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US Warships Deployment Seen as Replay of 1983

Franklin Lamb interviewed by Al Manar, Lebanon

Franklin Pierce Lamb (PHD) is the co-founder and Director, of the Americans Concerned for Middle East Peace, Washington DC. He's a Senior Fellow in The Institute for Middle East Policy Dialogue, USA. Of his many publications is his most recent: "The Price We Pay: A quarter Century of Israel's Use of American Weapons in Lebanon - Lamont Press, 2007." "Hezbollah: A Brief Guide for Beginners," expected soon in Arabic and English. According to Lamb, Barack v. Hillary isn't the only Presidential election game in Washington these days. There is also the Samir v. Walid v. Michel (as in Geagea, Jumblatt and Suleiman) campaign underway as each seeks through direct contact and surrogates, the US imprimatur in their quests to lead Lebanon.

Interviewed by Mohamad Shmaysani

Q: First of all Dr. Lamb, who do you mean by the Welch Club?

A: The "Welch Club" is a term that was used in Washington a year and a half ago and it refers to David Welch who is the Undersecretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs under Secretary (Condoleezza) Rice. But he's a policy person and he works with the administration contacts in Washington as well as the government of Saudi Arabia and Jordan. But the term refers also to an intense agenda for the neocons and the Zionist lobby. Added to the Welch club within Lebanon, besides the embassy, are the allies here including the "March 14 majority"; (Samir) Geagea, (MP Walid) Jumblatt and others.

Q: How do you read the resignation of Admiral William Fallon from the US Administration?

A: I think that he chose the increasing frustration with certain American commanders that this has been a lost cause and that we are paying an exorbitant price. A soldier is meant to be loyal and dedicated, not to ask questions and to follow orders, but at a certain point in a disastrous enterprise people tend to break for their own self respect and that of their colleagues. I'm sure that he's speaking for many others.

Q: In your latest article "Is the Bush administration switching horses in Lebanon?" you said that the stature of both (Lebanese army commander) General Suleiman and Jumblatt has slipped while that of Geagea has rised in the eyes of the US administration. How is that if the ruling bloc in Lebanon is still calling for the election of Suleiman as president and if Jumblatt constitutes an asset for any future confrontation with the opposition?

A: I think that Jumblatt has destroyed his candidacy as an agent because of his comment about the seminary attack (in Jerusalem describing it as a reaction to Israeli oppression) and people in Washington don't trust him. But I think that the US administration regards Jumblatt's role in a future confrontation as minor. Hence, I think that the US had given up the idea of a civil war in Lebanon, although they would love to have one, Israel would love to have one because it would solve their problems, but I think they have gone beyond that. Now, concerning General Suleiman, according to what they are saying in Washington, there is a bit of loosing trust on his that he would be too willing to hear out all factions and sects in Lebanon and therefore his loyalty and devotion to the US administration had couldn't be relied on because apparently he's drawn some red lines. Geagea on the other hand is a cookie-cutter copy of what the Bush administration looks like, even including his idea of the Koleiat base (in northern Lebanon). Interestingly, someone in the subcommittee on Middle East was speaking about Geagea's history with that.

Apparently, in the late 80's they were using that airbase. We knew that, but he had a particular affinity for the idea. They (US administration) said that if he (Geagea) were in that position, that would ease the way for this idea of a northern base; an idea that been around for quite some time.

Q: How did the US public deal with Bush's administration after inviting and warmly receiving a Lebanese person who was sentenced to death and then his sentence was commuted to life in prison from many crimes, on top of which is the assassination of former Prime Minister Rashid Karameh in the mid 80's?

A: There wasn't a lot of information broadly broadcast. There was a demonstration for two days by local and Lebanese groups right across from the White House. I don't know to what extent its deeply known around the country (Geagea's visit), but it is a violation of our regulations, that normally you cannot gain a visa with anything close to that record of conviction. But at this level of politics, I think the White House just overrode it because they can bring anybody if they want to and that's what happened. He was considered so important that for more than a year, when he was denied a visa, they decided to sign off on it and wave it; the White House obviously wanted him and that is an important signal if they are going to go for broke and in a way many people think they have got to. They have lost Lebanon and many people like Cheney feel like they have handed it to Iran without a fight. The argument is that Bush's only hope for someplace in history - because he's widely considered to be a disgrace to the US and the worst president in US history – would be to go on with the offensive against Iran, go after Hezbollah and hand the problem to Barack Obama – who I believe would be the next president. I can't prove that, but there are indications and I would look at the willingness to breach American law in a big way by allowing a man with a least four murder convictions to visit the US. I don't think it's perfectly clear that the White House is absolutely committed to Geagea. I think they're exploring him. If there is going to be something dramatic, what I would be fascinated to know is what the others in the "majority" leadership think of him. But I think that over a period of a year and a half, a lot of candidates were vetted. I remember that article that came out about former Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman; it became almost a joke. Every time he would meet a new candidate, the first question he would ask is: How are you going to disarm Hezbollah? It wouldn't be tremendously surprising to me if they chose him (Geagea), but it's interesting that he's even there. If he goes to the White House then, I think, they are serious.

Q: What's the link between the US warships' deployment off the coast of Lebanon and Al-Qaeda?

A: I think the Welch club had a role earlier in bringing them and engaging them up north in Nahr el-Bared. I think it's a show of force that is extremely dangerous for everybody including the Americans, because some see it a s a replay in some respect of 1983 (US embassy bombing). The same advice goes for the US embassy today that according to international law and the amendments of the 1963 Vienna Convention, the US embassy in 1983 had lost its international protection and legitimacy. According to the Vienna Convention, as an embassy you are given an area and you transplant your jurisdiction from your country which is called 'extraterritoriality', and they give you certain leeway to protect your diplomats. But if you breach the international law and engage as a combatant, then you have no protection and that's how many people have realized that according to international law the attack on the US embassy in 1983 was legitimate, because the 8-member CIA team was giving orders to the USS New Jersey. Every embassy contains intelligence people and this is not violation to international law, when individuals inside an embassy then act in a hostile way against the country especially when it's living a civil war atmosphere like Feltman did, then this is a violation. Say that the embassy now with the new Charge D'Affairs (Michel) Sisson was in contact with the boats offshore, and if things intensified then they are going to loose their diplomatic protection, if they hadn't already. It's a very dangerous game. In 1983, it was legitimate under international law as (former US Defense Secretary) Donald Rumsfeld calls ' a legitimate target of opportunity.' The same thing goes with the Marines barracks; they may have arrived as peacekeepers but they switched. We all know that and we know that they fought the local forces and they were absolutely a legal target under international law. I would say the flotilla off the shore is to pressure the resistance and Syria, support Israel and threaten Iran. It's obviously a very dangerous situation and we would just have to see how close they would come and what are their maneuvers. The Russians are watching them and they have opposed their presence. I still don't believe that there will be a civil war in Lebanon but I personally cannot see the Bush administration riding off Lebanon; it's too big a defeat. They have lost Iraq, they're losing parts of the Gulf, they have lost Afghanistan, the have lost enormous goodwill for probably two generations. The American public is angry and I think that we will see some change in the Congress, not just the presidency.

Q: Do you think there will be an Israeli war?

A: I do think there has got to be one, because Israel cannot live with this humiliation. It's lost its credibility not just with its people and certain allies, but militarily. There is a recent report and an analysis by a gentleman man named Willian Arki in which he says that by no stretch of accepted military doctrine can Israel's activity in 2006 be consider making sense. He said it was a misuse of airpower and there were too many wrong targets. So even the Pentagon has concluded what we, the NGOs and the people who experienced the bombing have concluded here, is that it was a hateful and racist frenzy to punish all of Lebanon, the people and the supporters of Hezbollah. And with that kind of interpretation of events I can't see them not reacting. Everybody seems to agree that if there is an ignition of a hot conflict, it's going to be a bad one that could extend to Syria.

Q: How do you think the Bush administration will deal with the representation of Lebanon in the Arab summit in Damascus at the end of this month?

A: I credit Capitol Hill sources that as of now the standing order from the Bush administration to the Sanoria government is to boycott the Syrian hosted Arab League Conference unless a new Lebanese President is sworn in by March 29th. It is possible that at the last minute the White House might allow someone like former President Amine Gemayel to 'represent' Lebanon. Gemeyal still has some goodwill in Washington from his 1982-88 tenure as President of Lebanon and pushing a treaty with Israel. He is also remembered in Washington for his efforts to mediate with Saddam Hussein and the Bush administration and was considered for a time as a possible successor to Kofi Annan as UN Secretary-General. If so, Gemayels attendance will likely be announced shortly before the Conference to keep pressure on Bashar Assad who Bush appears to deeply resent on a political and personal level.


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