Michael Totten

Hezbollah Refuses to Meet Carter

by Charles Chuman
Lebanese Parliamentary Speaker Nabih al Berri “refused”:http://www.naharnet.com/domino/tn/NewsDesk.nsf/getstory?openform&D2653EE0DA350775C2257520002863C1 to meet a US Congressional delegation led by NY-D Rep. Gary Ackerman.
Hezbollah “refused”:http://www.reuters.com/article/politicsNews/idUSTRE4B83WI20081209 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 “:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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:
bq. 1. While President, Carter set a policy of positive and active engagement in the Palestinian territories.
bq. 2. In 1978, Carter was one of the primary voices behind the creation of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)
bq. 3. Carter wrote _Palestine: Peace not Apartheid_, a work that greatly offended supporters of Israel, and received praise from Palestinian leaders
bq. 4. Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize for what the award committee “called”:http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2002/press.html, his “untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”
bq. 5. Carter “met”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7356370.stm with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.
bq. 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.