I witness with dismay gross distortions and inaccuracies regarding my country. First, some perspective.
Lebanon is a pluralist democracy. The president is elected by the representatives of all the people, of all the communities of Lebanon. Amin Gemayel was elected without opposition in a parliament in which Sunnites, Druze, Shiites, Maronites, Orthodox, Armenians, Melkites and other sects are represented.
The prime minister is a Sunni Moslem, and his commitment for any decision or action the government might take is absolutely necessary. In the face of accusations that the Lebanese government is "Phalangist," I would like to point out that, contrary to what usually happens in the United States, the Cabinet is made up of all ethnic groups and none of its members, or the president's closest advisers, is a member of the Kataeb (Phalangist) Party, not one. The government has had the consistent support of the established Christian and Moslem leaders, and of many of the Druze leaders as well.
The government of Lebanon has consistently maintained an open and candid dialogue with all elements of the public. Discussions with representatives of each and every community are continuous. As a case in point, the government has talked with Walid Jumblatt on several occasions, most recently with U.S. participation in Paris, and an agreement on all issues was reached. Syrians--not Lebanese, but Syrians-- vetoed this because it did not nullify the U.S.- sponsored Lebanese-Israeli agreement, and the current war started. I am confident that most Lebanese of all faiths believe that a dialogue between the government and those who disagree with it should be based on an acceptance of Lebanon's collective interests first. We do not demand adherence to government policy or even to the precise structure of government as it is today. Where, then, does the violence originate?
When we reached a security agreement with Israel in May, all the communities of Lebanon supported that accord. Today this is the main platform of opposition. From the outset, Syria opposed the agreement, since it consolidates America's ties with Lebanon, while Syria continues to maintain a position heavily dependent on and responsive to Moscow. The Soviets, for their part, could not afford to see the U.S. policies succeed either, as their own position would then have been limited to an isolated, minority regime in Damascus.
Consequently, from the time the agreement was signed Syria began to finance, equip and train--in Syrian-occupied territory of Lebanon --Lebanese opponents of the government, exploiting whatever issues might attract them. President Hafez Assad decided to organize and fortify dissident groups because it appeared to him that, for different reasons, both the United States and Israel would be unable to respond. There was no deterrent.
Unlike the United States, Lebanon's policy has until now upheld the principle that weakness was strength--that if we were a threat to no one, no one would threaten us. This policy, this disastrous policy, has shown itself to be a catastrophic mistake, since Lebanon is located in a region in which people commonly turn to violence to achieve their goals.
In this light, we have set about to build a strong, representative army. Here in the United States I read that our army is Christian. It is not. The army is more than half Moslem. The officer corps is about 55 percent Christian, 45 percent Moslem. At the general officer level, the ratio is 50-50. The commander-in-chief is a Christian Maronite and the chief of staff is a Druze. The plans and operations division is directed by a Shiite. About 60 percent of the enlisted personnel are Moslem, predominantly Shiite.
The United States and Lebanon have good reason to share great pride over the reconstruction of the Lebanese army. The army has doubled in size in the year since the United States began its training and assistance program. Together we have built an army that is now about 33,000 strong. In the operations in Beirut, many thought the army would split. It did not. Many expected large-scale defections, especially since this was a predominantly Shiite army fighting, among others, Shiite groups (responsive to Syria) inside the city. Urban fighting is the most difficult ordeal any army can confront. Defections were not a problem, and the army carried out its duty effectively.
When this attempt to subvert the elected government did not succeed, the Syrians turned to the Chouf mountains, and are pressing their offensive there.
The attacks on the government are hidden behind the cover of a group of Lebanese dissidents. These Lebanese are not operating in government-controlled territory, and their behavior is similar to that of other people in other countries whose territory has been occupied. It is worth noting that the attacks on the Lebanese army originate from Syrian-occupied territory. Photographic reconnaissance reveals Syrian shelling of Lebanon's armed forces and civilian areas. Attackers include 3,000 Iranians, as well as Libyans, Syrians and Palestinian dissidents under Syrian control. The fully equipped Yarmouk Brigade (6,000 strong) of the Palestinian Liberation Army has recently entered Lebanon from Syria to join the attacks. The arms provided this coalition of attackers by Syria are superior even to armament of the regular Lebanese armed forces seeking to protect our country. Can anyone seriously call this a civil war? Left to themselves, Lebanese can agree. We have tested this principle and found it to be true. In the aftermath of our recent years of occupation and suppression, most Lebanese of all sects, of all regions, of all socioeconomic levels, have come to realize anew the valueeof a democratic, pluralist and moderate Lebanon to themselves, to the region and to the world.
For the United States, too, some critical interests and values are at stake. Should Syria succeed in this open attack on Lebanon, it will have established a precedent of the large and powerful state swallowing the small that bodes ill in a region like the Middle East. Clearer yet, the pro- American, moderate-Arab states--training one eye on the course of the Iran-Iraq war and the other on Lebanon, and having lost confidence in American credibility--will certainly move toward greater compliance with Syrian and Soviet policies. In fact, such a trend is already emerging.
Thus, if the United States is to adhere to the "Carter Doctrine" of drawing a line to the Soviets in the Gulf, adverse developments in the region could lead to far greater American costs in both manpower and economic terms. Accordingly, any American involvement in Lebanon, in addition to assisting a friend in need, would also be aimed at protecting United States and Western interests in a troubled region. Lebanon is the first line of defense of Western interest in this region.