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The U.S. Committee for a Free Lebanon (USCFL) was founded in 1997 by Ziad Abdelnour, a Lebanese American investment banker and political activist devoted to ending Syrian and Hezbollah influence in Lebanon, including through U.S. and/or Israeli military intervention. An early mission statement of the group claimed that USCFL intended to mobilize "resources to provide humanitarian assistance to Lebanese people who are in need as a result of the unjust economic and political policies of the present Lebanese regime and its Syrian controllers."
As of 2015, USCFL appeared to be largely defunct. The organization no longer maintained a website. However, Abdelnour’s personal website continued promoting the organization. It does not appear to publish any works or engage in any activities. The sole information about the group on Abdelnour’s website was an “about” page, which contained its mission statement, as well as a page listing the members of its “advisory board,” who “have been invaluable over the years (and still are) in providing the organization with all kinds of support in shaping U.S. foreign policy towards Lebanon.”
While still active, USCFL's website was largely devoted to posting links to articles and studies from Israel, the United States, and elsewhere on issues of concern to the group, including Hebrew-language analyses of U.S. Mideast policy, op-eds from pundits and think tanks, and discussions on Syrian and Lebanese policies. The website also provided information about USCFL's lobbying philosophy, "news and action alerts," assessments of key issues like Iran's nuclear program, and "testimonials" from friends and colleagues regarding the purported value of USCFL's work.
As of July 2015, USCFL’s mission statement stated that the Middle East, “with its profusion of dictatorships, radical ideologies, existential conflicts, border disagreements, corruption, political violence, and weapons of mass destruction—as a major source of problems for the United States.” This sentence is used verbatim in the mission statement of Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum, revealing the ties between the two groups.
As part of his early work with USCFL, Abdelnour recruited a number of high profile neoconservatives figures, including Michael Ledeen, Elliott Abrams, Douglas Feith, and Frank Gaffney, all of whom were at one point listed as "Golden Circle" supporters of USCFL. This close association with neoconservatism drew USCFL into an overlapping group of militarist advocacy organizations, which after the election of George W. Bush and the 9/11 terror attacks played a key role championing an expansive "war on terror." Among USCFL's initiatives during this time was advocating for the passage of the "Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003," which President Bush signed in December 2003. After the bill was signed, USCFL's website went largely unchanged for a number years, although it continued to post links to issues of the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, which USCFL jointly published with the Daniel Pipes-led Middle East Forum until 2004.
USCFL’s board was dominated by neoconservatives like Paula Dobrianksy, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs under President George W. Bush; former Reagan and George W. Bush official Elliot Abrams; Rachel Ehrenfeld, a controversial author on terrorist funding issues; Brigitte Gabriel of the American Congress for Truth; Frank Gaffney, head of the Center for Security Policy; Michael Ledeen and Cliff May of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies; Danielle Pletka and Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute; former CIA director James Woolsey; former George W. Bush official Richard Perle; Hudson Institute director Meyrav Wurmser; and David Wurmser, co-founder of the Middle East Media Research Institute. In the past, USCFL also posted a list of “recommended experts” on its site, among whom were Fouad Ajami, Ilan Berman, Patrick Clawson, William Kristol, and Robert Satloff.
After the election of President Barack Obama, USCFL appeared to distance itself from neoconservatism. A statement posted on the group's "About" page said, "Bad rumors say that the USCFL is the front of some 'shady' force plotting with some organizations out there against Lebanon's interests. Just to set the record straight, we are NOT a front of any foreign entity; whether Syrian, Israeli or whatever and we are fully funded by our members, supporters and other constituents…. We are neither right wing nor left wing. We are neither Republicans nor Democrats. We are neither neo-cons nor doves. We are just the ultimate lobbyists and powerbrokers for a Free and Democratic Lebanon; Syria; Iraq and every other country in the Middle East out there. Period."
Like Ahmed Chalabi, the controversial Iraqi political figure close to many neoconservatives who helped build opposition to Baghdad in Washington before the ouster of Saddam Hussein, Abdelnour is an expatriate investment banker who has lobbied the U.S. government to implement a foreign policy that in some respects mirrors the hardline positions of Israel's Likud Party, specifically its call to eliminate Hezbollah and obstruct Syrian intervention in Lebanon. In the middle of the 2006 summer war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, Abdelnour told the New York Times: "'There is no other way but to absolutely annihilate Hezbollah. I bleed when I see my country suffering like this, but you can't build a Hong Kong and harbor terrorists. The Lebanese cannot have their cake and eat it, too.'"
In 1999, Abdelnour founded the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin (MEIB), which was USCFL's monthly online publication. In 2002, Daniel Pipes of Middle East Forum (MEF) became a co-publisher. Gary C. Gambill, an MEF and Freedom House associate, was editor, and Rubin served on the editorial board. The bulletin concentrated on "internal political developments in the Middle East, especially those that are thinly covered in other English-language publications." Its last issue, published in June/July 2004, contained articles that linked Hezbollah to the West African diamond trade, extolled the purported successes of the Bush administration's democracy agenda in the Middle East, and assessed the commitment of Turkey's leading Islamist party to pro-Western foreign policies.
In 2000, USCLF and MEF co-published the report "Ending Syria's Occupation of Lebanon: The U.S. Role?" The report called for the United States to force Syria from Lebanon and to disarm it of its alleged weapons of mass destruction. The document, "Ending Syria's Occupation of Lebanon: The U.S. Role?" argued that "Syrian rule in Lebanon stands in direct opposition to American ideals" and criticized the United States for engaging the regime. Among the document's signers were several soon-to-be Bush administration figures, including Elliott Abrams, Douglas Feith, Michael Rubin, David Wurmser, and Paula Dobriansky. Other signers included Richard Perle, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Michael Ledeen, and Frank Gaffney.
The report urged a policy of confrontation, beginning with tough economic and diplomatic sanctions that could not be waived by the president and, if necessary, military force. "The Vietnam legacy and the sour memories of dead American Marines in Beirut notwithstanding," the report stated, "the United States has entered a new era of undisputed military supremacy coupled with an appreciable drop in human losses on the battlefield." It warned: "This opens the door to a similar decision to act for Lebanon's endangered freedoms and pluralism. But this opportunity may not wait, for as weapons-of-mass-destruction capabilities spread, the risks of such action will rapidly grow." This argument was eerily similar to those made by hawks prior to the U.S.-led Iraq invasion. "If there is to be decisive action, it will have to be sooner rather than later."
Many of the report’s recommendations found their way into the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003, which received overwhelming support in both the House and the Senate. The law aimed to: "Halt Syrian support for terrorism, end its occupation of Lebanon, stop its development of weapons of mass destruction, cease its illegal importation of Iraqi oil and illegal shipments of weapons and other military items to Iraq, and by so doing hold Syria accountable for the serious international security problems it has caused in the Middle East, and for other purposes." It is designed to punish Damascus for its alleged links to terrorist groups and its alleged efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. It bans all transfers of "dual-use" technology to Syria.
The act also recommended an arsenal of sanctions against Syria, including: reducing diplomatic contacts with Syria, banning U.S. exports (except food and medicine) to Syria, prohibiting U.S. businesses from investing or operating in Syria, restricting the travel of Syrian diplomats in the United States, banning Syrian aircraft from operating in the United States, and freezing Syrian assets in the United States. Although the bill obligated the executive branch to enact at least two of the recommended sanctions, it does permit the president to waive the sanctions if it is determined that they would harm U.S. national security.
Commenting on passage of the act in the House, analyst Ian Williams observed in Foreign Policy in Focus that it "could be dismissed as mere pandering by legislators eager to prove how earnestly pro-Israel they are in the run-up to a costly election campaign." But, "in fact, the honorable gentlemen and women have lent their names and votes to a set of assertions that paves a forensic trail for tanks on the Road to Damascus. … The Accountability Act, and a host of statements from the usual suspects in the administration, invoke every spurious reason for action against Damascus that led to the current quicksand in Baghdad. Support for terrorism, possession of weapons of mass destruction, and indeed harboring Iraqi Ba'athists and the missing weapons. Congressmen who may well oppose the idea of another war would find it difficult to deny their votes of alleged Syrian perfidy that matches anything concocted against Iraq."
Following the bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the USCFL released a statement on February 14, 2005, that concluded that "Syria's days are numbered." According to USCFL, "With the killing of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Lebanon, Syrian Ba'athists are out of control. Who's next? It is anybody's guess at this time given the timid policies of the United States vis-à-vis Syria. Syrians are killing Americans, Iraqis, and Lebanese and we still 'talk' to them through diplomacy. Please join us in being as voiceful as you can by writing and appearing on every media outlet you can think of to push for the agenda of REGIME CHANGE in Syria. This is the ONLY way to save the United States from the egregious Ba'athist policies, to liberate Lebanon, and to save Syrians from the Nazi Ba'athists. Obviously, with Prime Minister Hariri joining the opposition and teaming up with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, his block was going to win the majority of the seats for Beirut and win the Christian vote … which was the only way for the Syrians to stop him."
The assassination of Hariri led to a massive civilian uprising in Lebanon called the Cedar Revolution. Syria's military presence came to an end in April 2005.
Please note: IPS Right Web neither represents nor endorses any of the individuals or groups profiled on this site.
 USCFL, Mission Statement, http://web.archive.org/web/19980611102105/www.freelebanon.org/indexa.html. (Web Archive, June 11, 1998).
 USCFL, Golden Circle, http://web.archive.org/web/20021211044200/www.freelebanon.org/gc-f.htm. (Web Archive, February 5, 2003).
 Landon Thomas, "From Lebanese-American Financiers, Differing Views on the Strife," New York Times, August 6, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/01/business/worldbusiness/01wall.html.
 Jim Lobe, "Calls to Attack Syria Come from a Familiar Choir of Hawks," Foreign Policy In Focus, April 16, 2003,https://web.archive.org/web/20050129015724/http://www.middleeast.org/launch/redirect.cgi?num=364&a=17.
 Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003, https://web.archive.org/web/20061213120159/http://www.gotc.org/pdf/act2003.pdf.
 Ian Williams, "Road to Damascus," Foreign Policy In Focus, November 24, 2003, https://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/154/25651.html.