In the fine print of the recently adopted 1200-page Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 3671) Congress made two little-noticed decisions that deserve attention and commendation.
First, it continued military aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces ("LAF"). The funds will be available "only to professionalize the LAF and to strengthen border security and to combat terrorism, including training and equipping the LAF to secure Lebanon’s borders, interdicting arms shipments, preventing the use of Lebanon as a safe haven for terrorist groups, and to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701." At the beginning of 2011 I had been one of those questioning whether it made sense to continue such assistance, for the LAF was refusing to confront Hezbollah in any useful way. But events in Syria have changed the Levant: Hezbollah will be weaker when Assad falls, and Syria under another regime is likely to play a far different role in Lebanon. The LAF would have a new opportunity to assert itself, for example protecting the Syria/Lebanon border for the first time. So the decision to continue the aid and condition it on performance was wise. Let’s see how the LAF reacts to the fall of Assad before making any decision to end U.S. aid and the ties and influence it may bring.
Second, Congress approved funding for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, on which I served a decade ago. The Commission was established by Congress to bring attention to violations of religious freedom around the globe--and to be an independent voice, not subject to balancing various U.S. interests as the State Department must do. This it has done, as a visit to its web site will quickly show. The Commission also issues an annual report that names the countries that are the worst offenders, and has become a critical document for anyone fighting to prevent encroachment of freedom of religion.
The action was taken just hours before the Commission was to shut down. The new law cuts Commission funding by 25 percent and requires the naming of seven new commissioners (of the nine total, by permitting only two two-year terms to be served and thereby forcing longer-serving commissioners off).
In both cases, Congress acted very late in the year but made the right choices. Far better late than never.