Visit to the US Embassy in Beirut

It was a real treat to visit the US embassy in Beirut. Security to get into the Embassy was very intense. We waited around for everyone to go through individually. Getting our whole group through security took almost as long as our meeting with the State department employees. I was lucky to be one of the first through security because once we were through there was an informal conversation with two relatively new Foreign Service Officers. One of them was from Ohio and did the Peace Corps! They were very open with us about their process to the State department. A helpful tip they gave us for the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) was to make sure to know the US Constitutional Amendments, as well as extensive as possible background in History. I was surprised to learn that one woman had only studied French before her appointment to Lebanon and was not required to study Arabic at all. One of the new employees had gotten their Masters in Public Policy. This was helpful to learn since I have been looking at Masters Programs.

Four main goals for the US Embassy in Beirut were outlined for us:

  1. Push back against Hezbollah – because the United States has designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization the Embassy is essential in the region.
  2. Fight counter-terrorism
  3. Aid in the Middle East Peace Process
  4. Help US Citizens in the country

Overall, the visit to the US Embassy was very informative and I really enjoyed it. We learned that the employees at the Embassy are not allowed to leave the Embassy whenever they want. They need to schedule their movements a few days in advance and be outside the Embassy for a maximum of six hours two times per week. Also they theoretically can’t have predictable movements, like going to the same bar every week, but in practice this might not always be true. It is certainly an interesting lifestyle! Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to bring our cameras into the Embassy so I don’t have any photos (the photo is from the bus on one of our many drives around Beirut). Here’s their website if you’d like more information:

Oreos with the Ambassador

My first update! I’ll be boarding my flight momentarily, but I wanted to tell you all about my crazy day.

We started off with a chat with Dr. Anthony the founding President of the National Council on US-Arab Relations (referred to as National Council or the Council for short). He is a brilliant man who we were lucky to meet and spend a great deal of our time with.

Our first presentation was from Miriam who is a relatively new employee at the National Council. She is a Lebanese Canadian who is doing her research on the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. I learned so much from her presentation and it created lots of further points for research.

Next we went to the Lebanese Embassy. Yes we ate Oreos with the Ambassador! Here’s the photo from our visit:

After the Ambassador we met with several other scholars and prominent thinkers of the Middle East. Due to security reasons, we are not allowed to share the names/titles/employers of all those we met with (no joke!). But every session was very informative and generated lively discussions.

Several unscheduled highlights of the day:

  1. Attempting to hail a cab outside the National Press Building and two huge black SUV’s pull up. Security guys in suits step out, followed by Leon Panetta! We got a smile and wave from the Secretary of Defense!
  2. While waiting in line to go through TSA in Dulles, our study visit leader saw Ambassador Cook, former ambassador to Oman. We were introduced to her as well!

All together a busy and exciting day. I’ll try and post again later with some more detailed comments based on the tons of notes I took from all the sessions today.