Kahwagi, WikiLeaks, and the Ongoing Presidential Race

Former defense minister Elias Murr with Kahwagi


This is the 10th post in a series of monthly posts covering (forgotten/ignored) WikiLeaks cables about Lebanon. 

With all the events currently happening in Lebanon such as the trash crisis, the protests, and the intergovernmental chaos,  we tend to forget that we don’t have a president. Which is why, and in honor to the seventeenth month of presidential vacancy, this month’s WikiLeaks cables are about Lebanon’s (favorite) consensus candidate, the current commander of the Lebanese army Jean Kahwagi. He is rumored (1) to be close to Hezbollah, (2) to have a rivalry with Aoun (since they’re arguably the strongest two presidential candidates), and (3) to have the support of M14, probably because of the rivalry with Aoun (proof: The recent extension of Kahwagi’s term that happened without Aoun’s green light).

I picked four interesting cables for this post. The first one is about Kahwagi’s appointment as commander of the army in 2008 (why Aoun didn’t object, why Jumblatt didn’t veto him). The second one is about Kahwagi telling DM Murr before the elections, in 2009, that there would be a resignation en masse in the army if Murr wouldn’t be appointed as minister after the elections. The third and fourth cables are meetings with Hariri before and after the 2009 elections: Before the 2009 elections, Hariri said that Kahwagi “was too weak regarding Hizballah”. After the elections, Hariri said that Kahwagi “would never be fit to be President” (how awesome will this quote be in case Hariri would one day rule as prime minister under Kahwagi ? 😛 )

(of course, everything is according to WikiLeaks)

Voila. Enjoy the cables.

Cable 1:

2008 September 4, 15:49 (Thursday)

12. (C) Murr reported that the cabinet would meet on Friday, August 29 to select the next LAF Commander. (Note: Cabinet approved Jean Kahwagi, whom Murr supported, on August 29. End note.) This is the first time that Murr has the occasion to have so much input concerning officer slating throughout the Army. Murr intends to present the candidates for LAF Commander to the cabinet based solely on their military qualifications and nothing to do with their political affiliations. Murr said he would present ten names to the Cabinet. Murr still believes that BG Jean Kahwagi is the best candidate for the job as he has been trained in the United States under the International Military Education and Training Program as well as in Italy and Germany.

13. (C) Murr said he will have to closely manage Kahwagi during the first year because Kahwagi does not know anything about politics. In fact, Murr believes there will be problems changing his image among some people. “Sometimes you have to use visual flight rules, sometimes you have to follow the instruments,” quipped Murr, a reference to both general and technical mentoring that will be required on the political fronts. (Note: Murr is very comfortable with Kahwagi on both the technical and political levels when it comes to USG programs. “He is hated by all political sides, but Aoun cannot veto him,” said Murr. Kahwagi’s battalion was nearly erased by a Syrian Special Forces battalion that attacked then-President Aoun in the Baabda Presidential Palace in 1989. Kahwagi lost 300 men in this battle while the Syrian Battalion suffered 750 killed. Aoun and his family safely escaped this dangerous situation because of Kahwagi’s efforts. End Note.)

14. (C) Murr assessed that the opposition to Kahwagi by Progressive Socialist Party Leader Walid Jumblatt, a March 14 stalwart, is part of Jumblatt’s initiative to achieve some level of rapprochment with Hizballah. Murr said that while negotiations regarding the LAF commander were ongoing, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Shia ally of Hizballah, told Murr “You are going to nominate someone that is anti-Hizballah, so I am going to be with you.” In the cabinet vote on Kawhagi, Berri’s and Hizballah’s deputies expressed no reservations and joined the consensus approving him for the position.

(link for the full cable on WikiLeaks)

Cable 2:

2009 April 30, 16:57 (Thursday)

17. (C) Murr also expressed his intention to stay on as Minister of Defense in the new cabinet, “if” the majority, whichever side that may be, agreed. (Note: Although he was not explicit, he intimated that President Sleiman was on board with this plan. End note.) Murr expected, however, that Aoun would try to veto his selection. Murr told the Ambassador that General Kahwagi had paid him a visit because he had worried that Murr may not accept the position. Kahwagi told Murr that soldiers, including Kahwagi and the LAF Chief of Intelligence (G-2 General Edmond Fadel), would leave en masse if Murr were replaced.

(Link for the full cable on WikiLeaks)

Cable 3:

2009 February 17, 17:30 (Tuesday)


7. (C) Confirming his opposition to a post-election national unity government, Hariri said he would not be held accountable for actions taken by “the other side.” Assuming March 14 victory in the elections, Hariri said March 8 would be welcome in the new government, but would not receive a blocking third of cabinet portfolios. (Note: In a February 16 speech to commemorate the anniversary of the killing of Hizballah figure Imad Mugniyeh, Hizballah SYG Hassan Nasrallah offered March 14 a veto share in a future March 8 majority government. End note.)

8. (C) On potential U.S.-Syria engagement, Hariri said he did not oppose engagement as long as the interests of Lebanon were protected. However, he opined that the U.S. would learn quickly for itself that the Syrians were “a bunch of liars.” Hariri also expressed concern regarding LAF Commander Jean Kahwagi who, according to Hariri, was “too weak regarding Hizballah.” He asked the USG to “put (Kahwagi) on the spot” during the general’s upcoming visit to the United States.

(link for the full cable on Wikileaks)

Cable 4:

2009 June 26, 15:38 (Friday)

1. (C) Presumptive PM-designate Saad Hariri confirmed to the Ambassador June 26 that he had met with Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah the previous day. Nasrallah did not request any “guarantees” from the new government, and Hariri did not offer any, Hariri said. Although mandatory bloc consultations to name the new Prime Minister are still ongoing, Hariri said he was prepared to begin his own consultations as the Prime Minister-designate by June 29 and was confident that cabinet formation would not be a protracted process. He was not certain whether opposition Christian leader Michel Aoun would participate in the government, asserting that Aoun “does not know how to be happy.” Without Aoun’s participation, Hariri believed a cabinet of fewer than 30 seats could be a possibility. Separately, Minister of Interior Ziad Baroud was critical of Hariri’s management of his majority so far, and said he would decline to become a minister in the new cabinet if Aoun boycotted, due to concern that a non-participatory model would soon lead to public disorder. Hariri said he preferred both Lebanese Armed Forces Commander Jean Kahwagi and G-2 Brigadier General Edmond Fadel remain in their positions, but he was prepared to take a hard line with them. He advised the United States to push Kahwagi and Fadel a “little more.”

8. (C) Hariri characterized his relationship with President Sleiman as “excellent.” He said the “chemistry” between them was good, despite not agreeing on every issue. He advised the U.S. to encourage and “pull the ears” of LAF Commander Jean Kahwagi and G-2 Brigadier General Edmond Fadel. He reported that he had not met with Kahwagi since the elections, but had met Fadel. He claimed to have told Fadel that he needed “to work more and to shape up,” reminding Fadel (as he had with Nasrallah) that he was “not Fouad Siniora.” Specifically, he admonished Fadel for not forming a Special Security Directorate under the LAF G-2 under pressure or fear from Hizballah. Hariri affirmed that the creation of the directorate would occur under his premiership.

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9. (C) On Kahwagi, Hariri postulated that Kahwagi’s alleged moves closer towards the March 8 opposition prior to the election may not have been genuine, but rather wrongly gaming the outcome of the June 7 elections. He believed that Kahwagi should remain as LAF Commander, but opined that Kahwagi’s relationship with Sleiman was “not very good.” Kahwagi, he said, would “never be fit to be President” but is thinking that way.

(Link to the full cable on WikiLeaks)