Lebanon Elections

U.S. reserved on election response

BEIRUT: The U.S. Embassy in Beirut Monday congratulated the Lebanese people for voting in the first parliamentary elections in nine years. Noting that more work remains ahead, such as forming a new government, the embassy voiced hope for the new Cabinet to continue working on building a “stable and secure Lebanon.”

The statement urged “all parties to uphold Lebanon’s international obligations, including those contained in U.N. Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1701, and Lebanon’s policy of dissociation from foreign conflicts.” The U.S. also praised the efforts of the Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces for playing a key role in maintaining calm “for the Lebanese people to exercise their voting rights safely.”

U.S.-based political analysts said Washington was still working on a specific response to the elections’ outcome. “My guess, so far, is that Washington is still digesting the results and will wait to see what the complexion of the new Lebanese government will look like, if it’s fundamentally different than the previous one,” said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

If the new government looks relatively the same in terms of ministerial control, Katulis said, the Pentagon will continue to advocate for the security partnership it has been building with the Lebanese Army.

Katulis played down any drastic changes in U.S. policy toward Lebanon and said that those who are currently critical of the Lebanese government in Congress will continue to be so.

“Despite the headlines, I’d be surprised if this [Hezbollah’s result] gets a significant amount of attention,” he added.

What’s more surprising, he said, is that President Donald Trump’s policy is moving from a focus on defeating Daesh (ISIS) to countering Iran.

“My view is that the Trump administration ... has really done absolutely nothing to compete with Iranian influence,” he said.

Katulis added that many don’t understand how Lebanese politics ticks and that the U.S. establishment and the Trump administration “simply doesn’t care, and that’s to our detriment.”

Aram Nerguizian, CEO of Washington-based strategy consultancy The Mortons Group, told The Daily Star that there was a tendency in the U.S. to see Lebanon through the lens of Hezbollah and by extension Iran.

But, he said, there were more measured views within Washington, especially among government institutions.

“What matters from a U.S. inter-agency perspective has more to do with actions after the elections that will signal Lebanese intent.”

He said that whoever represents Lebanon in international dealings – especially in military matters given significant Western support for the Lebanese Armed Forces – will affect U.S. approaches to the country.

“The right choice [for defense minister] would have to have unimpeachable credentials at home and abroad, understand his or her role tied to an LAF that sees itself as an increasingly capable force ... while acting as a steward of the more than $1.9 billion in military aid and training that countries like the U.S. and U.K. have invested,” Nerguizian said.

He warned, however, given the increasingly combative stance that Washington is taking toward Iran, that Lebanon must navigate carefully from this point.

“A misstep on some if not all of these points could have lasting and possibly irreversible consequences for Lebanon,” Nerguizian said.

“This is without even a pointed discussion about sanctions and economic policy.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 09, 2018, on page 3.

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