December 2019 was a bizarre month in America's nearly four-decade-long struggle with Hezbollah. It ended with the US embassy in Baghdad under attack by one form of Hezbollah angry at the deaths of their comrades killed in Iraq and Syria on December 29. The Trump administration killed their comrades in another form of Hezbollah because they killed an American contractor and wounded others in Kirkuk on December 27. What makes this so weird is that the month began quite differently when on December 6 the US sent $105 million to Lebanon, a country controlled by Hezbollah.
After the Trump administration withheld $105 million in aid to Lebanon's military in late September, the Washington press corps thought it smelled another Ukraine-style Trump scandal. The New York Times complained that Trump "officials halted the funding to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), which Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department had approved, at a critical time."
U.S. media outlets have missed the reality that Iran runs Lebanon like a Shia colony.
The Los Angeles Times fretted that Trump was withholding money precisely as Lebanon "convulses under an unprecedented wave of anti-government protests" and announced that Lebanon's army is "viewed as a guarantor of stability."
The Washington Post assured its readers that "there is little to no evidence to suggest that the LAF actively cooperates with Hezbollah." The qualifiers "little to no" and the adverb "actively" betray an editorial caution that imply some evidence of at least passive LAF-Hezbollah cooperation.
Somehow each of these media outlets has missed the reality that Iran runs Lebanon like the Shia colony it has become. Up until he was killed on January 2, Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran's al-Quds Force, traveled freely to and throughout Lebanon like a Persian general keeping a watchful eye on the indigenous regiments in the northernmost satrapy of his master's empire. One of that empire's most reliable tools is Hezbollah, which controls the Lebanese government.
Under Lebanon's "confessional" government, the speaker of the parliament is always a Shia Muslim, the president is a Maronite Christian, and the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim. Nabih Berri, the Amal movement party leader, is the speaker of a parliament controlled by Hezbollah. Lebanon's president, Michel Aoun, wouldn't be president without Hezbollah's approval, which he first earned in 2006 by allying his Free Patriotic Movement to the Shia terrorist organization. He supported Hezbollah in its 2007 war against Israel and in turn has enjoyed its support ever since. Lebanon had no prime minister for since Saad Hariri resigned in October. Then Aoun announced on December 19 that he had chosen Hassan Diab, a Hezbollah favorite, to be the new prime minister. Of course, the Hezbollah-controlled parliament approved with a majority vote.
The Lebanese government is the Hezbollah government.
"There has been no state of Lebanon for some time now," as Mordechai Kedar of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies says, for Hezbollah controls everything; Lebanon's "parliament, government, president, and all of the other state institutions are nothing more than a façade for players directed by [Hassan] Nasrallah."
Nations give arms and cash to other nations for self-interested reasons.
Since 2006, the US has sent over $1.7 billion to the Lebanese Armed Forces. What has been achieved by this money, and what evidence is there that the LAF is anything other than the "legal wing" of Hezbollah?
The current impeachment rhetoric notwithstanding, all foreign policy is a quid pro quo. Unlike relief efforts, rescue missions and vaccination programs, which are philanthropic endeavors undertaken out of altruism, nations give arms and cash to foreign powers and train foreign troops for selfish reasons. If the recipient isn't an ally and isn't willing to promote the donor nation's interest, either directly or indirectly, it doesn't deserve the investment.
Compare US aid to Lebanon with US aid to Egypt. The Egyptian military actually does work to maintain stability in Egypt, exercising strong arm tactics against Islamists and terrorists. Though far from fully representing American ideals or always promoting America's interests, among the Egyptian military's mixed record is a history of fighting American foes. For instance, since General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took over in 2013, the Egyptian military has on numerous occasions flooded Hamas tunnels with sea water or raw sewage, killing an unknown number of Hamas killers and hindering their missile-smuggling operations. The Egyptian military has worked with the Israeli military in operations against ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula. Maybe this is why Trump called Sisi his "favorite dictator."
US investments in Egypt have paid much better returns than those in other parts of the Muslim world. For well over a decade, Pakistan not only squandered US cash and did very little to promote our interests, but also lied to us about many things – the Taliban, the Haqqanis, the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.
Perhaps the most absurd comment about aid to Lebanon came from former US ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman who told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in November that aid to the LAF should be restored "because of the program's merit in terms of improving the LAF's counterterrorism performance." This is laughable. If the LAF is not fighting Hezbollah it is not engaging in any meaningful counterterrorism.
Lebanon's military should receive more U.S. aid only after it establishes a record of killing Hezbollah terrorists.
When the LAF establishes a record of killing Hezbollah terrorists, it will have earned a second chance at American aid. Until then, Lebanon should be recognized as a Hezbollah stronghold, the northern frontier of the Iran's Shia Empire.
Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department may think that sending money to Lebanon is a good idea, but it isn't. Sending money to Lebanon means sending money to Hezbollah. It's that simple.
A.J. Caschetta is a Ginsberg-Ingerman fellow at the Middle East Forum and a principal lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.