POLICY Statement

January 20, 2023: The United States Can Prevent Lebanon’sCollapse

December 05, 2023

a. Shortly before the December holidays, Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and
Jim Risch (R-NJ), chair and ranking member of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, delivered a straightforward message to Lebanon’s
leaders: make progress or face sanctions. After making multiple trips to the
country last year, including one with congressional staff, it is clear that the
United States continues to have a vital leadership role to play in not only
helping Lebanon recover from this historic crisis, but also rebuilding its
foundation to become a country with transparent and reform-oriented
political and financial leadership. There is an overwhelming consensus in the
policymaking community, reflected in the senators’ letter and a policy brief
authored by twenty leading U.S.-Lebanon policy experts, that there needs to
be a new international framework to incentivize better governance in
Lebanon. The United States needs to lead such an effort now because
Lebanon is on the precipice of failure. The priority for Lebanon’s elected
leaders and political parties is the election of a reform-oriented and
corruption-free president committed to addressing the needs of the people.
This needs to be followed with the timely formation of an effective
government. Lebanon has been without a president since Halloween. The
United States needs to use all tools at its disposal, as the Senate letter calls
for, to pressure Lebanon’s leaders to elect a president and form a
government that can usher in the reforms the country so desperately needs.
There is no time to waste. The suffering of the Lebanese people is a tragic
consequence of the corruption of Lebanon’s financial and political elite who
benefitted from a Ponzi Scheme that has rendered the country’s currency
valueless and triggered a crisis in the banking sector. Meanwhile, Lebanon’s
elected leaders have delayed implementing reforms outlined in the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff-level agreement, which are
necessary for unlocking IMF support to rehabilitate the country’s economy.
The United States has made it clear that the IMF package is essential for
both Lebanon’s socioeconomic recovery and future support from the United
States and international community. As a result of this crisis, 80 percent of
Lebanon’s population of 6.5 million residents and refugees live below the
poverty level. The country’s education and healthcare sectors are being
neglected at all levels. The largest university in Lebanon, Lebanese
University, doesn’t even have paper to administer exams. As Lebanon drifts
into failed state status there is a strong chance the United States will be
dragged further into a protracted and increasingly difficult task to protect
U.S. interests in the region and counter increasing encroachment from Russia
and Iran. Electricity reform is an area where the United States can show
leadership that concretely affects millions of Lebanese. Right now, the
Lebanese people are only receiving about one to two hours of electricity per
day due to corruption and incompetence in the electricity sector. Without this
vital source of power, economic stability will be impossible, and the lives of
the Lebanese will deteriorate. The Levantine Energy Deal, which would see
Egyptian gas and Jordanian electricity imported to Lebanon, is a major
solution promoted by the United States. Lebanon has an equally important
role to play as the Ministry of Energy needs to recruit a politically-neutral
Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) and propose a sustainable cost
recovery program as necessary conditions for World Bank support for the
project. This is all the more important because Iran has approached
Lebanon with an offer of a “gift” of fuel for Lebanese power plants to avoid
the complication of sanctions. Support for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF)
continues to be one of the strongest bipartisan pillars of support for the
United States in the Middle East. Given the depleting salaries of the soldiers
due to the country’s economic crisis, the one-time livelihood support the
United States is providing to military families in the LAF and Internal
Security Forces (ISF) in Lebanon is crucial and comes hand in hand with
encouraging U.S. allies to continue their support. Consistent support for the
LAF is essential if Lebanon is to control its own security and protect its
territorial integrity against both its own enemies and those of the United
States. The United States has recently shown its indispensable leadership in
facilitating the maritime boundary agreement between Lebanon and Israel,
thus avoiding the threat of another war. The United States will need to show
the same determination in leading the international community, especially its
partners in Europe and the Gulf, in pressuring Lebanon’s elected leaders to
elect a president who is clean, capable, and willing to institute needed
reforms that address Lebanon’s needs. If the United States can prioritize the
Lebanon response now, it can avoid further deterioration which will only
result in a more-costly price to be paid later. Edward M. Gabriel is president
of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a leadership organization of
Americans of Lebanese descent, and former U.S. Ambassador to Morocco.
b. Image: Shutterstock via the National Interest.
c. Read Full Article Here.

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