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Problems With Current U.S. Policy.

America's foreign policy toward Lebanon still suffers from a number of problems and cannot be divorced from the history of U.S. interference in Lebanon's internal affairs and U.S. support of Israeli policies detrimental to the Lebanese people and interests. Washington has demonstrated indifference toward the plight of the Palestinian refugees, who still languish in squalid refugee camps, subject to Israeli bombardment and Lebanese army and security harassment. The Clinton White House is the first administration to openly oppose their right of return. In addition, Washington, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, has also supported (directly or indirectly) Israeli attacks against Lebanon for more than thirty years.

The U.S.--which went to war against Iraq ostensibly to force the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions--has blocked enforcement of UN Security Council Resolution 425, passed in 1978, which calls on Israel to withdraw unconditionally from Lebanese territory. Indeed, Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk has publicly advised the Israeli government not to withdraw its forces unilaterally from Lebanon, irrespective of its international obligations.

The Lebanese have consistently called for Israel's withdrawal and for an end to its support of the South Lebanese Army (SLA), a militia of local thugs attracted by relatively high salaries. Reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem have repeatedly documented widespread and systematic human rights violations against the civilian Lebanese population by both Israeli occupation forces and the SLA. Yet, the Clinton administration actively participated in a cover-up of Israel's 1997 massacre at the UN base of Qana--where over one hundred Lebanese civilians were killed--by attempting to suppress a report by the United Nations revealing that the attack was deliberate.

The continued Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory--amounting to one-tenth of the country--prevents Beirut from establishing peace and security throughout its territory. The Lebanese government has virtually no presence in southern Lebanon, where people live at the whim of the Israeli army and its allies. That the U.S. remains the main military and political benefactor of the Israeli occupiers only adds to the deep antipathy that most Lebanese feel toward the United States.

Similarly, many Lebanese resent the anti-Muslim tone and substance of U.S. foreign policy, especially the rush to characterize Muslim political acts as terrorist. Although armed resistance to foreign military occupation is recognized as legitimate under international law and though the resistance is officially endorsed by the Lebanese government, those fighting the Israelis in southern Lebanon are frequently characterized by Washington as a terrorist movement due to the leadership of the Hezbollah, or "Party of God." The anti-Muslim prejudice in American popular culture also leads many Lebanese to believe that there is a deliberate campaign in the U.S. to defame Islam and to malign Muslims and Arabs. Recent discourse about the "clash of civilizations" thesis of Samuel Huntington has alarmed many Lebanese, who fear a revival of a cold war directed toward Islam at Arab expense.

The Lebanese people can point to many issues that heighten their concerns and objections to U.S. foreign policy. The continued sanctions against Iraq, which largely harm civilian Iraqis, are overwhelmingly opposed by the Lebanese and most other Arabs. Public opinion surveys clearly reveal that the Lebanese people support the Iraqis during their current ordeal, which they blame on Washington. Without U.S. intervention, the Gulf War would not have been fought and the sanctions would have been lifted a long time ago. The Iraqi crisis is often cited by Lebanese and other Arabs as an example of the anti-Arab bias in U.S. foreign policy.

Many Lebanese are also irate that the U.S. embassy routinely interferes in Lebanon's political affairs. Recent meddling by the U.S. ambassador troubles those who wish to rebuild the sovereignty of Lebanon after decades of civil war. In the 1980s, U.S. diplomats openly talked about U.S. preferences in Lebanese presidential elections, reviving the role Washington had played at the height of the cold war. Many Lebanese resent such U.S. intrusions as much as they resent the Syrians, who effectively dictate Lebanon's foreign policy.

Besides the ongoing Israeli occupation, the top concern of most Lebanese is the state of the economy. Here, too, there are apprehensions about the U.S. role and its economic agenda. In 1998, Washington--in league with Microsoft--pressured the Lebanese government to pass a special copyright law to protect U.S. products, ensuring that such technologies remain beyond the reach of most Lebanese, who have become accustomed to purchasing affordable, albeit pirated, products.

In this regard, serious misgivings are being expressed about globalization and its impact on Lebanon and other developing countries. The World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are now symbols of resented U.S. global hegemony. U.S. economic and trade policies in the region seem to reward client regimes regardless of their human rights violations, and the policies of the World Bank and the IMF are increasingly geared toward privatization and the reduction of the public sector, which is often the largest employer within a country. Conditions imposed by the IMF and the World Bank often lead to substantial reduction in government expenditures on health and education, while military expenditure is allowed to grow. Thus, the U.S. version of globalization is scaring, not reassuring, many Lebanese.

Key Problems

* The U.S., to the regret and consternation of most Lebanese, still does not support UN Security Council Resolution 425, which calls on Israel to withdraw unconditionally from Lebanese territory.

* Many Lebanese resent the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim attitude that they detect in U.S. foreign policy and popular culture.

* The effects of globalization and the policies of the World Bank and the IMF frighten most Lebanese, who are concerned about the greed of multinational corporations.

As'ad AbuKhalil is an associate professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus, and a research fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
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Author:AbuKhalil, As'ad
Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Feb 1, 2000
Words:998
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