Lebanese-American activists across the country have banded together in their first joint outreach to the Joe Biden administration as Lebanon faces an existential crisis.
In a pair of press releases, the American Task Force for Lebanon (ATFL) and the Lebanese Information Center both touted their advocacy role in getting Congress to send two recent letters to President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken seeking stepped up US involvement to prevent the country’s economic collapse. The US-Lebanon Policy Council, the ATFL’s new lobbying arm, tells Foreign Lobby Report that it also lobbied in favor of the letters through its $10,000-a-quarter engagement with Jay Ghazal and Associates.
“This was a joint effort of all the Lebanese-American groups in town and across the country to show our unity and urgency,” said former Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), who co-chairs the US-Lebanon Policy Council along with former Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.).
Also weighing in for more US engagement is the Middle East Institute in Washington, which hosts its inaugural Lebanon Policy Conference in collaboration with the ATFL this week and next. Virtual panels with a slew of US and international officials and experts aim to “tackle the urgency and viable paths forward for Lebanon’s political, financial and humanitarian crises.” MEI and the ATFL previously collaborated in March on a policy brief of recommendations for the Biden administration to stabilize Lebanon and advance US interests.
“The months ahead will dictate the future of Lebanon for years to come,” MEI President Paul Salem was quoted as saying in the ATFL press release about the congressional outreach to Biden. “These letters embody Congress’s much appreciated understanding of the urgency of the situation today.”
The two letters, one from the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the other from the US-Lebanon Friendship Caucus, were sent to the administration on May 18. They argue that Lebanon faces the triple threat of a political, economic and health crisis that has empowered Iran-backed Hezbollah and other actors hostile to the United States.
“Lebanon is on the brink of becoming a failed state,” the US-Lebanon Friendship Caucus wrote in a bipartisan letter seeking a meeting with Blinken. “Now, more than ever, diplomatic engagement from the U.S. and allies is urgently needed to empower the people of Lebanon to push for constructive action in forming a democratic government as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee laid out four priorities for US policy in Lebanon in a letter to Blinken spearheaded by Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.):
- Spearhead an international “Friends of Lebanon” conference with France and other partners to raise “urgent financial assistance” for the country ;
- Launch a “direct humanitarian assistance effort” to address rising poverty and joblessness;
- Provide “supplementary assistance” to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), which some lawmakers see as a bulwark against Hezbollah; and
- Call for an “international, independent investigation” into last year’s Beirut port blast.
“Having two congressional letters signed by more than 35 Members of Congress underscores that Lebanon remains a priority for the US despite the turmoil in the region,” ATFL President Edward Gabriel said in a press release. “The relationship goes back more than 150 years centered on the US universities there, and nourished by the more than 1.5 million Lebanese Americans. Lebanon’s survival and success must continue to be a priority for the US.”