A recent post here at MYDD complained of a lack of coverage of the Lebanon situation and foreign policy in general. This is a summary overview that I hope addresses some general issues.
First, it is important to remember that before the recent Iraq war Iraq was breaking UN sanctions successfuly. Despite the best attempts of the US, China, Russia, France, and to a lesser degree India, were all systematically ignoring the sanctions regime and the whole thing looked likely to fold. This is crucial because it is indicative of the growing strength of China, Russia, the EU, and India vs. the US. For roughly 15 years the US could claim "sole remaining super power status," but that title has been slowly slipping away. The EU is nearly the equal of the US economically, China is growing fast and is highly focused, and India is a major regional power. Russia is, well, Russia and is a wild-card that is feeling less and less desire or need to follow a US lead. In short, Bush was facing a decline in American power that suggested a few possible paths: neo-isolationism(the original foreign policy idea of the bush admin), increased multi-laterialism(this seems never to have occured to this administration), or the post 9/11 consenus choice - aggressive unilaterialism(or, as any gambler knows it - double up to cath up). With relatively declinig power the way to maintain US stature is to be that much more aggressive.
Fast forward several years. We invade Afghanistan and Iraq and our initial gambits look good. Unfortunately, the decline in our power is not imaginary - it is real. Whether or not you support the war in Iraq or Afghanistan it is now clear that both countries need a dramatic increase in resources if the US is to achieve the stated pre-war goals of stable, western oriented, democratic, free market beacons of hope and prosperity to a benighted middle east. The difficulty is that we do not really have those resources - either militarily or financially. Because we did not pursue a policy of robust multi-laterialism, we do not have the international support necessary for either undertaking. And to gain the support, though it is now too late, the Bush admnistration is not willing to make the necessary concessions. So we are stuck in a situation where we simply do not have the means to achieve the goals that we have stated - hence the admnistrations systematic lowering of the goals in Iraq. As clear as I can tell, the current goal is to reduce the killing to a level low enough we can sneak out without anyone noticing. Short of a draft the military simply does not have the manpower to make a serious try at stabilising Iraq - think 400,000 troops 10 years. And for those who doubt this, the military itself admits that it has been unable to seal any of Iraqs borders against smugglers. If we don't have the troops to do this clearly necessary task, any larger goals are just fantasies.
Enter the Lebanon conflict. We simply don't have the means to exert our will. Israel feels free to ignore us because they calculate, likely correctly, that we need them more than they need us in the Middle-east. We can't get Jordan on-side, and Syria feels free to ignore us completely. Syria. Note this. One of the weakest regimes in the Middle-east is betting that they can force the US to come crawling to them. Iran, of course, has demonstrated confidence that they can develop nuclear technology in the face of near universal comdemnation. Why? Syria and Iran know that China and Russia will not isolate them completely and, for Iran, the EU will keep buying their oil short of an actual nuclear test. It is pretty clear that Israel will not be able to do much about Hezbollah and so far has mostly succeded in making them look less bad than Israel. In any case, where can we bring our power to bear? Israel ignores us, Syria ignores us, Egypt, Jordan, Iran, etc. all pursue the course they feel best. They take the US into account but do no longer see the US as outweighing almost any other consideration.
In sum, US global dominance, which was sliding in any case, is currently in shambles. The only sane policy would be robust multi-laterialism - a policy that the Bush administration will not pursue. This leaves, and everyone should be nervous about this, the Hail-Mary pass. The administration need a win to redeem their position so they back an Israeli war on Lebanon - a bet which is already looking like a loser(I'm not speaking morally here, purely in a sense of raising or lowering american power in the world). What does that leave? Attack syria, bomb Iran, a massive offensive in Iraq? Be afraid, be very afraid. Again, I am not arguing the relative moral value of any of our positions, only from the increasingly weak position of the US on the world stage.