Despite its small territory, Lebanon is considered to be an extremely important country of the Middle East both in geopolitical and in the cultural meaning. Beirut is the informational center of the whole Arab world. If Cairo is the heart of the Arabic East, Damascus – its head, Beirut is its eyes and ears. The originality and uniqueness of Lebanon consist in its multi-confessionality and cultural pluralism. There are the representatives of three religions: Muslims, Christians and in the Middle Eastern Mediterranean coast. In their turn, the representatives of the Islamic and Christian faiths are also divided into a number of communities. They include Maronite Christians connected by the union with Catholic Church, Orthodox Christians, Shiite and Sunni Muslims. The necessity to agree and achieve compromise irrespective of the dissimilarity and sometimes extremely opposite religious beliefs generated the constitution of 1943 which assigned certain state posts to the representatives of definite religious communities. Only a Maronite can become the president of the country under this constitution, a Sunni Muslim – a prime minister, and Shiite Muslim – a speaker of the parliament. Some portfolios were assigned to the Orthodox Christians and Druses. The additional variety of the country is represented by a summer flow of the representatives of the Lebanese diaspora. There are 23 million Lebanese in the world. The unemployment and shortage of the land as well as the tragic events of civil war compelled many residents of this country to look for asylum abroad. Only in Brazil, there are 8 million natives of Lebanon. There are also big diasporas in Argentina, France, the USA and the states of the Persian Gulf. Thus, the given essay will discuss the brief historical background of Lebanon, it unique features, the specificity of the relationships with the USA and the future perspective of these relationships.
A Historical Overview of Lebanon
The Lebanese Republic, the official name of Lebanon, is the small state in the Middle East located in a hilly terrain on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea. In the East and the North, the country borders on Syria, in the south – on Israel. The population of Lebanon composes 4 million people. The republic is distinguished in the Arab world by the extreme religious variety. Before the civil war of 1975 – 1990, Lebanon was a prospering, financial and banking capital of the Arab world with the prevailing share of the Christian population, for what it received the informal name “Middle Eastern Switzerland”. Lebanon is very popular among tourists.
The emergence of pioneer settlements on the territory of the modern Lebanon dates on the 6th millennium B.C. Lebanon became the homeland of Phoenicia, the developed sea trade state which stretched its lengthways coast on the Mediterranean Sea. The Phoenicians gave the first alphabet to the world. Phoenicia was in blossom in 1200 – 800 BC. In 332, Alexander of Macedon made a campaign to Phoenicia, having destroyed its largest city – Tear. In the period of the Arab raids and formation of the Caliphate, Islam penetrated into Lebanon. In the 12th century, Lebanon became a part of the Jerusalem kingdom of crusaders. In 1261, crusaders were expelled from Lebanon by the Egyptians, and Lebanon belonged to Egypt until 1516. In 1517, the Sultan Selim I attached this territory to the Ottoman Empire.
The territory of Lebanon as a part of Big Syria entered the Ottoman Empire more than 400 years. After the defeat of Turkey in World War I and disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, the territory of Big Syria was occupied in 1918 by the British troops under the command of the general Allenby. In 1916, the country was transferred to France and controlled by the French mandate. In 1926, the territory of Lebanon was separated from Syria, and Lebanon became the separate territorial unit operated, however, by the administration of the French mandate of Syria. In 1940, France was occupied by Germany. In 1943, Lebanon officially gained independence. In 1948, Lebanon took part in the first Arab-Israeli war. Later, Lebanon signed the Ceasefire Agreement with Israel. More than 100 thousand of the Arab refugees came to Lebanon.
Since 1956, there were the increasing contradictions between Christians and Muslims in Lebanon, resulting in the civil war in 1958. To hold the power in the country, the president Kamil Shamun asked for the U.S. military assistance. The American troops were present in the country from July to October up to a full normalization of the situation. In 1975, in Lebanon the second civil war between the Muslim and Christian communities burst out. The war proceeded 15 years, having destroyed once prospering national economy, and took the lives of more than 150 thousand inhabitants. It stopped in 1990 with the signing of the Taif Agreements. In 1976, the Syrian troops entered Lebanon and occupied it up to 2006, despite the official requirements of the presidents of Lebanon about the withdrawal of Syrian troops.
After the end of civil war in Lebanon, there was a short period of relative peace, interrupted by the cabinet crisis provoked by the murder of the ex-prime minister of the country Rafik Hariri, followed by the withdrawal of the Syrian troops and the Israeli-Lebanese conflict in 2006. In 2011, in Lebanon there was a conflict between the government and Islamists. In 2015, there was the wave of protests because of the inaction of the government and political crisis during which the parliament cannot elect the president of the country.
U.S. Foreign Policy with Lebanon
The Middle East region remains one of the most intensive in the international relations at present. There, the interests of both big world powers and regional leaders meet. It is a special region different from the Arab world where historically there was a communal, religious and political originality. This region, along with the Persian Gulf, became the key arena of the conflict in the Middle East. The irreconcilability of the USA concerning extremism and radicalism will cause the continuation of the struggle against the relevant organizations and infrastructure in other states of the Middle East. Lebanon and Syria are the first in the turn of this struggle. Lebanon is an important link of the whole Middle Eastern processes of the last quarter of the 20th – beginning of the 21st century and enters a number of the countries which draw a close attention to the foreign policy.
Lebanon is an important factor in U.S. calculations regarding regional security, particularly regarding Israel and Iran. Congressional concerns have focused on the prominent role that Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Shiite militia, political party, and U.S.-designated terrorist organization, continues to play in Lebanon and beyond, including its recent armed intervention in Syria.
The American-Lebanese relations are the bilateral relations between Lebanon and the USA. Lebanon has its embassy in Washington (the USA), and the USA has its embassy in Beirut (Lebanon). In 1944, the countries started their diplomatic relations. The USA, along with the international community, supports a full implementation of the resolution of the UN Security Council including the disarmament of all rebels and expansion of the Lebanese armed forces in the whole territory of Lebanon. The USA considers that the peaceful, prospering and stable Lebanon can make an important contribution into the achievement of the comprehensive world in the Middle East.
The key directions of the U.S. foreign policy with Lebanon should be considered in the context of the Middle Eastern policy pursued by the USA after World War II. In the late 1950s, the U.S. President D. Eisenhower proclaimed the Middle East to be a zone of the American interests. At present, the main priority of the U.S. foreign policy in relation to Lebanon is a full support of democratic processes in the country. Lebanon for the USA is one of the most suitable objects for the realization of the American democracy. The weakening of the influence of “Hezbollah” on the political processes and formation of the anti-Syrian moods in the country is an important element of the policy pursued by the USA in Lebanon. For this purpose, the American administration renders all possible assistance to the strengthening of the positions of the westernized “The March 14 Coalition” in the political life of Lebanon.
Also, the Lebanon-American economic relations are strengthened. In recent years, the volume of the American export to Lebanon increased greatly. In turn, the export of the Lebanese production to the USA also grows annually. For the American corporations, Lebanon is an attractive market for export of cars, electric equipment, medicines, etc. In the 2000s, such organizations as the American-Lebanese Chamber of Commerce, Association of the Lebanese Companies, the American-Lebanese Business Association, the purpose of which was to strengthen the commercial relations between two countries and attraction of foreign investments to Lebanon were formed in Lebanon with the support of the U.S. government. In Lebanon, there are about 160 American companies, including Microsoft, Coca-Cola, General Electric and others. The American presence in Lebanon is also fixed by the active influence on the training of specialists and solutions of personnel questions for the Lebanese economy. In particular, around 2100 Lebanese students were trained in the USA in 2013, and the American university in Beirut calls the American doctors and engineers of the Lebanese origin for the training of the Lebanese students on a constant basis.
Recently, the USA carried out the massive pressure upon Lebanon and Syria with the requirement of the liquidation of data of the organizations and terminations of support of the Islamic radical organizations in the territory of Palestine. For Lebanon, it was almost impossible or a very difficult task. The pressure of the Lebanese government on “Hezbollah” can lead to the renewal of the armed and political opposition in Lebanon where the fragile world is established and there is no economic growth. The USA demands from the president of Lebanon to destroy practically all armed structures of “Hezbollah” that, most likely, means the presence of the American military contingent in the country as the Lebanese government is not able to solve this problem independently.
At the same time, the USA considers that Lebanon is the weakest link in a chain of the Arab states where legally or illegally the Islamic Sunni and Shiite radical organizations are located. Lebanon and Syria are a place of the greatest concentration of one of the most active Islamic radical organizations, and these countries became the actual arena of activity of data of groups against the USA and Israel. A strong pressure of the USA on Lebanon, and also other Arab states, a military influence in the relation of these countries absolutely reduces the importance of the Palestinian problem as these actions have much more important political and economic value for the Arab world.
It should also be noted that without a complete dominance and control over Syria and Lebanon, the USA will not be able to extend its influence in the Middle East. Lebanon became the arena of the political struggle of many forces in the region, including Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. However, a problematical character of the control over Syria and Lebanon from the USA speaks not only of the influence of the countries of the region, but also of the leading European countries as well as Russia, whose influence is steadily weakening.
Predictions for Future U.S. Relations with Lebanon
Lebanon holds a key position in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and its relation towards the leading Arab states in many respects depends on its position. Regarding the decrease of the importance of the Lebanese problem for the USA, it is necessary to take into account that the USA understands that cannot solve all world and regional problems, proceeding from the economic and military-political resources. Anyway, the USA has to choose priorities, including in regional policy and to ignore the part of problems for the sake of the solvation of, first of all, those problems its national security depends on.
The USA obviously does not want to solve the regional problems on the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea where it spent huge resources. At the same time, at a suspense of the Syrian and Lebanese problem, the USA actively started to solve the problems of Iran, in particular, tried to create the opportunities for the reflection of the Iranian actions in the Islamic world. Iran continues to rely on its partners in Lebanon and Syria for the strengthening of the influence in the Middle East region, but its opportunities and hopes for the expansion of influence in the other Arab countries become more modest. Therefore, the struggle of Iran for the influence in Syria and Lebanon will proceed, at the support of the Shiites in these countries.
In this regard, it is possible to assume that the USA will change its relations with Lebanon, which should become a certain “neutral zone”, where neither Iran, nor Turkey, nor Saudi Arabia could find the dominating influence. It is connected with the fact that in new historical conditions of the collision of civilizations the problem of Syria and Lebanon gets a new local character, and only an active participation of the USA is the most important factor of the increase of international “status” of this problem. Actually, many political forces of Lebanon can become the U.S. partners. The Islamic radical and extremist political organizations, especially those which have an international, cosmopolitan character, do not consider the Palestinian problem as a certain super purpose.
Lebanon plays a rather important role in the economic development of the other states of the Middle East region, in particular, Syria which in this regard directly depends on the neighbor. As for the political value of Lebanon, it is still a zone of influence of a number of the states as a strategically important region. In the 1970-1980s, this country became the arena of rivalry of the USSR, and also the neighboring Syria and Iran, on the one hand, and the USA and Israel, on the other hand. Lebanon seeks to cooperate with all countries, at the same time trying to keep independence. The country has quite good relations with the USA and the Gulf states. The USA hopes that the creation of the Palestinian state will make Lebanon to be more accessible for the U.S. strategy. It will strengthen the USA and decrease the importance of the other states for the U.S. strategy.