Standing Up for Lebanon – Recent US Words and Actions

Sunday, May 23, 2021

It is about time the Lebanese people had a bit of good news from the international community, and this past week the US delivered. There were two letters from members of Congress and an approval of an appropriation for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) to help that national institution weather the economic downturn. Much of the momentum behind these positive developments was generated by the American Task Force on Lebanon (ATFL) and other supporters of the bilateral relationship.

The first letter was generated by Chairman Gregory Meeks of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and is co-signed by Ted Deutch, chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism, and other members of the subcommittee.

The letter was addressed is Secretary of State Antony Blinken and said, “We urge prompt and significant US action, in coordination with key international partners, to address the suffering of the Lebanese people and prevent Lebanon from economic collapse, posing further risks to the security and stability of the broader Middle East as well as US national security.” It notes that “As conditions worsen, internal Lebanese actors such as Hezbollah, along with other militias and criminal networks, and external forces such as Iran and Russia, cynically aim to leverage the fragmentation of the Lebanese state and society for their own gain.”

The Meeks letter’s listed four recommendations: formation of an international group of friends of Lebanon to develop a plan to stabilize the economy pending formation of a government capable of implementing reforms, attacking corruption, and completing an audit of the Central Bank; building an international humanitarian assistance fund that would be channeled directly to the people; supplementary support for the Lebanese Armed Forces; and completing an independent investigation of the Beirut Port explosion of August 4.

In conclusion, the letter stated, “We support policies that advance a strong and stable US – Lebanon relationship and a just, prosperous, and independent future for the Lebanese people.”

The second letter, from the US-Lebanon Friendship Caucus, echoed many of the points made in the Chairman Meeks letter, stressing the humanitarian and security repercussions of the current status of Lebanon. The Caucus, which was recently relaunched in the 117th Congress, has more than 20 members. Its letter was sent to President Biden as well as Secretary of State Blinken. It was co-signed by the four co-chairs of the Caucus, Representatives Darin LaHood, Charlie Crist, Darrell Issa, and Debbie Dingell, and other members.
The Caucus letter made the point that “Lebanon can again be an example of a stable, independent, and sovereign democracy in the Middle East. In partnership with the US and its allies, Lebanon can overcome the challenges facing it today. Success requires the commitment to forming a transparent and representative government protected from political corruption, implementation of economic reforms, and ensuring continued access to humanitarian resources for its people.”

On the security front, The U.S. Department of State and the Lebanese Armed Forces held their inaugural Defense Resourcing Conference on May 21, 2021. According to the State Department press release, “The delegations discussed the deteriorating economic, political, and humanitarian conditions affecting the Lebanese people and military.” As a result of the excellent cooperation between the US and Lebanon, the State Department renewed its commitment to the LAF by announcing $120 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) assistance to Lebanon for fiscal year 2021, subject to Congressional notification procedures, which is a $15 million increase over prior-year levels.

As importantly, the two delegations “discussed ways to leverage the full range of authorities under US law through which the United States can provide additional assistance to the LAF as it grapples with the economic crises in Lebanon.” As an example of this cooperation, the US Defense Department plans “to transfer three Protector-class patrol boats to the Lebanese Navy, which, upon delivery in 2022, will enhance the Lebanese Navy’s ability to counter external and regional threats, and protect freedom of navigation and commerce in the maritime domain.” This is in line with the latest UNIFIL reauthorization directing the LAF to upgrade its naval capability.

Edward Gabriel, ATFL President, welcomed the letters and support for the LAF pointing out “Lebanon remains a priority for US despite all the turmoil in the region. Its American educational institutions, a relationship going back more than 150 years, and the bilateral ties between the military authorities are nourished by the more than 1.5 million Lebanese Americans. Lebanon’s survival and success must continue to be a priority for the US.”

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon.