3. Memorandum From the Officer in Charge of Lebanon-Syria Affairs (Waggoner) to the Director of the Office of Near Eastern Affairs (Rockwell)1

SUBJECT

  • Forthcoming Presidential Election in the Lebanon

Background

The Lebanese Constitution provides for a six year term for the Lebanese President and provides further that a President may not immediately succeed himself. President Chamoun’s term of office will expire on September 22, 1958. In order for President Chamoun to succeed himself, the Constitution must be amended to that end during the regular Spring session of Parliament which will begin in March and end in May 1958.

While there are indications that President Chamoun may have decided to seek re-election, he has not so formally announced. On the basis of the information available to us, it appears more likely that Chamoun has not yet made up his mind whether it would or would not be advisable for him to seek another term.

President Chamoun probably would prefer for personal reasons to continue in power. He probably also believes that his pro-Western policies are likely to be endangered if he is succeeded by someone less forceful and less in command of the situation than he considers himself to be. At the same time, he is no doubt aware that a move on his [Page 6]to amend the Constitution to permit his re-election would very likely intensify internal difficulties within the Lebanon and particularly invite increased agitation among the Moslems. He is doubtless aware that his opponents will receive strong financial and other backing from Syria, Egypt and the Communists.

It is not clear whether he commands the necessary two-thirds majority in the Parliament to amend the Constitution to permit his reelection. Our Embassy believes that he probably does have sufficient Parliamentary support although it is apparently not possible at this point to determine definitely whether this is so.

As the leading foreign power in the Lebanon, the U.S. will inevitably be closely involved in and affected by the pre-election campaign and the election itself. We are closely associated in the Lebanese mind with the recent Lebanese Parliamentary election in which we played an active role. Failure to play an active role in the Presidential election would, I believe, probably have serious consequences in terms of stability within the Lebanon and could substantially affect the Lebanon’s political orientation. [2 lines of source text not declassified] That President Chamoun is of the same opinion is evident in the fact that he himself discussed the matter somewhat obliquely with Ambassador Heath prior to the Ambassador’s departure for Jidda.

The Problem

In order to assure the necessary coordination within the Government and perhaps with other foreign powers (I understand that the British are inclined to support a second term for Chamoun), I believe it necessary that we determine as soon as possible whether it is in our interest for Chamoun to try to succeed himself.

Ambassador McClintock has urged that a decision be reached in the near future. Whether Chamoun should try for re-election depends, primarily, in our view on whether there is another sufficiently strong pro-Western candidate available who 1) could be counted on to maintain the Lebanon’s present pro-West orientation, 2) is acceptable to important segments of the Moslem as well as the Christian community, and 3) for whom broad support can be generated.

If such a candidate can be found, we believe that it would be preferable for Chamoun not to try to succeed himself because of the risk of serious internal strife which such an attempt would almost inevitably produce. We are not in a position to determine with any accuracy what would be necessary to dissuade Chamoun from running and to persuade him to give his very considerable political support to another candidate. Presumably, we would wish to consider supporting him for some suitable position outside the government and indicating that we would be prepared to support him for the Presidency in 1964. I believe that our influence with Chamoun is sufficient [Page 7]induce him to support another candidate, particularly if we are supported by the British. If we determine that it is not desirable for Chamoun to try for a second term, I believe that we should 1) have someone discuss this question in general terms with Chamoun and 2) after a suitable lapse of time, inform Chamoun of our views and proposals.

If a suitable replacement for Chamoun cannot be found, then I believe that we should consider on an immediate basis 1) what steps we can take to strengthen Chamoun’s position and 2) what advice we should give him regarding the manner of conducting his campaign, particularly the desirability of effecting a rapprochement with important anti-Communist, pro-West political leaders who, for a variety of reasons, are opposed to Chamoun’s re-election. [61/2 lines of source text not declassified]

The crux of the problem, as noted above, is whether or not there is available a suitable replacement for President Chamoun. There is attached, for discussion purposes, a list of individuals who either have indicated an intention to put themselves up as candidates or who might be available and suitable.2

Recommendations

1)
That this general question be discussed within NEA to determine a tentative State position;
2)
that, once this tentative position has been taken, the question be discussed at a suitable level with CIA;
3)
that the joint State–CIA position be communicated to our representatives in Beirut with a request for their comments and including a suggestion that a suitable person raise the question in general terms with President Chamoun;
4)
that a U.S. position be taken as soon as possible based on the foregoing and that our position be coordinated with the U.K.3
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/1–1758. Top Secret.
  2. The attached list provided a brief discussion of the suitability, from the U.S. perspective, of the following possible candidates: Emile Boustani, Hamid Frangie, General Fuad Chehab, Joseph Hitti, Jawad Boulos, Bechara al-Khoury, Victor Khoury, Alfred Naccache, Charles Helou, Pierre Edde, and Raymond Edde. It is included in the microfiche supplement.
  3. There is no indication on the source text of Rockwell’s response to these recommendations.