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19 Aug, 2020 20:33

Washington dangles aid offer for blast-devastated Lebanon, as long as Beirut dances to its tune

Washington dangles aid offer for blast-devastated Lebanon, as long as Beirut dances to its tune

A senior US official has declared that no outside aid can fix Lebanon’s problems, yet in the same breath offered funds to alleviate the country’s problems - provided Beirut toe the American line.

In the aftermath of the devastating explosion that levelled much of Beirut and killed more than 200 people, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale has condemned Lebanon’s ruling elite, declaring that his government cannot fix the country’s problems from outside. 

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Indeed, Lebanon was in dire financial straits before the explosion, and protests broke out in Beirut earlier this year over the country’s spiralling unemployment rate, crumbling infrastructure, and plummeting currency.

However, Hale did offer the country assistance, provided its ruling elite remake its economic and political system to American specifications. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Hale demanded that whoever assumes power in Lebanon submit to an audit of the Lebanese Central Bank, diversify its economy, reduce corruption, and improve transparency.

“They are at rock bottom,” Hale stated, referring to Lebanon’s ruling class, “and sooner or later, I believe, that the leadership will appreciate the fact that it is time to change.”

The diplomat added that “there is no more money” for Lebanon without reforms. 

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The economic reforms demanded by Hale are similar to those suggested two weeks ago by French President Emmanuel Macron, who took an early leadership role in attempting to bring Lebanon into the West’s economic fold.

Whenever a new government is formed in Lebanon, Hale said that the US will need to take a look at how large a role Hezbollah plays in it. The political wing of the Shia militant group has held a parliamentary majority since 2018, yet Hezbollah is considered a terrorist group by the US and its links with Iran mean Hale’s department is unlikely to accept anything but a minor role for the organization in any future government.

Hale has made similar proclamations before, visiting Beirut last weekend and promising“sustained financial support,” but only on the back of “systemic reforms.” 

Lebanese Prime Minister Hasan Diab and his cabinet have resigned, but remain in power as caretakers. A date for new elections has yet to be announced.

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