How does celebrating an anniversary two weeks early show you the links and values that Americans and Lebanese share? For Americans, July 4 is a time for celebration – the anniversary of when the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence stating that America was no longer a colony, but a nation. We celebrate at home and abroad, remembering the sacrifices made to ensure freedom and reflecting on how to uphold our values.
This year is the seventh time that I celebrated America’s independence here, with so many Lebanese friends and colleagues. It not only made me think about the American experience, but also about the values that bind America and Lebanon together. Among these are the defense of personal liberties and freedoms of expression, press and religion; a desire for representative and accountable government; mutual respect and coexistence across diverse faiths; belief in the benefits of a free market and entrepreneurial spirit; openness to the world around us; and an interest in investing in education.
With that value of mutual respect in mind, we held our commemoration in June, to accommodate those who will observe Ramadan in July.
Living as neighbors with those who are different from us in some way and respecting and accommodating those differences, is not the only similarity between Americans and Lebanese. My years in Lebanon have shown me – the people have shown me – many areas where U.S. and Lebanese ideals, goals and dreams intersect.
Parents, whether in Bellevue or Baalbek, Tripoli or Tallahassee, want a good education for their children. And both of our societies recognize that investment in education is an investment in a positive future for our countries. The roots of American institutions of learning in Lebanon are deep, going back to the 1835 founding of the American School for Girls, which would become the Lebanese American University. And those roots are wide, with American schools established in Nabatieh in the south and Tripoli in the north. The United States government has helped many of these schools with assistance and scholarships, and we are proud to support a variety of education programs here, to support Lebanon’s youth and families.
But our educational links are not just about governments working together. They also showcase how private Americans and Lebanese choose to come together to ensure open debate, discussion and exchange of ideas on these campuses. Generation after generation of Americans and Lebanese has been transformed by these experiences.
Trade is another strong link between us and has also helped transform people and places in both countries. Merchant ships from Boston, Massachusetts stopped in Beirut’s harbor in the 18th century, even before the United States’ independence.
More recently, an American company cleaned up the Normandy landfill near that same harbor – one of the first contracts awarded to a U.S. firm at the end of Lebanon’s Civil War. What was once a reminder of turmoil is now a place of celebration, such as our own national day reception Tuesday at BIEl.
The American Lebanese Chamber of Commerce in Lebanon is one of our strongest partners here as we work together to attract investment, expand trade and build stronger economic relations to our mutual benefit. Tuesday, many American companies operating in Lebanon joined me in hosting our Independence Day reception.
Military and security ties also connect us. We have seen success in our cooperation as the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces gain greater means to protect Lebanon’s people, borders and territory and work to keep the country stable and at peace in ways that are accountable to all Lebanese. Since 2005, we have invested more than $1 billion in these institutions.
Success does come with sacrifice. I recently toured the museum in Roumieh dedicated to the brave officers and soldiers of Lebanon’s Ranger Regiment who sacrificed their lives fighting for Lebanon – a moving reminder of the turmoil this country has endured and also of the strength of a united people. The U.S. will continue to work with Lebanon and its people to ensure that strength and lessen the sorrow.
While we in the United States traditionally celebrate our independence in July, these ideals are with us all year long and can, and should, be remembered and lived each day. Our countries’ mutual values and common goals drive our relationships – both private and governmental – and link Lebanon and the U.S. I look forward to continuing and deepening that relationship, every day of the year.
David Hale is the American ambassador to Lebanon.