By Warren P. Strobel and Hannah Allam | McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON — In a week of dramatic developments in the Middle East, the most dramatic development of all may have been the fact that the United States, long considered the region's indispensable player, was missing in action.
As its closest allies cut deals with their adversaries this week over the Bush administration's opposition, Washington was largely reduced to watching.
More painful for President Bush, friends he's cultivated — and spent heavily on — in Lebanon and Iraq asked the United States to remain in the background, underlining how politically toxic an association with the U.S. can be for Arab leaders.
Over the past few days:
- The Lebanese government, which has received $1.3 billion and political support from the Bush administration, compromised with the Hezbollah-led opposition, giving the Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim group, which Washington considers a terrorist organization, a greater role in running the country.
- Israel ignored U.S. objections and entered indirect peace talks with Syria through Turkey, another longtime U.S. ally.
- The U.S.-backed Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki deployed military forces to Baghdad's Sadr City slum under an agreement that specifically excluded U.S. troops.
- Saudi Arabia, a crucial oil supplier and long a major buyer of U.S. weapons, is quietly closing what could be a multibillion-dollar arms deal with Russia, according to a U.S. defense official.