While seeking influence in Washington through campaign contributions and sponsoring President Bush's inauguration, Lebanese officials are, at the same time, blocking attempts by the U.S. government to improve its image in the Arab and Muslim world.
Beirut has refused to allow the broadcast of U.S. government TV ads, saying they contain lies.
"The TV spots were banned because they contained words contrary to the truth," Information Minister Ghazi Aridi told the Associated Press. "The spots say that America is treating the Arabs and Muslims well. This is not true."
The U.S. Embassy has been lobbying the government for permission to run the spots. In the ads, Arab-Americans who live in the United States talk about freedom, job opportunities and the respect shown by Americans to Muslims. The $15 million ad campaign was launched in Indonesia last year.
Aridi suggested a better approach to improving America's image in the Arab world would be to "abandon its policy of complete bias toward Israel and stop its pressures exerted on Arabs and Muslims countries."
Anti-U.S. feeling is rising in Lebanon, a country that proudly hosts Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shi'ite jihadist group, which occupies a prominent spot on the U.S. State Department list of international terrorist organizations. According to intelligence experts, Hezbollah maintains an operational alliance with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network. Hezbollah also remains the prime suspect in the truck bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 a terrorist attack that killed 243.
Nevertheless, despite this official hostility toward the U.S. in Lebanon, WorldNetDaily recently revealed the deputy prime minister of the country and a self-made billionaire, Issam Fares, remains personally close with President Bush, having donated $100,000 to his inauguration, and continues to try to change U.S. policy toward Lebanon.
Fares, through his son, Nijad, a permanent resident alien of the U.S., and his U.S.-based businesses, has contributed heavily to the senatorial campaigns of now Department of Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. The family also contributed $100,000 to the Bush inaugural. And Fares sponsored a speech by Secretary of State Colin Powell at Tufts University for a reported $59,000.
Fares oversees a worldwide, diversified conglomerate of oil, real estate and media interests. In 2000, he became deputy prime minister of Lebanon.
The family's main U.S. business holding is the Houston-based Wedge Group, a big player in the oil services industry headed by William White, the former No. 2 official at the Energy Department during the Clinton administration.
That the Fares family is attempting to buy influence in high places in the United States seems self-evident.
"Arab-Americans must substantially increase contributions to political candidates," wrote Nijad Fares in an opinion page article for the Detroit News, Dec, 16, 1996. "Even modest contributions help ensure that members of Congress and their staffs take phone calls and are more responsive to requests. Furthermore, the contributor must make explicit an interest in Middle East-related issues."
The connection between the Fares family and the Bush family precedes the current administration. After leaving office in 1993, President George H.W. Bush received a $100,000 speaking fee from Fares. He also made a trip around the Persian Gulf in Fares' private jet with the Lebanese businessman by his side. Former Secretary of State James Baker also received a $100,000 speaking fee.
When the news of Fares' support of the inauguration broke in the Jerusalem Post in 2000, Fares said he was happy with the "noble relationship" between himself and the Bush family.
Beirut's Daily Star reported last year that Fares has cultivated a network of connections with senior American officials that "would make most people blush with envy."
Fares personally called on Washington to remove Hezbollah from its terrorist list Nov. 10, 2001. A day later, Hezbollah chief Hasan Nasrallah called on the international community to oppose the U.S. operation in Afghanistan and said its purpose was to establish "American hegemony" over the world.
Bush and Powell have both praised Fares and denounced questions raised about his influence in Washington