John McCain dropped in on Beirut last weekend en route to Israel to join fellow US Senator Joe Lieberman in agreeing with their hosts that, just as he told them during the 2008 Presidential campaign, Barack Obama was real bad for Israel. McCain, fund raising for his 2010 reelection bid, emphasized that the Obama administration’s hint that the US might just possibly consider withholding a few largely superfluous loan guarantees to pressure Israel on settlements was a joke. Their hosts were likely pleased with assurances that no way would John and Joe allow Congress or Obama to pressure Israel.
In Israel, McCain may still have been smarting from the earlier drubbing he and other US officials received from their usual self-effacing Lebanese hosts. His stopover in Lebanon was to be lite fare. Extending “Congratulations on forming the new Lebanese government, even though our government has serious doubts about those we know hold the real power”; better weather here in Beirut than in Washington DC, plus three quick meetings– but for sure, no heavy lifting.
In the meetings he may have planned to repeat the standard line, well known here: “the United States of America respects the independence, freedom and sovereignty of Lebanon and wishes to help it defeat terrorism, extremism and recover control of its weapons and extend the state’s authority over the whole country (not to be confused with the Lebanese territory of Shebaa Farms, Kafar Shouba and the north part of Ghajar Village still occupied by Israel which was likely not on John’s agenda).
McCain, like most visitors from Washington these days did not have to prepare much for his brief sessions. And anyhow, if more pledges were needed he could just add the pro forma: “The United States favors the full implementation of UNSC resolutions 1559 (no longer even relevant) and 1701, (violated nearly daily by Israel as is 425 among others) and believes foreign powers should not interfere in Lebanon’s internal affairs” etc.
But McCain’s trip script got messed up bad and, according to witnesses, he fumed on departure from Lebanon From repeated TV news video clips and a report by someone present at two of McCain’s meetings, the Lebanon leg of his trip wasn’t much fun. Beirut media coverage revealed that “Arizona’s last line of defense” (against Obama) as one Phoenix bill board refers to McCain, was uncomfortable, squinting, red faced and glaring during his meetings with the American Ambassador who continually smiled and nodded irrespective of the comments made by anyone present.
McCain reportedly felt poorly briefed for his meeting with Lebanon’s President Michel Suleiman and initially had no idea what Suleiman was talking about when he brought up the subject of H.R. 2278. McCain appeared puzzled as Suleiman persisted and emphasized that Lebanon rejected the AIPAC initiative that threatens Middle East Satellite Providers with yet another US Terrorism list. John asked how and Suleiman explained if they don’t prevent the more than 400 TV Channels, including some in Lebanon, from “inciting violence against US citizens.” One thing clear to the Senator was that President Suleiman and several Lebanese officials had done more homework than he had.
McCain was also advised in the clearest terms that Lebanon rejected the latest mega US terrorism list that includes more than 675 million Muslims and Arabs and lumps Lebanon with 13 other countries for ‘intense screening’.
There were moments of silence that must have seemed more like minutes.
Suleiman: Looks grave and straight into McCain’s eyes.
US Ambassador: Smiles and nods
McCain: Avoids eye contact with President Suleiman and glares at US Ambassador Michele Sison, grits his teeth, squints, and gets red faced. Finally says, “We will look into it.”
US Ambassador: Smiles and nods
The former General and Chief of the Lebanese Army and specialist in interrogations, pressed his American interlocutor. Still glaring, John says: “I believe some of the stations we prevented could have been stirring feelings of enmity to America and we have the right to stop them. However, we have to consider the issue further to avoid taking similar decisions regarding stations which did not voice hostility against us.”
Meanwhile, McCain learned that as he was landing, Speaker of Parliament Nabeh Berri sent an urgent letter to US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi protesting H.R. 2278 (which like virtually all AIPAC bills she had voted in favor of) in strong terms, warning that it “would be interpreted as hostile and that the bill breaches the sovereignty of the states broadcasting the penalized satellite content – including Lebanon – and complicates US-Lebanese relations.” Describing H.R. 2278 as “derogative” to Lebanon’s and other Arab countries’ sovereignty Berri advised Pelosi that the bill “harms the principles of freedom of expression and civil rights, and leads to further complication in Lebanese-US relations…This bill represents bypassing the sovereign national laws of the targeted countries, among them Lebanon which is a free ‘Hyde Park’ for the Lebanese and Arab satellite ‘public opinion’ media channels,” Berri’s letter added. “All of the (foreign) media channels broadcasting from Lebanon know and appreciate Lebanon’s keenness on building the best relations with the United States which hosts a major Lebanese community.”
Clearly, the arriving Americans were not expecting such a strong and united response and some of their staff wondered what was going on. They were informed that in Lebanon and the Middle East and among many international civil liberty advocates the two recent US actions were viewed as aggressive racial and religious profiling and constituted an unwarranted attack on free speech and the international media including more than 400 channels in 19 countries.
For the approximately 15 million citizens of Lebanon, (all but between three and four million of whom have left for various reasons), with the highest percentage than any country residing in the United States, their President made them proud by conveying unequivocally their dismay and demanding that Washington backtrack on its decision to ban certain middle east television channels and its profiling of Lebanese for another T list.
Senator McCain was not the only US official to hear from Lebanese officials. Others were and are being collared on arrival:
Earlier on the same day, Suleiman expressed Lebanon’s concern during talks with visiting US congressman Alcee Hastings, co-chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, telling him that “Lebanon enjoys a climate of stability and has shown that it is capable of combating terrorism.” Suleiman stressed the need to find a just solution for the Palestinian refugee issue, so as to guarantee their right of return while underscoring the need to force Israel to implement Resolution 1701 and withdraw from all occupied Lebanese territory.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Ali Shami also expressed his dismay during and following his meeting with Hastings stating that the strict US ‘intense screening” measures “disregarded the individuals’ rights and the human dignity of passengers.”
Others receiving similar treatment on arrival included:
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, David Johnson arrived in Beirut on 1/13/10 and was similarly questioned the Lebanese Internal Security Forces chief, Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi.
U.S. National Security Advisor James Jones who arrived on 1/15/10 and met with Michel Suleiman and other top Lebanese officials heard their rejection of the 14 country mega T list with its planned intense screening of Lebanese citizens. Also raised was H.R. 2278 which they appeared not to know is aimed at Lebanese and Middle East TV channels.
On 1/17/10 US Mideast Envoy George Mitchell is expected to experience the same Lebanese reaction to the hostile measures.
Lebanon presents a united front
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri appeared to agree with former FBI agent Michael German, currently national security policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington that singling out travelers from a few specified countries for enhanced screening “is essentially a pretext for racial profiling, which is ineffective, unconstitutional and violates American ( and Arab and Muslim ) values. Hariri objected that Lebanese were part of the new list of 14 ‘terrorist leaning” countries: “We are not advocates of war, but advocates of the return of our stolen land…”Defending Lebanon is not an act of terrorism, but attacks on Lebanon are terrorism itself… We have to stand shoulder by shoulder against the enemy’s plans… We have to stop Israel.”
Former chemistry professor Naim Qassim, recently reelected by Hezbollah’s General Conference as Deputy Secretary General of that Party praised the stances of President Suleiman, Speaker Berri, and PM Saad Hariri against the latest U.S. measures, including the ban on Al Manar TV broadcasting via Arab satellites.
Pro US March 14 member and Lebanese Information Minister Tareq Mitri told reporters. “What is under question is the fact that citizens of different countries are singled out in a discriminatory fashion.”
Lebanon’s ambassador to Washington has been tasked to monitor Congressional action regarding H.R. 2278 and the Parliament’s Media committee also has met to discuss the issue. The Media committee has urged Lebanon to continue its strong commitment to safeguard the freedom of Lebanon’s media.
On 1/15/10 the 22 country Arab League will convene a meeting of its Information Ministers in Cairo to formulate an official Arab League response.
Calls continues for the 57 country Organization of the Islamic Conference located in Saudi Arabia to take action both on H.R. 2278 and the new 14 country mega T list.
Syria backs Lebanon
In Syria, the largest news agency said Washington’s top diplomat in Damascus was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and told the new measures including full-body pat-downs and full-body scanning constituted “unfriendly behavior.” No Syrian citizen was ever involved in terror attacks against the U.S., the agency noted. The Syrian Foreign Ministry also informed the American diplomat that Damascus could be left with no choice but to introduce similar measures against U.S. citizens.
Is Sison next?
One uncertainly looming over the American Embassy in Awkar this weekend is whether another shoe will be thrown and whether an aide memoire might arrive from the Lebanese Foreign ministry to summon the American ambassador, Michele Sison, for serious consultation and questioning about these perceived anti-Arab and anti-Muslim initiatives.
So far her smiles and nodding have achieved wonders for America’s Ambassador but inquiring Lebanese minds wonder if her luck will hold.
Can she even comply given the recent State Department order issued by Nicole Shampaine that no US officials meeting with Hezbollah ‘people’ reported in Counterpunch last month? An Embassy source reports accurately that the US Ambassador has already met the Hezbollah led Resistance supporter, FM Ali Shami, despite Nicole’s policy statement and will do so again if summoned.
Middle East countries are not the only ones concerned with the recent reaction security meanders that have created a terrorist watch-listing system which according the ACLU’s Mike German is fundamentally ridiculous,” and creating “tremendous false positives,” a fact that makes using the entire list as a tool to keep terrorists off of airplanes problematic and in which political considerations trump sustainable and effective systems.
The US Transportation Safety Authority, which has ordered another 300 Full Body Scanners for 2011, is showing a video to passengers that declares “the system of Full Body Scanners has no way to save, transmit or print the image” is being questioned by experts such as The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) Director, Marc Rotenberg told a news conference this week that “I don’t think the TSA has been forthcoming with the American public about the true capability of these devices. They’ve done a bunch of very slick promotions where they show people — including journalists — going through the devices. And then they reassure people, based on the images that have been produced, that there are not any privacy concerns.”
EPIC is concerned with cases like that of little Mickey Hicks, an 8 year old cub scout from New Jersey who since he was two years old gets patted down, delayed, and his family humiliated because his name is apparently similar to someone on a T list. Efforts by Mikeys mother Najlah, to get him off a T list have not succeeded according to the NYT of 1/14/10.
It is the duty of every patriotic American, mindful of the fuller text of Stephen Decatur’s toast off the shores of Libya more than 200 years ago of “My country right or wrong” as altered by Union Army General Carl Shurz to: My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” to work for change in our Middle East policy. In this spirit and to help assure that visiting US officials are not caught flat footed again next week, the following questions are offered as examples of those which will likely be asked in the coming weeks by each of the 19 countries targeted by H.R. 2278 as well as the other 13 Christmas Day mega T list countries.
1. What evidence does the US government have that any Lebanese TV channel has “incited violence against American citizens” in light of the fact that the video clips offered to the US Congress by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) have been shown to spliced, photo shopped and even show no “incitement to violence against American citizens.”
2. Will the State Department make available to the public the results of a ten year survey of Lebanese TV stations documenting all claimed instances of “incitement to violence against American citizens?
3. With respect to the more than 400 Middle East TV Channels potentially threatened with closure by H.R. 2278, will the US Embassy provide specific instances of programming that “incites violence against American citizens?
Meanwhile, apparently inspired by H.R. 2278, Rep. J. Gresham Barrett, a Republican Congressman from South Carolina’s 3rd District plans on reintroducing the STEP Act which failed back in 2003 when first offered.
Initiated by AIPAC and pushed hard by the US Israel lobby, this legislation would bar citizens of Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the United States. It would also deport from the US within 60 days, all Iranians on student visas, temporary work visas, exchange visas and tourist visas. Barrett wants his staff and Homeland Security to prepare an up to the minute list of Iranians in the US.
Meeting recently with a group of South Carolina students who came to discuss the desperate humanitarian crisis in Gaza on the first anniversary of Israel’s invasion, Barrett offered his views on the siege: “I believe sealing the borders must remain in place as part of the Global War on Terrorism and I support the right of Israel to defend itself and its citizens against attack. Hamas has violated a ceasefire agreement by launching daily rocket attacks into the state of Israel, wounding and killing numerous Israelis. Hamas should end its attacks and re-enter into a ceasefire agreement.”
FRANKLIN LAMB is doing research in Lebanon and can be reached at email@example.com