Have Christians in the MIddle East been abandoned by the Obama administration?
Joseph Hakim is a Lebanese native, and the leader of the International Christian Union based in the U.S., a group which serves as an umbrella for Middle Eastern Christians worldwide. Hakim, having just returned from a trip to Lebanon, was asked by this reporter how the Lebanese people feel about the Obama administration, and the general situation in the Land of the Cedars.
“The Christians in Lebanon, like Christians in Iraq and in Egypt, feel abandoned by the Obama administration” Hakim said, adding that “in the midst of ethnic cleansing of Christians in Iraq, and post-revolutionary violence against Christians in Egypt, and fear of the Muslim Brotherhood takeover in Syria, most Christians are left feeling fearful and hopeless.”
According to Hakim, the Obama administration’s policy in the Middle East has been lackluster and has done little to protect Christian interests. This situation, says Hakim, has also “left the Lebanese Christians weakened and isolated.”
The irony, as Hakim sees it, is the fact that the Shiite-Muslim community, represented to a large extent by Hezbollah, is fiercely anti-American, yet the Obama “hands-off” policy in Lebanon has bolstered both Hezbollah and Iran in Lebanon. Given the full control Hezbollah and their Syrian and Iranian masters exercise in Lebanon, Hakim predicts that Iran will soon be “on Israel’s border,” and that might spell war with Israel.
Hakim has little confidence in the future of democracy in Lebanon without Western intervention, but he does not expect the Obama administration to intercede. Although parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2013, and the “March 14” pro-Western democratic forces of predominantly Christians and Sunni-Muslims might prevail, it is Hezbollah -- and its sponsors in Syria and Iran -- that has the guns and is willing to use them, while the West is not. He asserts that the Obama administration has limited its policy to “protecting Saudi interests in Lebanon.” That, in essence, means supporting the Sunni-Muslims. The Sunnis, however, do not believe that “Obama is doing enough.”
Hezbollah is more powerful than the Lebanese army, despite the presence of some Christian generals in the army. Hezbollah says Hakim “controls the intelligence and logistical apparatus of the Lebanese army.” U.S. arms deliveries to the Lebanese army, Hakim maintains, is clearly counterproductive, and these arms would ultimately be turned against Israel and the pro-Western forces of Lebanon.
The Jerusalem Post reported in September 2010 that “key members of the U.S. House block military assistance to the Lebanese army.” Members of Congress reacted to an incident in which Hezbollah -- with Lebanese army cooperation -- attacked Israeli soldiers. The Obama administration, however, approved the delivery of $100 million in arms to the Lebanese army for 2010. Obama’s State Department, always bending over to be even-handed, used its spokesman to say that the “U.S. is still trying to ascertain the facts regarding the incident including whether there is any truth behind the reports that the LAF [Lebanese army] troops used American issued guns.”
In the meantime, the new Lebanese government led by Prime Minister Najib Mikati, which came into being after five months of wrangling, is being held hostage by Hezbollah. The BBC reported on June 14, 2011 that Mikati, while trying to encourage foreign investments, and fully aware that the U.S. and Western powers will judge him by his government’s actions, “is living up to international obligation.” Mikati said that he will strive to do just that. He added, however, that he has "responsibilities when it comes to Lebanon’s stability,” a clear reference that he is at the mercy of Hezbollah and its Iranian and Syrian masters. Mikati also said that “there would be severe repercussions if any Lebanese government goes along with the expected indictment” of Hezbollah operatives for the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon.
Hezbollah is not just a threat to Lebanon and Lebanese democracy; it poses a threat to the U.S. and the West as well. In his 2002 address to the U.S. Institute for Peace, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Arbitrage stated that “Hezbollah may be the A-team of terrorists, and al-Qaida is actually the B-team.”
Mikati, a telecommunication tycoon and a billionaire, is a Sunni-Muslim caught between his sentiments toward his fellow Sunnis, and his dependence on Hezbollah’s good will to govern Lebanon. He is also caught in the middle between pleasing the wealthy Saudis and the more threatening Iranians and Syrians.
As far as Hakim is concerned, Mikati is merely “a marionette in the hands of the Hezbollah.” He believes that it does not matter who is prime minister leading the Hezbollah-controlled “March 8” camp. The bottom line is that “the person will implement the Hezbollah and Iran’s agenda.”
The global economic downturn has had a lesser effect on Lebanon, according to Hakim. Despite the upheaval in the Arab world, which caused economic instability, Lebanon is enjoying an upturn. On one hand, this is because aid is coming from Iran, most of which is obviously aimed at bolstering the Shiite population, and of course for military-related projects controlled by Hezbollah. And, on the other hand, the Saudis are providing aid to the Sunnis, and due to the economic decline in the Gulf, many Lebanese are returning home and buying properties, which has stimulated the local real estate market.
Another issue Hakim is passionate about is the role the Palestinians play in Lebanese life. He believes that in order to restore a semblance of harmony in Lebanon, actions must be taken to move the Palestinians out. The Palestinians, “are living miserable lives in Lebanon, and Lebanon is ill-equipped to provide for them,” he said. Moreover, he said, “The oil-rich Arab states have done little to alleviate Palestinian poverty.” Hakim’s solution is to remove the Palestinians from Lebanon and relocate them to the Arab Gulf states.
Concluding our conversation, Hakim quipped that for Christians like himself, the immediate hope is for the defeat of Obama by the Republicans in the next election, followed by a new Middle East strategy which would reward pro-Western elements in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East.