Lebanon: The Future of a Sovereign State

December 15, 2008  • Institute Contributor

For Immediate Release
Contacts: Jennifer Myers
Deputy Director of Communications
The Aspen Institute
 Tel. 202-736-2906

Karen Miller
Tel. 404-285-5422

Lebanon: The Future of a Sovereign State

Washington, DC, December 15, 2008—With an eye towards exploring the legacy and the future of Lebanon’s 2005 Cedar Revolution, which forced the exit of Syrian forces from Beirut, the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation (LRF) and the Aspen Institute hosted a forum event with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Dep. Asst. Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, Saban Center Director Martin Indyk, US Representative Charles Boustany (D-La.), US Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV), The Daily Star Opinion Editor Michael Young, Washington Post Columnist David Ignatius, Lebanese Minister of State Nassib Lahoud, several Lebanese Members of Parliament, and foreign policy experts from the Council of Foreign Relations, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Religioscope Foundation. The December 12 forum was the first major US program sponsored by the LRF.

During the day-long event, panelists discussed how Lebanon can ensure its sovereignty, establish a functional democracy, and eliminate threats from inside the country and from abroad. The event kicked off with a call from Secretary Albright for the United States to support the efforts of the non-Hezbollah forces in Lebanon to provide the basic services of a democratic government: “Democracy has to deliver. People want to vote and eat.”

“Our goal is to help Lebanon claim its birthright as a great nation, a regional center of finance and the arts, an example of what’s possible among people when they can work on building something up, rather than tearing each other down,” said Eli Khoury, president of LRF.

Citing the impressive ability of Lebanon, a country the size of Delaware, to “get the attention of the world,” Feltman spoke to an audience that included a number of Lebanese citizens about the likelihood of a shift in tone and emphasis with an incoming Obama Administration. “Changes in style and tactics should not be viewed with alarm,” he said. “Refrain from your habit of overanalyzing [the United States].” Feltman was also quick to warn that Hezbollah is just as much of a threat to the security of Lebanon as it is to Israel. It was a theme echoed by Indyk, who said that the “disarmament of Hezbollah is a Lebanese responsibility.” Indyk said that as long as Hezbollah was more militarily advanced than the government, it would continue to be a state within a state—jeopardizing Lebanon’s sovereignty and US support. Some speakers observed that Hezbollah should be able to retain its role as a political entity, but only if it disarms and yields to the government’s “monopoly of force” essential for the survival of Lebanese democracy.

Meanwhile, in a panel discussion among Lebanese members of parliament, political rivals debated the upcoming Lebanese election. Moderator Michael Young observed that the panel represented the “divisiveness of the Lebanese political class.” Still, all the panelists agreed that Lebanon should be a sovereign state, free from all forms of outside interference and manipulation. As Rep. Rahall said later in a keynote speech, “Do not let Lebanon be a prize for signing a peace treaty.”

Other notable quotes from the December 12 conference included:

“The support of the democratic values of Lebanon is something that is bipartisan in this nation.”—Walter Isaacson, President and CEO, The Aspen Institute

“Syria is a master at playing the spoiler role if it feels ignored or that its interests are threatened.”—Theodore Kattouf, President, AMIDEAST

“If Hezbollah and its allies take control of Lebanon, … the basis of US support for Lebanon will be jeopardized.”—Martin Indyk, Director, Saban Center, Brookings Institution

“We have to look at Syria’s intention toward Lebanon by the facts on the ground, not by what Syria is saying.”—Jeffrey Feltman, Deputy Secretary of State for Near East Affairs

“Iraq is the greatest disaster in foreign policy primarily because of what it did to the good name of democracy.”—former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

“As we elect the 44th president, we have turned power over peacefully longer than any other place in the world.”—former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

“Lebanon’s failure would be a failure of opportunity for the United States in the Middle East.”—US Representative Charles Boustany

“The stakes are existential. … Lebanon is at the intersection of the realists and the transformationalists.”—Nayla Mouawad, Qornet Shehwan MP, Zghorta

“There is more competition over parliament seats than there is dialogue in Lebanon right now.”—Ghassan Mokheiber, Change and Reform MP, Metn

“Unless Hezbollah and the situation with Lebanon is high on the next administration’s list of priorities,” the Middle East will remain insecure. —Steven Cook, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

“I keep waiting for the actions of Hezbollah to create a counter-reaction. But it never seems to, and that worries me.”—David Ignatius, Columnist, The Washington Post

“Using one religious group to stop another is part of the tragedy of Lebanon.”—David Ignatius, Columnist, The Washington Post

Video of the conference will be posted at video.aspeninstitute.org.

The Lebanon Renaissance Foundation is an independent civil society group whose members are drawn from all religious denominations, who, through their professional activities, have been engaged in efforts aimed at preserving the core values of the Cedar Revolution. For more information, visit www.lebanonrenaissance.org.


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