Symposium: Economic and Security Conditions in Lebanon

  • Middle East Policy

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David Hale, Edward M. Gabriel, Matthew Levitt, Anne Patterson, & Bassima Alghussein

Expert panel debates how the US can, and shouldn’t, press for needed reforms and protect the people from crisis.

The following is an edited transcript of the 113th in a series of Capitol Hill conferences convened by the Middle East Policy Council. The event took place on July 20, 2023, in the Cannon House Office Building in Washington. Council board member Anne Patterson provided opening remarks, and Council Executive Director Bassima Alghussein moderated. For coverage and analysis of the symposium, please see


DAVID HALE, Global Fellow, Wilson Center; Former Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Department of State; Former Ambassador, Pakistan, Lebanon, and Jordan

I’ve been in the State Department quite a while, 38 years. I just retired in September, and I’m only now beginning to learn how to speak for myself. Forgive me if I still sound like a bureaucrat. But I will try to give what I can about my appreciation of Lebanon.

I think the first question that any gathering like this should ask is: What is America’s interest in Lebanon? Why do we care? There are a lot of linkages between Lebanese and Americans: a lot of cultural, educational, scientific ties; business ties; a lot of humanitarian interest in the fate of Lebanon. But from a realpolitik point of view, it’s really all about geography, or at least that’s where it starts. Lebanon is nestled between Israel, our closest friend and ally in the Middle East, and Syria, historically one of our most challenging foes, allied with Iran.

Then you have, of course, the sectarian mix in Lebanon, the political sectarianism that has been a characteristic of the country and sometimes a source of great difficulty. Many of these factions seek alliances with countries of a similar background in the region or beyond in order to get the upper hand on a local opponent. So Lebanon becomes a landscape for regional conflicts. We have seen this throughout its modern history, and of course most recently today.

Again, why does Lebanon matter to the United States? Iran, through its relationship with Hezbollah, has gained a sort of figurative aircraft carrier on the Mediterranean as a source for it to export revolution and violence.

A second point I want to make is that a lot of us at times, because of the nature of our business, focus on symptoms and not necessarily on the underlying disease. The presidential vacancy, the hung parliament, the inability to form a government, the corruption, the fiscal meltdown that we have seen, the economic problems, poor governance—these are all symptoms. They’re not the disease.

The disease is a rotten form of governance to the very core. It is a system that was designed deliberately to make sure that the state was weak. No single faction wanted any other faction to be able to lord it over them, so everybody has a veto. And there are 17 or 18 different sects, depending how you count them, so hardly anything ever gets done at the state level, by design. We’re not going to be able to overcome that just by waving our magic wand.

The other issue in terms of the disease is the absence of sovereignty. It’s been drained away by Hezbollah, principally, in alliance with Iran and Syria. But many other factions have been part of this by bringing in foreign occupiers or patrons and not paying enough attention to the core issues of sovereignty. As a result, people tend to look to their own community for safety, security, and services rather than to the state—a pattern that reinforces itself.

A third point I want to make is that the World Bank, in its most recent report, talked about the normalization of the crisis. A lot of us talk about the status quo being unsustainable, about how it’s an unbearable situation. Yet, sadly enough, the status quo does continue, or even to degrade. What happens in the normalization of a crisis in a place like Lebanon is that people go away from the state, toward their own communities. The black market is thriving. It’s a cash-dollar-based economy. When you have a black market, that is a situation ripe for exploitation by bad actors, such as Hezbollah and other corrupt leaders. And they will be the winners if this continues.

But we have to start somewhere. Rather than throw up our hands about all the symptoms and the disease: What are we going to do about it and help the Lebanese, first and foremost, tackle it? I was very encouraged to hear from a spokesman of Qatar’s foreign ministry yesterday at an event we hosted at the Wilson Center. He gave us some background on this meeting of the Quint [an informal partnership between the United States, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Egypt] that just happened in Doha. The Lebanese were not there, which at some point needs to be addressed. But the Quint stepped up their game from previous gatherings, and in particular held out a carrot and stick approach. A stick of sanctions, which is powerful if applied in a thoughtful way. And a very interesting carrot: The Qataris mentioned that while they signed a deal to exploit the offshore gas that we all believe is there, they informed the Lebanese they will not pursue exploration until the political crisis is addressed adequately. This is a very juicy carrot because the Lebanese are very, very anxious to exploit that offshore gas potential.

I would also argue, as we did in a white paper that’s online at the Wilson Center, that we tend in the United States to think of maximalist solutions: How are we going to get rid of Hezbollah? How are we going to restore sovereignty? ABC gets you to XYZ. In Lebanon, if you try to do that too forcefully, too aggressively, you’re likely to lead to abrupt and potentially catastrophic violence and conflict. So I would advocate a gradual approach to restoring sovereignty, starting with the borders, the port, the airport.

One of the key issues we have to bear in mind is that Hezbollah right now, outside of the army, is the only entity with arms, and they have basically intimidated everybody. So how do you get Hezbollah into a situation where they no longer have the initiative and momentum? In diplomacy, it requires building slowly but persistently a context in which they are less and less relevant, and the state of Lebanon and its friends are more and more relevant.

To close, I’ll just touch on a couple of themes. I wrote a book that’s coming out in a couple of months on US diplomacy toward Lebanon. It looks at the history of our relations and draws a few lessons from that. One thing I’ve observed is that we have this pronounced oscillation in our interest and involvement in Lebanon. We get overly ambitious, even delusional at times, in what we think we can accomplish. I’m referring to the early 1980s, with the peace agenda with Israel and Lebanon. Even the freedom agenda of the George W. Bush administration, admirable as it was, may have been built on sand.

We go into these moments of extreme ambition and engagement, we meet with resistance, and then we drop it like a hot potato. We recede into a period of neglect. It is in those periods that Hezbollah and others have gained ground. It gets harder and harder to deal with that. So my advice to anyone who asks is: Don’t have this kind of episodic, hot-cold engagement. Practice persistence, steady involvement. Lebanon is not going to be at the top of the agenda unless it’s in crisis. But don’t let it fall to the bottom of the agenda, or you’re going to have a crisis where more people are going to have to spend more time on it later.

Last, I’d love to talk about our tools. I think sanctions are very popular on Capitol Hill, and a very useful tool. We have to think carefully about how we use them and make sure that they don’t become a substitute for policy but a tool for well-defined policies, and that we occasionally reflect upon their success and adjust them as need be.


EDWARD M. GABRIEL, President and CEO, American Task Force on Lebanon; Former Ambassador, Morocco

The American Task Force on Lebanon (ATFL) is made up of Americans of Lebanese ancestry. We’re a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) educational institution. We operate like a one-and-a-half-track group. We promote US policy and educate Lebanese policymakers on US policy. We also bring back ideas and concerns to the US on how to bring those thoughts together.

I’m going to talk about the direct link between the economic, political, social, and security issues. I’m going to follow what David said in terms of incremental approaches. My talk is more focused on the short term: What can we do in the next 12 months to help Lebanon get back on its feet, or at least help the Lebanese people?

In 2019, the poverty rate in Lebanon was 25 percent. Today, it’s over 80 percent. David referred to the World Bank: They have called the crisis in Lebanon one of the worst, and maybe one of the three worst, disasters since 1850. In one out of every 10 households, there’s one adult that won’t eat in order to feed their family because they don’t have the money. And, of course, the lira is worth one-tenth of what it was in 2019.

Let me first talk about security. I think it revolves around strengthening the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), which the US Department of Defense (DOD) has called the best fighting force in the Middle East. They’ve proven themselves over time. But the service members’ families have lost 90 percent of their earning power because of the lira. So a soldier making $400 to $500 in 2019 is now making less than $40. On top of that, there are equipment shortages. The LAF is brought into crime situations, murders, and protecting against violations in legal demonstrations. They are counted on for internal security issues because of their proven competence. I like to say that it’s the only institution in Lebanon that’s working.

Morale is also a problem. It’s the first time since 2007 that, according to army sources we’ve talked to, that desertions outnumber enlistments. That was surprising because last year, General Joseph Aoun, the head of the LAF, said he didn’t see that as a problem. But it is today.

The other issue about security is refugees. ATFL is convening a group, which includes Ambassador David Hale, to study the refugee crisis and recommend solutions. There are three givens in Lebanon regarding the refugee crisis. One is that it’s unsustainable. Something has to be done. Number two, any resettlement has to be safe, voluntary, and dignified, according to international standards. And three, today the Syrian refugees are not safe to go home. ATFL is facilitating a study group to look for creative solutions, involve third-country solutions, involve host-community support, examining US immigration policy, and other possible solutions. That study will be completed by the end of the year. ATFL believes that something has to be done soon, as the current situation is unsustainable.

In terms of the LAF, we would recommend that Congress consider continuing the livelihood support for the families. Qatar came through with $60 million last year. The US came through with $72 million this year for the Internal Security Forces and the LAF. We’re recommending that Congress consider $100 million per year in the future appropriations. In addition, the LAF needs money for their maintenance and operational capability. Last year, they were given $150 million in such support. That level of support should continue.

The US is insisting that the LAF better protect the southern and eastern borders. According to General Joseph Aoun in our recent meeting, and confirmed by US embassy sources, they’ve stopped about 90 percent of the captagon trade. That’s good news. We also want to recommend, regarding the Beirut port blast, that an independent commission be appointed, perhaps an international process be advocated to examine the cause of the blast, and that the FBI release its findings.

Let me now shift to the presidency. Last year, Lebanon had parliamentary elections, and majority candidates ended up beating the anti-Hezbollah factions by just a couple of votes. That’s an important step forward. It took them another year through various meetings to come together in a strong show of support for one candidate, which was put up against the Hezbollah candidate. And they got the most votes: 59 or 60, depending on how you count, to 51 for the Hezbollah candidate. That’s a good sign.

But there are quorum issues. The parliament needs a quorum of 84 to conduct business. Following the strong support of the opposition, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Hezbollah walked out after the first vote, breaking a quorum.

The ATFL had a dinner two nights ago in Lebanon, and 35 of the parliamentary opposition attended. They talked about the need to quit dialoguing and making statements among themselves and to get behind one candidate. Right now, they’ve coalesced around Jihad Azour, the head of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the IMF [International Monetary Fund]. They believe they must increase that number in the coming weeks, which they believe will drive Speaker Berri and his cohorts to negotiate. They believe that there is no need for them to drop Azour, as any new candidate today will only result in another walkout by Hezbollah and Berri, and will continue until they see the continued strength of the opposition.

Parliament had an election two weeks ago in large part because of the pressure by the Americans. The Senate, House, and US Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland put pressure on Speaker Berri to hold a session. He made a promise to Nuland that he would keep the session open past one round of voting. He lied to her, and not surprisingly: Hezbollah and the minority parties walked out, and the quorum was gone for future voting. The House and Senate are coming back now with legislation and letters addressing Speaker Berri, hopefully forcing him to come to the negotiating table. Hopefully they can get another session open.

The Quint meeting, as David said, was quite remarkable. They called for measures, including sanctions—they didn’t say “sanctions,” but it was obvious—on anyone obstructing the democratic process. It’s the first time the Quint group has issued a statement. So it seems like there’s a coalescing by US decision makers to get tougher and spell out consequences.

Let me jump to economics, the IMF deal, and some other humanitarian causes. On the IMF deal, I don’t have much to add other than you can’t shove a deal down the throats of the parliament. Berri and Najib Mikati, the prime minister, and others got a staff deal together. They basically are trying to force it upon the parliament. As much as they need an IMF deal—there’s no substitute for it, and they need it soonest—it will require a dialogue with the parliament. They’ve got to find common consensus to pass a bill that works. The opposition feels as though the IMF deal is weak on the need for reforms and wants to strengthen certain provisions before money is awarded. And the opposition parliamentarians want to see that pressure will be exerted on the government to enact reforms if the IMF is going to release funding.

But if f you’re going to advocate that kind of tough policy, where the government will get no relief until it reforms or it shows us that it’s going to put in place a reform package, then we’ve got to at the same time help the Lebanese people.

If a president was elected tomorrow, if an IMF package was passed tomorrow, the Lebanese people would continue to suffer for the next several years. So how do we help them today? One of the issues that I think we should look at is local empowerment of the villages. Some call it decentralization, but that could give the wrong impression in Lebanon, so I’ll just call it local empowerment. Right now, electricity is about four to six hours a day. Why not bring to the villages solar projects, water treatment, educational facilities, and support?

That leads me to education. The public schools are not holding classes, the teachers don’t go to school. This is dangerous. Sixty percent of the education budget is electricity. Local solar projects could help that situation. The universities are in trouble and need help. Congress has been really good in terms of supporting American universities there and should continue.

On health programs: We have so many Lebanese American doctors in the US and others that want to help Lebanon. We’re setting up a voluntary tele-med program. And we want to continue not only the LAF family support but the UN Food Program, and of course to help the vulnerable populations in Lebanon, both refugees and in the host communities.


MATTHEW LEVITT, Director, Jeanette and Eli Reinhard Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis, Department of Treasury

Let’s be very clear: Lebanon’s economic and security crises are intimately intertwined. Just consider, for example, the Lebanese government’s default on its sovereign debt in March 2020, and then just a little while later the tragedy of the Beirut explosion that August. Both of those events resulted from one key, corrosive, corrupt phenomenon: Political mafia bosses across the Lebanese political and sectarian spectrum continue to prioritize their own power and patronage systems over the needs of the Lebanese people.

Today, despite all that’s transpired, these same political bosses continue to prevent even the most basic political reforms necessary to break the country’s political stalemate and facilitate international financial support. Noting this sad state of affairs, the World Bank described the Lebanese financial crisis as a “deliberate depression orchestrated by the country’s elites at the expense of the country’s long-term stability and social peace.”

It should not surprise you that when polled, an overwhelming percentage of Lebanese express dismay at their own government’s disregard of the needs of ordinary citizens. Note these findings, for example, from a November 2022 poll commissioned by the Washington Institute. Ninety-one percent of respondents said the government was doing too little to pay attention to the opinions of ordinary citizens.

Overall, the gloomy outlook was universal, expressed by Sunnis, Shia, Christians, Druze, young and old. Ninety-seven percent of respondents said the Lebanese government was doing too little in response to three key economic concerns. First, reduce the level of corruption in economic and public life. Second, meet people’s needs for an acceptable standard of living. And three, address the burden of taxes and other obligations in a fair way.

Unfortunately, Lebanese political bosses’ prescription for addressing such concerns is not political or economic reform but doubling down on their respective power and patronage systems. Let’s be clear, corruption is at the heart of Lebanon’s economic and political crises. This economic and political rot is deeply entrenched and is protected by powerful political bosses across the spectrum, and across Lebanon’s political and sectarian divide. All this threatens Lebanon’s near-, medium-, and long-term security and stability, and corruption is by no means limited to any one party in Lebanon. Yet, no Lebanese party presents a greater security threat to Lebanon domestically, and to its neighbors in the region, than Hezbollah—in part because Hezbollah is the de facto militant enforcer of the corrupt political system from which it and other sectarian political parties benefit.

Consider a few examples of the unique ways in which Hezbollah undermines Lebanese security and stability, and risks regional war. Hezbollah has a dedicated element—Unit 121—whose sole purpose is to carry out assassinations in Lebanon of people that it doesn’t like. Think [former Prime Minister] Rafik Hariri. Think [intelligence official] Wissam Eid. Think [activist] Lokman Slim, and a whole lot of other names that we don’t have time to go through. With help from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hezbollah maintains a robust program to retrofit old missiles with guidance systems and build new precision-guided missiles. [Secretary-General] Hassan Nasrallah himself has appeared on television, displaying a map of Israel and warning that Hezbollah missiles can hit any part of Israel. These facilities in Lebanon where they’re retrofitting these missiles are located in residential neighborhoods, near schools and hospitals and mosques, effectively using Lebanese civilians as human shields.

Over the past few years, Hezbollah has unilaterally declared parts of Lebanon to be its own independent military zones and denied UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] forces access to these areas, including areas near and along the blue line, the de facto border. Hezbollah regularly harasses UNIFIL forces, and in December, a Hezbollah operative killed Private Sean Rooney, an Irish UNIFIL soldier. Hezbollah’s illicit financial activities in Lebanon severely undermine the country’s financial system, which has always been a key backbone of the economy. Take a close look, for example, at the US Treasury Department’s actions against entities like the Jammal Trust Bank. When it took that action in 2019, the Treasury noted that Hezbollah operatives were going around threatening the families of Lebanese bankers—not just the bankers themselves, but their families—if they froze the accounts of Hezbollah operatives.

Hezbollah has dug attack tunnels from Lebanon under the blue line into Israel for the express purpose of carrying out attacks. These were discovered and sealed in 2018, but neither the Lebanese government nor the Lebanese people got any say in this decision, though they would bear the costs of any ensuing conflict with Israel. Hezbollah has used its environmental NGO—they call it Green Without Borders—as a platform not only to collect intelligence on Israeli activities across the border but literally to fire antitank missiles at an Israeli military ambulance across the border within Israel proper in 2019.

More recently, Hezbollah launched a drone at an Israeli offshore gas platform. It infiltrated and sent an operative into Israeli territory to carry out a terrorist attack. It gave Hamas tacit approval to fire rockets at Israel from Hezbollah-controlled areas in Lebanon. It’s harassed Israelis living just across the border in northern Israel by aiming lasers at drivers as they drive the roads and at private homes. It’s damaged the security fence along the blue line. And, most recently, it’s set up tents in Israeli-controlled parts of the Shebaa Farms, right along the blue line, in an effort to increase border tensions.

Hezbollah’s efforts to obstruct any investigation into the August 2020 Beirut explosion speaks volumes about the organization’s concerns about where they fear an unimpeded investigation may lead. This is to say nothing about Hezbollah’s complete disregard for the Lebanese policy of disassociation from fighting in Syria, which caused the Syrian Civil War to bleed into Lebanon on multiple occasions. But aside from the security threats to Lebanon created by the group’s activities, Hezbollah presents a domestic threat to the effective governance in Lebanon, as well, by virtue of creating a shadow economy benefiting its own shadow citizenry, the success of which comes at the expense of the formal economy and of the Lebanese government.

Nasrallah has highlighted the group’s successful model of social welfare governance in Lebanon and touted its success at building and maintaining its own base of support in the face of significant challenges. By providing these services parallel to and, in many cases, in place of those provided, or not provided, by the government of Lebanon, Hezbollah has created a shadow economy—a gray economy that benefits its supporters, builds grassroots support, and enables Hezbollah to derive a significant measure of authority from its base of support.

Though not the official government, Hezbollah has built politically and economically powerful relationships with those who benefit from its largesse, a kind of parallel governance structure. This not only bolsters Hezbollah’s position in Lebanon, it undermines the standing and legitimacy of the government of Lebanon and undermines the efforts of the United States and others to help that government. Hezbollah has thus effectively made itself part of the governance system in areas it controls, even as it remained apart from the government itself. Later, when Hezbollah decided to enter politics and have some of its members assume positions in national government, it continued to function as an independent organization, running parallel to the government of which was also a part, but without the accountability of being a government institution.

So today, Hezbollah benefits from being both a part of and apart from the political system. Unlike many violent nonstate actors, which have only limited access to the formal economy and are heavily reliant on shadow economies, Hezbollah’s able to benefit from the formal, regulated economy and simultaneously run its own parallel, shadow economy, which sucks from and undermines the formal economy. Taken together, Hezbollah’s shadow economy and parallel government structure undermine both political and economic stability in Lebanon and regional security across the Eastern Mediterranean.

So allow me to end where I started. The crux of the problem in Lebanon is corruption, both economic and political. This prevents both the economic and political reforms necessary to save the country from becoming—and I don’t use these words lightly—a failed state. Hezbollah is by no means the only problematic political party in this regard, but by virtue of being the one faction that has held onto its weapons after the Taif accords [of 1989, to end the Lebanese Civil War], it is the de facto enforcer of the rule of the corrupt mafia dons.


BASSIMA ALGHUSSEIN, Executive Director, Middle East Policy Council

On June 14, Lebanon failed to elect a president for the 12th time since the former president’s term ended in October of 2022. Neither the Christian-supported IMF official Jihad Azour nor the Hezbollah-backed candidate, Suleiman Frangieh, won the votes needed to win in the first round. What steps can the United States take to overcome some of these obstacles?

AMB. HALE: The first election that was actually a non-election that I was part of in Lebanon was in 1988. And I’ve been engaged in some way or another on every one since then. We have a role to play. Lebanon’s domestic politics, as I described them, are so interwoven with the politics of the region and internationally, that to not play a role of some sort—an appropriate role—is actually an act of intervention in itself, in that you are weakening those of our allies who are expecting some extra lift against our opponents, like the Iranians.

But it can’t be seen to be trying to promote a single name or a single person, because then you get caught up in areas that are not appropriate for a foreign government: It will force us to own the outcome and create a lot of competition among Lebanese. We talk about principles, but it’s important to go back to a point I tried to make earlier. We tend to get something I call election fever, vacancy fever. Every six years, this happens. The United States can’t stand it because it seems wrong. We have to fill that vacancy; all kinds of bad things are going to happen. The problem with that approach is that the vacancy is bad, but getting the wrong person into the office could be even worse. We should not stampede our allies into making compromises just to fill the vacancy. The ones with patience and determination, because they’re impervious to pressure, are Hezbollah and its candidates. They will just keep raising the stakes.

The more we squirm for an answer, the higher the price goes for them to compromise and accept something. It won’t be just about the president, because each one of these crises is resolved with a package deal. And in a package deal, maybe Hezbollah will back off Suleiman Frangieh, but it will try to extract a price somewhere else. What’s the government going to look like? How much support will Hezbollah have? What changes to the organic way Lebanon is ruled will favor their community? These are vital questions that we need to be discussing with our allies and partners.

I was very encouraged when Jihad Azour’s nomination came forward, not just because of the high reputation he has, but it was organic to Lebanon. It didn’t come from any external element. It was not a consensus, but a strong, legitimate group of Lebanese politicians and leaders want to back him. That is a moment in which the allies can step in and say, yes, we want to provide an umbrella for that.

AMB. GABRIEL: The US needs to put pressure on Speaker Berri. It needs to put pressure on those who get in the way of opening a session and keeping it open. The United States did that last month. Sens. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, and James Risch, R-ID, submitted a letter with such a demand. Reps. Gregory Meeks, D-NY, and Michael McCaul, R-TX, submitted a similar letter. The US-Lebanese Caucus also submitted a letter. That led to Speaker Berri’s opening a session, after he got a call from Undersecretary Nuland demanding he open a session and keep it open. Progress was made in that first session. But then they closed the session after the first vote. The Hezbollah-led coalition saw that the opposition came together got 59 or 60 votes, while their candidate, Frangieh, got 51. If they’d kept that second vote open, the opposition’s candidate may very well have won the majority vote.

ATFL has been hosting dinners for the opposition. We had our fourth one two nights ago. Thirty-five representatives came to that dinner. Their advice is what David just said, that they needed to have patience, as this will not resolve itself quickly. They believe that if they abandon Jihad Azour, any new candidate will face the same fate. They are therefore expressing the need for patience as they increase the number of opposition votes. This will hopefully encourage Speaker Berri to see that he must come to the table.

Let me add what the Quint did in its meeting the other day: It issued a statement, for the first time, that called for measures against anyone who obstructs the elections. I think the US is leading in the right direction and is taking a leadership position in this regard.

DR. LEVITT: The Quint statement didn’t mention sanctions, but it’s definitely what they were talking about. I’m not the only one who for a long time now has been trying to convince the current and previous administration that these sanctions should cut across the political spectrum.

Whether it’s a “Global Magnitsky Act” for corruption or other things, we’re not going to fix this by only putting in place counterterrorism-themed sanctions targeting Hezbollah. Not because Hezbollah is not a problem. I think I made it clear it is. But this political problem about doing anything to protect one’s own patronage system is not limited to Hezbollah. I think that pressure, since it would be applied to parties to allow the presidency vote to go forward, would need to be across the political spectrum, when applicable.

MS. ALGHUSSEIN: How can the US, or specifically Congress, advocate for sanctions that might help to counter corruption? Because it seems all of you touched on how the entire elite seem to be rife with corruption; it’s not just one side or the other. Clearly, the letter helped move the ball forward, but that wasn’t far enough. So what specifically could Congress do now?

In addition, regarding aid: Given the widespread corruption, you can understand how there’s concern about making sure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. What kinds of actions can the US or relevant agencies take to make sure that there’s proper stewardship of these funds?

AMB. GABRIEL: On sanctions, I think we need legislation that is directed against Lebanese officials who are harboring terrorists, are corrupt, or are violating the civil and human rights of the Lebanese citizens. I think it should be across the board; it shouldn’t exclude officials in government. As David often says to me, the threat of sanctions is sometimes better than the sanctions themselves. I think legislation in the House and Senate would strengthen the US hand in this regard.

On increased aid, there is no money given to the government of Lebanon for that very reason. There’s a certain fund set up for the Lebanese Armed Forces, which is managed, monitored, and audited. There are civil-society groups that carry out functions to help the people of Lebanon. And, of course, there’s direct university aid. Last year, the United States gave more than $700 million in various forms of aid to Lebanon, and that seems to continue. But you’re right, it has to be targeted. The US can’t provide direct aid to the Lebanese government in any way. We should be clear with them that they will not get further help until they make reforms.

DR. LEVITT: I’ll let the former Treasury official in me just say that the most effective sanction is one you don’t have to implement. You can pretty much assume that following the Quint statement, there’s a lot of quiet diplomacy going on with key people, explaining that they very well might be a target if their position doesn’t improve. That can be very effective. But you simply cannot designate every corrupt politician in Lebanon because you’ll be left with just about nobody.

We’re not looking or advocating to hit everybody, but there are certain key people who have not yet been targeted. And if you look back at the impact when [FPM leader] Gebran Bassil was sanctioned, for example, that can have oversize effect. I think it needs to be made clear to Nabhi Berri and others that obstructing the kind of reform that people desperately need to be able to make it through a day, to put food on the table, is going to be a problem. It’s not like you have to go looking for the corruption. It’s all there. But I do think that when it’s done, if it’s done, it should be across the political spectrum. Because everybody is going to jump up and say, OK, well, you’re just anti-(fill-in-the-blank). And there’s a lot of corruption across the spectrum.

AMB. HALE: No one’s going to argue, I imagine, against sanctions. In my last job as Under Secretary of State, I looked at it on a global level. I increasingly came to the view that there are a couple of things missing in our approach. One is sharpness and the linkage to a policy. Are we just going after somebody because they’re corrupt, or are we trying to actually change the system—which is going to be pretty hard. So, beyond the sanctions, what are all the other policy tools that we’re bringing in to support that objective? I think that’s often missing.

The second thing that’s often missing is a measurement of the effect. It isn’t how many bank accounts you’ve shut down, or how much Iranian oil you’ve managed to stop. It is the policy or the underlying governance problem that you’re trying to change that is the thing you have to measure. I don’t see in our government anyone doing that. There’s absolutely no reason not to. It’s going to require leadership and a staff, but I would urge you to think about that as well.

The third point is to be careful about the law of unintended consequences. I see drafts on Capitol Hill that just say: We’re going to sanction anyone who’s blocking the presidential election. Well, you may be in a situation in which our allies, who are opponents of Hezbollah, have only one tool, which is blocking a quorum in order to prevent the election of a pro-Iranian candidate. I know that’s not your intention, but think about the drafting of your language so you don’t box an administration into having to consider those consequences.

AMB. GABRIEL: How you define that is going to be very important. I think Congress understands that.

MS. ALGHUSSEIN: Even if you convince Hill staffers and their bosses that it’s important to address the situation in Lebanon, either through increased aid or sanctions, members of Congress have to answer to their constituents. How can you sell this is as important to the American people? And do you see any potential opportunity for bipartisan cooperation?

DR. LEVITT: It’s an excellent point, and I take it very seriously. It was under the Trump administration that the government finally produced its Global Fragility Report, which is still being implemented by the State Department. I encourage people to take a close look at it. They laid out a pretty convincing case for the fact that if you can preempt big problems from happening with a little bit of investment now, you can save yourself a lot of money and a whole lot of problems later.

We can’t be the world’s policemen, and we can’t be the world’s bank. But we do have interests in Lebanon, and we do have friends in the region and in Lebanon. There are distinct things that we can do by contributing politically and financially today—really, at the margins—to prevent things from going really bad. That is absolutely in the American interest. We’ve got to walk and chew gum. Ukraine is a unique and tremendous challenge, but that doesn’t mean that everything else is going to just freezeframe.

MS. ALGHUSSEIN: Was there a significant change in US policy toward Lebanon from the Trump administration to the Biden administration? If so, do you anticipate another shift in policy should a Republican win the presidency in 2024?

AMB. HALE: Having been in the transition, I would say yes. Some of it’s a little bit superficial but some of it’s fundamental. The fundamental point is that our interests in Lebanon are a subset of our interests related to Iran, so our Iran policy affects greatly the range of options and the way we protect our interests in Lebanon. I think we all know the Iran policy shifted pretty substantially, from Trump’s maximum pressure, which lasted about 18 months. Whether you agree with it or not, it probably was premature to judge it at that point, to a different approach to try to go back to the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Agreement, or Iran nuclear deal], which the Iranians really show no interest in.

So where are we today? The Lebanese are trying to read the tea leaves because it will affect their lives and their strategies. They want to know what we’re going to do. It’s really hard to figure out right now what exactly this country is going to be doing about Iran.

AMB. GABRIEL: I see more of continuation of policy than a change in policy, which is unusual in foreign policy lately. David makes a point on Iran. I’m not really sure if the change that Biden was trying to get back to was not the right move at the time in the US interest. But to sell this to the American people is really important—to see that, as [New York Times columnist] Tom Friedman said, you may not care about the Middle East, but it surely cares about you.

And we’re going to be dragged back into the Middle East in one way or another. Think about it: Walking away from Hezbollah or Iran is in their interest. It would jeopardize our interests on the eastern Mediterranean, our interests in facing Iranian threats, and our interests in continuing to bring this multi-confessional democracy to the region.

MS. ALGHUSSEIN: What about the larger regional dynamics? We’ve been seeing some shifts—for instance, Saudi Arabia’s re-entering conversations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and with Iran. How does this impact the dynamic on the ground?

In addition, the reason Saudi Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman is reengaging with Assad is because of concern over drug trafficking and its potential for destabilization. Is this trade helping to fund Hezbollah? If so, how does that impact our policy toward Syria?

AMB. HALE: My take on this situation between the Saudis and the Iranians is that it’s tactical. It is normal for them to have diplomatic relations. The gap when they didn’t was abnormal. I think the Saudis came to the conclusion that their strategy in Yemen wasn’t working. They no longer had support anywhere for it, and certainly not here. So they had to reduce the risks. They also, in my opinion, probably were calculating that they could no longer count on a US security umbrella the way they would like to. Therefore, they needed to reduce the risks.

I don’t think it changes the basic underlying conflict between these two sides of the Persian Gulf. It does have consequences: Lebanese are watching it, and they’re wondering what it’s going to mean for them. It’s not just the Saudis, but others are normalizing with Assad. That has raised unrealistic expectations in Lebanon that some light switch can be turned on and the refugees are all going to go back. Which is not the case. It’s not safe.

I don’t think it’s going to change the equation in Lebanon because the Saudis have pretty much washed their hands. They have felt that their friends there were insufficiently aggressive in dealing with the Hezbollah problem. They still have friends, and they still have relations, but they have much reduced their profile. And the Iranians will do nothing—to give up the incredible asset that they have gained with Hezbollah.

DR. LEVITT: I completely agree this is tactical. It’s about risk mitigation. In my recent trips to the region, the number one thing you hear is: It’s a multipolar world. It’s not a unipolar world anymore. It never will be again. We need to be friends with everybody. We can’t be enemies with anybody. So we must be talking with everyone.

It’s also a reaction to their perceptions of our commitment to this region in this administration, and what could happen in a future administration. The whiplash effect that people around the world feel, but in particular in this region, is real. They just don’t know what they can count on. Therefore, they have to be prepared to be able to have lots of contingencies.

On the issue of drugs, primarily captagon, it is true that the Lebanese Armed Forces has done a very good job in interdicting a lot of the flow into Lebanon. Hezbollah is not producing it, but Hezbollah is playing a significant role, with [Syrian Major General] Maher al-Assad’s Fourth Armored Division, in providing security and transport. They’re making money in that way off of it.

Some of the criminal narcotics traffickers—most Lebanese, some Syrian, who are in the business—may not be Hezbollah members, but they’re Hezbollah sympathizers. They’re people who pay some money to Hezbollah to look the other way or to allow them to cross certain roads. So there is a Hezbollah connection, but this is not a Hezbollah-driven issue. This is a Syria-driven issue.

I believe it is not at all an exaggeration to call Syria a narco-state. Without narcotics income, even with the support it gets from Iran and Russia, Syria would not be able to get by. And that’s why Maher al-Assad and his cronies and those who work with him have become so powerful in Syria, and why people are so concerned about the fact that there didn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel. What was the policy? What’s the goal with Syria?

That led people to do something that I think is unconscionable, in terms of rehabilitating Assad. But I can say that, sitting here in Washington, D.C. There are lots of issues here, but one of them, in particular for the Gulf states, is the issue of the rampant flow of captagon across their borders.

MS. ALGHUSSEIN: We have had a few questions related to the dynamic between Israel and Lebanon. Is there any likelihood that Israel and Lebanon might negotiate on land border disputes? Do you think that’s something that has to happen before there’s political stability? Or does there have to be political stability so that they have somebody to negotiate with? And do you think the US can help facilitate that?

AMB. HALE: I think we saw with the 2022 maritime agreement, which was long in gestation— the negotiations go all the way back to the Obama administration—that we don’t need to wait for perfection, thank God, in the Lebanese governance structure before these kinds of deals are possible. It’s hard work. It took a lot of persistence. I think the financial crisis helped because people realized that they could no longer play games over this. They really needed the potential revenue.

That could be extended to the land border. The stakes are much higher because Hezbollah is using the pretext that somehow the Israeli occupation hasn’t ended because there are tiny specks of disputed territory in the Golan Heights—which was originally Syrian and now occupied and annexed by Israel. That has allowed Hezbollah to keep the flame of resistance alive.

If you were to succeed in demarcating the border in a way that that was recognized by both sides and accepted, Hezbollah probably would still find another pretext to keep its weapons. So that goes back to the point that I wouldn’t expect that border demarcation itself to solve the problem of Hezbollah’s arms. That’s why I made the point earlier about borders, ports, and airports, and consistently, gradually, diligently pushing back to regain sovereignty.

DR. LEVITT: It would be phenomenal if we could do things to effectively, even over time, and win for the government of Lebanon full control over ports and borders. Given that LAF doesn’t take on Hezbollah, can’t take on Hezbollah, the reality is that the tools we have at our disposal to achieve that are—let’s be diplomatic—exceptionally limited. I think it’s also important to note that Hezbollah in the past few weeks and months has been doing things that try to move the goalposts over what have been the long-established rules of the game. You know, what Israel does that could lead to a Hezbollah reaction and vice versa.

It used to be that as long as a Hezbollah operative wasn’t killed anywhere or an attack wasn’t done in Lebanon, Hezbollah wouldn’t necessarily respond. That’s changed with the unarmed drone being flown toward the offshore platform, with Nasrallah talking about one oil shipment from Iran and describing it as Lebanese sovereign territory, applying the idea of any attack in Lebanon being something that could engender a response. Most disconcerting is the infiltration of a terrorist operative into Israel, which was not in response to something. It was an initiation.

And now these various things that they’re trying to do along the border. The likelihood for misperception and miscalculation and a near-term, potentially serious conflict—hopefully one that would not be more than two, three, four days, but anything like that can be two, three, four months—is actually quite high. This larger conversation, I think, needs to take note of that. Hezbollah is doing things right now that could easily drag both countries, Israel and Lebanon—neither of which want this—into a military confrontation. I’m not talking in the medium or long term. I’m talking near term.

AMB. GABRIEL: I want to be the optimist in this group when it comes to the land border. The good news is the Israeli and Lebanese generals meet regularly, and that’s an important form of communication. Secondly, the Biden administration has developed trust and confidence on both sides when it comes to the maritime border. So I would say, as David alluded to, it takes years, but I would definitely move forward on the land border and make it a priority. The more you have dialogue in this regard, the better.

MS. ALGHUSSEIN: Clearly, there’s tribalism and a lot of arms in Lebanon. What is the likelihood that it could essentially erupt into a civil war?

AMB. HALE: There is a lot of psychological, emotional resistance to that. Memories of the last civil war are strong. The physical damage is apparent still in many, many areas of Lebanon. So there’s not really a pull toward civil war. There also is the reality of Hezbollah’s intimidation. I don’t think anyone has the wherewithal to face that.

What instead you’re seeing is pockets of people who want to just withdraw from the scene into not just decentralization but a sort of autonomy: autonomous regions based on sect and geography or federalism, which is really complicated but not a new idea. It was an unimplemented part of the Taif agreement. Instead, I think, people are looking to themselves. That in itself, over time, could lead to small, armed entities that you’d have to be careful about.

AMB. GABRIEL: I don’t see any interest in armed rebellion or armed conflict. We’ve talked to many of the different actors in Lebanon, including those Shia representatives that are close to Hezbollah. I don’t think there’s a lot of interest. Of course, mistakes can be made and one thing could lead to another. But I don’t see armed conflict at this point.

MS. ALGHUSSEIN: We just got a question from an audience member asking if you think the United States government might support a change toward more of a federalist system.

AMB. HALE: I would not expect any administration to take such a strong position. But there is an element of the Taif agreement that we did support. It was basically a Saudi-Syrian-Lebanese deal that touches on this. It was not implemented. I think a lot of Lebanese would say, well, that was one piece of it, and there are all these other parts of it. There are all of these tradeoffs. Different communities have different interests. So it’s a very complicated area to go into. I would not advise any American administration to launch reform efforts. If the Lebanese want to do that and the international community can respond in constructive ways, that would be different.

DR. LEVITT: I just want to jump back a second to the question about weapons and civil war. I agree that nobody is looking for that type of conflict, and there’s deeply ingrained resistance on all sides. But we did have the clashes in 2021. Those were surprising, on the one hand. On the flipside, Hezbollah has a record of being willing, if it feels it needs to, to turn its arms on fellow Lebanese. Again, there’s a dedicated unit within Hezbollah that assassinates its challengers. If you go back to 2008, Hezbollah took over downtown Beirut and more because of challenges to its intelligence collection at the airport and its independent cyber-optic telephone communications lines.

I don’t think civil war is likely, but it is a persistent and I think very real threat. I think it’s why other parts of the political spectrum in Lebanon are not willing to push Hezbollah too hard. Because they know damn well that if they push too hard, Hezbollah’s not going to push back with nasty words and, you know, pushing people back and forth in the hallway. They’re going to come with their weapons.

MS. ALGHUSSEIN: Another question from the audience. Is it not true that Hezbollah is very popular in Lebanon and throughout the Middle East?

AMB. HALE: Nasrallah is popular, not just in Lebanon but in the Middle East, because he’s charismatic and he’s perceived—and I’m not endorsing this, if anyone’s in any doubt—as standing up to the Israelis and the West. A lot of people like that because they don’t like what they see as the consequences of the policies adopted by Israel and the West. So we need a constant effort to remind people what has been said here at this platform, which is, you’ve got a militia that has arrogated to itself the decision making of life and death over all the Lebanese, even though all the Lebanese didn’t elect them.

I would caution against judging their popularity based on—what? Opinion polling? I’d like to see the opinion polls about where Hezbollah stands in Lebanon. I wouldn’t judge it based on parliamentary status, because even Hezbollah has to find allies in order to get the gains that it has. It still relies on the Amal Movement. It still relies on the old, landed families who have their residual support. They rely on an alliance. And, of course, if you’re an average voter there, you consider: a) they have guns, so everyone’s intimidated; b) even if you’re not intimidated, where do you go to get services if you live in the south? Well, it’s Hezbollah. So it’s a self-perpetuating internal system that is by no means democratic.

AMB. GABRIEL: Let me add that popularity for Hezbollah has been waning in the last few years. You can see this in the elections of reform candidates for parliament last year, for instance. Hezbollah also was significantly blamed for the port blast. And the economic crisis has pointed the finger in large part at them. So I don’t think they’re waxing. I think they’re waning in terms of Lebanese support.

DR. LEVITT: I would agree with that. There’s a big difference between Hezbollah and Nasrallah’s standing after the 2006 war, when he was lauded publicly all the time as being the first Arab leader to successfully stand up to the Israel Defense Forces. A lot’s changed since then. First, the Arab Spring, and then, perhaps more significantly, the sectarian nature of the war in Syria. He got involved on the side of the guy who was barrel bombing and starving mostly Sunni Muslims.

If you look at the elections, and even Hezbollah’s recruitment efforts, it used to be that people would volunteer for ideological reasons. Now, it’s mostly financial reasons. There have been a lot of internal issues within the concentric circles of Hezbollah support networks. Not everybody who sends their kid to fight in Syria was getting the same money if they were injured or killed. So there are a lot of issues. I would not agree with the statement that Hezbollah is super popular in the Middle East, not even in Lebanon outside of the communities that benefit from its targeted social-welfare network.

MS. ALGHUSSEIN: Do you think it’s possible that Lebanon could see a push toward Palestinian and/or Syrian refugee representation in government, given the huge increases in population? Will the old quota system be changed in the near future?

AMB. HALE: Well, the first flow of refugees into Lebanon in its modern history was the Palestinian population, starting with the 1948 war. Few of them have ever been given any rights or citizenship, or any say-so in the Lebanese government since then. So for more than 70 years, the Palestinians have been waiting. I think the Syrian refugees probably have a long wait, as well.

MS. ALGHUSSEIN: What forms of aid in the Middle East could be replicated in Lebanon? For example, the enterprise funds that we’ve seen for Egypt and Tunisia: Are those models that we could see Congress approve for Lebanon?

Anne Patterson, Board Member, Middle East Policy Council; Former Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern and North African Affairs, Department of State; Former Ambassador, Egypt, Pakistan, Colombia, El Salvador

These enterprise funds have had a mixed record. Both the Egyptian and Tunisian ones took quite a long time to get off the ground. But they have had successes in promoting private-sector investment. I think they should be looked at as a possible tool in Lebanon and, frankly, elsewhere in the world. I’ve been pushing that model for parts of Latin America, too, because the initial investment required is actually fairly modest if you can get the process going.

AMB. GABRIEL: The Tunisian and Egyptian enterprise funds are good ideas. David has talked about investment funds, as well. I think there’s room for an investment fund. The Lebanese, naturally, are involved in the investment community around the world. There’s a lot of opportunity to create a private-sector investment fund, which could start with solar. There’s a real opportunity in the solar market and infrastructure development. I think, at the right time, that could happen when we see more stability in the country. Of course, you don’t want to incentivize a corrupt government with an investment fund. It has to benefit people, not the government.

MS. ALGHUSSEIN: Another question from the audience: In terms of pushing back on Hezbollah’s reason for existence in Lebanon, at what point does the US call on Israel to withdraw, as called for in support of UN resolutions? Would this be one way that the public could call for Hezbollah to disarm?

AMB. HALE: If I understand the question, it’s what impact would it have if the Israelis withdrew from the Shebaa Farms and these disputed areas?

That was tried. It’s in the memoirs. If you go to [former Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice’s memoirs and [former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert’s, as well, there are competing versions of how the July 2006 war ended. If it’s not explicit in Rice’s book, I certainly had access to a witness, which I used in my book. She said to the Israelis, Why don’t you just get rid of this problem? Just give it back to them. Who cares about the Shebaa Farms? But the Israelis, of course, their attitude is that they don’t want to give up an inch of anything for free. They think it’ll be exploited somehow. But we did come close to trying to suggest that that could help bring about a resolution.

But I don’t think it would. I think that Hezbollah would come up with some other pretext, just as no one, except people who live right down there, really even knew this was a potential area of ambiguity until the withdrawal happened. I was the number two at the embassy when it happened. I was the chargé, actually. And in the basement of the Sûreté Générale, one of the intelligence services, a wet-ink map was produced that showed a change of the border favoring Lebanon. No other map had ever shown it. It was claimed by Syria. People there paid their taxes to Syria. So they can invent things, and they will if this particular pretext goes away.

MS. ALGHUSSEIN: We have also talked a lot about different programs and aid potentially coming from the World Bank versus the IMF versus the US Congress. I’m wondering if you can speak to whether it is better for one form of aid over another. Is it easier to make progress if aid comes from Congress directly to the LAF, versus to the World Bank, and then the World Bank gives it to Lebanon in some manner or another?

AMB. HALE: We want assistance to come from a variety of sources and to be effective. But I firmly believe in branding. I think US assistance needs to be known to the public that it’s of US origin. When we give it to places like the World Bank, that’s lost. It also needs to be conditional. Either it has to be provided in order to enable an institution like the LAF to do the things together that we want it to do, or we have to do what we’re doing now, which is tough love, withholding IMF assistance to resolve the financial crisis because we know if we give them money now, it’ll just be wasted. There need to be the fundamental reforms that we’ve all been speaking about. We need to use that leverage effectively.

AMB. GABRIEL: I think it really depends on the funding source and also its purpose. There may be some good delivery systems in the UN process. We found that delivering LAF family support was best handled through the UN Development Programme. Now that this program is set up, we should continue it. We found that food aid was better unified through the World Food Program and the UN. But I think David underscores something: We don’t promote what we’re doing for the people of Lebanon. And we need to do that.

MS. ALGHUSSEIN: The World Bank has warned about escalating brain drain in Lebanon, as many highly educated, trained, and specialized individuals have expressed a desire or have already made the determination to take their skills elsewhere. The consequences may be felt for generations. What steps can be made to retain talent in Lebanon? Is resolving the larger economic crisis the only solution, or is there more that can be done?

AMB. GABRIEL: The global solution is what’s going to fix it overall. If we could really improve the primary and secondary education system, I think it would be to the great advantage of the United States. Because two-thirds of the students are in private schools, and a lot of the curriculum is American-focused. I think it’s really important to look at the fact that Lebanon is losing in the education sector and it’s not in the US interest.

Secondly, university education I think is really important. To the extent we can offer scholarships to young people, and they stay in Lebanon—go to the American University of Beirut or the Lebanese American University or one of the other universities—it’s important. There are other small projects that can go on as well, but I think immediately, without dealing with the global issues, education is really the most important thing.

AMB. HALE: Twenty-five percent of Lebanon’s GDP comes from remittances. Who are those people? They are educated and ambitious Lebanese who have done well overseas and want to help their families or reinvest in Lebanon. We’re going to lose a generation of people who won’t have that education, and they won’t have the opportunity to compete globally, in the Gulf, the West, wherever, for those jobs. That is a ticking time bomb.

DR. LEVITT: How do you keep them in Lebanon? We can’t. If we do the right thing and give them a good education, then—like almost everybody so far who can—they will leave. If the financial and political situation doesn’t change for the better, or it gets worse, I’m not going to be the one to say, Hey, you should stay anyway. Hopefully, they’ll send remittances back. But the great fear is that we not only find Lebanon drifting into a failed state, but what’s left behind is less capable of dealing with the situation.

I don’t see a situation in which in the near term we’re able to flip the economic and political challenges such that even those who go through an education system in Lebanon that works are then able to find good jobs that pay well—that either make them want to, or even just enable them to, stay. I don’t see it. I think this is one of the reasons why this is such a crucial, time-sensitive problem.

AMB. GABRIEL: However, the Lebanese people, by and large, want to come home. Their preference is to stay in Lebanon. So they may go abroad for short periods, but I think it’s important to get them through primary and secondary school, and perhaps to a good university, because we have a better chance of keeping them. We must remember that, by and large, young Lebanese who live there would like to stay there, but not under these circumstances.

MS. ALGHUSSEIN: What concerns, if any, do you have about climate change and security in Lebanon, because of forced migration and resource shortages?

AMB. HALE: They’re suffering, like everyone. They have more water than most of their neighbors, but they still have water problems. They have agriculture, but it’s not a strong agricultural sector. It could do better. I think that one of the issues they’re facing, of course, is that the large number of Syrian refugees imposes huge burdens on the rural areas of the country. There’s just no capacity to deal with that. But I don’t think climate itself right now rises to the level you’ve seen in some other countries of the Middle East. They do have a food crisis, and they depend heavily on Ukrainian food, grain.

AMB. GABRIEL: Environmental degradation is bad. It has to be addressed, as clean water is now lacking to meet all the needs of the people. Agriculture is in trouble due to water shortages. There should be more attention given to the environmental needs of Lebanon. But as Matthew said earlier, unless you fix the larger problems of the presidential void and economic reforms and job creation, how are you going to address some of these issues?

DR. LEVITT: Lebanon might be in a slightly better position on water and other things, but climate migration, refugee issues, this is going to be one of the, if not the, biggest challenges in this region. Lebanon is not going to be exempt from that. Indeed, the refugee migration issue is exacerbated because of the Syrian civil war. So I have great concerns, not just about Lebanon but about the region. Other countries that have better relations are able to try and do things collectively on this, such as Israel-Jordan on water or other things—there’s potential that could theoretically be done. But under the reality of the current political, security, economic situation, it’s not happening.

AMB. HALE: To wrap up, I won’t speak for the panel, but I think my observation is that we’re in broad agreement on almost everything. I agree with Matthew and others who challenge the idea that somehow we’re going to be able quickly to find the right path to restore sovereignty and the state of Lebanon. Hezbollah has a lot of ways to impede that, and a lot of interest in not ceding the control that it has now over the port and the airports and the borders. But I don’t think we should give up. We need to have the persistence of the United States. Not overly ambitious investments, and not under-ambitious or neglectful approaches, either. Keep people’s feet to the fire.

AMB. GABRIEL: What I’ve learned today is that we are making progress, perhaps incrementally. We see some change through the parliament and otherwise. I think part of the story today is: No grand plans but incremental steps forward with the help of the United States. I think that as we do that, the needs of the people come first. We should focus on that and the security of the country through the Lebanese Armed Forces. Last, I would say that the problem is 100 percent corruption and Hezbollah. But we can’t give up on US action. It’s in our interest.

DR. LEVITT: I agree with everything that was said. And it’s an honor to be on this panel. I’ll just say two things. One, all the security reasons for looking at this country and this region are real and immediate. Frankly, that’s the side of things that I tend to focus on. But I believe it’s really important to focus on these things because there are human beings who are trying to get by on a day-to-day basis. The situation in which they find themselves, through no fault of their own and with little to nothing they can do about it, is not tenable. So we have multiple interests here. And we need to be involved.

On the flip side, while Tom Friedman says we may not care about the Middle East but the Middle East cares about us—it’s true, but it’s not a strong enough argument, I think, for the vast number of Americans in middle America who aren’t focused on these issues, like we are, on a daily basis. There are plenty of places in the world that are falling apart. Why do I have to be interested in this one? There are a million really good reasons. A lot of them we talked about today. I think one of the things we need is to do a better job of convincing our constituencies, explaining to them why this is something that is in our interest. Why, if done right, this could be money well spent, and why it’s in our interest— not only in terms of our concerns in the region, but for security reasons and others.

So I don’t think it’s enough just to focus abroad. I think domestic politics here have made it clear we need to do a better job of articulating what we do on foreign policy issues in general, and this one in particular—and why we do them—to a wider swath of America.

MS. ALGHUSSEIN: Yes, it’s very clear from this panel, that politics, both in the United States and in Lebanon, is local.

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