Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman's letter of goodbye

Confident of Lebanon's Hopeful Future
By U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey D. Feltman,
December 8, 2007
I am leaving Lebanon very soon to take up a new assignment in Washington.  No doubt, there will be those who will be eager to insist that my departure symbolizes the retreat of the United States from Lebanon.  The truth of the matter is that I was supposed to leave in July 2007.  I have stayed precisely because the U.S. Government did not want a transition in the Embassy in the middle of the constitutional period for presidential elections.  Do not believe those who will claim that my departure, many months late, symbolizes a weakening of the U.S. commitment to Lebanon.  Just the opposite:  the American government and the American people stand with Lebanon and the Lebanese people as they work to secure their democracy, unity, sovereignty, independence, and prosperity.  
I have been in Lebanon since summer 2004.  I am grateful that I can still see, talk to, laugh with, my very dear friends Marwan Hamadeh, Elias Murr, and May Chidiac.  I mourn those whom Lebanon has lost since I have been here:  Rafiq Hariri, Basil Fleihan, Samir Kassir George Hawi, Gebran Tueni, Pierre Gemayel, Walid Eido, Antoine Ghanem, and all those murdered with them.  It saddens me to realize that no U.S. Ambassador after me will ever have the honor of working with Prime Minister Hariri.  But I hope for the sake of all the Lebanese people that no U.S. Ambassador after me ever has to bear painful witness to the type of anguish, death and destruction Lebanon endured in summer 2006, when Hizballah, ignoring Lebanon's National Dialogue and bypassing its constitutional institutions, provoked war.
Despite the losses, the Lebanon that I am leaving soon has retained all those wonderful qualities that so impressed me when I first encountered this beautiful country:  a talented, cosmopolitan, and energetic people; a lively and free media; a respect for diversity; and deep democratic traditions.  But many aspects of Lebanon have changed over the last three years, and changed for the better:  Syria's military occupation ended.  Lebanese officials no longer have to check with Syrian intelligence officers, or any other outside powers, regarding their decisions.  One political leader returned home from exile, and another one returned to public life through a parliamentary amnesty.  For the first time in decades, Lebanon got a "made-in-Lebanon" government rather than one imposed by Damascus.  The establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon should end the sad era of impunity for assassinations in Lebanon.  The adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, the expansion of UNIFIL, and the historic deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces to the south help provide stability and security to a part of Lebanon that has suffered too much over the years.  Earlier this year in Nahr al-Barid, the Lebanese Armed Forces proved that Lebanon will not tolerate new terrorist groups trying to take root.  One president left office peacefully at the end of his constitutional mandate, and candidates considered to replace him were proposed by the Lebanese, not by any outside power.  Finally, the Lebanese demonstrated their wisdom repeatedly over the past year, including now, when, faced with rising tensions, they chose to turn away from civil conflict that would have been too easy to escalate.
I recognize that much more work needs to be done to meet the political and economic needs of the Lebanese people.  Thankfully, the international community has been generous in its political and financial support to Lebanon during this transitional period.  I am pleased that the American people, through the U.S. Congress, have committed well over a billion dollars to Lebanon since September 2006:  this is an enormous jump in what had been less than $50 million in yearly U.S. assistance to Lebanon annually when I arrived in 2004.  We are only one of a number of partner countries who are helping.  The goal of Lebanon's friends is to respond to the request of the Lebanese themselves to help strengthen the institutions of the state, including the army and police, and to help create economic prosperity that benefits the entire country.  We share the firm conviction of most Lebanese that a strong state, with publicly accountable and tran sparent institutions operating within the rule of law, is the best protection for Lebanon's future.
But for all of this international assistance and attention to reach its full potential in helping Lebanon, please permit me to say that it would be better if all of Lebanon's constitutional institutions were permitted to function fully.  In our view, a parliamentary democracy cannot help but be damaged when its legislature was locked for more than a year.  And I cannot think of another democracy where the minority chooses which cabinet decrees to define as legitimate, such as those governing the August parliamentary by-elections, and which to reject.  It strikes foreign observers as most odd that cabinet ministers can claim to have resigned, giving their political backers a pretext to proclaim the cabinet illegitimate, yet in fact they continue to work as before.  The United States, like Lebanon's other friends in the international community, has been a strong supporter of Lebanese presidential elections for many reasons, and we hope that s uccessful presidential elections, free of outside interference and intimidation, will revive these essential constitutional institutions.  We pledge our support for a new president and new government committed to Lebanon's independence and democracy.   
With a new president and cabinet in place, I am sure that my successor will witness a further consolidation of Lebanon's sovereignty and independence.  Moreover, I am sure that all U.S. Ambassadors after me will, like me, continue to marvel at the creativity and courage of the Lebanese people.  Above all, I am sure that they will be as sincerely grateful as I am to the Lebanese people for their astonishingly generous gifts of friendship and hospitality.  I feel privileged to have been a guest in Lebanon since summer 2004, and I very much look forward to following the news of Lebanon's success in the years to come.
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