by Zeina Taha
April 19, 2014 (TSR) – Today my four years at the Lebanese American University were summed up with a one-hour event hosting the American ambassador in Lebanon, David Hale. As I was sitting in the event questions were going backward and forward about how the US will carry out the tasks on its agenda in all of Syria, Russia, the Gulf, and Lebanon of course.
Questions about “plans behind the doors” were followed with a sarcastic response, “now you expect me to bring out plans of Sykes-Piccot on the table?”- the room responded with warm and elegant laughter.
This small hall or classroom was not crowded with people. It was rather very much crowded with bodyguards, LAU and American embassy bodyguards swarming up the frontal plate which usually has only a few people. Though the room was not crowded and despite the many empty places, I was surprised when a girl came in a hurry to pull down the chair right next to me and sit before the ambassador came, or afterwards, I don’t really remember. The girl was peeking at my notes throughout the Q&A session. It was awkward, I disregarded.
Their answers sound as funny as they do on TV. Diplomacy has a limit. It stops when evil begins. The answers were sharp, ridiculously diplomatic and incompatible with the academic audience present in the room; However, this stopped when a colleague of mine interrupted the atmosphere of dual bluffing with his question:
“Welcome, your Excellency. Everyone began with a question so I will begin with a comment”. As we know Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organization in the United States. However, your country continues to support the government of Lebanon financially even though Hezbollah is a major component in it, it seems that there are in many times double standards, what is your response to this?”
By the way, I was sitting a chair away from my colleague as he asked this question.
Here’s when the answer came. And diplomacy vanished. The innocent face of our American ambassador what still there, however, his words finally reflected American realpolitik. I was surprised by what he was saying, and much more surprised by the calmness in the LAU classroom.
I never felt more right being at LAU, though, as I felt in this particular moment.
Everything throughout these four years made sense in this event. The exceptional security measures and awareness that I have not seen for other ambassadors, the Russian ambassador for example; the sense of exquisite happiness overcoming those who were asking questions, finally the looks, towards students who are in this very institution, but who were unfortunately considered terrorists by His Excellency. I was thankful I was in this institution and that I had come to it. For all those speeches for the Islamic Supreme Leader Sayyed Ali Khamenei, and Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, the fully-hearted screams of “Death to America” for millions in streets, and finally Imam Khomeini’s description of it as nothing less than, “the Great Satan”.
I understood it all. I also understood why the girl had sat right next to me and was watching my moves cautiously. They were afraid I was going to shoot the man with a shoe (or with something else). They very well knew he deserved it…
I sat there listening to an American ambassador arrogantly say, “We would prefer that Hezbollah not be in this government”. And American preferences are more important than Lebanese representation? Democracy? Realpolitik.
I also sat there and listened to him say “we shouldn’t look at everything through the prism of Hezbollah, as dangerous as it is as an organization, threatening as I think they ultimately are, and how frankly troubling it is that they have been able to manipulate situation after situation to their advantage. Uh, if we act like they’re ten feet tall though and if we look at every issue from their prism we only empower them.”
It was certainly amusing to sit there and feel like an outsider, even worse, a terrorist, in my own country because of His Excellency.
The American Ambassador David Hale sat there today telling us that, Hezbollah was a terrorist organization which they thought should be marginalized and diminished. He also spoke of promoting democracy and representation. He missed out however on linking the two; That Hezbollah represents a large portion of the Lebanese population.
I saw it all today, the evilness of American politics I had heard about for years, the manipulation, their double-faces, how they promote what is in their interest, even if on behalf of the truth which they know
I saw how easy it was for them to call someone a “terrorist” and lie in their faces, that their armament is the initial “cause” of Israeli intervention in Lebanon, disregarding the history of the land he is standing on, and the terror their ally has showed us.
Today, I saw it all in the face of David Hale, the American ambassador in Lebanon.
Below is the literal Q&A I am referring to:
“You’re most welcome your Excellency. Everyone began with a question so I will begin with a comment. As political science students as we try to analyze US foreign policy we come across several difficulties. Besides that making US foreign policy is complex and difficult by in itself, because several actors are involved, but actually as we analyze and go through it we find ourselves sometimes across double-standards or finding exceptions for everything, so as we draw patterns the pattern is sometimes broken with a certain case. So this is the comment, as a political science student. But as a follow up question when we analyze US foreign policy to Lebanon the US is very much involved in empowering the Lebanese state and reviving the role of the government in storing back peace and stability. At one hand the US considers Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and on the other hand it is much involved in, again, empowering the Lebanese State. But isn’t the case that Hezbollah is a member of the Lebanese government and is a part of the Lebanese government. So we see that the US still continues to support and fund the Lebanese government in several activities; So we see a dilemma or have difficulty to comprehend where US stands actually, and of how terrorists are defined and how they support the state. “
“Thank you, that’s a very good question. I think that without doubt we view Hezballah as a terrorist organization. We don’t see a distinction between their political wing and their military wing. And we think that this is a deeply troubling problem for Lebanon and for the region, and for us. The question is what do we do about it. And I think that we have shown through our investments in Lebanon that we believe the best way to counterbalance and ultimately diminish and eliminate this terrorist threat is to strengthen our friends, and strengthen the institutions of the country. Now when we had a government here that was entirely March 8 in its composition, and there was strong Hezbollah presence in it we made the decision to reorient our assistance away from the government and to civil societies and NGOs. So we continue to work in important sectors like water and education, women empowerment and promoting democracy, but not through the government. We continue to work though with Lebanese army and internal security forces for the reasons that I mentioned, I think that everyone understands. When this government was formed we were still in that position we did not change our hate policy, but we had been much more forthcoming and expressing our support for this government because it brought in March 14, it brought in a much more balanced representation of the country. And instead of having one flavor you now have several. And hopefully they can find some common ground against the productive things done but that in no way reflects acceptance of Hezbollah, and we would prefer Hezbollah not be in this government. Would it have been realistic to expect a government to be formed without them getting a share, probably not. Those are decisions for Lebanese politicians to make not for us. But we decided based on the composition of the cabinet, based on the policy statement that they made, based on their initial actions that this is a government we want to work with. We believe that it is at least moving in the right direction, in terms of reducing Hezbollah’s influence, and because of other positive factors related to it. Because the other truth is that we shouldn’t look at everything through the prism of Hezbollah, as dangerous as it is as an organization, threatening as I think they ultimately are, and how frankly troubling it is that they have been able to manipulate situation after situation to their advantage. Uh, if we act like they’re ten feet tall though and if we look at every issue from their prism we only empower them. And so I think its important to have perspective as well.” – David Hale.