Hezbollah's Defeat: A Victory For Obama?

As President Obama delivered his address to the Muslim world in Cairo last week, two pivotal Middle East elections loomed in Lebanon and Iran. The timing of Obama's speech was impeccable, from that standpoint, several days before Lebanon's (held over the weekend), and roughly a week before Iran's (to be held Friday), in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will seek to retain power against rivals that have criticized his foreign policy and handling of the country's nuclear program.

The Iranian election is perhaps more important for the U.S.: Iran is seen as the leader of an axis in Middle East politics, holding influence over its Syrian and Hezbollah allies. Iran's nuclear program is a growing worry both for Israel and many Arab states--it's a major issue in Middle East foreign policy.

The results from Lebanon's parliamentary election are in: the U.S.-backed March 14 coalition retained power over Hezbollah.

It's unclear whether Obama's speech had anything to do with it, but a Hezbollah victory would not only be eyed warily by Israel; it could be seen as a good thing for Ahmadinejad, with another anti-Israel, anti-U.S. regime prevailing.

The White House has been careful not to engage Ahmadinejad since taking power--despite Obama's campaign suggestion of more open relations with U.S. opponents--most likely because it doesn't want to legitimize Ahmadinejad before the election, in the hopes that he might lose, and that a friendlier president might take his place.

Obama's video message to the Iranian people was seen as an attempt to circumvent engagement with Iran's government--speaking directly to an electorate that could reject Ahmadinejad in June.

Today, the results of Lebanon's election may or may not be a referendum on relations with the West, with Israel, and the foreign policy ideals held by Obama. But they're definitely good news for the White House, and if there's anything to be gleaned about momentum in Shiite politics, it's moving in a direction that Obama probably likes far better than the alternative.