The Mideastwire Blog

Excerpts from the Arab and Iranian Media & Analysis of US Policy in the Region

The Alternative US Policy on Lebanon That Was Not To Be

Reflecting on ten years in Lebanon, and the incredibly dangerous, awful scene that is unfolding here and in Syria, I am more convinced than ever that the period from april 2005 with the syrian withdrawal until the July 2006 War was a unique and fruitful moment for a real peace building strategy. Sadly the bush admin, and Jeffrey Feltmen, took the strategy in the complete opposite direction – bloodying themselves and their allies in the process, severely undercutting US interests and power and eventually helping to set the stage for the mess everyone is in now.

From my 2008 paper on the subject here  in full.

Introduction
Six months after experiencing the worst internal violence since the 1975–1990 Civil War, Lebanon finds itself at the head of a unique opportunity for domestic peace-building—one that, if properly cultivated by the United States, would significantly serve the national interests of both countries.1 The most compel- ling roadmap for realizing this promise, however, lies within Lebanon itself, and not, as many in Washington and now increasingly in Beirut argue, in either Damascus or Tehran.2 For while it is certainly true that for Lebanon a “grand peace” or a terrible war with one or both of these states would likely overtake any internal peace-building dynamic, the prospect of either scenario coming to fruition remains distant, to say the least.
Rather than again deferring3 efforts toward a peaceful settlement in Lebanon—until the menu of more complex regional issues are hopefully resolved—the United States should move quickly in the coming months to implement a robust, multifaceted approach that breaks with the anemic and oftentimes counterproductive policies of the past three years. Crucially, this does not mean having to choose between the false choice of sacrificing Lebanon’s sovereignty to Syria or the hitherto politically unpalatable option of engaging Hizbullah. Nor would it preclude movement on the various other tracks toward peace in the region, since progress in Lebanon (available at a far lower cost than elsewhere) would actually enhance these efforts by steadily diminishing one critical locus of instability and potential violence.

The more promising and politically feasible U.S. strategy, then, would continue to view Hizbullah’s independent weaponry as the primary threat to U.S. interests in the country, but also would seek to broadly undermine the party’s rationale (and therefore ability) for holding onto these weapons4—in sharp contrast to the Bush administration’s practice of bringing direct counter-pressure and sometimes counter-force to bear on Hizbullah itself, as well as on its key “partners”5 in Syria and Iran.
As a first concern, such a policy would address those areas where a renewed conflict between Israel and Hizbullah might emerge. After recent declarations by Hizbullah secretary general Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah fol- lowing the midsummer prisoner exchange, the three “bleeding wounds” (Nasrallah’s term) that remain open as likely flashpoints are: (1) disputed and occupied territory in the Shebaa Farms, Kfar Shouba, and Northern Ghajar; (2) Israeli overflights in contravention of international law and United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1701;6 and, finally, (3) the coordinates for Israeli cluster bombs fired in the July 2006 war.
Of course, as Nasrallah and other Hizbullah leaders have stressed for some time, simply removing the bleeding wounds will not be enough either for Hizbullah to willingly give up its arms or for there to be enough internal political pressure to sensibly force the issue. The United States therefore must move in tandem with its efforts to close the bleeding wounds file—efforts that the United States would have to lead, given its close relationship with Israel—to make good finally on its rhetoric supporting the creation of a strong national army. This, however, requires accepting two premises that U.S. officials have publicly and privately rejected since the withdrawal of Syrian troops in April 2005 following the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri: first, that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) be bolstered, but not in order to forcefully disarm Hizbullah; and, second, that the LAF credibly arrays itself in a defensive posture against Israel.

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Written by nickbiddlenoe

March 21, 2014 at 6:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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