US must support Lebanon as it faces economic and political instability
One year after a massive explosion leveled the Port of Beirut, killing 200 people and injuring thousands more, striking the heart of commercial and residential areas, and reverberating around the globe, Lebanon remains in crisis. An already fragile country in a perilous region has descended into economic and political free fall as they struggle to form a government.
The United States and the international community have rallied over the past year to provide humanitarian assistance directly to the people of Lebanon. As the ongoing humanitarian and economic crises continue, more humanitarian assistance, delivered by reliable NGOs and international aid organizations, will be needed. However, while this aid remains vital to support the Lebanese people still recovering from the blast and those suffering from hunger and poverty, it cannot go unstated that there are significant, long-term structural and political reforms required for a secure and sovereign Lebanon.
While the Lebanese people remain resilient, unfortunately, the blast in the Port of Beirut — and subsequent investigation and legal inquiry barriers — proves an example of the ongoing challenges of instability in Lebanon. As the citizens of Lebanon remain frustrated, facing growing hunger, water and power shortages, and an already growing refugee population, those in power in Lebanon must take accountability for their inaction.
A government accountable to the people of Lebanon, and not outside interests, must be formed and sustained. Leaders in the country must take concrete steps to root out corruption and resist the destabilizing influence of malign actors — including Hezbollah — if they are serious about achieving long-lasting vitality. A sovereign and independent Lebanon can provide stability and security in the Middle East and remain a democratic ally for the United States.
While government formation and internal political challenges persist, the United States must remain unwavering in its support for the independent Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). In Lebanon’s current crisis, the LAF is vital to maintaining order. The United States should continue to provide and maintain military to military assistance, not downgrade the United States’ advisory role with the LAF. The LAF has been a partner to the United States in countering terrorist groups like Hezbollah, ISIS, and al-Qaida. An independent LAF should be the sole institution entrusted with the defense of Lebanon’s sovereignty and the Lebanese government must allow the LAF to secure the safety, freedom of movement, and access for the United Nations Interim Force troops in southern Lebanon.
As the international community continues to support humanitarian assistance, food aid, and other efforts to support the Lebanese people facing dire need one year after the tragic port blast — those in control in Lebanon must also act to put the well-being of Lebanon first.
Systemic corruption remains a lasting issue within the Lebanese government. This prevents reforms that would allow Lebanon to work with international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to stabilize the economic free fall or fulfill essential requirements to access international financial aid and other support. The United States must continue to exert pressure on the government of Lebanon and those associated with corruption to execute structural reforms and anticorruption measures to increase democratic political representation. Shedding light on these structural issues will continue important education for Lebanese citizens, as we already see new, independent leaders coming forward ahead of next year’s elections — which must go forward on time.
Lastly, Hezbollah’s multipronged circumvention of legitimate government functions has contributed to endemic corruption and rampant mismanagement by parties in Lebanon; corruption Hezbollah actively participates in. Hezbollah acts as an Iranian terrorist proxy, stoking sectarian violence and destroying the pursuit of peace throughout the region. Many Lebanese describe Hezbollah as an occupying force — one that benefits the interests of Iran far more than the people of Lebanon. The United States must continue to place pressure opposing Hezbollah, otherwise, circumstances could become worse for the region and the Lebanese people.
The people of Lebanon deserve and are crying out for a government and a country that is independent and accountable. United States foreign policy should encourage that. In supporting the people of Lebanon, we can help bring needed security to the region and also protect American interests. On the anniversary of one of the largest explosions we have witnessed in recent memory, the Lebanese people deserve steadfast support in their resilient effort towards recovery, while facing one of the most challenging humanitarian and economic crises in a generation.
Darin LaHood represents the 18th District of Illinois, Darrell Issa represents the 50th District of California, and Charlie Crist represents the 13th District of Floria. They serve as co-chairs of the US-Lebanon Friendship Caucus.