Breaking the cycle : a new American approach to Lebanon


For the last three decades since the near-simultaneous end of the Cold War and the end of the Lebanese civil war, United States (US) policy towards Lebanon has continued to be dominated by support for specific personalities, parties and officials deemed to be ‘pro-Western’ rather than the construction of strong and effective democratic institutions for the country as a whole. At the same time, successive US administrations have led or encouraged the application of military, financial, judicial and political-diplomatic pressure against Lebanese Hezbollah in an effort to reduce (and at some times eliminate) the party’s military and political standing. In all of these endeavours, the result has been failure. ‘Pro-Western’ establishment parties are overall weaker than they were following the diplomatically-induced withdrawal of Syrian troops in 2005, with the not-so-‘silent majority’ of unaffiliated Lebanese citizens generally being assumed to now want the ousting of all political leaders, including those traditionally supported by the US. The Lebanese state is the closest that it has been to complete collapse since the civil war era, corruption is rampant, the banks are broken and unemployment is at unprecedented levels. Meanwhile, hate, crime and violence grow daily as the spectre of widespread hunger and hyper-inflation draws closer by the month. Through all of this, Hezbollah’s military power has only grown, as has its multifaceted ability to, comparatively, withstand even more force, pressure and breakdown in Lebanon. A new US-led approach to the country is therefore urgent, if only from the limited perspective of peace and stability in the eastern Mediterranean and Levant. Any such re-orientation, however, must first be linked to a marshalling of allies, competitors and enemies for a regional security dialogue focused on Iran and Saudi Arabia and an immediate de-escalation or freezing of relevant conflicts, especially between Hezbollah and Israel. With such a vital ‘breathing space,’ a multilateral Lebanon-specific reform policy could then be credibly launched to invest in effective democratic institution-building, a new socio-political compact in line with the Taif Accord that ended the last civil war and a national defence strategy capable of delivering security for all Lebanese citizens.