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Tags: lebanon | united states | uprising | religious liberty

US Must Help Lebanon Become a Haven for Christians

US Must Help Lebanon Become a Haven for Christians

Lebanese protesters flee from security forces on their way back after having cut through the security barrier leading to the government palace at Riad al-Solh square in the capital Beirut's downtown district on November 19, 2019. (Anwar Amro/AFP via Getty Images)

Bruce Abramson By Wednesday, 20 November 2019 04:26 PM EST Current | Bio | Archive

The Lebanese street is rising. To American ears, such a report is hardly news. Another Middle Eastern country on the verge of chaos? Americans have grown beyond weary of hearing such tales. Americans might be forgiven for thinking that it’s just more of the same.

Lebanon was supposed to be different.

When the French carved its borders out of the Mandate for Syria roughly a century ago, Lebanon was supposed to be a safe haven for Christians — the first exercise in self-determination for Levantine Christians since 1291.

Granted, the country was never fully Christian. From birth, Lebanon incorporated sizable Muslim and Druze populations. Its Constitution enshrined a governing triumvirate — Christian President, Sunni Prime Minister, and Shiite Speaker of the Parliament. Part Arab, part Mediterranean, bustling and commercial yet deeply traditional, Lebanon’s identity was confused and confusing. What is certain, however, is that Lebanon was never supposed to be what it has become: an Iranian puppet state.

When the Khomeinist mullahs conquered Iran in 1979, they set out to export their revolution among the world’s Shiite Muslims. Hezbollah, their greatest success by far, roared to prominence with bombs, killing over 300 American military and diplomatic personnel in Beirut in 1983. The Islamist militia positioned itself as a virulent foe of Israel, funneled Iranian largesse into both an arsenal and a social service program that secured its popularity, blossomed into a global player in terrorism, drugs, and money laundering, and effectively swallowed the Lebanese government whole.

As of a few short weeks ago, Hezbollah’s — and thus Iran’s— grip on Lebanon appeared secure. The country’s Christian President Michel Aoun (an open ally of Hezbollah), and its Sunni PM Saad Hariri were figureheads presiding over a corrupt kleptocracy. It is precisely that government against which Lebanese of all sects, faiths, and tribes, are now rising. The Lebanese street is calling for clean government, economic reform, and an end to Iranian hegemony.

This expression of genuine grassroots yearning presents the U.S. with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make things right for Lebanon and wrong for Iran. Moreover, it presents an opportunity for the U.S. do so using diplomatic and economic tools — not the military, and certainly not boots on the ground.

President Trump’s strategy of sanctioning Iran is already paying dividends. The wedge emerging between Hezbollah and the Lebanese street has the potential to erode the burgeoning Iranian empire. Signs of contagion were immediate, as the Iraqi and Iranian streets have also risen against the Mullahs.

A free Lebanon will be free to reorient its identity and fulfill its original mission. The twenty-first century has been brutal for the Middle East’s Christians — and all of the region’s other minorities. Sunni and Shiite Islamists alike have targeted them for genocide. Christians are fleeing the region — the birthplace of Christianity — at an alarming rate. On present trends, the “Arab world” will soon eradicate its Christians as completely as it has eradicated its Jews. Only Lebanon can save them.

A free Lebanon can make itself a haven for Middle Eastern Christians, much as Israel has embraced and integrated Middle Eastern Jews. A free Lebanon can orient itself towards the Mediterranean, anchoring itself with its maritime neighbors rather than those to its east. A Christian Lebanon can provide a safe home to citizens drawn from region’s many minorities — as well as Muslims seeking to live among them in peace and dignity. While naysayers may declare that that ship has already sailed, it need not remain at sea.

The humanitarian benefits of turning such a dream into a reality are clear. What may be less clear are its significant strategic benefits. In Lebanon, America’s moral interest in protecting religious liberty aligns with one of its greatest strategic imperatives: driving a wedge between Russia and Iran.

Vladimir Putin has positioned Russia as a protector of Christians. A shift in Lebanon’s power structure away from Hezbollah in favor of Christians and moderate Muslims would pit a central Russian interest against a central Iranian interest. The resulting tension will complicate their entire relationship. It’s hard to imagine any regional development better aligned with American strategic interests.

The beauty of it all is that military engagement is exactly the wrong weapon to achieve these humanitarian and strategic goals. The situation calls for deft diplomacy and economic assistance. The president should appoint a trusted Special Envoy for Lebanon empowered to sanction selected corrupt autocrats without harming the broad public. The Special Envoy should identify and support anti-terror, anti-corruption leaders able to reorient the country’s security and economic realities — and help usher in the technocratic caretaker government that the Lebanese street is demanding.

The path forward in Lebanon is far from easy. But for the first time in a long time, it is possible to see a path. America must not let it pass untaken.

Bruce Abramson is the President of Informationism, Inc., a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, and the founder of the American Restoration Institute. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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The Lebanese street is rising. To American ears, such a report is hardly news.
lebanon, united states, uprising, religious liberty
Wednesday, 20 November 2019 04:26 PM
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