After 13 months of torturous discussions, last Friday Lebanon’s political elite achieved what many believed to be impossible.
It finally formed a government tasked with leading that unfortunate country out of its continuum of political, financial, social, and public health crises, which has included one of the worst economic collapses in modern times and the largest non-nuclear explosion ever to devastate a city.
Led by Najib Mikati, a telecommunications billionaire who served ineffectually as prime minister for three months in 2005 and again from 2011 to 2014, the new government enjoys neither popular support nor democratic legitimacy.
It is, rather, the product of a protracted backroom deal formed among Lebanon’s fractious political factions and approved by its president Michel Aoun, a Syria- and Iran-aligned general left over from Lebanon’s civil war who will turn 88 this month.
The government’s formation, which was in doubt until nearly the last minute, resulted not just from the usual domestic horse trading, but also from foreign pressure, including from the Biden administration, which is reeling from the unbelievable calamity it just created in Afghanistan.
Some enthusiasm greeted Lebanon’s new government.
Its nominal task is to reform the country’s thoroughly corrupt state and society. With a poverty rate now exceeding 80 percent and basic resources scarce enough to threaten everyday survival, Lebanon desperately needs those reforms, which are also a prerequisite for receiving tens of billions of dollars in foreign aid that have been on the table for three and a half years while its political leaders temporized.
If reform is the goal, Lebanon could not have chosen a worse gallery of rogues to lead its national institutions.
Except for Mikati, virtually none of the 23 new ministers has any experience of legislative or executive government. Almost all are regarded as placemen for entrenched interests so threatened by any degree of transparency that they have long preferred for their fellow citizens to wallow in squalor rather than risk their grip on power.
To make it worse, sixteen of them – more than a two-thirds majority – are aligned either directly with Aoun or with his allies, which include Hezbollah, the Iran-backed political party widely condemned as a terrorist organization and generally believed to be responsible for the explosion and numerous other outrages of which it stonewalls any real investigation.
In the words of Van Meguerditchian, a Paris-based Lebanese journalist who recently became a French citizen and has no interest in returning to his country, most of the new ministers “are reliably in Tehran’s pocket.”
“Does this mean that real reforms will be implemented?” asks Bachar el Halabi, an analyst for a commodities intelligence firm who now lives in Istanbul. “I really don’t think so.”
Hicham Tohme, a strategic consultant who relocated to the United States a few months ago, more bluntly calls the new cabinet “a slap in the face to every Lebanese” and “a new bunch of crooks garnished with a couple of public figures to divert attention from one of the biggest heists in history.”
Why did the Biden administration pressure the pro-Western politicians in Lebanon to go along with the most pro-Iranian government in nearly 20 years?
A stable Lebanon is in itself of no interest. It produces nothing vital and has no strategic significance.
It has no role to play in the region or even in its own decayed society, now a brewing battleground between heavily armed Iran-backed militants and their terrorized victims.
Its best and brightest have fled or desperately want to flee, with an incredible 77% of young people saying they want to emigrate.
Its “opposition,” which tries to mimic the international progressive left, is pitiful, weak, feckless, and unwilling to risk even minor inconvenience – let alone life or limb – to bring about the change it heroically demands on Twitter.
Lebanon’s kleptocratic elite will do anything to avoid exposure of its decades of corruption and malfeasance. Despite calls for change, it knows from experience that stealing from a failed state is a lot easier than stealing from a reformed one.
Shattered by Afghanistan, failed in Latin America, cowed and intimidated by China and Russia, distrusted by Europe, and unwilling to commit military power to save U.S. citizens in dire straits or even control its own borders, the Biden administration desperately needs a foreign policy achievement to avoid what could easily be – in for many already is – a total loss of legitimacy.
For polite and orderly caretakers of America’s decline, the only possible direction is Iran, specifically a restoration of the deeply flawed and virtually unenforceable nuclear deal negotiated under Obama and abandoned by Trump.
Having witnessed Biden’s weakness and the staggering ineptitude of his foreign policy team, Tehran has no reason to come to terms quickly, easily, or, indeed, at all.
Appeasing Iran by pushing Lebanon into its orbit, however, strikes our cowardly foreign policy establishment as a prize concession to bring the Iranians back to the table.
Of course, the logic is dangerously flawed. It recalls 1930s appeasers who, shell-shocked by World War I, sought to avoid a rematch for which they had no stomach by yielding one diplomatic victory after another to Adolf Hitler in the hope that he would eventually be sated.
It is the same argument advanced by Cold War-era proponents of détente, who believed that the Soviet Union would moderate its militant foreign policy in exchange for a negotiated surrender of Western strategic advantages.
It didn’t work then and it won’t work now, but four million immiserated Lebanese pawns will be the next to suffer the consequences of the new internationalism, which will likely feature an Iranian outpost on the Mediterranean for which we can thank President Biden.
Paul du Quenoy is president of the Palm Beach Freedom Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in History from Georgetown University. Read more — Here.
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