Eric Bordenkircher
Eyes on Congress, Progressives and the Middle East

Heroes of Progressivism: Entry #1

Senator Chris Murphy: A Champion of Institutions

Chris Murphy’s indulgence of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) is not bearing fruit. As Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, the Senator has played a critical role for years in allocating hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the LAF. The last eight weeks demonstrate that Senator Murphy’s efforts and thinking have been foolish, pointless, and reckless. The institution which Senator Murphy proclaimed as a respected stabilizing force in Lebanon is nowhere to be found as violence rages on Lebanon’s southern border.

The junior senator from Connecticut is an ardent supporter of the Lebanese Armed Forces. Murphy identifies the LAF as an asset to U.S. counterterrorism operations and overall U.S. policy in the Middle East. The LAF enables the maintenance of key policy objectives: 1) countering the Lebanese political party/militia Hezbollah and by extension Iran; and 2) holding together a deeply fractured Lebanese state and society; and 3) preventing Russia’s further encroachment in the region. In a 2019 tweet, he called President Trump’s attempt to cut funding to the LAF the “abandonment of a key ally” and “the dumbest thing we could do if we are trying to weaken Hezbollah.” Murphy’s commitment to these objectives extends beyond just supporting the training and supplying of the institution. In 2021, he endorsed the usage of U.S. taxpayer dollars for paying the salaries of LAF officers as Lebanon endures a historic economic collapse. He stated it was a U.S. national security interest.

The Senator’s seemingly unflappable support of the LAF as an ally and his endorsement of the LAF as a critical national institution has been puzzling. For years, US funding of the LAF has drawn scrutiny. The LAF has failed to prevent Hezbollah from returning to the Lebanese-Israeli border area — a violation of UN Resolution 1701. Elements of the LAF have been accused of using force against unarmed anti-government Lebanese protesters. Militia members with rocket propelled grenades were observed walking in front of the LAF during communal violence on October 14, 2021.

However, it is the last eight weeks of LAF ineptitude that demonstrates Murphy’s support is no longer an issue of puzzlement, it is evidence of foolish and reckless thinking. The Senator is complicit in propping up an institution that is little more than a hollow shell. When Lebanon and the U.S. needs the LAF most; it is missing in action. The LAF is incapable of controlling Lebanon’s southern border and preventing attacks by Hezbollah and Palestinian militants on Israel from Lebanese territory. The LAF is also incapable of protecting its citizens. The Lebanese are exposed to Israeli retaliatory fire because of the Hezbollah and Palestinian attacks. Lives are lost, property is damaged, and thousands are forced to evacuate their homes and towns. The LAF is MIA as Lebanon teeters on the precipice of another devastating war with Israel and that could possibly trigger a regional war.

The problematic and obdurate thinking of the Senator has its roots in progressivism.

Senator Murphy suffers from a common progressive indiscretion. Progressives place too much faith in institutions. For progressives, institutions are like elixirs. They are a panacea for societal and international disorder. Create or support an institution and they will facilitate the emergence of dialogue, democracy, stability, norms, justice, multilateralism, and international cooperation.

Murphy’s indulgence of the Lebanese Armed Forces exemplifies that over reliance on institutions. The proponent of a progressive U.S. foreign policy forgot or ignored a basic fact about institutions. They are only as good as the people who inhabit them. The LAF is inhabited by Lebanese. The Lebanese people are a product of their society and today’s Lebanon is broken. The confessional political system has deeply fractured the society and produced indifference to the state and fellow citizens — a reality that is reflected by the inaction of the LAF in southern Lebanon. The inertia of the LAF of the last eight weeks is not surprising. Why would those who populate the LAF truly care and fight for a state and society, let alone die for it, when that state and society has historically done little for them? Did Senator Murphy not notice this reality of Lebanon during his trips?

One could invest billions of American tax dollars in the LAF for the next ten years and continue to celebrate it as a respected national institution, and still achieve a similar result — an institution which is a hollow shell.  Unless Lebanon undergoes significant and prolonged reforms, the LAF will be little better than the current Lebanese state — a toothless entity.

Senator Murphy’s sizable financial support of Lebanon’s “most important, multi-ethnic institution” over the years has been inane. American tax dollars would have been better spent if they went to Israel to resupply its iron dome system as it intercepts Hezbollah and Palestinian rockets from Lebanon. The LAF repeatedly demonstrates that it is not a reliable ally or competent national institution. It cannot fulfill American national security interests or protect Lebanese citizens. Senator Murphy’s years-long steadfastness to a hollow institution makes him a hero of progressivism.

About the Author
Eric Bordenkircher is a Research Fellow at UCLA's Center for Middle East Development (CMED). He is a former Visiting Assistant Professor at Claremont McKenna College and Pepperdine University. He has been affiliated with the Center for Arab and Middle East Studies (CAMES) at the American University of Beirut and Centre d’études pour le monde arabe moderne (CEMAM) at the Université Saint-Joseph. His writing has appeared in Newsweek, National Review, The American Mind, The American Spectator, The National Interest, RealClearWorld, Middle East Policy, The San Diego Union Tribune, The American Conservative, The Jerusalem Post, The Washington Examiner, Review of Middle East Studies, Middle East Quarterly, 1945, Newsmax, and the Fikra Forum. The views represented in this blog are his own and do not necessarily represent the position of UCLA or the Center for Middle East Development.
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