Why Lebanese Diplomacy Is Irrelevant in Washington

Beauty pageants often arch an eyebrow in today's climate of political correctness. But, when it comes to Lebanese-American Rima Fakih, the current Miss USA, women's rights activists have mostly looked the other way to not spoil Lebanon's bulging pride in her achievements. The Lebanese embassy in Washington, however, has taken celebrating Fakih to a whole new level. Months after she was crowned, her pictures still dominate the home page of the embassy's website.

Lebanese-Americans have contacted senior diplomats at the embassy arguing that Fakih's seductive pictures were inappropriate, and suggested that the slideshow be reduced to a sidebar. The embassy has not made a formal response, and the pictures are still there in their full glory.

Lebanese embassies around the world, including the one in Washington, suffer from limited resources. As a result, their websites often look amateurish. The texts are riddled with mistakes and news updates are slow.

Meanwhile, political activism at these embassies depends on the affiliation of the diplomats, including the ambassador. Those who are supported by the March 8 coalition are usually forthcoming and bold, while those who are close to March 14 -- or those who pretend to be President Michel Sleiman's protégés -- are weak, shy and tend to avoid taking political stances fearing for their career.

At the DC mission, the five diplomats are able, sociable and skilled in connecting with the Lebanese across the US. One who is close to March 8 remains the boldest in preaching his coalition's stances, regardless of the cabinet instructions, and tends to publically fraternize more with Syrian than Lebanese diplomats. So, it is no surprise that -- given Lebanon's divisions and the inability of the cabinet or the president to take any meaningful political stance -- genuine Lebanese diplomacy that promotes Lebanese interests is irrelevant in Washington.

The Lebanese weakness is most visible when it is held up in comparison with the activities of other envoys in the capital. Syrian Ambassador to Washington Imad Mustafa, for instance, has been notably active and -- over the course of the past few years -- has succeeded in winning support for the Syrian regime in Congress, the US administration and its intelligentsia.

Mustafa's intellect is sharp and impressive. In addition to his personal skills and the unparalleled activism of the Syrian diplomats, both in Washington and in New York, Mustafa acts strong mainly because of the resources that his government puts at his disposal and the support that he receives from Damascus.

When compared to the Syrian or other Arab missions, the Lebanese embassy stands no chance. Yes, the former ambassador and protégé of former President Emile Lahoud, Farid Abboud, did act strong but only with the blessing of his Syrian masters.

The Lebanese Embassy in Washington should not be blamed for its political irrelevance. However, maintaining a website that looks more like Paris is no alternative to political failure. There should be no excuse. Lebanon's diplomats have the advantage of America's support and sympathy, which the Lebanese rarely -- if ever -- exploit.

The Lebanese Diaspora in the US is also guilty of letting down Lebanon's national interests. A case in point is the politically tasteless and woefully inadequate American Task Force for Lebanon (ATFL). The ATFL's annual gala is an event that gathers together dozens of influential Lebanese-Americans, but its board contains a number of Lebanese-Americans, and Lebanese, who are usually preoccupied with reinforcing America's relations with Syria than looking after Lebanese interests.

Meanwhile, the Middle East Institute recently honored former Deputy Prime Minister Issam Fares, who repeatedly championed Syria as a key player in the Middle East, but he did not utter a word about the hold placed by congressmen on US aid to the Lebanese army.

Like the Lebanese embassy when compared to its Arab peers, the American task Force for Lebanon (ATFL) is a failure if compared to, say, the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP), which held one of its most successful gala dinners last month when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered the keynote speech.

Lebanese diplomats do not lack intellect or sharpness. Lebanese-Americans are the most numerous among Arab-Americans and enjoy both affluence and influence. The failure of both the embassy and the Lebanese-American community does not reflect their actual potential.

Perhaps here, one can understand how 15 years of Syrian post-war occupation of Lebanon succeeded, not only in undermining Lebanon's state institutions, but also in infiltrating the powerful Lebanese diaspora and neutralizing it.

It is time for the Lebanese embassy to take down Miss Fakih's pictures and replace them with some serious relevant material. It is also time for the ATFL to resume its mission, drop its non-political role and shakeup matters inside Washington in favor of Lebanon and its national interests.