To many people throughout the world, the name Lebanon now suggests nothing but war and violence. Once the most peaceful of Mediterranean countries, in the last decade Lebanon has suffered more death and destruction than any of its neighbors. The bare statistics are chilling enough, but no statistics can even begin to convey the psychological and social damage which has affected the very nature of society and civilization.

The horrors of the last decade have made it difficult for foreign observers to realize what Lebanon has been, and is. Yet an explanation of the reasons for Lebanon’s existence, of its cultural heritage and values, is vital to any understanding of its role and of the nature and direction of Lebanon’s policies. While my course may or may not differ from those that others might have followed, I believe the Lebanese heritage would have infused the policies of others as it has certainly guided my own.

The viability—indeed the reality—of Lebanon has come into question in the West. Lebanon has no historic validity, it is said. Or, Lebanon’s boundaries are artificial. Some say Lebanon is a mosaic of minorities, as if this were a blemish on the country’s identity. Others claim that Lebanon is divided by hatreds and beset by perpetual conflict.

Yet Lebanon’s history is longer than that of most societies. The country and its principal features and cities are referred to countless times in the Bible. As a political entity, Lebanon’s history stretches back in a direct line almost five centuries, and Mount Lebanon’s distinct autonomous status throughout the Ottoman era is indicative of the recognition that Lebanon could never be viewed as simply another convenient administrative unit in the empire. While it is true that the current boundaries of Lebanon date only from 1920, it is also true that the boundaries of most states in the Middle East, in the Third World and of some European countries were established after World War I.

Because most nations are relatively recent, and because most boundaries are the result of political acts rather than of social evolution, these are perhaps not the best indicators of viability. Similarly, most countries have minorities, and few indeed are the areas where conflict is unknown. The fiction that Lebanon has suffered perpetual conflict is contradicted by reality: over the centuries Lebanon has in fact known less conflict than virtually any society in the Middle East. Violence has erupted in Lebanon before and usually, as now, as a result of foreign manipulation; the dreadful events of the last decade are an aberration in the history of Lebanon. However cataclysmic—and remember, the War Between the States remains America’s bloodiest conflict—they can hardly call into question the reality of Lebanon.

And what is this reality? Briefly, Lebanon exists, and will continue to exist, because it has a way of life that is distinctly Lebanese, with values distinguishing it from the rest of the Arab world and the Middle East as a whole. Our way of life is the manifestation of Lebanon’s identity. We value and appreciate the quality of that life; our first priority is to harmonize man and nature, even amid the violence that afflicts us at the present time.

We are all Lebanese: rich and poor, urban and rural, Muslim and Christian, young and old, mountain dwellers and inhabitants of the coastal plains—we have all played a part in developing the nation, and we all share the Lebanese way of life.

There is no majority in modern Lebanon: we are a country of minorities. There is neither a political majority, nor an economic majority, still less a social majority. Religious affiliation has been the primary factor of individual identity, and most Lebanese today agree that the political system we developed was too rigid, drawing confessional lines around many problems that otherwise had no sectarian significance. Despite the importance of religion in Lebanese—and Middle Eastern—society, we know, and always have known, that our identity is with Lebanon. There is no Christian Lebanon, no Muslim Lebanon; there is no Maronite, Shi‘ite, Sunni or Druze Lebanon. There is but one Lebanon, which unites us all, and Lebanon is precisely the expression of our common bond.

Another aspect of Lebanon’s identity, even more basic and certainly more distinctive, is the system of values that gives the highest priority to human dignity. Because we believe man is unique, and that men are born equal, we also believe that organized human society must recognize basic human rights as inalienable. Lebanon’s diversity has led us to place great emphasis on the importance of according these rights not only to groups, but also to the individual. The people of Lebanon have always been leaders in the global struggle for human rights. Even if we have fallen short of our goals—and who has not, in this never-ending quest?—we shall never weaken in our resolve.

The Lebanese belief in the dignity and equality of man in the context of our diversity has led us easily and directly to our primary political values—liberty, pluralism and democracy. In a country composed of so many discrete traditions, any attempt to translate human rights into a political system that provides for freedom for the individual must necessarily accept the concept of pluralism and the principle of unity in diversity. Our own system of government, while quite distinct from the systems of Europe or the United States, was an attempt to provide the maximum degree of latitude for each community to pursue its own unique course while preserving the unity we all sought, and still seek, in one Lebanon.

To those, then, who aver that the Lebanese have no identity, I would reply that our values and our way of life in this Middle Eastern context are both distinctively Lebanese. The marriage of East and West that characterizes Lebanon has benefited all Lebanese. The proof is that, despite all that has befallen us, no individual or community has called for secession, or for partition, or for the cession of any part of our territory to another state.

II

Lebanon’s role in the Middle East and beyond derives directly from our identity and our values. From independence in 1943 to the present day, Lebanon has proudly taken an active role in promoting cooperation rather than conflict. Lebanese intellectuals like to attribute this role to our philosophical attachment to human rights; the true reason may be less noble, but more understandable—greater cooperation directly benefits the Lebanese, who are active in business throughout the Middle East and have served as entrepreneurs to facilitate Western business activities in the region. Lebanon has played a key role in promoting human interaction based on common needs, common interests and common aspirations. Little wonder, then, our attachment to U.S. objectives in the Middle East—peace, security and stability.

The Lebanese government has had a record of support for human rights unique among new states, and especially noteworthy in the Middle East. Our support for these rights has not been limited to rhetoric or the way we vote at the United Nations. For example, we celebrated this year the 50th anniversary of female suffrage in our country, the first in the Middle East to grant women the right to vote. True, we were 15 years behind the United States, but we were ahead of several European countries. While we do not presume to tell other peoples how to govern themselves, all Lebanese take just pride in our traditional support for democracy, our philosophical revulsion with totalitarianism, and our rejection of the imposition of state objectives upon human objectives.

When the Lebanese system developed, each major community felt its security lay in preventing the other major communities from dominating it. This attitude may be compared with the fear of the smaller American states toward their larger counterparts when the U.S. Constitution was being debated. Too late have we come to realize the costs of the weak government we valued so much; for, shackled by the need for consensus, the government was unable to take initiatives in development or modernization, unable to ensure national defense as effectively as it should have, and unable to identify and address itself to societal problems.

So great has been our antipathy to "big government," in fact, that many, including Lebanese citizens, have criticized the Lebanese government for its irrelevance to people’s needs. In other countries of the Middle East, and elsewhere, government has dominated society and the economy as well as politics, invading the lives of individuals and groups. Yet in Lebanon it is the private sector that thrived. In our country, politics was just another profession, and not a particularly desirable one. The central government was weak—too weak in fact to perform some of the social and economic functions modern society demands, such as ensuring greater equity in the distribution of incomes, for example, or channeling development resources to guarantee equal opportunities, or at least equal treatment, to all citizens.

With the private sector predominant, is it any wonder that Lebanon pursued the path of peace? We saw that our economic, political and social interests all depended on the maintenance of peace. Although the Lebanese were unanimous in their outrage at the injustice to the Palestinian people, we have never supported violence as the means of settling disputes. Consequently, Lebanon was the only major Middle Eastern state never willingly involved in a regional war. To the Lebanese, peace not only symbolizes our way of life, but also protects it. We are a small, weak state. To the extent violence is the language of conflict resolution, we pay a high price. Violence can only harm us. Our livelihood—trade—is ill served by war, which is a grave threat to our heterogeneous society. It is no secret that nationals from every regional state and from larger powers outside the region frequented Lebanon, conducted business in Lebanon, listened to the pulse of the Arab world through Lebanon . . . and enjoyed the unique and harmonious Lebanese way of life. For its part, the Lebanese government exerted a real and significant effort to avoid any threat to the security of either of Lebanon’s larger neighbors.

However, one of the false assumptions we made was that "Lebanon’s weakness is its strength." The Lebanese believed the creation of a strong army would be seen as a threat by others. The absence of such an army would be an earnest of our dedication to peace, it was believed, guaranteeing that we would remain outside regional hostilities. This philosophy left us unprepared, unequipped and unable to deal with the anomic forces that exploded in Lebanon in the early 1970s, with the Palestine Liberation Organization playing the role of catalyst.

In many ways, then, it was precisely the uniquely peaceful approach of Lebanon to its foreign relations that led to the recent period of violence. As long as Lebanon avoided the vortex of conflict in the region, the Lebanese could live their own lives in their own way and make great progress toward development and modernization. Tragically, however, Israel, the PLO and the Arab states, each for different reasons, set out to modify Lebanon’s position. In the process, the delicate balance that preserved both Lebanon’s political system and its orientation in the turbulent Middle East was destroyed. The result has been a decade of unimaginable horror.

We have paid a heavy price for Lebanese pluralism. Had we been a unitary state, had the national government been more powerful, or had the Lebanese enjoyed less freedom, it would have been more difficult, perhaps even impossible, for external forces to destabilize our society. For, despite the disparate points of view that characterize any free society, violence is largely a foreign import. As in the 1860s, so again a century later, the intervention of external elements, more than any other single factor, is responsible for the upsurge of violence.

In a sense, both Lebanon and the United States have faced the same problem: the attractiveness of liberty to those deprived of it. Both countries have been seen as a threat by governments that cannot tolerate freedom; both have attracted large numbers of citizens from other countries, particularly refugees fleeing authoritarian regimes or religious and ideological persecution; both have granted them the rights to which all men are entitled. Neither country has yet learned how best to reconcile the unselfish offer of rights we believe in and take for granted with the need to ensure that such rights can be safeguarded. Non-citizens frequently are incapable of accepting the responsibilities involved.

At the same time, it is logically fatuous, morally wrong, and analytically unsound to point the finger of blame at others. We Lebanese must learn to assume responsibility for what has taken place in our own country. It is we who refused to strengthen our armed forces, thereby permitting the PLO to become a state within a state on our land, and allowing external forces to intervene in our affairs virtually at will. It is we who were too complacent about the way events would develop, so that, as some had predicted, we found ourselves unable to control our own destiny. It is we who, through mistaken principles, allowed ourselves to work with external forces against Lebanese interests. It is we who, in promoting or protecting specific interests, have sacrificed our own homeland. For too long have we failed to recognize the need to strike a balance between individual and community interests, on the one hand, and the common national interests, on the other. So accustomed were we to exploiting our freedoms that we neglected to protect the sources from which they originated. What a price we have paid for our errors! And none can say when the bill will be paid in full. It would be incorrect to suggest that the non-Lebanese played no role in the events leading to the destruction of Lebanon, but, after all, Lebanon is and was ours, not theirs, and it was our responsibility to defend our rights, our interests and our homeland. This we failed to do.

III

By 1982, government authority over Lebanese territory had dwindled to a few square kilometers around the Ba’abda presidential palace. Syria maintained a presence in the northern and eastern parts of the country. Over one-third of Lebanon (the southern region) was under Israeli occupation. The PLO, ousted from the south and from Beirut by the Israeli invasion of June 1982, exercised influence in the region of Tripoli and in some parts of the east. A U.N. Interim Force had exercised control over a small enclave south of the Litani River since 1978. East Beirut, north almost to Batrun, was under the control of the Lebanese Forces militia. Yet other parcels of land were controlled or dominated by militias such as the Marada around Zgharta, Amal in the Shi‘ite areas, and the Progressive Socialist Party in the Shouf.

Although varying degrees of government presence were allowed in these areas, whether occupied by external forces or dominated by Lebanese militias, the government was unable to exercise valid authority over the Lebanese people by representing their interests, ensuring effectual social services, or exploiting and organizing the natural resources for the common good. If the state of Lebanon were as "precarious" as its critics suggest, if it were a mere fiction, as some insist, there might be no Lebanese government today. Yet, despite government weakness, despite social divisions, despite the manifest inability of the government to meet people’s needs, the trend after 1980 was increasingly to request the return of the government, especially the Lebanese army. This phenomenon was no more Christian than Muslim—it was Lebanese.

When I assumed the presidency in September 1982, I had four primary goals: withdrawal of the Israeli army, reconstruction of the Lebanese army, political reconciliation and reform, and socioeconomic development. Incidentally, the evidence is conclusive that this was not only a reflection of the objectives of the Lebanese people as a whole, but also of their priorities. Virtually all Lebanese accepted the need to achieve each goal, and recognized too that securing the withdrawal of Israeli forces had to be the first step.

Lebanon’s position that all non-Lebanese forces should leave Lebanon remains unchanged. In the frequent discussions I have had with President Hafez al-Assad it was agreed that Syrian forces will withdraw upon the withdrawal of the Israeli army from Lebanon. At the same time, Lebanon needs direct Syrian support to consolidate its internal front, to cultivate the new coalition represented in the government of national unity, and to contain the many militias that emerged in the ten-year war. While Lebanon and Syria are independent and sovereign countries, and while their social, economic and political systems differ, they nevertheless share a long historical experience and wide-ranging interests that necessitate close cooperation and coordination.

Now that Lebanon must concentrate on the liberation of its territory, it must work closely with Syria to overcome the many security hurdles that lie in the way. Syria is supporting Lebanon in its policy of building a Lebanese army that would fill the void left by the withdrawal of external forces and by the dissolution of the local militias. Building such an army is the next step. Without liberation it was clear that external views, not Lebanese interests, would determine the nature of political reforms. The only way of allowing the Lebanese to express their desires is to liberate them from external domination.

From the summer of 1982 until the spring of 1984 the United States was deeply involved in Lebanon. There is a long history of close, warm and broad-based cooperation between our two countries; the unusually close ties between our two peoples are indicative of the many values we share. Though only a small number of U.S. marines were actually deployed to Lebanon, the American commitment and investment were politically and psychologically invaluable. The United States assumed a major role in all aspects of Lebanon’s attempts at recovery and paid a heavy and tragic price. Washington strongly supported Lebanon’s national strategy, and played a vital and active part in negotiations with Israel to bring the latter’s occupation to an end.

From the outset these negotiations were understood to require the preservation of the Lebanese consensus so recently produced by the events of violence and occupation. And, in fact, the consensus endured throughout negotiations, to the point where the resulting accord of May 17, 1983, received almost unanimous support in the Chamber of Deputies.

A combination of factors—international, regional and local—worked against the agreement virtually from the very day it was signed by the heads of the three delegations. In the subsequent weeks and months Israel acted in a manner inconsistent with the letter and the spirit of the agreement, thus contributing to bloody strife in the Shouf region, and raising doubts about Israeli intentions. The preconditions that Israel set for implementing the agreement—namely the prior withdrawal of Syria, the return of prisoners held by Syria and the PLO, as well as the return of the remains of Israeli soldiers supposedly buried in Syria—were virtually unimplementable. These conditions were summarily rejected by Syria. It soon became clear that U.S. hopes to convince Syria to accept the agreement were not likely to be realized, and we began to look for a new course. On June 6, 1983, I wrote a letter to President Reagan expressing prevailing doubts about the agreement.

The moderate Arab states that found the agreement reasonable in April and May began to entertain second thoughts in June, July and August, and one after the other began to retreat from previously declared positions. These developments exerted an adverse effect on the internal consensus, and soon the politico-psychological environment under which the agreement was signed began to crumble. It became obvious that the agreement was dead.

The questions that occupied us for many months dealt with the timing of the cancellation and with the arrangements that we felt were essential for the national interest. After the Geneva conference on national dialogue among Lebanese leaders, and after extensive consultations at the national, regional and international levels, I called the Council of Ministers on March 5, 1984, for the purpose of canceling the agreement. The council did so. But as a country deeply interested in peace, for itself and for the region, our statement canceling the agreement included a firm commitment to implement our own security arrangements in the south in a manner that would ensure peace and stability in that region, restore Lebanon’s sovereignty over it, and prevent infiltration across the frontiers. We communicated this decision to the United Nations and the United States.

In an effort to break the ensuing deadlock, the U.N. secretary general called on Lebanon and Israel to participate in talks at Naqurah, under U.N. auspices, to discuss Israeli withdrawal and security arrangements in south Lebanon. As Lebanon was anxious to liberate its territory and to enhance peace, it joined the Naqurah discussions with high expectations. Lebanon submitted a plan defining in detail the deployment of its troops in all the area occupied by Israel. Israel continued to raise doubts about the Lebanese army, and to propose solutions that, in our opinion, would compromise our sovereignty. In a speech dated January 6, 1985, before the ambassadors accredited to Lebanon, I reaffirmed the role of U.N. forces in speeding the withdrawal process; I refused to have U.N. forces used to separate one Lebanese region from another; I called again on Israel to submit a comprehensive withdrawal plan for all Lebanese territory; and I expressed Lebanon’s sovereign right to ask for U.N. help after the submission by Israel of a comprehensive plan for its withdrawal from Lebanon. Israel refused to submit such a plan. Instead it decided to withdraw in three stages, each of which is dependent on a cabinet decision. The last phase supposedly will take place in September 1985. We do not know if this withdrawal will in fact be completed, or if surrogate forces are to be left behind as in 1978.

Failure to reach understanding on Israeli withdrawal has intensified passions and conflicts in occupied south Lebanon and has strengthened the local resistance movement. The movement has attracted young men and women from the entire fabric of the population. Most of the population in the occupied area is Shi‘ite. As the Shi‘ites are now undergoing a powerful religious revival, and as martyrdom is a revered ideal of this community, it is likely that the Shi‘ite dimension of the resistance will continue to gain attention. Nevertheless, it would be a serious mistake to see the Shi‘ites as standing alone. All Lebanese seek national liberation.

If Israel does not withdraw fully and soon, the Lebanese resistance movement could develop from a movement to free Lebanon from Israeli occupation to a movement that threatens the Israeli state per se. Passions that are unleashed now could evolve into a massive and unpredictable movement with long-range consequences for the prospects of peace in the Middle East.

Our southern population is largely farmers—orange and tobacco growers. They live off the land and are deeply attached to it. They fear being forced to experience the fate of the Palestinians and live abroad as refugees, hence their struggle must be seen as an affirmation of their legitimate right to live freely on their own land. Our people have learned from the lessons of others, and are determined to remain on their national territory.

Insofar as the resistance in the south is Lebanese, it is expected to last as long as occupation of Lebanese territory lasts. It is therefore different from the Palestinian resistance, which seeks its objectives in Palestine proper. The weakening of the PLO in Lebanon at the hands of Israel, and as a result of internal conflicts within the movement itself, has greatly diminished its role in southern Lebanon. In contrast to past PLO activities directed against Israel from the south, the Lebanese resistance is based upon individual valor and local spontaneous acts of resistance with some guidance from an organized party or from some distinguished community leaders. The people of south Lebanon are, however, basically peace-loving people, and they yearn for the restoration of their dignity as citizens of Lebanon under the authority of the Lebanese government. We should help them regain their normal way of life.

The crisis resulting from the May 17 agreement also interrupted progress in the reconstruction of the Lebanese army. Our army has long been the symbol of Lebanon’s independence; and while it has received much criticism in the Western press, most professional military observers, including American observers, have been very favorably impressed with the quality, motivation and potential of army personnel. Although the size of the armed forces remains at an all-time high of almost 40,000, only about half of these forces are fully available to the government at this time. Geographic or mission constraints are imposed upon the rest, in large part as a result of the presence of foreign forces.

The tragic events of 1983 and 1984 dramatically altered national priorities. The divisions that reappeared in 1984 made it clear that national reconciliation and political reforms could no longer await Israeli withdrawal. This reversal in priorities was demonstrated in the two National Dialogue and Reconciliation Conferences in Geneva (1983) and Lausanne (1984), in which all major political factions participated. These two conferences led to follow-up meetings, and if both demonstrated some divergence in political views, they showed much more clearly the common ground we share: the desire to ensure Lebanon’s survival as a free, united, democratic and pluralistic country; the resistance to partition by whatever name; and the vehement rejection of annexation of any part of our national territory.

A number of reforms have already been agreed upon among the leaders who participated in the talks, and more will follow. These reforms are now being discussed by broader sections of the population. The adoption of the reforms program as a matter of highest priority had another benefit—it facilitated the creation of a government of national unity, something I personally had sought for many months and had called for publicly on numerous occasions.

We must not delude ourselves into assuming that there will suddenly be complete agreement among all Lebanese. The Lebanese have been out of touch with each others’ communities—their interests, perceptions and expectations—for almost a decade. More than just a concerted effort will be needed to restore these links; time, patience and understanding—commodities in short supply after the trauma of the last ten years—will be required in abundance.

IV

What lessons can we learn from the aftermath of the 1982 war? They are several, and their relevance extends well beyond Lebanon.

Perhaps the most evident lesson of the Lebanese drama over the past two years relates to the role of small states in large conflicts. The natural tendency to place Lebanon in the forefront of moves to resolve or transform the Arab-Israeli crisis is understandable, in view of the moderate position adopted by small states. However, experience elsewhere suggests that militarily weak states are not best suited to break an impasse unless the superpowers behind them are willing to give unqualified support; for it is ultimately the superpowers who must bear, and alone can overcome, the inevitable pressure that will follow.

A second and related lesson, this one of specific relevance to the immediate Arab-Israeli theater, is that no Arab government except Egypt will, or can, pursue any extended negotiation with Israel without strong and clearly manifested support in the Arab world. This lesson, in turn, is linked with a third.

Contemporary constraints on the use of power (political, economic and military) by forces outside the region reduce the value of great-power support. The impact of modern communications on operational choice and flexibility, and on political action, is more far-reaching than any but experts in the field of communications have realized. Communications have dramatically increased the cost of any decision or action to parties external to a conflict, especially in democracies. It is virtually impossible to explain to one’s compatriots why they should incur high costs in support of some distant country whose importance is difficult to define. Polls in most Western democracies seem to suggest that even the defense of regions clearly and demonstrably vital to national interests is unpopular. Consequently, the high domestic political costs involved in overseas support reduces the likelihood of timely, effective and consistent behavior, particularly when the conflict is protracted.

Mass communications, in highlighting differences and problems, also tend to be a major divisive influence both in the conflict core area (in this case, Lebanon) and within and among external supporting countries.

Developing and small countries continue to underestimate the importance of a full understanding of the processes of policymaking and the strength of public opinion in the democratic great powers. Given our own democratic tradition, we Lebanese should never overlook these considerations, but at times of political pressure even we tend to think of the governments of the United States, France and Great Britain, for example, as unitary actors.

Recent experience also shows that local and external governments must learn to realize that different degrees of interest are to be expected from neighboring states than from distant powers. Lebanon is more visibly and immediately important to its neighbors than to a country like the United States, in spite of the broad array of American interests in the Middle East. Conflicts in the Middle East often develop from local issues affecting the very existence of those involved. But this sense of involvement, of urgency, is not necessarily shared by external governments: for them the stakes may be too high.

Another lesson of the Lebanese experience is the importance of avoiding layering. Simple, or one-dimensional, problems are not only more amenable to analysis and planning, they are also more comprehensible to external powers and therefore more likely to attract foreign support. Once a conflict becomes multidimensional, or layered, it becomes more difficult for distant countries to understand. The linkage of the Lebanese crisis to the Arab-Israeli conflict in the autumn of 1982 proved catastrophic to conflict resolution in Lebanon. Ironically, partly because of the effects of communications, diplomatic speed has become more, not less, elusive. Secrecy is much more difficult to maintain. Moreover, the mobilization of large elements of policy bureaucracies made possible by modern communications enables more individuals, offices and interests to complicate, slow or even block decision. Similarly, rapid decision is antithetical to the involvement of more than two parties, since each country has a multiplicity of these potential blocking elements. In the course of time, circumstances change, and the environment can often be modified much more quickly than the policy processes can respond. We were too late to appreciate the critical importance of speed in resolving the Lebanese problem in 1982. The violence erupting since 1982 is largely a reflection of regional conflict rather than of internal disagreement; it escalates and abates in response to the needs and interests of external powers.

V

Lebanon has survived and will continue to exist, not only for the sake of the Lebanese but because the Middle East, too, needs Lebanon. But this faith is intangible, and we must develop strategies and policies that translate the intangibles into a free, reunified and rejuvenated Lebanon. The last two years have demonstrated clearly that Lebanon can be held only by force. History proves that a divided Lebanon is a dangerous Lebanon, inherently unstable (because the Lebanese, despite their differences, yearn to reunite their land) and therefore inherently explosive. The proximity of Israeli and Syrian forces in Lebanon is much like smoking near the proverbial powder-keg; even the smallest cinder may detonate it. Already countless sparks have been produced by the friction of this juxtaposition, two of these sparks (the 1981 "missile crisis" and the 1982 war) having created major international crises.

Lebanon is an Arab state. It lives in and depends upon the Arab world. Yet there are persuasive indications that the Arab world and Israel alike are prepared to accept Lebanon’s disengagement from the regional conflict, so long as it is genuine, and not merely camouflage for a separate peace with Israel, on the one hand, or for an assumption of a more overtly hostile posture toward Israel, on the other. Equally important, Lebanon must be seen as a roadblock, rather than a road, between Israel and Syria. These two countries are determined to prevent political or security threats from arising in Lebanon. A strong, independent Lebanon is the best insurance that neither of Lebanon’s neighbors will use Lebanon against the other.

A truly independent Lebanon will benefit the region. The recurrent crises in Lebanon have absorbed too many diplomatic resources; they have crippled Lebanon’s role as an entrepôt, with dire economic effects; they have diverted resources needed for reconstruction; and the problems arising from negotiations have often bedeviled inter-Arab relations. The victimization of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, the role of the Palestinian fighters (with whom many people in the Gulf identify), Arab and Israeli adventurism, and the involvement of the major Western countries, especially the United States—all these factors have produced sporadic but intense fears and tensions in the Gulf states; these, as a consequence, have been expected to influence or appease other Arab states, responsibilities that are often costly in financial as well as psychological terms.

The interdependencies of the internal and external factors in any Lebanese crisis cannot be overlooked either. An independent Lebanon will decrease the incentive for external actors to buy Lebanese support, and will obviate our need to secure outside assistance. That there are differences among the Lebanese is incontestable, but these are problems eminently open to negotiation and resolution, because we need each other, we know each other, and we know we need Lebanon.

No one is well served by the ripping asunder of Lebanon’s social fabric, or by the consequent rending of the body politic. Disengaging Lebanon from the clutches of regional conflict will allow us to continue the process of political reform in its proper context—a context of modernization and political development. This is hardly an incendiary suggestion: there is not a single faction in Lebanon unaware of the need for reform of the political system. This process is now under way, but it is a process that would be much more reassuring if the give and take of debate were not accompanied by the give and take of violence. Yet it is well known to all Lebanese that the current violence, while it is taking place within the country, is essentially a product of the interplay of foreign forces, sometimes applying pressure on Lebanon, more frequently on each other. This is the reason I believe we must take active steps to secure the withdrawal of foreign forces at the earliest possible date.

Disengagement, as we have called it, should not be confused with passivity. Although we have enormous tasks of reconstruction ahead of us, Lebanon must not turn inward, and indeed the Lebanese character would not permit us to do so. Lebanon remains, and has remained throughout the years of violence, a commercial and banking center. Lebanon has a role to play in the Arab world; and we are traditionally the bridge between the Arab world and the outside world. Since 1975, however, Lebanon’s infrastructure necessary to support this role has deteriorated in some respects and become obsolete in others. We must make an early and strenuous effort to restore and modernize this infrastructure.

Lebanon also has its vocation as an interpreter. With one foot in the developing world, and the other in the developed, Lebanon has not only been a means of communication but has assisted the two worlds to understand each other better. Lebanon is an Arab state, but its sustenance is no less Western. In earlier days, happier days, better days, Americans, French, British and others came to our small country to learn Arabic, to learn about the Arab world, and to immerse themselves in Orientalia. No people takes greater pride in its traditional culture, or has studied it more deeply, or is more able to share it on a broad cultural front than the Lebanese. Where else can the West learn to understand the political, economic and social currents of the Middle East, and especially of the Arab world? There is still no home more open to guests or a people more eager to serve as facilitators than ours.

The West has pursued its economic interests in the region, especially in the Gulf. Certainly, the face of the Middle East is vastly different from what it was just a decade ago. But modernization entails psychological and social change, too, and the Lebanese may be better prepared to assist those changes, since we are an integral part of the Arab world and we understand the roots of Arab values, consciousness and culture. Lebanon will continue to recognize its Arab character, and will continue to emphasize its close relations with the rest of the Arab world. It cannot be otherwise, for our economic well-being is no less Arab than our roots. Our values are distinct, our identity is distinct, but we remain an Arab state. The marriage that is Lebanon, so Western in many ways, yet always aware of its Arab background, has long assured it a special place in the region and in the world.

Others in Europe and in the Middle East have tried to become the new Lebanon, the new entrepôt, the new crossroads. They have had a decade, but they have not succeeded in usurping our place. Why? Because this role depends first and foremost on people, not on dollars or equipment or location. Lebanon is irreplaceable because the Lebanese and their unique cosmopolitan attitudes are irreplaceable.

But Lebanon should not pretend that the recent past did not happen. We cannot overlook the cost of neglecting our political role. A reformed and strengthened Lebanon should play a leading conciliatory role in the Arab world and between the Arab world and the West. The Lebanese, who have seen how adversely regional conflict can affect them, should only become much more active in regional diplomacy and conflict resolution. If only the tiniest part of our negotiating effort and the resources we devote to business could be devoted to the diplomatic sector, Lebanon could achieve wonders for itself and for the world.

The bond between the United States and Lebanon remains a special one. When the American marines, who were deployed in Lebanon to help us, were attacked in a terrorist act, we Lebanese mourned the dead and wounded as our own, for in many respects that is precisely what they were. The American sacrifices in Lebanon will never be forgotten. The United States has other priorities than Lebanon now, priorities beyond the Middle East, but as a superpower the United States will remain involved in regional diplomacy. It is clear that the American people and their government remain aware that they can ill afford to turn their backs on the Middle East. The oil that even now is required for the economic, military and, therefore, political and social security of the West may be less immediately threatened today than it once was, but a total interruption of oil from the Gulf—and I am not suggesting a cut-off due to the Gulfs own action—would still be catastrophic. A confrontation between the United States and the U.S.S.R., like those we have already seen several times in the Middle East, would be even more disastrous. In view of these concerns, and in view of America’s long history of political, economic and cultural interaction with the area, in both the private and public sectors, we certainly expect the United States to remain involved.

There is another factor, as well, and it is pointed out all too infrequently: despite disagreements over policy issues, there is not a government in the Middle East—certainly not in the Arab world—that does not want and expect the United States to play a role in the region. The orchestration of that role—the determination of the appropriate timing, the nature and the amount of political, economic, social and other resources—must be American, and can reasonably be expected to shift with changing circumstances; but of the need for the United States to assume some role, and its desirability, there can be no doubt.

The United States is aware of our needs and can certainly help. We need continuing U.S. support to ensure an orderly Israeli withdrawal from our land. We need vigorous U.S. support for our efforts to secure credit from friendly nations and from international agencies that will help us overcome the raging economic crisis. As a beleaguered democracy, we deserve concerted attention on the part of the great democracies, and yet at times we feel deserted precisely because we have difficulties.

U.S. interest in the Middle East peace process, though not directly related to the Lebanese crisis, will help. Such interest should benefit from the experiences of the past few years. In the context of the Middle East problem it does not help to concentrate on one aspect in isolation from the others, even though spectacular results may loom, albeit briefly, on the horizon. Syria cannot be excluded if a settlement in the region is to be seriously considered. The PLO, with all its diverse membership, is involved in the Middle East problem; so are Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, as countries bordering on Israel and, in the case of the first three, as hosts of large numbers of Palestinians. The fate of Palestinians in these countries is of great importance to their decision-makers. In the case of Lebanon, the Camp David accords had a negative, if not devastating, effect, radicalizing the large, despairing Palestinian population in the country. A pact limited to governments without a broad popular base cannot succeed. Truly, the problem is great—but it is not insurmountable.

After Lebanon, the United States is likely to reassess its policy in the Middle East. We can only hope that it will decide to take new initiatives, that those initiatives will be based on consultation with all the parties, and that on this basis the United States will advance the kind of creative recommendations and exert the kind of active moral suasion of which we know this great country is capable. Certainly, this is the role and spirit best attuned to the objective realities and to America’s substantial long-range interests in this part of the world.

A stable Lebanon can and should look forward to the opportunity to assist the United States and other outside powers in their efforts to play a role, even if it is a supportive rather than a leadership role, in the move toward peace.

VI

Anyone who considers the record of conflict in Lebanon over the last decade must marvel at the way Lebanon and its people have survived. It is no less than a miracle that a country of only some three million inhabitants could sustain such a toll. With a population of less than two percent of that of the United States, we have lost half as many dead as the Americans did in World War II. Our economic losses are such that they are threatening the very foundation of our free economic system. Still, it is true that by far the greatest damage is psychological. We need time to reconstruct our economy and redefine policy, but above all we need time to restore the nation and allow society to regain its health.

Survival is not enough; it is not enough for the people of Lebanon or any other people. Lebanon has a mission, a mission we understand better today than ever before. It is we who must help the region achieve peace; for we know the meaning of war, and we have felt, and know we shall continue to feel, its consequences. Today, the Lebanese are subject to the divisive influences of foreign forces much more powerful than we are, but these influences have only reinforced our awareness of the need for national unity. The united Lebanon that will reemerge has learned painful but important lessons from its tragic experience. Above all, we in Lebanon have learned two things: that we must recognize and cherish our Lebanese identity above all others, and that we must never fail to assume our proper role—sometimes of leadership, sometimes of support, but always of realism, peace and cooperation—in the Middle East.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now