President Reagan's Commitment of Peacekeepers in Lebanon, 1983 – American Intervention After Israel’s Invasion, Marine Barracks Bombing, Missiles in the Bekaa Valley, Extracting the PLO
America has been involved in the Arab world since just after the American revolution, when its merchant vessels and their crews, newly bereft via national independence of the protection of the British Navy, became prey for the pirates of the Barbary Coast. More
This excellent report has been professionally converted for accurate flowing-text e-book format reproduction. The attacks of September 11, 2001 stand as a stark waypoint in the United States' involvement in the Middle East. For a generation of Americans, these attacks, unanticipated by the general population, mark a beginning point in US efforts to combat Islamic extremism. For an earlier generation, however, the 23 October 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, resulting in the death of 241 Americans, served as a similar waypoint. While these perceptions of the general public are understandable, they are incorrect. America has been involved in the Arab world since just after the American revolution, when its merchant vessels and their crews, newly bereft via national independence of the protection of the British Navy, became prey for the pirates of the Barbary Coast. Interestingly, Americans at that time were asking the same questions, as were their countrymen after Beirut and the September 11 attacks: how could this have happened?
In response to Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, President Reagan committed peacekeeping forces to Lebanon in 1982. He did so with little understanding of the operational environment, failing to account for the influence exerted by external agents such as Iran and Syria, and Reagan's policy was ultimately unsuccessful in facilitating a lasting peace in Lebanon. To say the long-term regional instability that followed the Israeli invasion was the result of the failed US-led peacekeeping mission is unjustified. However, poorly formulated policy by the Reagan administration resulted in unnecessary US casualties in Lebanon. The Reagan administration also missed an opportunity to develop a more stable Lebanon by disengaging almost completely with the country after withdrawing the Marines in 1984.
Lacking a clear visualization of the operational environment, the administration sent US forces into Lebanon with no clear mission. US military advisors, also lacking an understanding of the situation in Lebanon, failed to develop a coherent operational approach for the committed forces. Unaware of local "politics" and the expectations competing factions had for the peacekeepers, the administration was therefore unable to consider the potential negative effects of subsequent decisions about how to enforce peace, and specifically which of the factions to support and how. When the Marines, against the advice of Colonel Timothy J. Geraghty, the commander on the ground, were told by Washington to support the Lebanese Army in Suq-al-Garb with naval gunfire on 19 September, 1983, their role, in the eyes of the competing Lebanese factions, changed. As Colonel Geraghty stated, "American support removed any lingering doubts of our neutrality, and I stated to my staff at the time that we were going to pay in blood for this decision." They did "pay in blood," losing 241 Marines, Soldiers and Sailors in the truck bombing of the Marine Barracks on October 23, 1983.
Understanding Reagan's decision making with respect to Lebanon, and understanding the outcomes of the US involvement in 1982-1984 are important because the US is faced with similar challenges today. The Middle East and Arab North Africa remain in a state of "persistent conflict," and the US remains involved. Examining the complex problems presented by Lebanon in 1982 can provide relevant lessons today for policy makers.
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