...On Lebanon

Posted by Ann Somerset
October 5, 2007
2005 Ceder Revolution

Ann Somerset, Lebanon Desk Officer, writes about her experiences...

Working on Lebanon breaks my heart some days.

I took on the role of Lebanon desk officer here at State one week after the start of the conflict between Hizballah and Israel last summer. Watching this vibrant, fledgling democracy devastated by the unilateral actions of a terrorist group within its borders was awful.

Days like Thursday, September 19, just a few weeks ago, are the worst. I was on the phone with a colleague at the National Security Council when we started to get reports of a massive explosion in Beirut. In just a few minutes, we identified the target of the attack to have been anti-Syrian Lebanese Parliamentarian Antoine Ghanem. At least 6 others have also died as a result of the attack, including a pregnant woman who just died (Oct. 2). At least 30 were injured.

Ghanem was the sixth Lebanese Parliamentarian to be assassinated since 2005, and the tenth anti-Syrian Lebanese leader to be attacked in the same time frame. None of these crimes have been solved.

The Lebanese government has been under siege by Hizballah and the pro-Syrian opposition since November of last year when all of the Shia members of the Cabinet resigned. The Parliament was scheduled to meet on September 25 for the first time this year to begin negotiations to identify a new Lebanese president, but less than the required quorum showed up, so the session was rescheduled for October 23. Parliament must identify a new president before the expiration of current pro-Syrian President Lahoud’s term on November 24.

It is easy to look at the tragic events in Lebanon and be overwhelmed. But when I take a step back, I can’t help but be struck by the amazing progress Lebanon has made over the last two years.

After almost 40 years of occupation, massive popular demonstrations in Beirut led Syria to withdraw its military presence in 2005. Shortly thereafter, the Lebanese people elected a new parliament – the first “made in Lebanon” parliament in decades. Last fall, the Lebanese Army deployed to Southern Lebanon, again for the first time in decades, replacing Hizballah’s control of the area with that of the Lebanese Government. Despite the ongoing political stalemate, the Lebanese Government is implementing an ambitious economic reform plan that will help secure Lebanon’s economic future. This summer, the Lebanese Army successfully routed the terrorist group, Fatah al Islam, which had been operating in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon. The UN has appointed an International Independent Investigation Commission to assist the Lebanese in investigating the assassinations and attempted assassinations of Lebanese Leaders like former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and now Antoine Ghanem. The Lebanese are also working with the UN to establish a Special Tribunal that will try those accused of assassinating Hariri and others.

The Lebanese now have the ability to elect a new Lebanese President, one who will be beholden neither to foreign powers nor terrorist groups. One who will be able to focus on the issues that are important for Lebanon’s future, like ensuring the disarmament of militias.

The U.S. has increased its assistance to Lebanon. U.S. assistance to Lebanon before 2005 averaged below $50 million a year; we’ve announced over $1 billion in new humanitarian, economic, and security assistance for Lebanon since August 2006. We are also working with the UN Security Council and with international partners to ensure the assistance necessary for Lebanon to become fully sovereign, democratic, and prosperous.

Sa’ad Hariri, the head of the Future block in the Lebanese parliament and the son of Rafiq Hariri, is in Washington this week with a number of parliamentarians. I attended an Iftar with them last night at the Lebanese Ambassador’s residence. The Parliamentarians were talking about the way their lives have turned upside down in response to the threats during the election season. They can’t stay at home with their families but are forced to either remain outside of the country or to stay all together in one hotel in Beirut where extra security can be offered. They travel in extreme secrecy. Their businesses are failing because they can’t go to work. One’s wife had suggested he give her power of attorney “in case something happened to him.” I asked if they ever considered just resigning – “Never,” they responded, “How could we?”

The family of 28-year old Charles Shikhan, one of the victims of the September 19 attack, organized a candle procession in Beirut last night (Oct 3) to protest the wave of attacks targeting anti-Syrian figures in Lebanon. It’s that continued determination in the face of danger that makes Lebanon such an exciting country to work with. I can’t help but be optimistic about its future.

Lebanon does break my heart some days, but most days it simply inspires me.



California, USA
October 4, 2007

Patrick in California writes:
Ann: Thank you for that and thank you for your service. Hard to know what to do...but as John Quincy Adams said about Napoleon, "We must always be doing something."

Maryland, USA
October 5, 2007

Dan in Maryland writes:
Ms. Somerset: Your poignant description of both the heart break and inspiration found in the on-going "Cedar Revolution" in Lebanon reminded me of another stirring story of a people striving toward sovereignty and liberty, this one written in verse.

The following excerpt is from William Butler Yeats poem "Easter 1916" which speaks of Irish efforts for independence.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice

That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild

I write it out in a verse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

The green that Yeats speaks of seemingly describes both the Cedar green of Lebanon, as well as the Irish shamrock.

The heart break and tragic loss of life at the hands of terrorists in Lebanon are indeed terrible. Yet the new birth of freedom now green and growing in Lebanon is beautiful to behold.

Godspeed to all the mothers, fathers and children of Lebanon who seek only their sovereign rights and a future of freedom.

New York, USA
October 5, 2007

James in New York writes:
"One who will be able to focus on the issues that are important for Lebanon's future, like ensuring the disarmament of militias."

We still don't get it, do we? Why are the militias necessary in the first place? Why are hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees still living in internment camps in Lebanon?

You can't focus on the future of Lebanon until the root cause of the questions these questions is identified. It seems pretty darn clear to the rest of the world, for some odd reason we Americans refuse to get it.

Massachusetts, USA
October 5, 2007

Shingles in Massachusetts writes:
"Watching this vibrant, fledgling democracy devastated by the unilateral actions of a terrorist group within its borders was awful."

Of course the ten thousand plus tons of bombs dropped by the Israelis on the Lebanese infrastructure had nothing whatsoever to do with any of this devastation.

United States
October 5, 2007

Jim writes:
Lebanon was designed for factional politics.
These sorts of shenanigans are precisely the intended effect of Lebanon's architects!

It's past due to perform a census and dump the confessional system.

One man, one vote seems like a good plan to me.
(and something that Greater Israel ought to consider).

patrice c.
United Kingdom
October 5, 2007

Patrice in U.K. writes:
Your analysis, that a unilateral action by a "terrorist" group wrought devastation on Lebanon is really where any reader with an inkling of the truth will stop reading. It is clear to Israeli, American, European and most Lebanese observers that the bombs and missiles blowing them up were U.S. made and Israel's atack U.S. promoted. The U.S. is a force for ill in the world today, and has killed directly and indirectly millions of civilians. You are obviously a cog in the propoganda machine.

Pennsylvania, USA
October 5, 2007

Louis in Pennsylvania writes:
Ann: Thanks for working for Lebanon and I wish you good luck.
I would just recommend using the local verbiage...

One more thing, is this somewhat reminiscent of Lebanon?
(Volume up)


California, USA
October 5, 2007

Matthew in California writes:
Beyond your astonishing mischaracterization of who is responsible for the devastation of Lebanon, I find the attempt to equate the deadful car bombings with the defense of one's homeland from an invading army disgusting. I thought this blog might want to project some level of credibility, but it appears ideology reigns.

Alabama, USA
October 5, 2007

Matt in Alabama writes:

Ms Somerset: I agree with the heartbreaking nature of the situation in Lebanon, but I am not sure that any potential presidential candidates in Lebanon can truly claim to be beholden to no outside powers or terrorist groups. The problems in Lebanon are longstanding and at least in part due to an electoral structure that awards representation and political power based on religious denominations. A young Shia in Lebanon cannot dream of growing up to be the the president or prime minister, the greatest he or she can aspire to (because of their religion) is to be the speaker of the parliament. Yet the U.S. does not appear to support changes to their constitution that would create more equity, likely because we fear that would provide more power to the Shia and Hizbullah.

October 6, 2007

Wang in China writes:
It's just miserable to find that when you and other people put your energy into it but nothing happened and you just don't know why. Peace seemed sometimes so difficult to reach in some place.

Oregon, USA
October 8, 2007

Roy in Oregon writes:
Isn't there just a bit of hypocrisy in your implicit criticism of Syria, when we know the U.S. Government has worked with Syria covertly when kidnapping terror suspects. Of course, you would use the euphemism "extraordinary rendition" which (like "collateral damage") deliberately masks the human tragedy of Duh'byas administration.

We know, for example, that a Canadian citizen, guilty only of mistaken identity due to sloppy work by the U.S. intelligence (?), was kidnapped in New York, flown to a third country (Syria), where he was held captive and tortured for over a year. When the mistake was realized and the gentleman was released, our generous government not only offered no apology but blocked his suit for recompense on the questionable (actually, highly doubtful) grounds of "national security."

Your blog implies we (and you) have taken the high ground in Lebanon. When we publicly excoriate a regime for a practice we secretly encourage (torture), how does that make us better?

When Duh'bya has retreated to the cesspool from which he came, he will be known as the "Butcher of Baghdad" and for having made Iraq safe for terrorists. Your duplicitous essay and implicit support of our criminal government makes you an accessory, however passive.

May I suggest a reading (or, rereading) of "The Oak Tree Incident?"

Bulbula F.
October 8, 2007

Bulbula in Ethiopia writes:
My comment is about the Ethio/Eritrea border demarcation. Why does America blindly support Ethiopia, instead of enforcing the implementation of the Commission's decission? Ethiopia agreed to accept out come the Commission's decission whatever it may be but refused to accept it giving a lame excuse.

New York, USA
October 8, 2007

Bob in New York writes:
To the Mr. Jones, thank you for your service in a dangerous part of the world and your observations. Because the Lebanese Constitution is essentially based upon 1946 demographics a significant internal committment by Lebanese, regardless of their religious or ethnic identity will have to be undertaken and the issue of the refugee camps will have to be resolved.

Turning to the misguided assessment that the US and Israel are the root causes of the suffering in the Middle East is, to put it mildly, misguided. The refugee camps in Lebanon, like the Arab-Israeli crisis are the symptom of the disease.

The international community through the United Nations and with the support of both the U.S. and the Soviet Union sanctioned the creation of two states in 1948: Palestine and Israel. These states were created with indefensible borders based upon where their populations were. The Arab governments elected to take up arms and attempt to destroy Israel.

Now, 60 years later, Israel is a vital democracy. The question is why are there still refugee camps in Lebanon?? The answer appears based upon a rational analysis of history that it was viewed as within the interest of the ruling elites in the Arab capitols as well as atop the PLO to continue the war without seriously attempting to win the war as a basis for the elites to argue to their people that the cause of their suffering was not incompetent and corrupt governments despite the wealth of oil upon which they sat, but the US and Israel.

In case there was any doubt as to the intentions of the Arab governments, that was revealed by the 10 point plan put forward by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia that provided at its 4th of ten points, that there would be no patriation---even though palestinians were permitted into the Kingdom to build its cities and infrastructure, they were not permitted to obtain citizenship.

Until the Palestinian people rise up and decide that they are tired of leaders who steal billions from them and sock it away in Europe and Arab leaders who are content to maitain their power and wealth with the blood of Palestinians.

If there was a genuine interest in peace and a two state solution, then it was offered twice in 2000: 97% of the West Bank; a capitol in a portion of Jerusalem; the Gaza strip; tax sharing; a road between Gaza and the West Bank; and a portion of the Negev as compensation for the 3% of the West Bank. Arafat walked away...did not even offer a counter-proposal, just walked away.

While Israel's methods may be questioned, they don't include suicide/homocide bombers and they don't include human shields. And the war in Lebanon in the summer of 2006 demonstrated the degree to which Iran imported weapons, personnel and technology into the region.

And name a nation that gives more food, technical support, natural disaster relief, medical relief and IGO and NGO support around the world than the US?

While I could go on, I would hope that the essence of the message is demonstrated.

I only hope that the Department of State will resume the hard work of diplomacy carried on from Carter through Clinton to push towards a workable agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis. While the process has been historically frustrating, with elections at hand and Abu Mazen's position an opportunity may exist. Success in the endeavor merits the attempt even if the result is continued frustration. As a nation, our history is best described as persistence in the face of adversity, lofty goals, and enduring hope.

North Carolina, USA
October 8, 2007

Ron in North Carolina writes:

@ Ann -- Your blog is excellent. Please keep us updated...

The Lebanese people seem ready to withstand the outside influences that others want to force onto them. Many times, it is the last battle that is fought, that is the hardest however you never know it is the last until after you have won. Those who oppose democracy will not go away silently.

Good luck in your support of these people.

Mississippi, USA
October 8, 2007

Everette in Mississippi writes:
While I have been pessimistic about the safety and future well being of Lebanon, this post gives me hope. I pray for the people of Lebanon to give the Lebanese government full support in ruling the country, and rooting out the terrorists. Good luck to our diplomats, and to the good people of Lebanon.

Louisiana, USA
October 8, 2007

Richard in Louisiana writes:
I have the greatest respect for all U.S. government employees working overseas, especially those in areas of ongoing conflict. Ms. Somerset and those like her are both blessed and cursed to see the world as it really is, rather than as it is often portrayed through the lens of American and international media.

Lebanon has been occupied by Iranian-sponsored terrorists for decades now, who do not hesitate to blow up any local politician or religious leader who advocates their disarmament. Yet, somehow, the destruction that this cancer brings upon Lebanon is frequently blamed on Israel, whose citizens live under constant threat from terrorist rockets and which is sometimes forced to act to preserve the nation and its people.

One can almost hear the echoes of bygone words, especially distressing from some of the U.K. posters on this site, passionately advocating "accommodation" with these new religious imperialists --- "Peace in our time."

New York, USA
October 8, 2007

Eric in New York writes:
When Syria and Iran finally remove politics from Lebanon I wonder how long it will take them to make victims out of the population once again? I also wonder if the growing of pot is generating enough money to not only rebuild Lebanon but to arm its Hezbollah better? Is that really a tree on their flag ? Thats a cool Umma you have there, pot, opiates, machine guns for children and lets not forget the hate, lots of hate. That inspires me most days too.

October 9, 2007

Ahmed in Lebanon (and Malaysia) writes:
There's something that should be said about Syria presence in Lebanon. first of all, it's not an occupation. They were invited by the Lebanese government to bring stability to the country after it was being devastated by the civil war. when they were told to leave, they've done it immedietly, taking only long enough for a preparation. They never suffer any sort of resistance by the lebanese people. Israel occupation of South Lebanon, U.S. occupation of Iraq, that's what i called an occupation. The Syrian presence is like an American presence in Japan or Korea.

United States
October 9, 2007

Kash writes:
Hey i don't know why everyone gives hezbollah a hard time all the time i mean they are just fighting occupations like any other freedom fighter at least they aren't occupying other people's countries or coming up with lies to justify invasion's into other people's countries. I hope hezbollah like hamas triumph and the americans learn that there is more to life than democracy.

October 9, 2007

Karen in Lebanon writes:
@ Ahmed and Patricia --

Let me clarify some issues for you:
The war with Israel started when Hizbullah crossed the blue line, blew up a tank and kidnapped 2 soldiers. According to international law, that is a war declaration. Moreover, Israel like Lebanon has the full right to defend itself from any attack; I guess they have dignity as well. Why do you blame the US and Israel for the destruction when all what Hassan Nasrallah had to, was not attack Israel from the start, especially that the Lebanese Gov. had no idea about his calculated adventure that lead the country year back in every possible way , especially economically.

Furthermore, the war was not enough to satisfy Hassan. He went on to downtown Beirut to block the Lebanese economy and put more sticks in the wheels. I wonder here, had other political factions camped outside commercial sites in Hizbullah locations and banned people from entering their own property and forced to shut down some properties, because drinking was haram. (We respect all religions but do not impose it on us. Religion and beliefs stay at home).
Tell me, what would have been the reaction of Hizbullah? Should the other factions go camp there?

As for the Syrian issue, Syria was never invited to enter Lebanon, Syria entered Leb. only to protect itself. Syria not only occupied Lebanon, but it also abused it in every way. If it were not an occupation, where is the Syrian Embassy in Lebanon then? At least when the Americans entered Iraq they kept their embassy and helped the Iraqi Government stand on its feet. Moreover, how do they pay them back? By killing Americans and their own people so, why do you blame the Americans here? Blame the Iraqi-Iranian- Syrian backed terrorists .They have no sense of development, they appreciate death, and dare us to enjoy life.
I see it as a clash between the culture of death and the culture of life.

Ask the students, why were they beaten up and imprisoned by the Syrian intelligence. Was it not because they were expressing their opinion, which is "Syria out", does BEAU RIVAGE HOTEL ring a bell?

As for Israel, it is true that they have some detained Lebanese, but some like Samir el Kuntar who is a criminal and was tried in Israel for killing an Israeli girl. As for the other detainees, they attacked Israeli soldiers. In addition to that, Israeli prisons are much more humane, than Syrian prisons. The Red Cross has access to prisons and the Israeli Gov. acknowledges the presence of detainees. However, in Syria Bashar denies the existence of any Lebanese in Syrian presence.

In the conclusion, USA and Israel have done mistakes in the past, but at least they are trying to reconstruct bridges with the M.E. and I respect that. But Iran, syria and Hizb. have no mercy, Iran and syria terrorize their own people and Hizbullah intimidates and abuses Lebanon and the Lebanese. We do not want war or resistance we believe in diplomacy, Lebanon is a friendly touristic country.


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