December 17, 2008

Hezbollah Refuses to Meet Carter

by Charles Chuman

Lebanese Parliamentary Speaker Nabih al Berri refused to meet a US Congressional delegation led by NY-D Rep. Gary Ackerman.

Hezbollah refused to meet with former US President Jimmy Carter claiming that Carter supports "Zionist terror."

These two incidents, similar in simplistic terms: "Lebanese Shia Politicians Refuse to Meet US Policymakers," are extremely different in their underlying implications.

Berri and Ackerman

Berri’s refusal to meet with the US Congressional delegation is understandable given Ackerman’s previous public statements criticizing Berri and the Lebanese opposition, and Ackerman’s efforts to weaken Hezbollah and other Lebanese groups who waged war with Israel.

Berri, a US citizen, is on good terms with American officials and is seen as a moderating presence in Lebanon. A Lebanese Shia who leads the Amal Movement, he is regarded internationally as one of Lebanon’s canniest politicians. Berri would have gained nothing by meeting with Ackerman, but would have been tarred as a pro-Israel capitulation-ist by the pro-Hezbollah press going into the 2009 elections. Berri’s party is in a constant dance of cooperation and competition with Hezbollah.

Berri's move was political, calculating, and will soon be forgotten.

Hezbollah and Carter

If chants of “Death to America,” giving the equivalent of a state funeral to Imad Mughnieh(the man accused of killing 241 American servicemen in the Beirut Marine Barracks bombing and blowing up the US Embassy in Beirut), and protests in front of the US Embassy weren’t enough to convince observers that Hezbollah has a few qualms with the United States, perhaps Hezbollah's refusal to meet a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate will.

Former US President Jimmy Carter arrived in Lebanon as an emissary of peace in the interest of advancing Lebanese sovereignty through legitimate democratic elections. His record proves that he believes that peace is forged through cooperation with one’s enemy to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes (like nuclear disarmament and the peace between Israel and Egypt). Few American policymakers are perceived as being as pro-Arab and as critical of Israel as Carter:

1. While President, Carter set a policy of positive and active engagement in the Palestinian territories.

2. In 1978, Carter was one of the primary voices behind the creation of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)

3. Carter wrote Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, a work that greatly offended supporters of Israel, and received praise from Palestinian leaders

4. Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize for what the award committee called, his “untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”

5. Carter met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.

6. In 2007, Carter met with Syrian President Assad.

There is no American leader more critical of Israeli actions than Carter. However, Carter believes strongly in supporting the state of Israel. And no matter how different his views are from those of President Bush, Carter is still a symbol of the United States and the freedoms afforded to American citizens.

If Hezbollah had met with Carter, it would have been interpreted as business-as-usual. The former President routinely meets with groups anathema to US Administrations. The Carter Center is regularly criticized for allegedly “giving a stamp of approval” to groups US Administrations oppose. As an American, this is his right.

Hezbollah’s refusal to meet with former US President Jimmy Carter sent a bold statement, whether or not Hezbollah intended it to be interpreted that way. It is a signal to the incoming Obama Administration that there is little reason to re-examine American relations with Hezbollah.

President-elect Obama's foreign policy team (Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, Jim Jones, and Dennis Blair) never endorsed the idea that the US should negotiate with the Iranians or other foes. The left wing of the Democratic Party is currently attacking the President-elect for appointing a cabinet composed almost entirely of moderates and hawks and not appointing any opposing voices.

Perhaps the left wing should reconsider its stance given that Jimmy Carter, an icon of the left, is not acceptable enough to Hezbollah for a discussion on a generic topic.

Jimmy Carter will undoubtedly try again. He should be lauded for his efforts. In the mean time, President-elect Obama and his team will forge a plan that defends American interests, while engaging new ideas and new initiatives for peace.

Posted by Charles Chuman at December 17, 2008 4:05 PM

"engaging new ideas and new initiatives for peace."

Right. More years of "frank" discussions, while Iran continues arming Hezbollah and nuclear weapons development continues unimpeded.

Wanted: one Churchill---soon. Tick, tock...

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at December 17, 2008 7:59 PM

Suggested reading on the subject: John Bolton, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at December 17, 2008 8:39 PM

I think Carter should be commended for his efforts. He is one of the very few administrative leaders (and i dont just mean presidents) who has made a conscience effort to deal with both parties and balance them out.

and while the left wing of the D party is busily criticizing Obamas choice of FP team, they shouold probably pause and realize that these members are the 'opposing' voices.

Posted by: ambika Author Profile Page at December 17, 2008 11:04 PM

So, Obama could be using Jimmy Carter as a sort of a warning flare, to illuminate Hezbollah's extremism for the American left? Interesting idea. I'm glad that someone has found a way to make Carter useful.

I don't think that Carter's efforts to reach out to extremists are laudable, though. Reaching out to extremists legitimizes and empowers them. Some members of the American left support Hezbollah because Hezbollah 'defies' the imperialist American empire. Those leftists will cheer Hezbollah on and they'll never support Obama, no matter what he does, because to them, Obama is the American empire now.

However, reaching out to moderates empowers and legitimizes them. The Aspen Institute meeting sounds like a great idea. If Obama were to distance himself from Carter and Hezbollah while paying attention to genuine peacemakers like Elie Khoury, that could be very good for Lebanon.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at December 18, 2008 6:29 AM
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