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As US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman packs his bags and prepares to depart Lebanon for his next assignment, he probably should be forgiven for feeling a bit abused these past few months.
His pique surfaced on October 22 nd when he rudely insulted his host, his Christian eminence Bishop Mattar specifically, and Lebanese journalism in general when he likened it to a court clown tasked with bringing him some laughter in the morning which helps him forget his Lebanese concerns. Beirut’s media, including Al Safir has been having a field day commenting on the American Ambassador’s unprecedented pro Israel activities while claiming to “love Lebanon”.
Talal Salman, its editor in chief wrote on October 24:
If there had been a true state in Lebanon, the America ambassador in Beirut Jeffery Feltman would have been “deported” back to his country. . Never in the history of relations between countries has a foreign ambassador given himself such license to interfere, though public and secret personal communications, daily televised statements, and written journalistic columns of late, in the most critical of internal affairs of the state to which he was sent …
As for the (Hezbollah led) opposition, the ambassador is persistent in his attacks on it and on its political committees, prominent figures, and leaders as if he was a citizen of this country or one of its prominent figures in the legal, constitutional, and popular sense. The ambassador often goes beyond all borders as he does not settle for defending Israel against the accusations that it waged a destructive war on Lebanon for paltry excuses, he forges all the facts and insists on announcing that Hezbollah is responsible for all the material and humanitarian losses that Lebanon suffered while the whole world knows that Feltman’s administration back in Washington forced its eternal ally Ehud Olmert to escalate the situation from a routine border engagement to a war for which the Israelis were not prepared which in turn forced Olmert to work to cause the maximum suffering in Lebanon to make up for Israel’s loss of prestige following the defeat of its invincible army The most that the Lebanese can hope for now is that this ambassador can leave us alone before the fire, which he keeps fanning, spreads and burns, what is left of Lebanon.
Another columnist wrote: “we thank the American ambassador for spending his last days in Lebanon and we hope that he will be successful wherever he goes next and that what befell Lebanon during his tenure will not befall ambassador Feltman’s future destinations. ”
In fairness to the Ambassador, his assignment has not been easy. Being a US Ambassador these days in the Middle East involves more than ribbon cuttings, and rriday night Beer blasts with the marine embassy guards and keeping visiting and loquacious US officials under wraps.
Following a total of nearly seven years service in Israel, at both the US Embassy and the US Consulate, Foreign Service Officer Feltman was sworn in as US Ambassador to Lebanon on July 22, 2004, with the help of former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk’s an ardent Zionist and current Washington DC based activist for AIPAC and an Arab/Muslim bashing mouthpiece for the Israel Lobby. Feltman acquired Indyk’s support to be Israel’s man in Lebanon during the year (2000-2001) they worked together in Israel. Feltman was Ambassador Indyk’s Special Assistant.
But, no sooner had Feltman arrived in Beirut than he was handed a thick file which included nearly a dozen unfinished projects. They were not just your everday, easy make work projects and he has failed at every one of them.
According to a Staffer at the Lebanon Desk at the State Department (202-644-4000) who was not authorized to speak publicly on this subject: “State expected Feltman to advance at least some of this shit!” indicating a list fairly well known to Foggy Bottom denizens. Some of the items:
— Formulate ways to weaken Hezbollah and the influence of the Lebanese Resistance in Lebanese politics and the Region
–Sharply reduce, with the eventual objective of elimination, Syrian and Iranian influence in Lebanese politics and help identify their ‘assets’.
–Conduct and coordinate with visiting US officials, on site visits and undertake discussions with Tripoli/Bignin/Akkar Sunni groups with respect to a possible joint US-Lebanese Airbase at Kleit
— Analyse the feasibility of a North Lebanon Sunni Army to check the Southern Shia military power
–Facilitate the establishment of a new Shia political party in the Tyre area in order to counter and weaken Amal and Hezbollah
— Analyze the prospects of a civil war in Lebanon involving March 14 Christians and Sunni Muslims against (Aounist) Christians and Shia Muslims
— Investigate and analyze the possibility of Lebanon being divided into Autonomous Regions a la Iraq .
— Advance the plans to build an enlarged and more secure US Embassy in Baabda
–Bolster the acceptance and popular standing in Lebanon of the Maronite Lebanese Forces and the Druze Socialist Party led by Samir Geagea and Walid Jumblatt respectively ( Meanwhile, Feltman’s bosses in Washington were telling Walid Jumblatt this week that he can count on US military help for the ‘ autonomous zone’ he dreams about to combat Hezbollah and the Lebanese Resistance)
— Continue analysis of the feasibility of a US-Lebanese Strategic Alliance with a possible NATO aspect
And the list goes on.
Feltman’s current schedule and recent burden has been to try to answer a host of questions which have arisen inside Lebanon and throughout the Middle East over the US Israel project for the region. One aspect is the above noted ‘strategic alliance’ complete with “forward power projecting military bases” widely believed to be planned for Lebanon. Last week Eric Edelman, US undersecretary of Defense for Strategic planning seemed to promote its importance when he met with a number of civilian and military officials during his visit here and sat for a television interview in which he uttered clear statements that clearly refuted what ambassador Feltman had denied publicly.
The “strategic alliance” project, is confirmed by more than one high-ranking American official in Washington and is being studied in the State Department, the Senate Armed Services Committee and Intelligence Committee Chaired by Bush Administration critic Patrick Leahy.
In his frustration, Feltman, according to Beirut’ As Safir, revealed in (his response to their reporting of a new ‘strategic US-Lebanon alliance) ” a number of military secrets unknown to anyone in Lebanon about military bases on Lebanese soil that have been around for more than 30 years but have never been noticed by any other ambassador before him, or even by a military attaché or even by a single border smuggler”.
The State Department is not happy about this and the Ambassador’s end of assignment Evaluation Report being compiled on the 5 th floor of the State Department at Foggy Bottom may reflect his verbal indiscretions and remarkable lackof success in advancing objectives of the Welch Club. For an ambitious FSO, the Lebanon posting is normally not a great career advancer.
In proper and fair minded defense of Jeffrey Feltman, it must be publicly acknowledged that he has not ‘lost Lebanon’ by himself. The Bush administration has lost Lebanon by intensifying more than 30 years of wrongheaded policies that harmed both Lebanon and the national interests of the American people as well as the whole of the Middle East and beyond.
Nor is Feltman the first ambassador to be saddled with mixed signals from home while trying to explain to his host country what his government has in mind. But one of Feltman’s problem is that the Lebanese public, throughout the 18 confessions and beyond, are highly literate, sophisticated politically, and have an excellent idea what the Bush administration intends despite the latter’s obfuscations.
Feltman’s tough job has been to convince Lebanon to be grateful for his service and remember the fact that before the July 2006 Israeli aggression, US aid to their country was was nil and was only increased with his help after the July War to nearly 250 million with promises of eventually up to possibly a half billion dollars. Not much compared to the total annual US largesse of over 8 billon dollars to Israel (on and under the table) but then again, as they say in this observer’s DC neighborhood, ‘dog, that ain’t chump change’.
It required all Jeffrey’s diplomatic skills to try to make the people of Lebanon forget that he helped prolong the July 2006 slaughter by pushing on them the ‘birth pangs of the new middle east” message of his boss Ms. Rice, and to overlook his demands for Lebanese gratitude and patience during the war while more and more civilians were killed until ” a sustainable ceasefire could be arranged”
During the last days of his tenure, Feltman habitually reminds his Lebanese audiences of ” the martyrs of the Lebanese army who fell in the fight against Fatah Al-Islam terrorists” while forgetting the martyrs from the same army killed by US panes supplied to Israel and equipped with American-made bombs while they were sleeping in their barracks and tents between the 12th of July and the 13th of August, 2006.
Feltman inherited a lot of pitfalls and he faced a daunting task because history has rather thoroughly condemned the Bush administration in American eyes as well as in the minds of the people of the Middle East. Bush Administration credibility in Lebanon is zero.
Feltman failed and the US lost Lebanon, for at least the foreseeable future, for a number of reasons including Bush administration support for Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestine and intensification of human rights violations there and the US aggression in Iraq.
Foreigners living in Lebanon are often amazed and the level of knowledge among the populations here, which includes thousands of Iraqi refugees, and how they can rattle of the statistics on Iraq: 3,847 US soldiers dead, nearly 28,999 wounded, but over 600,000 Iraqi casualties and two million Iraqi refugees and two million internally displaced. This pipeline of information direct from the Iraqi refugees in Lebanon and nearly 1.5 million taken lin by Syria convince Lebanon that the Bush war in Iraq and the nearly incalcuable and mounting death toll was all for nothing. Abolutely nothing. Most Lebanese want no part of US projects in their country.
A History and Fine Arts major in college, Feltman sometimes sounds ‘preachy’ when he frequently threatens no economic aid to Lebanon “unless it fully implements UN Resolutions”. Those he has in mind include Security Council Resolution 1559 “disarming militias”, not SCR 425, or 1701 both of which require Israel to withdraw from Lebanese territory including Shebba Farms and Ghajar, and stop its nearly daily violations of Lebanese sovereignty .
Some Lebanese don’t grasp Feltman’s meaning when he regularly states “the United States will support the Lebanese people’s choice for a freely elected President as long as there is no outside interference, or undue influence from terrorist or undemocratic forces.” That there is daily “interference from US outsiders” is pointed out nearly every Friday by the senior Shia cleric Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah during his weekly sermons in Haret Hreik.
In the final analysis, Jeffrey Feltman’s work record, including his nearly 7 years in Israel and 40 months in Lebanon suggests that Israel arranged for Feltman to be posted to Lebanon to do Israel’s work.
In that task he succeeded, but many of the nearly 50,000 US citizens in Lebanon think we Americans can do better next time by bringing in an envoy that will put American and Lebanese interests before Israel’s.
FRANKLIN LAMB is a former Assistant Counsel of the House Judiciary, US Congress, Washinton DC. He is in Lebanon finishing a volume: Hezbollah: A Brief Guide for Beginners. He can be reached at email@example.com