make it true. A good way to test the silliness of a statement is to think about how reasonable it would sound if it were being made by your opponents against your preferred politician or in favor of one of their leaders. When people babbled about “the Arab spring” in 2005, they were horribly wrong. Enthusiasts for an “Obama effect” on the international scene are in danger of misrepresenting what has happened and what is happening to suit their hopes. This will come back to bite them. Suppose that Khamenei had decided to rig the election for Ahmadinejad, but to do so less blatantly. Would anyone believe hawkish arguments that the Cairo speech led to Ahmadinejad’s apparent victory? I would hope not, because such claims would be unfounded.

There can’t be that many countries where people earnestly believe that their elections influence the behavior of electorates in other countries. As far as I know, no one has attempted to tie local British and European election results to our presidential election or anything that Obama has done, but it would make no more sense. The Indian elections passed by almost unnoticed over here, as the incumbent government retained and even expanded its majority, and the ruling AK party lost ground in Turkey in municipal elections, and both of these were driven entirely by domestic political concerns. The “Obama effect” is rather narrowly focused, isn’t it?

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