President Trump has made containing Iran’s regional ambitions a cornerstone of his foreign policy، and by that measure Sunday’s election in Lebanon is a setback. Not that anyone in Washington seems to have noticed.
Preliminary results indicate that Iran’s proxy Hezbollah and its allies won more than half the seats in Lebanon’s 128-seat parliament، consolidating the Shiite militia’s political grip on the country. Thanks to Lebanon’s sectarian political system، Prime Minister Saad Hariri، a Sunni، will likely keep his job، but his clout will be considerably weakened given the clobbering his Future Movement took at the polls.
Voter turnout fell five percentage points from the 2009 election، mostly because Lebanese citizens didn’t have much of a choice between Hezbollah and Hezbollah-lite. Mr. Hariri threw his lot in with the terror group when he accepted a power-sharing arrangement in 2016 with former general Michel Aoun، a Hezbollah ally، to break a political stalemate. The country is overwhelmed with Syrian refugees and its economy is stagnating. The Trump Administration seems to have adopted a see-no-evil، hear-no-evil approach regarding Hezbollah’s influence on Mr. Hariri and his government. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited the country in February and tried to distinguish between Hezbollah، the terrorist organization، and Hezbollah، the political party. They share the same principles. Mr. Trump compounded the confusion in April by commending “the government of Lebanon’s progress” in passing a budget، deploying Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) on the Syrian border and fighting Islamic State. The LAF is outmanned and outgunned by Hezbollah.
Lebanon has more strategic importance than its small size because it abuts Israel and serves Iran’s interests. Iran is using Hezbollah to build up a second front in southern Syria for launching missiles into the Jewish state during the next، inevitable war. Mr. Trump is poised to announce his decision on the Iran nuclear deal as early as Tuesday، but he also needs a larger containment strategy that treats Lebanon with more than naive neglect.
Mr. Trump would do well to reconsider his Administration’s Pollyannish approach to Lebanon، which pretends that the country has a functioning، healthy democracy، when it doesn’t. The White House could start by re-examining its aid to the LAF and cracking down on Lebanese banks that fund terror in Syria and launder Iranian monies. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should also replace career bureaucrat Elizabeth Richard، the U.S.’s dovish Ambassador in Beirut.
Above all، Mr. Trump could do the Lebanese people a favor by speaking honestly about their false political choices، and acknowledging that the country is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tehran and its local proxy، Hezbollah. Anything less is a fiction.