Lebanese Students Advise Obama How to Get it Right

By Franklin Lamb- Beirut

If those in Lebanon watching the news on 11/12/09 blinked they might have missed an interesting news item.  It appeared at approximately 4:20 pm on Narharnet.com, the pro-US/Saudi news website.

The news item read "4:16 pm, American Ambassador Michele Sison (sp) departed Lebanon for her country." Ten minutes later the item disappeared and, as it turned out, the ten minutes was exactly how long it took for the US Embassy security and press office to inform Beirut media outlets that "the American Ambassadors movements are to be reported at least one hour after they occur not one minute."

The hasty departure of Ambassador Michele Sisson, according to the US Foreign Relations Committee office, may have been because the Obama administration is preparing for a ‘deep review’ of its 9 months effort in Lebanon and the region, debriefing key officials arriving from the area to participate.

Ambassador Sisson will likely give the White House an ear full, including a report of what the Embassy Press Office referred to as the spectacle this week of former US friends and assets in the March 14 majority coalition warmly and very publicly embracing at various events marking the end of the 5 month effort to create a government here of those "Iranian surrogates" in Hezbollah. The Ambassador may also report to the White House that Hezbollah in now the most popular and  respected political party in Lebanon and the main pillar of the new government and  that it is about to launch its social welfare initiatives in Parliament.

The White House appears to know that Hezbollah is here to stay and if a plebiscite was held polls show that  the Lebanese public would agree that now more than ever the growing National Lebanese Resistance led by Hezbollah is needed as a deterrent to Israeli aggression, given the recent discovery of a vast Israeli spy network, daily violations of Lebanese sovereignty, as well as the serial threats from all manner of Israeli officials, extremist rabbi’s, settlers and their supporters in the US Congress who appear to be encouraging Israel to launch its 7th War against Lebanon.

The Bush and Obama administrations former ally, and new Prime Minister Saad Hariri is apparently also pulling back a bit from Washington and seems to be going out of his way this week in  stress this, telling a group of students at Beirut Arab University that "Lebanon will no longer be the playground for regional Conflicts and that there must be no more international heavy handedness from outside powers". Some of the students thought he was alluding to the United States.

At a Hamra Internet Café a chic and sassy Saudi student majoring in business explained, as she examined several rings on her fingers: "Your government has already served Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and soon Palestine and Egypt to Iran on a mezza platter.  Soon, maybe my country! Is your government stupid or just what is the problem?"

A coup de grace of sorts is has been  administered to the Lebanese branch of  the "New Middle East " project  by former US ‘partner’ Walid Jumblatt when after telling a visiting American delegation that "the neocons are still in charge in Washington" he announced that Syria, his former sworn enemy, does indeed have legitimate geopolitical  interests in Lebanon and that he for one was ready to acknowledge and even support them. Even Saudia Arabia seems willing to defer to Syria as the Wahabist Kingdom calculates how best to revive Arab nationalism as a bulwark against its nemesis, Shia Iran. In the background the influence of Egypt, under its long time President Hosni Mubarak, diminishes. All these fast moving maneuvers and events leaves Washington with only Samir Geagea and few others to do its bidding.

The White House is no doubt already aware that the past three years of US-Israeli projects are in tatters as that Lebanon may indeed have joined the regional  era of Resistance.

Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassim, who will play a key role in enacting social programs in Parliament that Hezbollah is committed to has made clear as he stated yesterday, that  "It’s time to get to work."

Hezbollah has yielded to some of its political opponents some of its expected Cabinet seats, out of a bloated number of 30 as part of the 15 (March 14 ‘Majority’) 10 (Hezbollah led opposition) and 5 (appointed by President Michel Suleiman) formula. The reason is to get off to a good start in the newly formed government.

One Hezbollah official noted in a recent conversation about the makeup of the new government which is one the White House does not favor but can do little about just now:

"Tayyeb! (OK!), this is our (Hezbollah’s) opportunity to show our countrymen and others who we are and what we can do for our country. I will admit that our Zionist enemies had been somewhat successful in creating a false image of us. We will now work with all parties and try to implement our legislative program. You will see us compromise and try to convince all factions to work with us to improve Lebanon. We do this not for Iran or Syria but because we are Lebanese. Watch us, criticize us, and condemn us if we fail. Let’s see what we can achieve with all the political factions. Long after Hezbollah helps return our Palestinian guests to their rightful homes we will be trying to improve our country as part of our government."

American policy towards Lebanon is in some ways back to square one. There are a numbers of things that the Obama Administration can do to begin to rebuild Lebanese confidence in the Obama administration’s good intensions.

At a recent meeting in West Beirut, a group of students, young and old, gathered at a seminar to discuss the image of America in the Levant. A US Embassy representative was invited but bowed out at the last minute and advised the group to ‘send us an email and we will look it over." So far there has been no reply from the Embassy but below are some of the suggestions from Lebanese University students to the White House, State Department and US Congress, updated on 11/12/09.

1. Immediately issue a Press Release explaining whether the rumors are true that President Obama gave Israeli PM Netanyahu a ‘green light’for its threatened 7th War against Lebanon. AIPAC has been telling some Congressional Hill staffers that the reports of a ‘cold meeting’ between the two leaders  last weekend was "for public consumption’ but that in fact the meeting went swimmingly for Israel and Netanyahu came away with a caution but approval for its plans to ‘finish business’ in Lebanon which the Israeli leader claimed will benefit both countries.

2. Support the current General Assembly Draft Resolution sponsored by China and Sudan and expected to garner close to 168 votes and pass, that requires full and fair compensation from Israel to be paid to Lebanon for the July 13 and July 15, 2006 bombings of the Jiyyeh Oil Storage tanks south of Beirut that heavily polluted 150 km of Lebanon’s shoreline. According to Greenpeace the effects of the release of the 15,000 gallons of heavy oil can take decades to recovery and the final clean up costs may exceed one billion dollars.

3. Give Israel not more than 30 days to withdraw from Sheba Farms and ‘Ghajar village as required by UN Security Council Resolutions 1701 and 425, the latter unanimously passed in the Security Council in 1978, demanded complete Israeli withdrawal from Lebanese territory and has still not been fully complied with and  has been gathering dust for 31 years.

4. Adequately fund and provide equipment for the cleanup of South Lebanon and the removal of American cluster bombs and land mines. After three years of effort, 7.9 million square meters remain unclear and with winter approaching again the bomblets become more difficult to find as casualties continue to climb from the current number of 263. On November 4, 2999 the US did pledge additional funds to the Lebanese Army as part of its "anti-terrorism" program but much more need to be done.

5. End the political favoritism in US AID projects to Lebanon and other US foreign projects here and make American foreign aid grants on the basis of need and effectiveness in helping Lebanon as a whole rather than according to party affiliation, sect, religion or neighborhood.

6. End the bashing of Hezbollah, Syria and Iran by the flow of US officials who float into Lebanon with various  threats or to  announce for the umpteenth time that the US ‘respects the freedom, sovereignty, and independence of Lebanon", while  blatantly interfering in Lebanon’s integral affairs.  This charade has become the butt of Lebanese stand up comedians and undermines US efforts to be taken seriously.

7. The US should join the growing "Dialogue paradigm" in the region and work to erase the huge contradictions between American government "sweet songs" as in June 2009 by President Obama in Cairo, and their deeds. Talk with those most needed for making peace in the region including Syria, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. Trying to destroy or punish them by unconvincing slurs makes the US appear rather silly.

8. Clarify for the Lebanese public any US plans for another airbase and who would have access to it.

9. End the evident US efforts at igniting Sunni-Shia clashes not just in Lebanon but in Iraq, Saudia Arabia, Iran, and Yemen.

Hopefully Ambassador Sisson, whose representative missed the meeting at the American University of Beirut, will pass along some of these Lebanese proposals to the President.

– Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at fplamb@gmail.com.

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