State Dept. Defends Policy

A State Department official defended U.S. policy in Lebanon, while some audience members said that the Bush administration hadn’t done enough to promote peace in the region, in a videoconference discussion hosted by the Institute of Politics (IOP) Friday.

The videoconference featured Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, the director of the State Department’s Office of Egypt and the Levant, whose purview includes Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.

In Washington, D.C. at the time of the conference, she spoke with students and faculty using telecommunications equipment recently acquired by the IOP.

Abercrombie-Winstanley, who headed the U.S. task force in Lebanon this past summer, spoke positively of U.S. involvement.

She praised the State Department’s quick evacuation of American citizens, as well as its financial contribution in rebuilding Lebanon.

She said that of the $900 million in total international aid, the U.S. has contributed $230 million.

“We are not turning our attention away from Lebanon,” Abercrombie-Winstanley said repeatedly.

While President Bush blamed “Hezbollah’s unprovoked terrorist attacks on Israel” for sparking the Lebanese conflict, audience members questioned whether Israel should shoulder some culpability too.

Olivia S. Shabb ’08 asked whether the capture of two Israeli soldiers justified the destruction that followed.

“There is nothing that explains or excuses huge loss of life in that manner,” Abercrombie-Winstanley said.

Adding that she was not going to “second guess” Israel’s decisions, she blamed Hezbollah for the start of the conflict.

She described Israel’s actions as part of a “long-standing record of very strong responses.”

Shabb disagreed with Abercrombie-Winstanley’s classification of Israel’s actions.

“I thought it was an interesting terminology to describe what is actually serious breaches in international humanitarian law and basic human rights law,” she said.

Nevertheless, multiple audience members appreciated Abercrombie-Winstanley’s firsthand knowledge of the situation.

“I was sitting there, and I was just thinking, ‘Wow’,” said IOP Executive Director Catherine A. McLaughlin.