Macron Shows What Not to Do in Lebanon | Opinion

French President Emmanuel Macron recently had a rude awakening to the sobering realities of life in the Middle East. On September 26, President Macron spoke in direct and scathing terms regarding the Lebanese leaders and their commitment to rid the tiny country of the suffocating grip from Hezbollah and the Shiite Amal Movement.

One feels for the anguish of President Macron, but the United States is about to embark upon this same shaky road. On October 14, Lebanon's director general of public security, Major General Abbas Ibrahim, will be coming to the United States, where he will be meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien.

The problem is that Mr. Ibrahim, although he has avoided being affiliated with any particular party, is very strongly associated with Hezbollah and Amal. He has allowed himself to do a lot of Hezbollah's "dirty work," often negotiating with the state on behalf of Hezbollah and heading up torture in some of Lebanon's notorious Hezbollah-run prisons.

Before embarking on that road, let us consider President Macron's sorry experience.

Immediately after the devastating August 4 explosion at the port of Beirut, the French leader rushed to the scene. He then returned on September 1. Seeing the rampant devastation and poverty first-hand, Macron created a blueprint to help Lebanon out of its own morass.

This effort entailed divesting Lebanon from Hezbollah's suffocating grip, including its control over the political and economic sectors, its wide-scale cronyism, its rampant corruption and its hyperinflation.

President Macron appointed Mustafa Adib as acting prime minister, and initially gave him a two-week deadline to form a government devoid of Hezbollah's influence. Mr. Adib failed, but was then given another two-week deadline.

Rather than ridding itself of Hezbollah, the Iranian terrorist proxy demanded even more power. Hezbollah insisted upon controlling the all-important finance ministry, where revenues are pouring in since the August 4 explosion.

Because it became untenable for him to deal with the ubiquitous gravitational force of Hezbollah, together with the demands from the international community to divest Lebanon from the terrorist group's hold, Adib resigned on September 25.

The following day, President Macron spoke in scathing and direct terms, addressing the people of Lebanon directly and proclaiming, "I am ashamed for your leaders. The leaders do not want, clearly and resolutely, to respect the commitments made to France and the international community. They decided to betray this commitment. All of the politicians tried to save themselves. They have gambled to try to save themselves, their own interests, their clan. I note this collective betrayal. Hezbollah cannot be an army fighting Israel, a militia fighting in Syria and a respectable political party."

French President Emmanuel Macron in Brussels
French President Emmanuel Macron in Brussels Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

Herein lies the dilemma of Lebanon. Lebanon is a mosaic of varying cultures and religions, consisting of Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Armenian, Maronite, Greek Orthodox and Coptic Christians, Druze and others. The government was formed around strict sectarian lines, where the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni, and the speaker of the parliament a Shiite.

The problem is that because of the rigid confessional government, the Lebanese have failed to take a census since 1932. No one really knows, therefore, how many Shiites there are, how many Sunnis and so forth—and who is actually sympathetic to the terrorist objectives of the Shiite duo of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.

For over a year now, we have seen demonstrations in Beirut because of Lebanon's dire economic situation. The cost of bread is over 2,000 pounds, and the cost of meat is astronomical. There is skyrocketing inflation.

Lebanon has never developed an agrarian economy, and most food must be imported. As one can well imagine, the anger has only intensified against the government and its cronyism with Hezbollah since the August 4 explosion.

Yet the anger has not been sufficient to have the people rise up against Hezbollah. Hezbollah is so deeply entrenched in the government that every politician tries to seek its approval, irrespective of any formal association with the terrorist group. Hezbollah is just as entrenched within the economic and commercial sectors; it is virtually impossible to establish a business, or get a loan from the Bank of Lebanon, unless one is somehow associated with Hezbollah. And the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), to which the U.S. gives at least $221 million a year, is so deeply embedded with Hezbollah that known Hezbollah members have been seen driving U.S. armored vehicles given to the LAF and wearing LAF uniforms. The LAF website has photos of its members adorned on each side with LAF and Hezbollah flags.

Helping Lebanon as long as Hezbollah and the Amal Movement are so deeply entrenched in every aspect of its national infrastructure is like building a house on a frame deeply infested with termites. The only way to help Lebanon will be when the good people of Lebanon can rise up and finally divest themselves of Hezbollah.

Merci Beaucoup, Monsieur Macron, for showing us what to avoid.

Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, an unabashedly pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

Macron Shows What Not to Do in Lebanon | Opinion | Opinion