CASH, INFLUENCE, AND...

CASH, INFLUENCE, AND CONTROL. I don't have any special insight into the interrelationships between Syria and Iran on the one hand and Hamas and Hezbollah on the other, but I think it's worth saying that this notion out here that Syria and Iran actually control the latter two groups seems to lack a serious evidentiary basis. Undeniably, the two states give money and weapons to the two non-state actors. And, clearly, this affords Damascus and Teheran some degree of influence over Hamas and Hezbollah. But one needs to put this sort of relationship in perspective. The U.S. government gives money to Egypt, which gives us some influence over the government in Cairo. But we don't control Egypt in the sense of micromanaging Egyptian policy decisions. In principle, we could always tell Hosni Mubarak "do X or we'll cut off your funding." In practice, though, such threats need to be used rather sparingly, and there's always the possibility of Egypt viewing such a demand as a bluff and calling it.

And that's just one example. The U.S. government gives money to all kinds of entities around the world. Virtually every college and university in the country gets government funding, as do a huge array of states in the developing world. We have a variety of mechanisms for giving cash to civil societies groups in lots of semi-authoritarian states. We provide major security guarantees to Japan and South Korea, among others. This gives the government influence over all these actors but, again, nothing like control over them and nobody infers that Japan clears everything it does with Washington or that all South Korean policy initiatives are, in fact, being dictated by the Pentagon. This simply isn't how the world works and there's no particular reason to believe that the thrilling universe of Arab nationalism or Islamic radicalism works this way either.

--Matthew Yglesias

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