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The Risks of Foreign Policy Dilemmas for the U.S. and Lebanon 05/14/2015

When one listens to analytic coverage of the Middle East (ME), or is privileged to talk privately with some leaders, it is amazing how frequently the words: failed states, failed policy, failing or absent strategy and chaos are heard. The more disappointing aspects of any conversation about this subject are the lack of vision or horizon for any reassuring solution in the foreseeable future. Conflicting stories continue to appear regarding the identity of friend vs. foe, success vs failure or gaining vs losing ground. The only certainty is that barbarian acts are being documented and displayed on TV worldwide. Genocides are now subject of general concern and targeted or threatened populations are begging for protection, from whoever is able or willing to intervene or just listen. Some also speak of “World War Three” about to start, with the only questions being how broad and destructive will it be? We still do not hear of any adjustments to the policies that may notoriously be failing, or do not appear to have any significant chance of achieving the stated objectives. 

A recent article in Time Magazine entitled “A Failing Middle East” listed four failed states: Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. The common denominator is some form of US intervention. Luckily, Lebanon was not on that list. Yet Lebanon has been without an elected President for nearly a year. Many of its institutions are surviving on the basis of unconstitutional prorogations. The country has suffered from sharp and dangerous divisions for a very long time. Anxiety and fear have tortured too many Lebanese citizens, inside the country and in the diaspora, to the point of hopelessness. Despite all that, Lebanon’s shaky stability and imperfect but surviving democracy, make it stand out as an “Oasis of near normal life” compared to its neighbors. 

The relatively better climate persisting despite the destructive winds produced by the out of control violence in the neighborhood, can only be explained by Lebanon’s traditions of relative freedom, democracy and respect of human rights. There is also a genuine and compelling desire for unity among its diverse and conflicted population. Further, Lebanon has developed some relative immunity to violence, having experienced the horrible results of its long and very costly civil war. The country is also blessed by a Sunni population dominated by the moderates who are holding the political power and providing the necessary participants in the armed forces, thus making it much more difficult for the radicals to find game changing inroads. The Lebanese Shiites, although impressively militarized, are displaying remarkable wisdom in choosing dialogue with their Sunni compatriots and avoiding any possible confrontation that could ignite violence. The Christians are divided and marginalizing themselves from their solemn duty and interest to be tireless and wise facilitators or guarantors of a productive Sunni-Shiite dialogue. 

Thus Lebanon with its long history of pro-western traditions now constantly faces the dilemma or better the challenge to protect those traditions despite the constant pressure to tilt towards the Iranian axis. Given that its population is evenly divided, Lebanon is somehow managing to hold loosely to a pathway of shaky neutrality. Nevertheless the country still needs a lot of help from all its friends and particularly from the U.S. for protection from two existential threats to its survival. These threats come from the persistence of the Syrian refugee problem with all its economic and security risks and the presidential vacuum with the widening risk of expanding vacuum in practically all the country’s constitutional institutions. Both these issues could be addressed and improved or solved if Lebanon is given appropriate attention or priority in the really needed re-evaluation or adjustments of US ME foreign policies. If the necessary help is provided, Lebanon could become a significant catalyst for the success of other improvements in other areas which now do not appear to be progressing towards their stated goals. 

ALF is a “think thank” organization focused on Lebanon and deeply interested in fair and successful US policies supportive to Lebanon, and which expand America’s circle of friendships and alliances and limit or diminish unnecessary animosities. Many leaders and analysts are concerned about the dangers and terror potentials of the growing numbers of failed states. They sympathize with the President’s dilemma about adjusting or changing policies which may trigger a new war. Nevertheless we would like to simply raise some questions about current ME issues which may probably need reevaluation by the Administration and/or Congress. 

1. The US-Iran negotiations which are approaching their deadline in less than 2 months: Can we reasonably expect success, with hope of receiving at least tacit approval from the Congress and the US allies in the region? Should the negotiations remain focused only on eliminating the Iran nuclear threat, without addressing other areas of confrontation like Syria, Lebanon and now Yemen? 

2. The Syrian issue which is much bigger and more important than the attention it was given to date: Is there a significant reevaluation in progress? If not, why? What positive results can be expected from current policies? 

3. Can we expect anytime soon the final truth about Benghazi, the results of which could significantly affect US policy in both Libya and Syria? 

4. Are we optimizing US relations and coordination with Egypt under the leadership of President Al Sissy who has demonstrated impressive leadership and courage in confronting the terrorists and the radicals? In addition he enjoys good relations with our allies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf? Has he been consulted or offered a bigger role in solving the problems generated by ISIL’s barbarism? 

5. More recently, Yemen has emerged as a new and pressing problem: What is our objective and are we coordinating reliably and intelligently with our Saudi and Gulf allies? 

While Lebanon’s dilemmas may be just theoretical, since the choices are extremely limited, the US ME policy dilemmas can make a huge difference, if addressed with more wisdom and courage. We believe that smart and tenacious efforts to seek good results in one or two of the problems listed above, can trigger a chain reaction of positive results, and resuscitate real hope for peace and stability in the region. Otherwise, we may unfortunately witness increasing risk that the US President who was elected to end all wars, may find himself inadvertently presiding on the real start of a dangerous war that may progress into WW III, during the short time he has left in office.


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Last modified: 05/14/15.