January 2, 2011
Why We Need a New Foreign Policy in LebanonBy Anthony Tsontakis
For the sixth fiscal year in a row, the White House has requested that Congress appropriate millions of dollars in military financing to Lebanon. The appropriation would be used to help execute the same policy as the previous six years' worth of like appropriations: to help the Lebanese Armed Forces implement the U.N. Security Council resolutions that call for Hezb'allah's disarmament.
Unfortunately, in the absence of considerably more robust parallel American policies designed to weaken Hezb'allah, there is no chance that merely throwing roughly the same amount of money at the Lebanese Armed Forces as last year (and the year before that, and the year before that, and so on) will meaningfully contribute to Hezb'allah's disarmament. After all, and as Einstein famously understood it, insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. Accordingly, to make the point that we urgently need a new foreign policy in Lebanon, Congress should deny the White House's FY2011 budget request for military assistance to Lebanon.
Congressional appropriations since FY2006 to the foreign military financing account for Lebanon have exceeded $521.44 million. Since that time, Hezb'allah has done the following:
(1) Waged a war with Israel in 2006. In that war, Hezb'allah deployed land-to-sea anti-ship missiles, long-range rockets, and sophisticated anti-tank weaponry and tactics against Israel's ground forces.
(2) Described a 2008 Lebanese Cabinet resolution against Hezb'allah's de facto control of Beirut airport as "a declaration of open war." Immediately thereafter, Hezb'allah militarily occupied western Beirut, a maneuver the Lebanese Armed Forces were helpless to prevent.
Hezb'allah backed down only after the Lebanese government conceded eleven out of thirty cabinet seats to Hezb'allah (enough for Hezb'allah to lawfully veto any major government initiatives under the Lebanese Constitution). In exchange for the cabinet seats, the Lebanese government requested that Hezb'allah disarm. Hezb'allah declined to disarm but happily took the seats.
(3) Won ten out of 128 Parliament seats in the 2009 national elections.
(4) Consolidated de facto military control in the Lebanese regions it controls and allegedly expanded its military arsenal to include 122mm katyushas, 107mm rockets, and 106mm anti-tank shells, as well as SCUD missiles and M-600s (ballistic missiles with a range of 185 miles and the capacity for a half-ton payload). Hezb'allah refuses to comment on its military capabilities.
(5) Earned the distinction in August 2010 of being described by the Obama administration as "the most technically capable terrorist group in the world."
(6) Categorically and continuously refused to disarm. As a matter of principle, Hezb'allah unconditionally refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist, including unwavering opposition to all concluded and pending resolutions to Arab-Israeli disputes based on recognition of Israel as a sovereign state. Most recently, as the political debate in Lebanon centers on the need to resolve outstanding territory disputes with Israel, Hezb'allah's public statements strongly indicate that even if Lebanon secured every claim to land it has against Israel, the group would still resist any Lebanese or international efforts to disarm it.
Needless to say, therefore, after five fiscal years and over $500 million in U.S. assistance, the Lebanese Armed Forces are no match for Hezb'allah's continuously blossoming paramilitary and unconventional warfare capabilities. Additionally, and arguably most importantly, it is plain that Hezb'allah does not feel constrained by any domestic Lebanese or international laws that stand in its way.
The point American policymakers need to understand is this: Hezb'allah is a violent, subversive, and destructive force whose autocratic power continually grows and whose influence increasingly interferes in negative fashion with domestic Lebanese and international relations, regardless of congressional appropriations intended to prevent just those things.
Stated differently, assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces has not succeeded even in preserving the balance of power within Lebanon.
Hezb'allah's ruthless coercion of Lebanese institutions directly bears upon the Lebanese government's ability to reflect, in any meaningful sense, the will of the people, whose way of life is affected by what the government does or leaves undone. In a word, Hezb'allah's authoritarian political and military conduct subverts the values of security, freedom, and cooperative diversity that make productive domestic and international relations feasible.
At this juncture, therefore, the successful promotion of U.S. interests in Lebanon is vital. Lebanese sovereignty, regional stability, concrete and mutually beneficial gains in longstanding Arab-Israeli disputes, and progress toward the expansion of stable and democratic self-government in the Middle East depend upon it. Accordingly, Congress and the White House need to seriously reassess the tactics and goals of U.S. assistance programs. Consequential decisions must be made; good intentions are no excuse for incompetence.
The Obama administration intends to use the requested FY2011 congressional appropriations to execute a policy designed to strengthen the central authority of the Lebanese state so Lebanon could manage threats to its own internal security and deter the use of force by non-state actors. However, as we have already seen, the amount requested is insufficient to achieve those goals. The situation therefore presents two initial policy options, aside from staying the course: (1) stop funding the Lebanese Armed Forces altogether, since they lack the capability to militarily confront Hezb'allah anyway, or (2) increase the capacity of the Lebanese Armed Forces to such a dramatic extent that Lebanon could militarily overcome Hezb'allah.
Either option would severely alter various balances of power and thereby inevitably produce unforeseeable consequences. Depriving the Lebanese Armed Forces of assistance would confer on Hezb'allah extraordinary domestic leverage within Lebanon, which could unite opposition factions and ignite a civil war. On the other hand, a dramatic increase in the strength of the Lebanese Armed Forces would alter the balance of power outside Lebanon, most notably by adversely affecting Israel's qualitative military edge in the Levant; and an antagonized Israel would likely produce the unwelcome effect of bringing together the Lebanese Armed Forces and Hezb'allah as allies.
Neither option is particularly desirable due to the unpredictable effects on the geopolitical equilibrium that would be sure to follow the implementation of either alternative. But the third option -- to stay the course with a sixth year of like military assistance -- is even less attractive. The consequences of such a policy are certain: Lebanese sovereignty will continue to decay, inch by disciplined inch, by the agencies of Hezb'allah and its authoritarian allies.
Chipping away at Lebanese sovereignty serves the broader geopolitical goals of Hezb'allah and its allies: to attain the most favorable possible strategic position on regional and world stages, in order to counter the perceived inequity in power in favor of the United States and Israel, nations viewed as using the pretext of war against terrorism to shield deeper conspiratorial motives. Chiefly among these is the consolidation of economic and political hegemony everywhere. Therefore, in addition to corrosive effects on matters of humanitarian concern, what happens in Lebanon bears directly upon raw American geopolitical interests.
Any new military financing strategy in Lebanon must be coupled with a robust parallel policy designed not just to weaken, but also to cripple Hezb'allah. Good fortune smiles on the cunning; so policymakers would be wise to recognize that the geopolitical context is ripe for a move that just might puncture Hezb'allah's lungs.
First, recent Levantine history shows the geopolitical power of public opinion. The two most relevant examples are (1) the 2005 Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, a series of colossal popular demonstrations that put so much pressure on Syria that Syria actually ended its occupation of Lebanon, and (2) Hezb'allah's 2008 occupation of western Beirut, wherein Hezb'allah turned its arms against its own Lebanese compatriots and thereby significantly damaged its reputation as a "resistance" movement in the hearts and minds of the population.
Second, the political buzz in Lebanon for the past six months or so has been about impending indictments from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, an international body tasked with investigations into various political assassinations that have taken place in Lebanon -- most notably the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. It is all but certain that the indictments will be issued against various members of Hezb'allah, an event that would significantly harm Hezb'allah's interests, because indictments against members of Hezb'allah will blemish the organization's reputation amongst Lebanese, Sunni Arabs, and other would-be Hezb'allah supporters in the broader regional and international communities. Accordingly, Hezb'allah has spent the last several months orchestrating a public relations campaign aimed at discrediting the tribunal as a Zionist-American conspiracy.
The move American policymakers therefore ought to make is to launch an unprecedented and relentless public relations campaign against Hezb'allah, one that coincides with the issuance of the tribunal's indictments. As recent historical events demonstrate the potency of public opinion in international politics, American resources should be channeled to a plan unyieldingly dedicated to maximize the harmful impact on Hezb'allah's reputation that the indictments are sure to produce.
A reputationally disfigured Hezb'allah in the Middle East could be the precursor of Hezb'allah's demise. Such a state of affairs would help foreign policymakers seize the opportunities to influence regional events in support of U.S. objectives in Lebanon that will arise after the indictments are issued. Specifically, if the United States succeeds in alienating whatever popular support remains for Hezb'allah in the region following the tribunal's indictments, the U.S. and its allies will be much more likely to successfully pressure Iran and Syria against continued weapons transfers to Hezb'allah.
Failure to change course in Lebanon means the surrender of a sovereign state to hostile powers that are, by their very natures, subversive to the international order. For that reason, Congress should deny the FY2011 budget request for foreign military financing to the Lebanese Armed Forces as a wake-up call to the White House. Experience teaches, though the White House does not seem to recognize, that throwing roughly equivalent amounts of money at the Lebanese Armed Forces year after year while expecting different results does not constitute effective policy execution; if anything, it constitutes insanity under Einstein's definition.
Anthony Tsontakis is a small business owner based in Phoenix, Arizona.