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Impact of Lebanon and Iraq protest movements on U.S. Policy

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Published on Dec 4, 2019

Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) chairs a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism Hearing titled "Lebanon and Iraq Protests: Insights, Implications, and Objectives for U.S. Policy."
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This hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism will come to order.

The focus of today’s hearing is to assess the implications of the protest movements in Lebanon and Iraq and understand the impact of these on U.S. policy each of these countries.

I want to thank our witness, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Joey Hood, for being here today. I’d note that Senator Murphy and I had the pleasure of spending come time with Mr. Hood when we were in Iraq in the spring. His perspectives and understand of the region were most impressive.

Both Iraq and Lebanon are geographically significant from a regional security perspective. They also face similar challenges: they’re fragile democracies, they have faltering domestic economies, and there are increasing efforts by Iran and Iranian-backed groups to gain greater influence over their respective governments and civil societies. Both countries are currently engaged in protests, with civilians decrying corruption, high unemployment, and what they perceive as Iranian intervention.

The current situation in Lebanon poses complex challenges for our involvement there. Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, yet the Iranian-backed group and its allies hold seats in parliament and control ministerial positions. This is the same group that bombed the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, the Marine Barracks in 1983, and regularly targets our ally Israel. They now control parts of Southern Lebanon as well as neighborhoods in Beirut.
Lebanon is on the brink of financial ruin. People are prohibited from withdrawing more than a few hundred dollars a week from their banks. Corruption is rampant. Protestors are demanding government resignations and reforms. The country will exhaust its currency reserves by February, and could face currency devaluation or default on its debt obligations if it doesn’t receive foreign funding soon.

CEDRE has pledged $11 billion in funds to Lebanon, but these funds are contingent on government reforms. Prime Minister Hariri resigned in October, and President Aoun is only now starting to form a new government. The U.S. is to provide military aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces, but the administration had previously placed that aid that on hold. I’m glad the aid has now been released, I know that the subcommittee will be interested in hearing the reasons for the delay in that funding.

The Iraqi protests are similarly significant, recently resulting in the prime minister’s resignation. Iraq faces major security and economic challenges – among them, how to build an independent and unified nation, how to sustain an economy, whether and how to assimilate returning ISIS fighters, and how to counter excessive Iranian influence. What happens there matters greatly for regional security interests. And any mention of Iraq must of course be accompanied with recognition and honor and respect for the 4,565 American service members who gave their lives in that country.

Mr. Hood, I hope that you can help us have a better understanding of the intent of the protest movements, and the related economic factors, and the position the protestors are taking regarding Hezbollah and the Iranian backed militias. I would also appreciate your take on the the professionalism of the Lebanese Armed Forces and whether it has the support of the Lebanese people, whether it can counter Hezbollah, and the state of U.S. aid for the Lebanese Armed Forces. And finally, the implications of these situations for U.S. national security interests in the Middle East is most interesting and important.

Increasing instability in both countries would have serious repercussions throughout the region, and the U.S. must have an effective strategy on how best to partner with these nations to support our mutual interests.

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