US Must Help Lebanon Become a Haven for Christians

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Lebanese protesters flee from security forces on their way back after having cut through the security barrier leading to the government palace at Riad al-Solh square in the capital Beirut’s downtown district on November 19, 2019. (Anwar Amro/AFP via Getty Images)
By Bruce Abramson The Lebanese street is rising. To American ears, such a report is hardly news. Another Middle Eastern country on the verge of chaos? Americans have grown beyond weary of hearing such tales. Americans might be forgiven for thinking that it’s just more of the same.Lebanon was supposed to be different.

When the French carved its borders out of the Mandate for Syria roughly a century ago, Lebanon was supposed to be a safe haven for Christians — the first exercise in self-determination for Levantine Christians since 1291.

Granted, the country was never fully Christian. From birth, Lebanon incorporated sizable Muslim and Druze populations. Its Constitution enshrined a governing triumvirate — Christian President, Sunni Prime Minister, and Shiite Speaker of the Parliament. Part Arab, part Mediterranean, bustling and commercial yet deeply traditional, Lebanon’s identity was confused and confusing. What is certain, however, is that Lebanon was never supposed to be what it has become: an Iranian puppet state.

When the Khomeinist mullahs conquered Iran in 1979, they set out to export their revolution among the world’s Shiite Muslims. Hezbollah, their greatest success by far, roared to prominence with bombs, killing over 300 American military and diplomatic personnel in Beirut in 1983. The Islamist militia positioned itself as a virulent foe of Israel, funneled Iranian largesse into both an arsenal and a social service program that secured its popularity, blossomed into a global player in terrorism, drugs, and money laundering, and effectively swallowed the Lebanese government whole.

As of a few short weeks ago, Hezbollah’s — and thus Iran’s— grip on Lebanon appeared secure. The country’s Christian President Michel Aoun (an open ally of Hezbollah), and its Sunni PM Saad Hariri were figureheads presiding over a corrupt kleptocracy. It is precisely that government against which Lebanese of all sects, faiths, and tribes, are now rising. The Lebanese street is calling for clean government, economic reform, and an end to Iranian hegemony.

This expression of genuine grassroots yearning presents the U.S. with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make things right for Lebanon and wrong for Iran. Moreover, it presents an opportunity for the U.S. do so using diplomatic and economic tools — not the military, and certainly not boots on the ground.

President Trump’s strategy of sanctioning Iran is already paying dividends. The wedge emerging between Hezbollah and the Lebanese street has the potential to erode the burgeoning Iranian empire. Signs of contagion were immediate, as the Iraqi and Iranian streets have also risen against the Mullahs.

A free Lebanon will be free to reorient its identity and fulfill its original mission. The twenty-first century has been brutal for the Middle East’s Christians — and all of the region’s other minorities. Sunni and Shiite Islamists alike have targeted them for genocide. Christians are fleeing the region — the birthplace of Christianity — at an alarming rate. On present trends, the “Arab world” will soon eradicate its Christians as completely as it has eradicated its Jews. Only Lebanon can save them.

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