BEIRUT, Lebanon - In trendy central Beirut, a large banner looms over the now nearly empty streets of downtown: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stares intently, with piercing fangs and blood dripping from her lips.
"The massacre of children in Qana is a gift from Rice," the banner says. It's referring to a southern Lebanese town that's now synonymous with the word massacre after the deaths of at least 28 civilians, many children, in an Israeli airstrike on July 30, and another attack in 1996, when Israeli artillery killed more than 100 civilians.
Last year, Lebanon was the beacon of the Bush administration's vision of a new Middle East. There were free elections without Syrian influence, women's rights, a free press and free speech.
A large banner looms over the now nearly empty streets of downtown: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stares intently, with piercing fangs and blood dripping from her lips. "The massacre of children in Qana is a gift from Rice," the banner says. (Photo: PAUL ASSAKER, MCT)
Today, much of this nation feels deserted by America as Israeli warplanes dropping American-made weapons destroy apartment blocks, bridges and roads. After four weeks of bombardment, the feeling is increasingly shared by Shiite and Sunni Muslims, Christians and Druze.
Israeli and American officials thought Israel's counterattack against Hezbollah would turn more Lebanese against the militant Shiite group, but members of the new independent government worry that the war will turn Lebanon into a bastion for extremism. With every civilian death, anger rises, among both the displaced poor living in parks and the well-off still eating pasta salads in cafes.
"You cannot see the Middle East only through the eyes of Israel," said Misbah Ahdab, a Sunni Muslim member of parliament who was in the political movement that forced Syria to leave Lebanon last year. "Either this is settled immediately and we hurry and work to rebuild, or it will be a mini-Iraq and all the extremists will come to Lebanon to fight Israel."
Ahdab is disappointed in what he considers to be a pro-Israel policy, which he says has forsaken a Lebanese government that once saw the United States as a friend and protector.
"This is a picture of democracy that has been used by the U.S. You don't want it to be a failure," he said. "This is where the U.S. has an opportunity to show a new inclusive Middle East and not only Israel's Middle East."
Ahdab is hardly alone. Many officials who once considered themselves pro-American don't disguise their dismay at a Bush administration that for weeks refused to call for Israel to stop bombing Lebanon and is backing a U.N. resolution that doesn't call for an immediate cease-fire or for Israel to withdraw its troops from the country.
"The cost and toll in human suffering is enormous, and it's undermined the capital that the U.S. has in Lebanon and other places, not to mention it's undermining pro-Western governments across the region," said Sami Haddad, the minister of trade and economy and another stalwart of Lebanon's anti-Syria coalition.
Anti-American posters have become commonplace in tony shopping districts that only weeks ago were peopled with students from the American University of Beirut sipping lattes at the now-closed Starbucks.
The images are graphic: In one, a man lifts a dead child covered in dust with a blue pacifier hanging from his shirt, an image from the July 30 Qana bombing. The poster states: "March 21st Mother's Day, June 18th U.S. Father's Day, July 30th Bush's Children's Day."
In another, an American flag's red stripes bleed onto a dead Lebanese man and asks, "What's next?"
In a bookstore nearby, a coffee-table book called "The Beirut Spring Independence `05" documents the rise of the anti-Syria movement and the withdrawal of Syrian troops under intense American pressure after the assassination of the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. His death was blamed on Syria and spurred a march of 1 million people on March 14, 2005.
Those days are all but forgotten now.
"We were fighting for real democracy in this country, and the U.S. supported us," said Maha Hoteit, 21, as she chatted with friends in De Prague, a cafe on trendy Hamra Street where musicians and activists smoke cigarettes over conversations about art and politics.
Hoteit, a Shiite Muslim, had taken to the streets on March 14 with her family. Now her hope for a new Lebanon is gone and all she thinks about is leaving.
"They left us. The Americans are just watching this happen," she said. "All that the Cedar Revolution was is gone."
Ghassan Bouz, 22, a stylish musician in a black Dolce & Gabbana shirt, called America's support of Lebanon "a lie."
"The U.S. has two kinds of democracies," said Bouz, a graduate of the American University of Beirut. "The good kind for them and the foreign kind for us."
Now, pro-Syrian elements of Lebanon have been vindicated, many said. "This proved what the pro-Syrians say, that the U.S. only cares about Israel," Hoteit said.
Certainly, the pro-Syrian elements are working to drive home the point.
"Bitter is an understatement about American politics in Lebanon," said Yaacoub al-Sarraf, minister of the environment and one of the few ministers who unabashedly support Lebanon's pro-Syria president, Emile Lahoud. "We're not bitter about them sending bombs; we're bitter about them covering up for murder."
McClatchy Newspapers correspondent Shashank Bengali contributed to this report.
© 2006 McClatchy Washington Bureau and wire service sources