9. Telegram From the Embassy in Lebanon to the Department of State1
2964. Pursuant Deptel 33752 I called on President Chamoun this morning and made oral representation outlined paragraph 1 reference telegram. I said I had personally listened to some hundred or more Lebanese personalities, each with his own slant on presidential problem, but had kept my own counsel. My government agreed time had now come to ask Chamoun himself for his estimate of situation.
President said that, although he “had not quite yet made up his mind”, he felt on balance he would have to stand for reelection.
Chamoun then went through process of elimination, ticking off one by one potential candidates. He said, of those who were outside Parliament, it was clear Joseph Hitti did not have sufficient following to be considered as successful candidate, nor did Jawad Boulos, a pleasant man with no political drawing power. General Chehab was possibility, but there were two objections to him: (1) he did not want the office; (2) to bring military leader to presidency would establish dangerous precedent and might involve Lebanese army in politics in future. In fact, only candidate outside of Parliament who Chamoun thought might have serious chance as contender for presidency was Bechara El-Khoury. This he thought would be disaster for country as [Page 15]Bechara El-Khoury had revealed during last term extent to which he and his family had profited by corruption and, furthermore, he had given himself too much to external forces outside Lebanon.
Within Parliament, Chamoun discussed prospects of two Edde brothers, Pierre and Raymond, indicating he thought neither could muster sufficient strength in Chamber to get elected. Another possibility was Selim Lahoud “but he had many enemies” and clearly, in Chamoun’s opinion, did not have sufficient votes to muster majority.
Ergo, by this he came to conclusion only politician who could lead country and evaluate its present foreign policies was himself.
I stressed our hope, because we wished to see Lebanon remain independent and because new currents were swirling in Arab world, that whatever happened in elections result would be to draw various elements in Lebanon into greater union and not to emphasize divisive possibilities which were latent in Lebanon.
President said his own estimate of his popular strength was 90 percent of Christians, 60 percent of Sunni Moslems. If this estimate is correct, it would mean his popular support would be 69 percent of population.
I next inquired Chamoun’s opinion re chances of civil strife if he should succeed himself, recalling what had happened to Bechara El-Khoury, who had also changed Constitution and had been ousted from second term. Chamoun said conditions were different. Bechara El-Khoury had been discredited because of corruption, whereas his own regime could not be accused similarly. Although there might be troubles, he was calmly confident any disturbances could be handled, and seemed to have no fear of discord fomented from outside—e.g., Egyptian and Syrian.
When I probed Chamoun re theory (cf. Embtel 2893)3 some compromise might be found by limiting new presidential term to 2 or 4 years, President was noncommital, but throughout our conversation referred to reelection in terms of six years.
Chamoun, already envisaging second term in office, said he was quite prepared to be clement to opposition and he would be willing early on to indicate readiness to bury hatchet. He explicitly said he felt an opposition was essential to Lebanon and he would be glad to have members of opposition in new government.[Page 16]
[less than 1 line of source text not declassified] both Chamoun and Malik might feel they could whistle up Sixth Fleet any time they found themselves in trouble, I recalled assurances given as authorized Deptel 30004 re assistance in preserving internal security and said I had indicated to Malik my feeling means must be tailored to ends. It was my belief if there were riots or civil strife in Lebanon these should be put down by Lebanese themselves. It would be, in my opinion, prejudicial to Lebanon’s own interest if we should be asked to land Marines, as this would be portrayed in Arab world and elsewhere as subjection of Lebanon to an outside power. Chamoun replied he was in complete agreement. He said only time he had discussed possibility of deploying Sixth Fleet was when Jordan not Lebanon was in danger. I am sure he got point I desired to make; namely, that US military strength in Mediterranean should not be used in forthcoming Lebanese political turmoil.
- Chamoun has decided to amend constitution and succeed himself for second 6-year term.
- Chamoun, consummate politician whose access to political intelligence is undoubtedly greater than that of his rivals, is clearly confident of his popular support and of consequent Parliamentary approval, both in amending constitution and in his reelection.
- Chamoun did not ask for US backing but obviously expects that, if he succeeds himself and continues same foreign policy, he will continue to receive US support.
- Although Chamoun’s estimate of percentages his popularity is probably on high side, it is clear to us he can in fact be reelected.
- I have not altered opinion expressed Embtel 28325 that it would be best for Chamoun, Lebanon and US that he step down for time being and permit compromise candidate to assume Presidency and continue his policies. It is certain trouble will ensue when he takes office for second term. On other hand, we cannot very well dictate to Chamoun in this situation, nor can we against this opposition elect another President. In consequence,
- US, given this problem in political arithmetic, can come to only one answer: We should support Chamoun.
If Department concurs this analysis, would appreciate early word in order garner early kudos.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/3–558. Top Secret.↩
- In telegram 2893 from Beirut, February 27, McClintock reported on British Ambassador Middleton’s assessment of what he saw as the dangerous political situation in Lebanon. Middleton suggested that a compromise solution to the presidential problem might be to amend the constitution to extend Chamoun’s term by 2 years, to afford time to groom a suitable successor. McClintock observed that Middleton’s proposed solution was based upon pragmatism rather than principle, but might mitigate the venom of a presidential campaign. (Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/2–2758)↩
- See footnote 3, Document 5.↩
- Document 7.↩