Catering to Carter

Granted I’m a little late, but I’ve finally gotten around to writing about something that was in the news last week and which I thought was important and interesting. Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Center enjoys considerable respect for its professionalism in election monitoring, visited Lebanon for four days last week. His main purpose was to meet with various party representatives as groundwork for election monitors to be sent in spring 2009 to observe the parliamentary elections.

Carter’s offer to send monitors was made of his own volition. This has incited some criticism in the blogging world about Carter’s offer being unsolicited, and of Carter himself being a useless and powerless actor in the Middle East drama. I don’t really agree with this. Elections in Lebanon, and in most if not all countries in the world, regularly suffer from sporadic irregularities to outright fraud (and I’m not just talking about places like Zimbabwe…hanging chads anyone?). Why should third parties observing elections be bad? If they’re not there, irregularities might take place. If they are there, their mere presence might dissuade some of these practices from taking place. How can it hurt the Lebanese state from coming out of the elections with a “clean” report card from the Carter Center? It could be a useful tool to encourage anything from more aid to foreign investment.

Carter went around meeting a lot of people. In fact, he had stated that he wanted to meet as many as possible. Michel Aoun, the main Christian politician from the opposition March 8 camp, accepted the invite. His ally Hezbollah however, refused. The reason for this was weak, to put it mildly. Hezbollah has a policy of not meeting with present or past US presidents, or to be more accurately “anyone from a US administration which supports Zionist terrorism”. What’s funny about this, of course, is that Carter published a book in which he labels the Israeli policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as being equivalent to apartheid, and has met with the top Hamas official Khaled Meshaal in Damascus a while ago. If Hamas is meeting with Carter, then surely Hezbollah could have shown more flexibility. Regardless, the party still came out saying that they do not oppose election monitors, so long as the monitoring is approved by the Cabinet.