Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Lebanon, U.S. Interventions in

Title: U.S. Marines in Lebanon
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The first U.S. intervention in Lebanon occurred in 1958 when President Dwight Eisenhower ordered U.S. Marines to the tiny nation to support a peaceful transition of power. This action was in direct response to Cold War concerns of instability that might benefit the Soviet Union in the Middle East as well as to the perceived threat from Arab nationalism, then being promoted by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. This intervention has generally been considered a success, and a peaceful transition of power was brokered by the United States. The second U.S. intervention in Lebanon took place during 1982–1984, when President Ronald Reagan similarly deployed U.S. Marines, first to act as a buffer between an invading Israeli military force and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), headquartered in Beirut, and later to serve as peacekeepers.

In January 1957, President Eisenhower requested a congressional resolution authorizing the use of force in the Middle East to prevent the spread of communism. This policy, which became known as the Eisenhower Doctrine, was formed in response to waning British influence in the region following the Suez Crisis of 1956. Prior to this, the Eisenhower administration had been willing to allow the British to take the lead in protecting the Middle East, particularly its vital oil fields. By 1957, however, the president had lost faith in British capabilities and declared his intention to take the lead in keeping the region out of Soviet control. The doctrine was therefore used as a guarantee to the noncommunist governments in the region as well as a threat to those who would support alliances with the Soviets.

Events in the region during 1957 and 1958 were seen by the United States as warning signs that both communism and radical Arab nationalism were on the rise. In 1957, King Hussein of Jordan, considered a moderate, established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. In February 1958, the most radical regimes in the region, Egypt and Syria (both supported by the USSR), merged to form the United Arab Republic (UAR). In July 1958, the pro-Western Iraqi monarchy was overthrown by a radical military junta.

In the face of these developments, along with relentless propaganda by Arab nationalists against his more pro-Western regime and internal threats to his rule, Lebanese President Camille Chamoun asked for direct American intervention to defend his government. President Eisenhower, invoking his new doctrine, immediately ordered U.S. Marines to Lebanon.

The main issue at stake in Lebanon was Chamoun's effort to change the constitution to allow him to continue to rule the nation after his term of office expired. Eisenhower instructed his personal representative in Lebanon, noted diplomat Robert Murphy, to pressure Chamoun to give up power in order to circumvent an all-out civil war in Lebanon. Chamoun eventually conceded, and a popular favorite for the presidency replaced him, allowing American troops to withdraw peacefully.

The second American intervention in Lebanon, during 1982–1984, was similar in many ways to the first, at least in the beginning. On 6 June 1982, Israeli forces invaded Lebanon in an effort to crush the PLO, which had been using Lebanon as a base of operations for attacks against Israel. Although a staunch supporter of Israel, by 1982 President Reagan had begun to fear that Israeli actions in Lebanon (and elsewhere) would inflame anti-Western sentiments in Arab nations and provide an opportunity for increased Soviet influence in the region. Therefore, his administration attempted to broker an arrangement whereby the PLO would be evacuated from Lebanon in exchange for an Israeli promise to withdraw to its own borders.

When worldwide pressure intensified against Israel after its relentless attacks in Lebanon, especially in the PLO's West Beirut stronghold, and after direct threats by the Reagan administration, the PLO was allowed to leave Beirut in late summer 1982. As part of the agreement, a multinational force (MNF) of American, French, and Italian troops was sent to Beirut to ensure the safety of those departing from its harbor. More than 15,000 Palestinians were successfully evacuated by the end of the operation on 1 September 1982.

Following the evacuation of the PLO, however, the ongoing civil war escalated among various Christian, Muslim, and Druze factions vying for control of Lebanon. Furthermore, Israeli and Syrian forces in Lebanon continued to clash, threatening an all-out war between the two nations. Reagan ordered the Marines back to Beirut (and convinced the other members of the MNF to do the same) to serve as peacekeepers. As time passed, the MNF was embroiled in the fighting and became viewed as supporting the Lebanese government.

When a bomb exploded outside the U.S. embassy in Beirut in April 1983, the justification for the MNF to stay in Lebanon changed. Secretary of State George Shultz argued that America would not give in to terrorists, and so the Marines stayed in place as the civil war raged on. Then, on 24 October 1983, an event occurred that forced the United States and the MNF from Lebanon for good. A suicide bomber, believed to be from a Shiite Muslim terrorist group, drove a vanload of explosives into the Marine barracks at the Beirut airport, killing 241 troops. Across town at the French headquarters, another bomb killed 58 soldiers. Public pressure in the United States and the collapse of the Lebanese Army in February 1984 finally forced Reagan to withdraw the Marines from Lebanon, and the other MNF nations soon followed. The Lebanese Civil War raged for years afterward.

Brent M. Geary


Further Reading
Kaufman, Burton I. The Arab Middle East and the United States: Inter-Arab Rivalry and Superpower Diplomacy. New York: Twayne, 1996.; Wright, Robin. Sacred Rage: The Wrath of Militant Islam. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.
 

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