After Interfering in Lebanese Politics, Michele Sisson Heads for Sri Lanka as Next US Envoy

Fri, 2012-06-22 14:45 — editor
Daya Gamage – An Asian Tribune Probe
Washington, DC. 22 June (Asiantribune.com):
Michele_Sisson_0.jpg

Michele Sisson

Michele Sisson is not an “ordinary” ambassador in Beirut. Indeed, she’s the “star” of the ambassadors in a country in which all internal issues turned to be international, in a country in which the American ambassador turned to be the “actual ruler and governor.”

According to the observers, in the country of “miracles” and “wonders,” the “star” of ambassadors might be “honored” for several reasons: excessive activity and dynamism, unprecedented surge to meddle in the country’s affairs.

The above two paragraphs were taken from a news report carried 21 October 2009 in a Lebanese newspaper giving a slight glimpse of some antics of Michele Sisson who was the American ambassador in Beirut.

After being dubbed by the influential opposition as the ‘Viceroy of Lebanon’, Ms. Sisson is now heading toward South Asia to be the American ambassador in Sri Lanka. She told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing this June 9 that human rights will be the top-most issue in her agenda when she assumes responsibility in Colombo. In the same hearing Ms. Sisson reiterated that for a meaningful reconciliation in Sri Lanka, there should be accountability for the alleged violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) during the final stages of the battle with the separatist Tamil tiger movement.

In a previous article this writer explained that when American officials refer to ‘violation of the IHL’ they mean alleged war crimes.

Her diplomatic (or hegemonistic) style was further elaborated by this Beirut newspaper in this manner:

(Quote) Sisson’s own words are finally enough to have an idea about the “mission” the “star of ambassadors” perceived she is doing in Lebanon.

“The United States believe that the cabinet formation process must be completed as soon as possible according to the Lebanese Constitution and in harmony with the results of the parliamentary elections that took place in June,” Sisson simply said a few days ago after meeting the Prime Minister-Designate, just like other MPs who met him in the framework of consultations.

Sisson used the verb “must” when talking about the necessity to form the government as soon as possible. She didn’t use the verb “wish” or even “hope”, she preferred to have an “obligation” tone, sending message to her “friends” in Lebanon reminding them of their “duties” towards her. She went even beyond that when she decided to determine the shape of the government that her country wants: “a government that respects the results of the parliamentary elections,” a slogan that was immediately adopted by pro-loyalty figures. (End Quote)

It is appropriate in the light of what Sri Lanka is destine to face on issues such as transparency, accountability and reconciliation among others when Ms. Michele J. Sisson settles in Colombo as the next American ambassador somewhere in August or so this year to cite the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations (VCDR).

The Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations (VCDR), to which both Sri Lanka and the United States are signatories, sets the guidelines on how diplomats should conduct their relations in the host countries together with other provisions. One of the important provisions of this Convention is on diplomatic immunity. Diplomats are exempted from persecution in the courts of the host countries and other legal obligations that the citizens of that country are subjected to. This immunity is however balanced by responsibilities. Article 41 (1) of VCDR reads: “Without prejudice to the privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving states. They have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that country”. Sub-paragraph (2) of Article 41 is equally interesting as it states that diplomatic missions must conduct their relations with the host country either with the Foreign Ministry or through the Foreign Ministry of the receiving state.

Here is the full text of Article 41 of the VCDR:

1. Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.

2. All official business with the receiving State entrusted to the mission by the sending State shall be conducted with or through the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the receiving State or such other ministry as may be agreed.

3. The premises of the mission must not be used in any manner incompatible with the functions of the mission as laid down in the present Convention or by other rules of general international law or by any special agreements in force between the sending and the receiving State. (End Article 41)

Lebanon is a religiously diverse country transitioning toward independence and democratic consolidation after a ruinous civil war and the subsequent Syrian and Israeli occupations. The United States and Lebanon have historically enjoyed a good relationship due in part to cultural and religious ties; the democratic character of the state; a large, Lebanese-American community in the United States; and the pro-western orientation of Lebanon, particularly during the cold war.

Current policy priorities of the United States include strengthening the weak democratic
institutions of the state, limiting the influence of Iran, Syria, and others in Lebanon’s political process, and countering threats from Hezbollah and other militant groups in Lebanon.

Following the June 2009 parliamentary elections in Lebanon Hezbollah emerged as the powerful political entity next to Mr. Hariri’s, the prime minister’s, March-14 political movement to share power in the country.

Following Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005 and the war between Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006, the Bush Administration requested and Congress appropriated a significant increase in U.S. assistance to Lebanon. Since 2006, U.S. assistance to Lebanon has topped $1 billion total over three years, including for the first time U.S. security assistance for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and Internal Security Forces (ISF) of Lebanon.

On June 7, 2009, Lebanese voters elected 128 deputies—from 26 districts and 11 politically
recognized religious sects—to Lebanon’s unicameral legislature. The March 14 coalition won 71
seats to March 8’s 57 seats, maintaining its slim majority in parliament.

The March 14 coalition and March 8 movement are the two main political entities in Lebanon.

US State Department’s declared policy

It was during the period of the 2009 election that Michele Sisson was American ambassador in Beirut. And, it was during this time following the election political factions were struggling to form a stable government when Ambassador Sisson got into the middle of this ‘struggle’, according to Lebanese observers and activists here in the United States and in Beirut, to have total control of Lebanon’s political chess board to suit American foreign policy objectives.

Every nation has its own foreign policy objectives and the Asian Tribune has no quarrel over that. This is a disclosure of how Ambassador Sisson ‘performed her diplomatic duties’ at the behest of her bosses in Washington. And to inform the Sri Lankan state in which she will be this fall to represent the United States.

Ambassador Sisson’s diplomatic behavior before, during and after the June 7, 2009 parliamentary elections in Lebanon can be attributed to what Jeffrey Feltman, acting Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs in the State Department said in his briefing before the US House Congressional Subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia on 24 March 2009. Mr. Feltman, who was once American ambassador to Lebanon said: “We anticipate that the shape of the US assistance programs in Lebanon will be evaluated in the context of Lebanon’s parliamentary election resultsand the policies formed by the new Cabinet.”

In his opening statement, Feltman, strongly discouraged any attempts by foreign powers to influence Lebanon’s elections, noting that “decisions on the shape and composition of the next government can and should be made by the Lebanese themselves, for Lebanon, free from outside interference, political intimidation and violence.”

His very next statement nullified what he had just said and he emphasized that the polls, with US help, “would provide an opportunity to continue the process of reinforcing Lebanon’s independence.”

When Feltman labeled the US backed March 14 group as the “pro-independence” bloc, while highlighting March 8’s association with Hezbollah, Syria and Iran as the most serious danger to Lebanon and the Region before the US House of Representative committee it became the core policy of the state department.

Ambassador Michele Sisson made her political maneuvering in Lebanon based on this policy that Mr. Feltman spelled out before the US Congress.

According to the former counsel of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee in the U.S. Congress and currently professor of international affairs at the North Western College of Law in Oregon who is an expert in middle east politics Franklin P. Lamb, Feltman then launched his zinger before the Congress which shocked some people internationally but not many in Lebanon: “We anticipate that the shape of the United States’ assistance programs in Lebanon will be evaluated in the context of Lebanon’s parliamentary election results and the policies formed by the new cabinet.”

The American ambassador to Beirut Michele Sisson did not act alone in taking sides in Lebanon’s politics and interfering in the internal affairs in that country. She was aware of the state department policy plank toward Lebanon, and therefore had a free hand in meddling in the internal affairs, endeavoring to influence the outcome of the June 7, 2009 elections and her subsequent role in the formation of the government following the election.

John_Kerry_with_Saad_Hariri.jpg

Senator John Kerry meeting parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri in Beirut

Influencing the Electoral Process

Ambassador Michele Sisson and USAID/Lebanon Mission Director Denise Herbal announced 11 December 2008 that the U.S. embassy has launched a six million dollar humanitarian assistance program “to help 21 villages adjacent to the northern Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared who were affected by the war”.” ( Nahr al-Bared is the camp near Tripoli/Akkar that was destroyed during 12 weeks of fighting between salafist Fateh al-Islam and the Lebanese Army during the summer of 2007 and where serious reconstruction was delayed partly because donors pledges were not been honored).

The American Embassy did not explain to some Lebanese who were astonished by this widely perceived interference and electoral ploy how these 21 villages were themselves affected—since most of the villages were far removed from any fighting. Also unexplained, according to Lebanese observers, is the coincidence that the 21 selected villages just happen to be those where US allied candidates (of the March-14 movement headed by Hariri) are facing possible defeat at the polls.

US Ambassador Sisson did note that “A revolving fund will be established for micro-finance loans to boost income generation and job creation as well as job-market-oriented vocational training for youth, women and the unemployed.”

The Lebanese political observers interpreted this as ‘quick cash payouts’.

A reporters’ question: “What about Nahr al Bared, where they lost everything and desperately need help?” was ignored by the American embassy.

The Palestine Chronicle reported: Inquires to the Embassy were answered as is oft stated; “The Government of the United States of America respects the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon, does not interfere in its internal affairs, and will accept the results of the coming election”.

WikiLeaks discloses US Partiality

We reiterate this observation which was made earlier:

The American ambassador to Beirut Michele Sisson did not act alone in taking sides in Lebanon’s politics and interfering in the internal affairs in that country. She was aware of the state department policy plank toward Lebanon, and therefore had a free hand in meddling in the internal affairs, endeavoring to influence the outcome of the June 7, 2009 elections and her subsequent role in the formation of the government following the election.

This was clearly manifested in a classified diplomatic cable that was dispatched to Washington under Ambassador Sisson’s signature disclosed by WikiLeaks.

The diplomatic cable was written 19 February 2009 following the visit by US Senator and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry during that week to Beirut. Mr. Kerry is a powerful and influential foreign policy advocate for the Obama administration.

The classified diplomatic cable was very clear that the U.S. had predetermined to back Saad Harriri’s March 14 coalition over Hezballah-led March 8 movement at the forthcoming June 2009 parliamentary elections.

Ambassador Sisson had the free hand to meddle in the election and the subsequent formation of the cabinet and government.

This is what the Sisson-signed cable that originated from the American Embassy to Washington State Department said:

(Begin Quote) Saad Hariri, along with his advisors Nader Hariri, Ghattas Khoury, and Ghazi Youssef, told visiting U.S. Senator John Kerry and the Ambassador that the most important thing for Lebanon was to hold the parliamentary elections as scheduled on June 7.

Hariri, confident after a well-attended and successful rally on February 14 to mark the fourth anniversary of the assassination of his father, former PM Rafik Hariri (reftel), said that if the elections were held today, his March 14 coalition would win the majority. He believed Hizballah’s March 8 alliance was becoming “worried” and might attempt any tactic to delay the elections.

Senator Kerry, accompanied by the Ambassador, his wife Teresa Heinz, Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffers Frank Lowenstein and Perry Cammack, and Poloffs, assured Hariri that the U.S. would do everything it could, without doing harm, to assist Lebanon and the March 14 coalition. (End Quote)

One could see a chain working; State Department officials, Obama White House, Senate Foreign Relations Committee and American Ambassador to Beirut Michele Sisson interfering in the internal affairs of another country to fulfill foreign policy objectives of the United States.

Similarly, Michele Sisson as the American ambassador in Sri Lanka, under current circumstances this South Asian nation is facing today, will have a free hand to influence domestic affairs taking into consideration the pressure the State Department is currently exerting on ‘accountability, transparency, international humanitarian law and reconciliation’.

Sisson’s foot prints in cabinet formation

This is how Ambassador Sisson engaged in domestic affairs of Lebanon during the run-up to the June 7, 2009 parliamentary election and thereafter her close association with the composition of the cabinet and the formation of the government.

October 2009 media reports, comments and observations were very clear as to how Ambassador Michele Sisson acted as the ‘viceroy’ of Lebanon.

During the cabinet crisis, Sisson appeared to be one of the most “influential” figures. At the beginning, she made all possible efforts to prevent the formation of the cabinet under the 15-10-5 formula or at least to prevent the participation of Hezbollah in the cabinet. To achieve this goal, she made visits to top officials but couldn’t do anything.

Following PM-designate Saad Hariri’s re-appointment, Sisson changed her “strategy.” This time, she decided to visit those who “dream” of a cabinet seat and urge them to obstruct the cabinet formation process until they receive a seat within the cabinet.

One media outlet commented: “Indeed, ambassadors are usually accredited to a foreign sovereign or government, or to an international organization, to serve as the official representative of their country as well as to build diplomatic, economic and cultural relations with the country.

“According to this presentation, there is no possibility to contradict the “originality” of Michele Sisson who’s no doubt an ambassador of a different kind. Indeed she is one of a kind.”
The Asian Tribune in its probe has found what Hussein Assi said in the Hezballah publication Al-Manar dated 20 February 2009:

(Begin Text) Once again, it’s the US interference in Lebanon that imposes itself through… the US ambassador in the country, Michele Sisson!

Indeed, in a country that has transformed the ambassadors into “stars” who can tour around the various politicians and express their opinions over all internal and external issues, no one has the “force” to just criticize the US ambassador.

In a country where all international resolutions and agreements concerning the work of ambassadors, mainly the Vienna Accord, are violated, the US ambassador turns to be a political star who does not give any consideration to the international pacts and treaties…

In a country like Lebanon, it’s very normal that the US ambassador becomes a “diplomat” by name but a “politician” with excellence by practice, and the strange thing comes out when the mentioned ambassador does not declare his own opinion regarding a topic from here or there…

Thus, it’s not anymore strange to say that the US ambassador seeks to be the country’s ruler, the one who dictates the country’s general policies and interfere even in every little detail of the Lebanese internal affairs…

For all these reasons, the US Ambassador Michelle Sisson seems determined to continue interfering in Lebanese affairs, engaging in the internal conflicts and taking the side of one political bloc against another. Indeed, and after expressing her country’s desire not to see Speaker Nabih Berri elected for another term, Sisson interfered lately in the issue of the Council for South Lebanon. The debate on the Council’s budget has prevented the government from voting on the state’s budget. (End Text)

Cabinet Formation Efforts

On November 9, 2009, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri announced that consensus had been reached and that a cabinet had been formed. The announcement followed five months of tense negotiations between Hariri and his March 14 coalition and the March 8 opposition. The debate centered on the minority March 8 coalition’s desire to retain the veto power (one-third plus one or 11 of the 30 cabinet seats) that it was granted in the Doha Agreement of May 2008. The March14 coalition was committed to a cabinet that reflects the election outcome, and views the Doha Agreement as a temporary power-sharing arrangement that addressed a specific crisis. The March 8 coalition, on the other hand, viewed the Doha Agreement as a revision of the Taif Accord, which established the current power-sharing arrangement following the civil war.

(The March 14 coalition is led by Prime-Minister Saad Hariri and his Sunni party Future Movement. The opposition March 8 Alliance is led by the Shiite party Amal and the Maronite Christian Free Patriotic Movement. It also includes Hezbollah.)

(The Doha Agreement was a negotiated resolution of 18 months of sectarian violence that preceded Hezbollah’s May 2008 siege of Beirut. In the agreement, the March 8 coalition was granted a minority veto in the cabinet (one-third plus one seats).

The consensus cabinet was made up of 15 ministers appointed by the majority March 14 coalition, 10 ministers appointed by the March 8 opposition, and 5 ministers appointed by President Michel Suleiman. This formula differs from the previous cabinet, which provided the March 8 coalition with 11 (one-third plus one) of the 30 ministerial positions and an effective veto over cabinet decisions. The March 8 coalition did retain the telecommunications portfolio, but the Labor Ministry, which was headed by a Hezbollah member in the previous cabinet, went to the March 14 coalition. In this cabinet formation Hezbollah was given two ministry positions, the Ministries of Agriculture and Administrative Reform. Some observers have argued that March 8 still holds an unofficial veto in the new cabinet even though it only has 10 seats. The Shiite Minister of State Adnan Hussein, appointed by President Suleiman, reportedly has long-standing ties with Hezbollah and is presumed to be Hezbollah’s swing vote on crucial issues.

During the cabinet formation and the establishment of the government that widespread allegation was leveled against the American ambassador Michele Sisson interfering in the internal process of Lebanon’s affairs.

– Asian Tribune –

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One response to “After Interfering in Lebanese Politics, Michele Sisson Heads for Sri Lanka as Next US Envoy

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