The Mideastwire Blog

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

A Better Lebanon Policy for The Next US Administration

The incoming Biden team is confronted by any array of steep challenges and significant near-term dangers when it comes to Lebanon. And yet, perhaps because of the accumulated problems nearly all sides have weighing on them, it also has a unique opportunity to help chart a reasonable 3rd way between the failed Maximum Pressure approach of Trump et al. – which has helped to bring Lebanon to the brink of collapse and open conflict rather than any kind of beneficial endpoint – and the “benign neglect” of the Obama tenure – which saw Lebanon as a containable, subsidiary issue to be dealt with after the expected peacemaking possibilities opened up by the Iran deal accrued to the next Clinton administration.

As I laid out in my September paper for @EuropeanUni (https://cadmus.eui.eu//handle/1814/68378), a more effective US policy (from the perspective of US interests mind you) will require a two pronged strategy that 1) recognizes Hezbollah must first be addressed through new, diplomatically arranged regional frameworks while simultaneously 2) surging US engagement in multi-lateral efforts to enact deep, structural reforms in Lebanon itself – reforms that must touch local allies, competitors and enemies alike.

In short, the local reforms that so many agree (or at least claim to agree) are desperately needed can only move forward if Lebanon is granted immediate “breathing space” from the regional conflict(s) and interests which this small country is so easily and so regularly overwhelmed by. At least four regional steps, starting with the reactivation of the Iran nuclear deal will be crucial, as I outline in the EUI paper.

This pairing/sequencing is also why I have been critical of analyses over the past year by @cmparreira – see her Synapse paper at https://tinyurl.com/yynpfsm6 – and others who, following the October 2019 Revolt, largely removed the impact of powerful external states and regional conflicts when discussing Lebanon’s proliferating woes. While this approach aimed, laudably, to right an occasional over-emphasis on the effect of external actors (thus giving local Lebanese elites a “pass” in some cases), the near expungement of a crucial dynamic for understanding Lebanon’s predicament and possible solutions has been detrimental overall for sound policymaking.

Indeed, the reality of many of Lebanon’s current woes is that the political elite and parasitic socio-economic structures that directly laid the ground for an explosion causing mass casualties in August are certainly of local constitution. But, this ‘made in Lebanon’ matrix is only symbiotically perpetuated by consistent access to international financial flows, foreign political cover and hard power supplied by others. Whether it is due to the country’s small size, its long-standing dependency on external actors and/or its unfortunate positioning at the centre of so many strategically significant conflicts, all actors who genuinely want to reverse Lebanon’s vicious circle must therefore start with a frank acknowledgment of this or else risk drowning any locally-focused initiatives in the constant machinations of geopolitics.

Thus, instead of staking Lebanon policy and much of our MENA policy in general on marginally hurting Hezbollah and Iran to no achievable or reasonable end – i.e. the failed Trump administration approach – the new Biden Administration can leverage this moment of near collective loss and setback regionally, i.e. the economic downturn, COVID-19, expanding armed conflicts and leadership insecurities in order to pursue an aggressive policy of diplomacy, de-escalation, flexible negotiating parameters and meaningful reform that reforms “all of them” steadily away from power.

Of course, starting by pursuing the four very difficult-to-thread regional steps I outline in my paper, in the hopes of carving out some “breathing space,” will certainly not guarantee a short term solution for Hezbollah’s weapons, nor will they necessarily ensure the durability of efficient, accountable and democratic institutions gaining preponderance across Lebanon. When paired with local reform steps, however, they do offer the best chance for stemming Lebanon’s immediate suffering; for stepping back from a series of violent conflicts that appear increasingly likely and that would be devastating for all involved; and for laying the long-term frameworks for what could be the much-hoped-for re-birth of a Lebanese state finally freed from the narrow interests at home and abroad that have gripped it for so long.

Written by nickbiddlenoe

December 15, 2020 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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