Rice's own background should help her understand Lebanon.
Summary: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to Lebanon on Monday was not announced beforehand, but the real surprise will come if and when her government develops a policy that is helpful for this country - all of it. Generally, Washington's approach to Lebanese affairs has been to pick sides regarding internal issues and to ignore Beirut's.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to Lebanon on Monday was not announced beforehand, but the real surprise will come if and when her government develops a policy that is helpful for this country - all of it. Generally, Washington's approach to Lebanese affairs has been to pick sides regarding internal issues and to ignore Beirut's very real grievances against Israel on external matters. Both of these tendencies reinforce one another, making Lebanon even more vulnerable than usual to internecine tensions and foreign aggression.
Worse yet, when such policies have contributed to miscalculations and/or disaster, the US reaction has been to let its supposed friends twist in the wind. Unquestioning US support for the ruling March 14 Forces, for instance, helped intensify and prolong the power struggle that led to the bloody clashes of early May - and where were the Americans? Likewise, America's failure to get its Israeli allies out of the occupied Shebaa Farms was a key factor in the circumstances that led to the 2006 war between this country and the Jewish state - and the Americans cheered the Israelis on (and even replenished their arsenal) as the latter slaughtered hundreds of innocent people and wrecked billions of dollars worth of civilian infrastructure.
Rice and her boss, US President George W. Bush, have a chance to atone for what they and their predecessors have done, but first they have to understand why they have been so badly mistaken. Luckily, Rice's own personal history might be useful in this regard. She is the first African-American woman to serve as secretary of state, but she grew up in the shadow of her own country's struggle to extend the full rights of citizenship to people of color. As she recently noted, the Democratic Party's nomination of another African-American, Senator Barack Obama, as its presidential candidate demonstrates that America has come a long way. Can she be made to understand, though, that Lebanon's sectarian system literally bans that sort of progress - and encourages parts of the population to view their neighbors as a permanent underclass?
Rice can help. She can do so by granting Lebanon's recently elected president, Michel Sleiman, room for maneuver as he tries to steer the middle course entrusted to him as a consensus leader. She can also do so by getting her colleagues back in Washington to recognize that Lebanon is the last place where anyone should try to flog Bush's notorious assertion that people and governments are "either with us or against us." As part of an outgoing administration that is no longer subject to electoral considerations, she can lean on the Israelis, too, to end their occupation of Lebanese land once and for all. Most importantly, she should accept - no, embrace - the fact that some Lebanese are no longer willing to be second-class citizens.
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|Publication:||The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)|
|Date:||Jun 17, 2008|
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