7. Telegram From the Embassy in Lebanon to the Department of State1
2832. Time has now arrived for USG to make up its mind on attitude we should adopt in forthcoming Lebanese presidential campaign. Parliament will, between March 15 and May, have to dispose of question amending constitution if Chamoun decides to run again; and elections will take place probably in July for a president to take office in September.
Embdesps 399, 404 and 4462 are pertinent.
It is evident opposition to reelection of President Chamoun can cause a great deal of trouble and possibly disrupt delicate balance in this country which exists by elaborate feat of political and confessional equilibrium. If menaces of opposition can be taken at face value, upshot of attempt by Chamoun to succeed himself, even though crowned with immediate success, would result in Lebanon being divided not only on a Moslem versus Christian axis but on Maronite versus Maronite schism which would have effect of strengthening more fanatic Moslem factions in their anti-western bias and weakening elements friendly to US. Although external pressure of UAR may [Page 11]force Christian sects into closer step, it may draw Moslem elements toward greater magnetic field of Arab unity. Effect of a second candidature by Chamoun will be divisive.
Chamoun, however, is top dog. Opposition is united in hatred and fear of him, but seriously divided on who to select as a successful challenger to his power. There is no candidate cited in reference despatches who could defeat Chamoun with possible exception of General Chehab who could muster backing of army, command sectors of Christian, confessional and Moslem vote, if only for reason this part of electorate opposes Chamoun. Even here, however, it seems probable Chamoun could defeat Chehab if it were a direct contest between the two men. Chehab, however, shows no interest in assuming presidential office. Bechara El-Khoury is another possible rival candidate with Moslem and Egyptian backing. However, he could be defeated by Chamoun.
If Chamoun should decide not to amend constitution in order to rescind that provision (Article 49) that President may be reelected only after an interval of six years, and retire gracefully to quasi-private life, many of problems which now loom so menacingly would disappear. By permitting some other candidate to take over presidency, Chamoun could neatly finesse opposition not only in Lebanon but abroad; e.g., Egypt and Syria. His enemies, who have been strenuously beating on barrier of Chamoun’s supposed personal ambition, would find themselves pushing against an open door and would almost certainly fall flat on their faces. It is clear that rivalries of various opposition candidates would serve to cancel each other out, and with Chamoun’s control of Parliament he could almost at will assure election of his hand-picked successor. Here Chamoun should exercise caution and skill in order charge not be made his successor was but a puppet.
If, however, President utilizes his control of Parliament to amend constitution and succeed himself, it seems certain he will invite very extensive opposition on part of Nasser which, if not successful in frustrating Chamoun’s election, will almost certainly cause grave discord inside Lebanon. There are already sufficient indigenous elements of discontent in opposition circles to provide ready fuel for any tinder which may be brought in from outside.
From US foreign policy point of view we have delicate problem of not allowing disappearance of Chamoun from presidential scene to be interpreted as a disavowal of his foreign policies including open support of US and Eisenhower Doctrine. Similarly, if he should decide to stand for re-election and trouble breaks out, we must seek to divorce his identity with policies we sponsor from his identity with domestic problems not of our concern. Chances are great, however, that an anti-Chamoun campaign would turn into a fanatic anti-Chamoun-cum-anti-US drive on part of certain elements of Moslem population and [Page 12]those anti-Chamoun Christians who would adopt a neutralist line in order to get rid of Chamoun. Therefore, if Chamoun runs again we must see that he wins and wins handsomely.
I recommend following course of action:
- That I be authorized initially to discuss with Chamoun himself his views on re-election, stressing US appreciation for his friendship and for courageous leadership he has exerted in Arab world as champion of principles for which free world stands. We would tell Chamoun our interest in his own personal welfare is a continuing one, and we will expect his own influence to be exerted for maintenance of policies he has so effectively followed while in office. At same time we should ask if his analysis of situation suggests he can assure continuance of his policies through support of some other candidate for presidency. In that case we would hope, after interval of six years, that he would still be available to resume mandate as chief executive. If, however, it was President’s carefully matured opinion he should stand to succeed himself now, we would not oppose that decision.
- Following such a conversation with Chamoun himself, I be authorized to indicate to friendly chiefs of mission (cf. Embdesp 404) US views as outlined above. It is important that free world embassies do not back rival candidates.
- To Lebanese inquiry, we be authorized to state US traditional position is to refrain from intervening in internal political affairs of friendly foreign states, but that because of our continuing friendly regard for Lebanon we would hope elections would follow course designed to unite nation rather than divide it, and that they would produce a president well qualified to maintain Lebanon’s freedom and independence.
- Something must be done for Malik, the apostle of Americanism. In my judgment, he should go fairly soon as he is focusing anti-American opinion on himself and his eventual exit, unless expertly handled, might be misinterpreted as a disavowal of Lebanon’s pro-western policy. I recommend we go all out to secure Malik’s selection as president of next GA. This would satisfy requirement in Arab world to be loyal to one’s friends, would be immensely rewarding to Malik himself and would strike cord of patriotic pride even in opposition elements of Lebanon. To gain maximum advantage, decision to support Malik should be taken promptly and made known to him soon.
As for actual candidates who could successfully serve as president and sustain a foreign policy acceptable to US interest, I would say that either of the Edde brothers—Raymond or Pierre—would provide excellent presidential material. Selim Lahoud, present Minister of Public Works, is a man of immense energy and keen intelligence, although he has little popular following and would generally be regarded as a Chamoun stooge. General Chehab is too apolitical to have a foreign policy other than one of strict neutrality and, if elected president, would probably become a neutral legume who would require careful pruning to grow in the right direction. However, as was said of Louis XIV, “All he has is common sense—but a great deal of that”.[Page 13]
I believe we must act with promptness in facing this problem as otherwise by default we will find ourselves ranged tacitly on side of Chamoun with no particular feeling of gratitude from him. If he runs we should derive benefits from his victory; his eventual defeat would be a disaster not only for him but for us. His continuance in office would not, however, be without cost. My own judgment is it would be best for Lebanon, for Chamoun and for United States if he stepped down from power now and resumed it six years in future.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/2–2158. Top Secret.↩
- Dated January 23, January 28, and February 14, respectively, these despatches assessed the impending election, the potential candidates for the presidency, and the views of the various embassies in Beirut on the presidential campaign. (Ibid., 783A.00/1–2358, 783A.00/1–2858, and 783A.11/2–1458)↩