In an article published yesterday in Forbes, Washington Institute fellow and former Pentagon official David Schenker weighs recent critiques of America’s efforts to strengthen the Lebanese Armed Forces. He writes: “Many in Lebanon are concerned that U.S. weaponry enables the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) to defend the state neither from Israel nor from local al-Qaida affiliates.” Schenker’s response: the point of military aid is not to present some kind of a robust deterrence of the IDF but rather to help build up the LAF’s abilities to contain local threats to stability.
Andrew Exum made a similar point in an email to me this morning:
“I do not know of anyone in U.S. policy circles who thinks the LAF can be built up to ever stand up to even the Syrian Army – much less the IDF. As a CSIS report made clear, the LAF needs $1 billion investment just to address current deficiencies. Since the United States is not exactly awash in money these days, policy-makers have to think hard about how military assistance is spent. At the end of the day, U.S. policy-makers and the Lebanese just want two different things. Generals in the LAF wants a mechanized, air-land battle group capable of fighting the armies of nation-states. U.S. policy-makers desire a LAF trained and equipped to defeat insurgents and terrorist groups at home, which, honestly, is seen the likelier future threat environment than air-land battles between heavy armor divisions in the Biqaa` Valley. The two sides simply have competing visions of what is the best way to train and equip the LAF, and a military as badly in need of investment as the LAF has little room to pick and choose from the aid on offer.”
While I tend to agree with Exum and Schenker’s broader argument about the point of military aid, I also think that they’re not quite reading the Lebanese “critiques” so accurately. No one — especially not Hassan Nasrallah — really believes that the United States is actually going to consider outfitting the Lebanese Air Force with F-16s. What would be the point? They wouldn’t scramble to engage Israeli overflights, nor would they be used to secure Lebanon’s border with Syria. So what would be the purpose? Answer? Image, baby.
When Lebanese politicians complain about a lack of seriousness on America’s part to cough up military aid, it’s mostly just rhetoric. What Lebanon really needs is the unglamorous stuff: bullets, guns, humvees, helicopters. But we Lebanese like glamorous stuff. We are a glamorous people.
But don’t take my word for it. Lucky for you, the Qnion has gotten its hands on a secret transcript of Defense Minister Elias al-Murr’s meeting with Jeffrey Feltman, Assistant Secretary of State and former Ambassador to Lebanon. See for yourselves…
Murr: So good to see you! It’s been too long.
Feltman: Indeed it has. I miss Lebanon sooooo much. The food, the culture, the skiing and swimming on the same day. Fabulous.
Murr: Yeah. So, whaddaya got?
Feltman: It’s your lucky day. I’ve just gotten word from the Pentagon that we’ve been authorized to supply Lebanon with a small fleet of… are you ready for this?
Feltman: Are you really ready? Cause it’s gonna be big!
Murr: I’m ready!
Feltman: You suuuuuuure??
Murr: Just tell me already!!
Feltman: Ok ok, keep your shirt on. (Whipping out a picture of a small airplane from behind his desk) Ta-da!!!!! I give you, the Armed Caravan!
Feltman: Well, what do you think?!
Murr: You’ve got to be kidding me. This is a joke, right?
Feltman: What? No. Why?
Murr: An… Armed… Caravan?
Feltman: (looking hurt) Yeah? So?
Murr: What are we supposed to do with that thing? Deliver mana’eesh to our border patrols?
Feltman: Ha ha, well actually…
Murr: Take ministers on sightseeing tours?
Feltman: Ahem, I hardly think that’s…
Murr: Put out forest fires?
Feltman: Mr. Defense Minister. I’m sorry, but that’s the best that I can do. What were you hoping for?
Murr: (muttering) A few F-16s wouldn’t have killed you.
Feltman: Ha ha ha ha ha ha!
(Murr glares at him)
Feltman: I’m sorry. That kind of just slipped out. But seriously, F-16s? Really? Let’s not kid ourselves.
Murr: I promise not to use them!
Feltman: Aww, that’s sweet. I know you won’t. But honestly, Lebanon really can’t afford them. And that’s an awful lot of money to spend on some planes that we won’t let you use.
Murr: Look, how about renting them to us?
Feltman: Ummm… excuse me?
Murr: Couple of days a year — Independence Day and Army Day. That’s all we really need. You can take them back for the rest of the year and we’ll pretend like we’ve got them hidden away someplace.
Feltman: Hmmm… that’s not a bad idea.
Murr: Because, honestly, Jeff… I can’t take this back to the President. I mean, it’s insulting. No offense.
Murr: It’s like, one day you’re driving an Alfa Romeo and the next day you’re in a Honda Civic or some shit. You gotta move up in the world, man. Wa law?
Feltman: I think I see what you mean. It’s like, right now you’re in a one-bedroom apartment in Hazmieh, and instead of moving into a pimp-ass crib on the Corniche, you’re moving back in with your parents in Baabdat or something.
Feltman: Or, like, you’re partying in Gemmayze and what you really want is to get into Sky Bar, but I’m handing out passes to some busted-ass dive bar in Qoreitem or some shit.
Murr: Now you’re getting it.
Feltman: Ok, well I’ll see what the Pentagon has to say about it. In the meantime, shall we drop the Cessna offer?
Murr: (snatching the picture off Feltman’s desk) Nah, I’ll use it to fly me to Cyprus once a month for vacation.
Feltman: Well, it doesn’t quite fly that far.
Feltman: I’m just messing with you! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!
Murr: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!
Feltman: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!
Murr: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!
Feltman: Aw man… Good times.