Friday, May 22, 2009

Biden's Lebanon SpeechReinforces the Lack of Foresight in US Foreign Policy

Elza S. Maalouf
Joe Biden was in Lebanon today following Secretary Clinton's visit to reassure the pro-Western government (March 14 Movement) that the US is their staunch supporter despite the deals the Obama administration is trying to cut with Syria and Iran. The March 14 Movement formed as a reaction to the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the 5 time Prime Minister. It is widely believed in Lebanon and in Sunni Arab countries that Syrian-Iranian intelligence are responsible for Hariri's assassination.

The March 14th Movement fears that Obama will cave in to Syria's demands and grant the Syrians back the power they once had in running Lebanese internal affairs. To the Obama administration that's hell-bent on getting things done at neck-breaking speed, the thinking is that this move will accelerate the Arab Israeli peace process, and pry Syria out of Iran's tight grip. Knowing that Lebanon was the pawn thrown to the Syrians by Reagan in the place of the Golan Heights, the Lebanese are weary that Obama now is pursuing the same policy that will bring back the Syrians for another 30 years. Prying Syria from the hands of Iran is not only a far reaching and unattainable goal, but one that cannot be achieve since the West cannot offer Syria what it is getting from Iran: $1 Billion in subsidized Gas, the manufacturing of Syrian made cars and all the financing they need for supporting terrorism in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. These activities will keep Syria the uncontested power of the Arab world that the West must deal with.The old Western economic incentive to walk away from terrorism model has lost its luster since China is already making better deals and investments in Syria than the US with its current stance.

Speaking at the Presidential Palace in Beirut, Biden declared that "We will evaluate the shape of our assistance program based on the composition of the new government and the policies it advocates," a clear message to the Lebanese not to elect the Hezbollah led opposition.

Since the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri , (a close friend of the Bush family and France's Jacque Chirac) the US military aid to Lebanon has exceeded $400 Million, and more than a Billion in infrastructure and humanitarian aid. The military aid was always a source of dilemma for US administartion: on one hand, having strong military might help keep militias at check. On another, most Lebanese who enlist in the military are Shia with loyalty and a soft spot for Hezbollah.

Hezbollah criticized Biden's visit issuing the following statement "The high American interest in Lebanon raises strong suspicion as to the real reason behind it, especially since it has become a clear and detailed intervention in Lebanese affairs." This statement is coming from the same militia that gets its minute to minute instructions from Iran, and who's offices are adorned with pictures of Ayatollah Khamenei not the Lebanese President.

What Biden and the US administration do not get is that their $1 Billion support to the Lebanese Government is surpassed by Billions of dollars from Iran that are going to maintain Hezbollah's military superiority, direct aid to Hezbollah supporters in the form of housing, education, jobs, healthcare and a well run system of micro-lending for the poor.

For our US administration to be truly effective in its support of Lebanon, it needs to replace the vital services that are offered by Hezbollah, support the Lebanese government and pressure it to impose anti-corruption measurements (Lebanon rated high on corruption by Transparency International).

Talking to pro-West Lebanese on the ground, they tell me that they don't trust that the US administration considers Lebanon a vital issue to US' interests in the region. "Look at Syria. It's run by a dictator and hasn't launched a missile at Israel since 1971 even though Israel occupies the strategic Syrian Golan Heights. We are afraid that the US would rather have another dictator in Lebanon, one leader to deal with, in this case Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah, " said Michael a lawyer in Beirut.

Why should Americans and Europeans be interested in Lebanese politics? It is because Lebanon is a mirror, a proxy turf for the internal conflicts in the Muslim world: between Sunni and Shia, progressive Sunnis/Shia and Sunni/Shia Zealots, and the West looking purely towards its own self-interest.

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