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U.S. faces paradigm shift in relations with Lebanon
Question of the Day
1. Gain a more nuanced understanding of Lebanon’s political and demographic realities. Well-crafted policy originates from nuanced, rigorous analysis. U.S. policy must address Lebanon’s evolving confessional makeup, including Hezbollah’s role in the Shi’ite community, its intentions and long-term objectives. Under what conditions might Hezbollah evolve into a fully political actor and integrate its arms? To what extent can U.S. policy and actions encourage this shift?
2. Stay above the political fray. Washington should resist the temptation to take sides and avoid getting sucked into the morass of Lebanese politics. Such policies have never yielded positive results and often exacerbate Lebanon’s volatility.
3. Focus on state institution-building and broad-based political reconciliation. U.S. policy should seek to strengthen state institutions including parliament, the judiciary and the army. The U.S. should assist government ministries in improving basic services and promote reforms that undermine corruption by establishing accountability and transparency. Washington also should facilitate reconciliation among Lebanon’s rival political factions by supporting the current National Dialogue.
4. Finally, the U.S. should engage with Syria to help promote stability in Lebanon. Ultimately, Syria’s longstanding interests in Lebanon must be acknowledged, although such recognition does not translate to ceding Lebanese sovereignty. Specifically, the U.S. should encourage the ongoing normalization of ties between Lebanon and Syria. Damascus recently opened its embassy in Beirut, a historic milestone. The next, more important steps will be to demarcate the borders and address the numerous treaties governing relations that were signed during Syrian hegemony over Lebanon.
• Mona Yacoubian directs the Lebanon Working Group at the U.S. Institute of Peace. The views expressed here are her own and do not reflect the views of the Institute, which does not take policy positions.
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