16 Jan

With Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House with a Republican majority, it is widely assumed that there will be some shifts in US Foreign Policy.

There are several countries in crisis that could benefit from a change of approach from Washington, whether it’s increasing development projects, increased assistance in creating political stability through elections, improving defence capabilities and cooperation or even just taking the step of walking away. Whatever it is, countries facing crisis are always on the lookout for positive news.

One country in dire need of positive news is Lebanon. The last couple of years have been chaotic for the country. It has dealt with an influx of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria, COVID, and the horrific explosion at the port of Beirut that unmasked the rampant corruption in the country as well as a financial collapse. Ordinary citizens have been seen breaking into banks in order to gain access to their own accounts as well. The optics show how dangerous the situation is in a country that has also faced challenges in appointing a Prime Minister to oversee the government. 

However, Lebanon’s infamous political instability makes any effort for reform a challenge.

Hezbollah claims to speak for the Shia community but has two factors that make their motives interesting. They have proven adept at providing services for the destitute in the country, their presence in Syria providing support for the government of Bashar Assad and their passion for provoking Israel along the border have created tensions in the past. If left unchecked, Hezbollah could instigate a conflict between Lebanon and either Israel or some actors within Syria. 

The United States has not totally ignored Lebanon over the last few years. Despite concerns over the presence of Hezbollah in parliament and at least one ministry in government, the last few administrations have decided not to partner with the government but have decided on a relationship with the Lebanese Armed Forces. 

The United States Department of Defense does consider the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) to be one of the most competent forces in the region. It has provided material and operational support to them as it is felt within the Pentagon that this is an effective deterrent in preventing Iran from a military intervention to support their proxies in Lebanon. 

There are additional actions that could be taken to support Lebanon. The answer is yes. It has been suggested that an increase in aid by the international community of $100 Million is necessary for both the American University of Beirut and the Lebanese American University. It has also been suggested that the US encourage the World Bank to support a proposal that would provide $36 Million to keep the Lebanese University open. Attention should also be focused on addressing the breakdown in both primary and secondary education as well. The health care system is also in the process of collapsing as well as citizens can not even access emergency care. 

Those are the carrots, as for the sticks: the power brokers in Lebanon must learn that international aid and diplomatic support that the country currently is receiving can be withdrawn. The failure to elect a capable president committed to reforms will be paramount in the views of Washington and other donors. Some moves that are expected include reducing public expenditures, reforming tax policies and fighting tax evasion, concluding a realistic budget for 2023 and restructuring the banking sector while protecting the rights of small depositors.

A delay in electing a president should not be accepted due to the struggles of the Lebanese people. Further delays could make an unstable region even worse and even more suffering to people that have endured several blows over the last few years. 

Another issue that needs to be resolved is the presence of refugees in the country. It has been suggested that in order to provide adequate services to refugees, host communities and other vulnerable populations an additional $1billion is required. The full scope of the problem deserves study so that a solution can be found. 

Lebanon may be broken, but there are means available to repair this country. The question then shifts to whether or not the people in power want to resolve the problems or allow fiefdoms to maintain their power. Change is needed in Lebanon but will it arrive in a timely manner? That is the big question.

Scott Morgan

Scott Morgan has been the President of Red Eagle Enterprises since its inception in November 2012. He uses his experience from serving in the U.S. Military to address various projects. Currently based in Washington DC, his firm specializes in US Policy towards Africa focusing on security and religious liberty concerns south of the Sahara. His firm provides content to Juicy Ecumenism which is a project of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, is a co-owner of the Maghreb and Orient Courier and provides content to Dissecting Society and to Militant Wire. His Blog Confused Eagle can be found at confusedeagledc.substack.com
He tweets as (@confusedeagledc)