May 22, 2009

Biden in Beirut II: Parsing the Speech (Updated)

Today, in Beirut:

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: President -- President Suleiman, thank you very much for your gracious welcome. I do bring greetings on behalf of President Obama. As you know from your personal discussions with him, and he's contacted you, that our commitment to your country is real and it's enduring.

But I must (inaudible)* be back in Lebanon. I've been here many times since 1973. And you are an ancient land that has, through a very vibrant, very vibrant Lebanese American community, enriched the United States -- not to say the least of which is with George Mitchell, our new envoy to head up the Middle East peace effort.

This is my first visit to Lebanon and to the Middle East as Vice President of the United States. And it is not an accident that the President asked me to come to Lebanon (inaudible) to demonstrate to you, to personally demonstrate to you and the people of Lebanon, our commitment to Lebanon. It is meaningful, it is real, and it is enduring. We support your sovereignty, Mr. President. We support -- admire your democratic process, and will do all in our power to help you enforce your democratic institutions.

We appreciate the broad support in Lebanon and around the world for you, President Suleiman; for your efforts to produce a -- pursue a national unity dialogue and to revitalize the vision of a peaceful Lebanon, a democracy that obviously cannot be strong without strong institutions. [AM: So you're going to keep funding the LAF no matter who wins?]

And therefore the United States remains committed to making sure that Lebanon's institutions are as strong as possible. [AM: Is that a yes?] That's why it's so important that the people of Lebanon participate in your democratic elections in June, Mr. President.

In my own country, our recent election brought millions and millions of new people to the polls -- people who had not voted in the past -- because they believed that their voices would make a difference. And obviously they did make a difference in the outcome of the election. [AM: You too can live this dream of change. You can have an entirely different set of feudal warlords and their offspring run the patronage system that is your crazy government.]

I hope that we are going to be able to see, and the world will see, a fair, free, and transparent election that will reflect the will of all the people of Lebanon. I do not come here to back any particular party or any particular person. [AM: Sorry, M14.] I come to demonstrate a strong United States backing for certain fundamental principles: the principle that the Lebanese people alone, the Lebanese people alone should choose their leaders; a principle that Lebanese sovereignty cannot, will be -- and will not be traded away; a principle that the Lebanese state, accountable to the Lebanese people, is the defender of Lebanese freedom. [AM: And not, ahem, some other group that I will not mention.]

To the extent that Lebanon adheres to these principles enshrined in the Security Council resolutions, the United States looks forward to being your strong and enduring partner. [AM: So what happens if we don't recognize the Blue Line as an international border or disarm our militias?] The shape and composition of Lebanon's government is for the Lebanese people to decide, to state the obvious -- for no one else to decide but the Lebanese people.

What I do know, as has happened throughout world history, the election of leaders committed to the rule of law and economic reform opens the door to lasting growth and prosperity, as it will here in Lebanon. [AM: Indeed! Just look at how well our economy is humming along.] I know, for the United States at least, we will evaluate the shape of our assistance programs based on the composition of the new government and the policies it advocates. [AM: Oh...] You've made much progress, and I have every confidence, Mr. President, that you will keep moving in the right direction.

I also have every confidence that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will bring justice to those responsible for financing, planning, and carrying out the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri and so many others. That's why we've committed over $20 million to the workings of that tribunal. [AM: And here is the long-awaited lip service to M14.] I also want to convey to you that the Obama-Biden administration is committed to comprehensive peace in the region that benefits all people, including the Lebanese. That's why within the first 50 days of our administration we made it clear that we were fully, totally committed and will stay committed to pursuing a lasting peace.

Lebanon has suffered terribly from war. We have a real opportunity now, Mr. President, in my view, for peace. So I urge those who would think about standing with the spoilers of peace not to miss this opportunity to walk away from the spoilers.

Mr. President, you know it and I know it: Lebanon has immeasurable potential. And as I said to you and your colleagues earlier, I can't envision peace in the Middle East without a stable, strong Lebanon. [AM: Cynically, I can.] The potential for a vibrant democracy, the potential to be a model for other Middle Eastern nations moving toward freedom and reform is, I think, within your grasp.

A famous Lebanese poet wrote the words -- and I want to get them exactly right -- "Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be." [AM: This was either Khalil Gibran or Haifa Wehbe. I am not sure which.] Not in what is, but in advancing toward what will be.

I'm confident, Mr. President, that what will be is a sovereign and democratic Lebanon that is stronger tomorrow than it is today. And I'm determined -- and President Obama is determined -- that Lebanon and America will advance together toward a better future.

Once again, on behalf of the President of the United States, I thank you for this welcome, and I assure you we stand with you in guaranteeing a sovereign, secure Lebanon with strong institutions.

Thank you, Mr. President.

*Abu Muqawama translates: "be %$#@ing crazy to"

Well, the bit about strong institutions suggests a plan to support the LAF. But I dunno. Tough to read the tea leaves on this one.

Update: Me, to Mitch.

“This administration seems to be pretty pragmatic with respect to the aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces,” according to Andrew Exum, a military analyst at the Center for New American Security.

“It’s about building up institutions over time, regardless of who wins the election. But make no mistake; if a Hizbollah-led coalition wins the election in June, aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces will be a real fight in Congress. I think the administration, the department of defence, and US Central Command all understand that. Israel’s more hard-line supporters in the Congress will push hard for a curtailment of aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces.”