McCain in Lebanon
How McCain was
Greeted in Lebanon
Enough with the
January 18, 2010
Beirut — John McCain dropped in on Beirut last weekend en route to Israel
to join fellow US Senator Joe Lieberman in agreeing with their hosts that,
just as he told them during the 2008 Presidential campaign, Barack Obama
was real bad for Israel. McCain, fund raising for his 2010 reelection bid,
emphasized that the Obama administration’s hint that the US might just
possibly consider withholding a few largely superfluous loan guarantees to
pressure Israel on settlements was a joke. Their hosts were likely pleased
with assurances that no way would John and Joe allow Congress or Obama
to pressure Israel.
In Israel, McCain may still have been smarting from the earlier drubbing he
and other US officials received from their usual self-effacing Lebanese hosts.
His stopover in Lebanon was to be lite fare. Extending “Congratulations
on forming the new Lebanese government, even though our government has
serious doubts about those we know hold the real power”; better weather
here in Beirut than in Washington DC, plus three quick meetings — but for
sure, no heavy lifting.
In the meetings he may have planned to repeat the standard line, well known
here: “the United States of America respects the independence, freedom
and sovereignty of Lebanon and wishes to help it defeat terrorism, extremism
and recover control of its weapons and extend the state’s authority over
the whole country (not to be confused with the Lebanese territory of Shebaa
Farms, Kafar Shouba and the north part of Ghajar Village still occupied
by Israel which was likely not on John’s agenda). McCain, like most visitors
from Washington these days did not have to prepare much for his brief
sessions. And anyhow, if more pledges were needed he could just add the
pro forma: “The United States favors the full implementation of UNSC
resolutions 1559 (no longer even relevant) and 1701, (violated nearly daily by
Israel as is 425 among others) and believes foreign powers should not
interfere in Lebanon’s internal affairs” etc. But McCain’s trip script got
messed up bad and, according to witnesses, he fumed on departure from
Lebanon From repeated TV news video clips and a report by someone present
at two of McCain’s meetings, the Lebanon leg of his trip wasn’t much fun.
Beirut media coverage revealed that “Arizona’s last line of defense” (against
Obama) as one Phoenix bill board refers to McCain, was uncomfortable,
squinting, red faced and glaring during his meetings with the American
Ambassador who continually smiled and nodded irrespective of the
comments made by anyone present.
McCain reportedly felt poorly briefed for his meeting with Lebanon’s
President Michel Suleiman and initially had no idea what Suleiman was
talking about when he brought up the subject of H.R. 2278. McCain appeared
puzzled as Suleiman persisted and emphasized that Lebanon rejected the
AIPAC initiative that threatens Middle East Satellite Providers with yet
another US Terrorism list. John asked how and Suleiman explained if they
don’t prevent the more than 400 TV Channels, including some in Lebanon,
from “inciting violence against US citizens.” One thing clear to the Senator
was that President Suleiman and several Lebanese officials had done more
homework than he had.
McCain was also advised in the clearest terms that Lebanon rejected the
latest mega US terrorism list that includes more than 675 million Muslims
and Arabs and lumps Lebanon with 13 other countries for ‘intense screening’.
There were moments of silence that must have seemed more like minutes.
Suleiman: Looks grave and straight into McCain’s eyes.
US Ambassador: Smiles and nods
McCain: Avoids eye contact with President Suleiman and glares at US
Ambassador Michele Sison, grits his teeth, squints, and gets red faced. Finally
says, “We will look into it.”
US Ambassador: Smiles and nods
The former General and Chief of the Lebanese Army and specialist in
interrogations, pressed his American interlocutor. Still glaring, John says:
“I believe some of the stations we prevented could have been stirring feelings
of enmity to America and we have the right to stop them. However, we
have to consider the issue further to avoid taking similar decisions regarding
stations which did not voice hostility against us.”
Meanwhile, McCain learned that as he was landing, Speaker of Parliament
Nabeh Berri sent an urgent letter to US House of Representatives Speaker
Nancy Pelosi protesting H.R. 2278 (which like virtually all AIPAC bills she
had voted in favor of) in strong terms, warning that it “would be interpreted
as hostile and that the bill breaches the sovereignty of the states broadcasting
the penalized satellite content – including Lebanon – and complicates
US-Lebanese relations.” Describing H.R. 2278 as "derogative" to Lebanon’s
and other Arab countries’ sovereignty Berri advised Pelosi that the bill
"harms the principles of freedom of expression and civil rights, and leads to
further complication in Lebanese-US relations…This bill represents
bypassing the sovereign national laws of the targeted countries, among them
Lebanon which is a free "Hyde Park" for the Lebanese and Arab satellite
"public opinion" media channels," Berri’s letter added. "All of the (foreign)
media channels broadcasting from Lebanon know and appreciate Lebanon’s
keenness on building the best relations with the United States which hosts
a major Lebanese community."
Clearly, the arriving Americans were not expecting such a strong and united
response and some of their staff wondered what was going on. They were
informed that in Lebanon and the Middle East and among many international
civil liberty advocates the two recent US actions were viewed as aggressive
racial and religious profiling and constituted an unwarranted attack on free
speech and the international media including more than 400 channels in 19
For the approximately 15 million citizens of Lebanon, (all but between three
and four million of whom have left for various reasons), with the highest
percentage than any country residing in the United States, their President
made them proud by conveying unequivocally their dismay and demanding
that Washington backtrack on its decision to ban certain middle east
television channels and its profiling of Lebanese for another T-list.
Senator McCain was not the only US official to hear from Lebanese officials.
Others were and are being collared on arrival:
Earlier on the same day, Suleiman expressed Lebanon’s concern during talks
with visiting US congressman Alcee Hastings, co-chairman of the
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, telling him that
“Lebanon enjoys a climate of stability and has shown that it is capable of
combating terrorism.” Suleiman stressed the need to find a just solution for
the Palestinian refugee issue, so as to guarantee their right of return while
underscoring the need to force Israel to implement Resolution 1701 and
withdraw from all occupied Lebanese territory.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Ali Shami also expressed his dismay during and
following his meeting with Hastings stating that the strict US "intense
screening” measures “disregarded the individuals’ rights and the human
dignity of passengers.”
Others receiving similar treatment on arrival included:
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law
Enforcement Affairs, David Johnson arrived in Beirut on 1/13/10 and was
similarly questioned [by] the Lebanese Internal Security Forces chief,
Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi.
U.S. National Security Advisor James Jones who arrived on 1/15/10 and met
with Michel Suleiman and other top Lebanese officials heard their rejection
of the 14 country mega T-list with its planned intense screening of Lebanese
citizens. Also raised was H.R. 2278 which they appeared not to know is aimed
at Lebanese and Middle East TV channels.
On 1/17/10 US Mideast Envoy George Mitchell is expected to experience the
same Lebanese reaction to the hostile measures.
Lebanon presents a united front
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri appeared to agree with former FBI
agent Michael German, currently national security policy counsel with the
American Civil Liberties Union in Washington that singling out travelers
from a few specified countries for enhanced screening "is essentially a
pretext for racial profiling, which is ineffective, unconstitutional and violates
American ( and Arab and Muslim ) values. Hariri objected that Lebanese
were part of the new list of 14 "terrorist leaning” countries: "We are not
advocates of war, but advocates of the return of our stolen land…"Defending
Lebanon is not an act of terrorism, but attacks on Lebanon are terrorism
itself… We have to stand shoulder by shoulder against the enemy’s plans…
We have to stop Israel.”
Former chemistry professor Naim Qassim, recently reelected by Hezbollah’s
General Conference as Deputy Secretary General of that party praised the
stances of President Suleiman, Speaker Berri, and PM Saad Hariri against the
latest U.S. measures, including the ban on Al Manar TV broadcasting via
Pro US March 14 member and Lebanese Information Minister Tareq Mitri
told reporters. "What is under question is the fact that citizens of different
countries are singled out in a discriminatory fashion."
Lebanon’s ambassador to Washington has been tasked to monitor
Congressional action regarding H.R. 2278 and the Parliament’s Media
committee also has met to discuss the issue. The Media committee has urged
Lebanon to continue its strong commitment to safeguard the freedom of
On 1/15/10 the 22 country Arab League will convene a meeting of its
Information Ministers in Cairo to formulate an official Arab League response.
Calls continues for the 57 country Organization of the Islamic Conference
located in Saudi Arabia to take action both on H.R. 2278 and the new 14
country mega T-list.
Syria backs Lebanon
In Syria, the largest news agency said Washington’s top diplomat in
Damascus was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and told the new measures
including full-body pat-downs and full-body scanning constituted
"unfriendly behavior." No Syrian citizen was ever involved in terror attacks
against the U.S., the agency noted. The Syrian Foreign Ministry also informed
the American diplomat that Damascus could be left with no choice but to
introduce similar measures against U.S. citizens.
Is Sison next?
One uncertainly looming over the American Embassy in Awkar this weekend
is whether another shoe will be thrown and whether an aide memoire might
arrive from the Lebanese Foreign ministry to summon the American
ambassador, Michele Sison, for serious consultation and questioning about
these perceived anti-Arab and anti-Muslim initiatives.
So far her smiles and nodding have achieved wonders for America’s
Ambassador but inquiring Lebanese minds wonder if her luck will hold.
Can she even comply given the recent State Department order issued by
Nicole Shampaine that no US officials meeting with Hezbollah "people"
reported in Counterpunch last month? An Embassy source reports accurately
that the US Ambassador has already met the Hezbollah led Resistance
supporter, FM Ali Shami, despite Nicole’s policy statement and will do so
again if summoned.
Middle East countries are not the only ones concerned with the recent
reaction security meanders that have created a terrorist watch-listing system
which according the ACLU’s Mike German is "fundamentally ridiculous,”
and creating “tremendous false positives,” a fact that makes using the entire
list as a tool to keep terrorists off of airplanes problematic and in which
political considerations trump sustainable and effective systems.
The US Transportation Safety Authority, which has ordered another 300 Full
Body Scanners for 2011, is showing a video to passengers that declares "the
system of Full Body Scanners has no way to save, transmit or print the
image” is being questioned by experts such as The Electronic Privacy
Information Center (EPIC) Director, Marc Rotenberg told a news conference
this week that “I don’t think the TSA has been forthcoming with the
American public about the true capability of these devices. They’ve done a
bunch of very slick promotions where they show people — including
journalists — going through the devices. And then they reassure people,
based on the images that have been produced, that there are not any privacy
EPIC is concerned with cases like that of little Mickey Hicks, an 8 year old
cub scout from New Jersey who since he was two years old gets patted down,
delayed, and his family humiliated because his name is apparently similar
to someone on a T-list. Efforts by Mikeys mother Najlah, to get him off a T-list
have not succeeded according to the NYT of 1/14/10.
It is the duty of every patriotic American, mindful of the fuller text of
Stephen Decatur’s toast off the shores of Libya more than 200 years ago of
“My country right or wrong” as altered by Union Army General Carl Shurz
to: My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to
be set right.” to work for change in our Middle East policy. In this spirit and
to help assure that visiting US officials are not caught flat footed again
next week, the following questions are offered as examples of those which
will likely be asked in the coming weeks by each of the 19 countries
targeted by H.R. 2278 as well as the other 13 Christmas Day mega T-list
1. What evidence does the US government have that any Lebanese TV
channel has “incited violence against American citizens” in light of the fact
that the video clips offered to the US Congress by the Middle East Media
Research Institute (MEMRI) have been shown to spliced, Photoshopped and
even show no “incitement to violence against American citizens.”
2. Will the State Department make available to the public the results of a
ten-year survey of Lebanese TV stations documenting all claimed instances
of “incitement to violence against American citizens?
3. With respect to the more than 400 Middle East TV Channels potentially
threatened with closure by H.R. 2278, will the US Embassy provide specific
instances of programming that “incites violence against American citizens?
Meanwhile, apparently inspired by H.R. 2278, Rep. J. Gresham Barrett, a
Republican Congressman from South Carolina’s 3rd District plans on
reintroducing the STEP Act which failed back in 2003 when first offered.
Initiated by AIPAC and pushed hard by the US Israel lobby, this legislation
would bar citizens of Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the
United States. It would also deport from the US within 60 days, all Iranians
on student visas, temporary work visas, exchange visas and tourist visas.
Barrett wants his staff and Homeland Security to prepare an up to the minute
list of Iranians in the US.
Meeting recently with a group of South Carolina students who came to
discuss the desperate humanitarian crisis in Gaza on the first anniversary of
Israel’s invasion, Barrett offered his views on the siege: “I believe sealing
the borders must remain in place as part of the Global War on Terrorism and
I support the right of Israel to defend itself and its citizens against attack.
Hamas has violated a ceasefire agreement by launching daily rocket attacks
into the state of Israel, wounding and killing numerous Israelis. Hamas
should end its attacks and re-enter into a ceasefire agreement.”
Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and can be reached at