Lebanon and the end of the Obama doctrine

November 19, 2017

On his visit to Washing­ton in July, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri appeared to be a small figure in the White House’s Rose Garden as he listened to US President Donald Trump declare that the Lebanese government was working closely with his adminis­tration to combat terrorism.

Many ridiculed Trump for failing to notice that Hariri’s govern­ment housed two card-carrying members of Hezbollah, the same organisation accused of killing 241 US servicemen in Beirut in 1983. Michel Aoun, a key Hezbollah ally, was serving as Lebanon’s president, a position he held largely due to the approval of Hariri and his parlia­mentary bloc.

Four months after Trump’s sup­posed blunder, his remarks are beginning to appear prescient, at least as far as Hariri is concerned.

Since his sudden resignation, Hariri appears to have declared war on Hezbollah, ending the brittle truce that had existed between him and the principal suspects in his father’s assassination in a 2005 bomb blast.

Placed within the overall con­text, Hariri’s resignation marked not simply the demise of a sham government charged with provid­ing political cover for Iran’s Levant operations but a reversal of the so-called Obama Doctrine, which gave Iran and its proxies unmitigated freedom in both Lebanon and the region.

Perhaps more than anything else, it has been the rebuilding of US-Saudi relations upon the ashes of Obama’s legacy that has set the stage for the stand-off between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Lebanon.

Obama’s tense relationship with Arab Sunnis and his obsession with seeing the nuclear deal through blinded him from realising that empowering Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) could only serve to complicate mat­ters within an intensely compli­cated region.

Thus, the Obama Doctrine increased the schism between the White House and the oil-rich Gulf states, principally Saudi Arabia, acclimatised to American pamper­ing from administrations intent on enhancing economic relations.

Conversely, Obama’s frigid rela­tions with the Gulf Arabs was all Iran needed to secure the elec­tion of a sympathetic president in Lebanon, one possessed of the ethics of a door-to-door salesman determined on peddling the myth of Hezbollah’s vital role in the fight against Sunni terrorism.

For Hariri, desperate to stage a comeback after a series of politi­cal and financial setbacks, Aoun’s appointment represented a way out of his personal predicament, as well as a suitable candidate to bring Lebanon’s presidential vacuum to an end.

That Aoun was appointed is a matter of record. Nevertheless, irrespective of Hariri and Tehran’s ambitions, the tide was beginning to turn. With Trump in the Oval Office, the previous administra­tion’s fixation with Persian arts and culture gave way to the new president’s election promise to rein in Iran and rescind what he consid­ered a senseless nuclear deal.

Allying with the president was a new Saudi crown prince, out to salvage the region from Iran’s he­gemony and reverse the kingdom’s policy failures in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

The Riyadh summit was mocked by many, not least Iran and its al­lies, which dismissed the resulting policies as merely Trump gimmicks designed to sell the Arabs more weapons.

In reality, the summit laid out the road map to a political, finan­cial and military response to Iran. Trump’s decertification of the Iran deal and his clear identification of the IRGC as a regional menace were accompanied by a call for a robust international commitment to preventing it from receiving funds for it and its various international chapters, chiefly its Lebanese flag­ship, Hezbollah.

Ultimately, to make sense of Hari­ri’s resignation and the resurgence of Saudi hawks, we need to look beyond the reports of some of Bei­rut’s Western journalists, especially anti-establishment Americans, who fail to realise that their support of Obama led to them whitewashing the actions of Iran and Hezbollah.

While Saudi Arabia may fall short of qualifying as a modern state, at least in some analysts’ books, the IRGC and all that it stands for are certainly not the curators of some ancient Persian culture. Carpet-weaving and training militias are two different disciplines.

What is certain is that Obama’s legacy, both in Lebanon and the region, has been killed and buried and the Saudis have delegated Hariri to stand guard over its tomb to ensure it is never resurrected.