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Press Releases 2008

Remarks by Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman At the Dinner Hosted by Dr. Samir Geagea

January 24, 2008

Dr. Geagea, Setrida, friends.  Thank you for this evening, for giving me the occasion to express to you gratitude for cooperation and friendship during what has been both the most challenging and the most rewarding foreign assignment I can imagine.  

As you know, in the not-so-distant future, I plan to leave Lebanon -- something I was originally scheduled to do in July 2007.  I face the end of my assignment as U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon with the mixture of emotions you would expect: 

  • deep gratitude for the privilege of having experienced Lebanese friendship and hospitality for three and a half years;
  • profound respect for the courageous people who overcame historic and communal differences to demand the end to Syria's occupation;
  • pride that the United States has been a strong and engaged partner as you define and pursue your own "made-in-Lebanon" agenda; 
  • sorrow at the number of lives destroyed in assassinations and war;
  • disgust at the ongoing shameless attacks on Lebanon's democratic institutions by those seeking to restore decision-making to Damascus and its allies;
  • and sadness that the highest office in the land remains vacant because Syria's friends are using non-constitutional demands to prevent elections.

But most of all, I leave in admiration:  admiration of what the Lebanese people have achieved so far, and admiration for the vision you so clearly articulated for a united, democratic, prosperous, secure, and independent Lebanon.  Your vision and your voices have awakened the world.  The regional and international support for Lebanon has never been stronger, because you yourselves inspired us to view Lebanon as Lebanon, not merely as a small piece in larger regional puzzles.  

This, in fact, may be one of the Cedar Revolution's most astonishing yet misunderstood accomplishments:  You are accused by Syria's Lebanese proxies of having fallen too heavily under our influence, when what has happened in fact is the opposite:  you have succeeded in enlisting the power and prestige of the United States and many other countries on behalf of democratic and independent Lebanon.  You have made us believers in your vision.   You made nearly the entire world see that what you sought were the basic rights that people everywhere deserve:  the right to run your own affairs, through transparent and constitutional institutions, by officials and representatives who respect the rule of law and who are ultimately accountable, through periodic elections, to the citizens of the state.

I leave Lebanon persuaded that, despite the challenges, you will succeed in strengthening your democracy, unity, and independence.  You have the world and, more important, Lebanese public opinion on your side.  If the Lebanese are given the choice between a closed system that resembles Gaza's government, backed by Syria and Iran, or a promising system that looks like Dubai, Europe, or North America, open to the world, I'm confident that the Lebanese will choose the latter.  After all, when Lebanese choose to emigrate abroad, they tend to go to the Arab Gulf, North America, and Europe, not to Teheran and Damascus.  They don't vote with their feet for Iran. 

And I am convinced that, given Lebanese talent and brains, populist rhetoric that cultivates hatred and builds on resentment will not blind people forever to the fact that they are being used:  used in an Iranian-Syrian conspiracy to undermine Lebanon's democracy and change forever the character of your constitutional institutions.  This conspiracy is destined to fail.  At some point, those who played such an important role in demanding that Syria leave Lebanon, but who later parted ways with March 14, will see that their current alliance is not a natural fit with their patriotic aspirations for their country.  I believe that, eventually, they will recognize that, by switching sides, they have inadvertently helped mask Lebanon's real problem, which is that an Iranian-funded state-within-a-state has total control over questions of war and peace and refuses all attempts at public accountability and transparency.  Hizballah demands the right to veto all decisions by the institutions in which you are democratically represented, yet Hizballah refuses to give up its right of unilateral action.  Is it really possible that some politicians who once proudly proclaimed authorship of UNSCR 1559 -- a resolution calling, inter alia, for the disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias -- can now believe that the Lebanese cabinet and even the Maronite Patriarchate pose greater threats to Lebanon's identity than Hizballah's heavily armed, foreign-funded state-within-a-state status? 

If we are to believe the rhetoric that the real issue is the Lebanese cabinet, then the power is in the hands of Syria's allies to force its immediate, constitutional resignation:  permit presidential elections now.  Presidential elections now, in accordance with your constitution and uncomplicated by other issues, would be a significant step forward and illustrate that all parties are looking for a constructive way ahead. 

I assure you that U.S. support for Lebanon's new president and the new cabinet will remain strong.  While I promise to do what I can from my new position in Washington to promote a U.S.-Lebanese partnership that benefits our two peoples, I also know that the U.S. commitment to Lebanon is non-negotiable and does not depend on Jeff Feltman's attention.  We don't know who will win the U.S. Presidential elections later this year, but we do know that neither Democrat nor Republican will bargain away Lebanon behind your backs.