Beirut's Lesson For Future Foreign Policy CSC 1993 SUBJECT AREA - History EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Title: Beirut's Lesson For Future Foreign Policy Author: Lieutenant Commander Steven K. Westra, United States Navy Thesis: Lessons learned from America's failed Lebanon policy during 1982-83 are valid today as a means to guide foreign policy formulation and to assist policymakers in determining the suitability of using military forces to secure the objectives of policy in regional conflicts. Background: America's Lebanon policy during 1982-83 was in disarray. Centralized control of policy in a few individuals virtually eliminated the traditional interagency debate on the ends, ways, and means of achieving American goals. As a result, those goals became overly aggressive and attempted to solve virtually all of Lebanon's complex problems simultaneously. American policy was formulated without adequate consideration of the complexity of the Lebanese conflict or its political and religious antecedents. Additionally, our policy was pursued from a purely American perspective without consideration of the goals and motivations of numerous factions involved in the fighting. As a consequence of these policy shortcomings, American military forces were mistakenly committed as a first resort before all diplomatic and other means had been exhausted. The U.S. military mission included peacekeeping and support to the minority Christian government of Lebanon and the Lebanese Armed Forces. However, the Christian government lacked support from a majority of the Lebanese population. This resulted in our forces rapidly becoming non-neutral in the eyes of most Lebanese factional leaders and their state sponsors such as Syria and Iran. Ultimately, our forces became targets of Lebanon's violence. The decision to commit military forces in Lebanon was made despite opposition by the senior military and civilian leadership of the Armed Forces. The mistake of using military force in a conflict that did not have a military solution resulted in the death of 241 American soldiers and contributed to a humiliating defeat for U.S. policy in the Middle East. Recommendation: Lessons learned from America's policy and military disaster in Lebanon during 1982-83 remain valid today and are increasingly important as ethnic conflicts spread in the aftermath of the Cold War. By submitting future conflicts to a "Lebanon Test," policymakers will have an in-depth model delineating the multitude of considerations and pitfalls affecting policy formulation and the use of military force to secure the objectives of policy in regional conflicts. OUTLINE Thesis: Lessons learned from America's failed Lebanon policy during 1982-83 are valid today as a means to guide foreign policy formulation and to assist policymakers in determining the suitability of using military forces to secure the objectives of policy in regional conflicts. I. Background to 1983 Lebanon civil war A. Political/Military situation B. Terrorism C. Historical considerations II. Arab/Israeli conflict A. PLO military operations against Israel B. Lebanon's civil war C. Israeli invasion of Lebanon III. American Middle East Policy A. Israeli invasion of Lebanon causes rapid changes in U.S. policy B. Policy goals aggressive and optimistic C. Centralized control creates problems IV. American military involvement A. Original U.S. military mission and Lebanon security environment B. Changed mission and deteriorating security environment C. U.S. role in Lebanon becomes non-neutral V. Beirut's lessons for the future A. Policy goals need to be realistic B. Centralized control creates problems C. Policy needs to look beyond the American perspective D. Military forces should be committed as a last resort BEIRUT'S LESSON FOR FUTURE FOREIGN POLICY America's National Security Strategy has shifted from a focus on the Soviet threat to a focus on regional threats and opportunities. The military services are currently making the required changes in doctrine and focus to adequately address the complex requirements for future employment. However, ongoing debates among policymakers over American military involvement in Bosnia and other regional conflicts bring into question whether future policy will always adequately assess when military force is appropriate as an element of grand strategy to protect U.S. interests. Lessons learned from America's policy and military disaster in Lebanon during 1982-83 remain valid today and are increasingly important as ethnic conflicts spread in the aftermath of the Cold War. The key problem of our involvement in Lebanon was that American military forces were mistakenly committed in order to solve a complex set of political problems that had no military solution. By submitting future regional conflicts to a "Lebanon Test," policymakers will have an in-depth model delineating the multitude of considerations and pitfalls affecting policy formulation and the use of military force to secure the objectives of policy in regional conflicts. The political/military situation in Lebanon in 1982 exemplified virtually every unresolved dispute with which the Middle East was grappling. Lebanon, roughly the size of Connecticut, had a population of three million people, seventeen officially recognized religious sects, and twenty- four paramilitary organizations and militias. Also, the country was occupied by the Israeli and Syrian armies. Lebanon had become a convenient war zone, where Israel, Syria, the PLO, Iraq, Iran, Libya, the USSR, and others either vied for control and influence directly or used the anarchy and abundance of willing surrogates to further "fuel the fire" in pursuit of goals that were often obscure to American policymakers. In Lebanon during 1982-83, there existed the spectrum of low-intensity conflict. Concurrent wars were waged by an assortment of regular armies, guerrillas, private militias, and various terrorist groups. Terrorism, specifically, was an accepted form of warfare by numerous factions. It was commonplace for terrorists to hold press conferences to justify their actions to the world, indicating how complex the Lebanon security environment was at the time. Governments and individuals who had major interests in the outcome of the struggle in Lebanon, or were against U.S. involvement in Lebanon, found the country a very conducive environment for terrorist warfare, where the rewards carried minimum risk and cost. In 1982-83, terrorists were intensely dedicated, well- trained, and well-supported. State sponsorship helped the terrorists to be less concerned about building a popular base of support, enabling them to be less inhibited in committing acts that caused massive destruction and inflicted heavy casualties. (4:128) This view of Lebanon, and the Lebanese people, is vastly different from the Lebanon that existed before civil war erupted in 1975. Lebanese are known throughout the world for having the highest regard for the arts, sciences, and academic freedom. These values were fostered in pre-civil war Lebanon. A knowledge of the history and geography of Lebanon is necessary to understand what caused the country to become immersed in civil war. The Lebanese people are not united with a sense of national identity. Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Maronite and Greek Orthodox Christians, and Druze interpret their Lebanese identity differently. In antiquity, Lebanon was comprised of Mount Lebanon, a highland chain running from north to south through present day Lebanon. Maronite Christians, in relative isolation on Mount Lebanon for over 1,000 years, developed their own sense of identity. France created the state of Lebanon in 1924 by adding territory from the former Ottoman empire. This act brought together Christians, Muslims, and Druze within an artificial boundary. As a result, Maronite Christians comprised a minority of the population of the newly created state. The Sunni Muslims had been preeminent in the Ottoman Empire and believed they were part of a "greater Syria," not a "greater Lebanon." They were opposed to being ruled by the Maronites. The unwritten "National Pact" of 1943 was struck by Maronite and Sunni elites as the French prepared to depart Lebanon. This agreement stipulated that the President and Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief would always be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies a Shiite Muslim, and for every five non-Christian deputies there would be six Christians. As a result, the future survival of the country was dependent upon sectarian cooperation and the maintenance of a delicate balance of power, all guided by an unwritten constitution. The Arab-Israeli conflict slowly destroyed Lebanon's fragile political system. The arrival of large numbers of Palestinians into Lebanon in 1948 and 1967, followed by thousands of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) fighters and the PLO leadership in 1971, contributed to Lebanon becoming an armed "state within a state." In 1968, the PLO commenced military operations against Israel from bases in southern Lebanon. The PLO, in order to strengthen its position, formed alliances with various Lebanese dissident groups who hoped to use PLO military strength to support their various revolutionary causes. The PLO-Israeli confrontation in southern Lebanon eventually began to polarize the Lebanese along confessional lines, with Maronite Christians opposing the PLO presence in Lebanon and the Muslims generally supporting the PLO. Many of the sectarian groups and local power brokers that had contributed to the delicate political balance of power in Lebanon eventually sought their own agenda and solutions with support from foreign sources. These sources included, but were not limited to, Syria, Israel, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and the USSR. The result was civil war in Lebanon beginning in 1975. Syria, fearing that its previous support of the PLO and the PLO's allies in Lebanon would eventually result in a war with Israel, intervened in support of the Christians and to end the civil war. As a result, in 1976 Lebanon became a country that was divided geographically and along sectarian lines, with the Syrian army occupying portions of the country. The stalemate in Lebanon was broken in June 1982 when Israeli forces launched an offensive into southern Lebanon. Israel sought to end the military and political power of the PLO, to create a secure environment in northern Israel, and to break the internal Lebanese political gridlock in a way that would allow for formal relations between Israel and Lebanon. Events surrounding the Israeli invasion proved to be the catalyst that eventually resulted in U.S. involvement in Lebanon. Israel's invasion of Lebanon brought about a rapid transition in America's Middle East policy. During this time frame, Lebanon's Christian president was assassinated, hundreds of unarmed Palestinians and other civilians were massacred at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, and the Israelis laid siege to Beirut. As a result, President Reagan decided that increased American involvement in Lebanon was necessary to end the fighting. President Reagan's new policy sought the resolution of all of Lebanon's complex problems while simultaneously bolstering American prestige in the region. American policy sought to end the civil war, secure the withdrawal of Israeli and Syrian forces, prop-up the minority Maronite Christian government, secure a homeland for the Palestinians, and win a de-facto victory over the Soviet Union by evicting the Syrians from Lebanon. These goals, by any standards of foreign policy, were highly aggressive and extremely difficult to achieve. There existed no coordinated plan on how to resolve the complex religious and political antecedents of the civil war itself. American policy pursued the withdrawal of Israeli and Syrian forces from Lebanon. However, it failed to include Syrian President Assad in the negotiations and failed to anticipate Israeli reluctance to withdraw from Lebanon while the Syrians remained. Our policy of supporting the Maronite Christian government ignored the fact that there was little popular support in Lebanon for that government. There was no coordinated strategy for resolving the Palestinian issue. Perhaps the greatest problem with our policy was the fact that America's past support of Israel had created a perception in the Arab world that any U.S. policy in Lebanon would be favorable to Israeli interests. This created a credibility problem for America in its attempt to accomplish such an optimistic policy in Lebanon. President Reagan gave special Middle East envoy Philip Habib extraordinary powers to formulate foreign policy for Lebanon. According to a State Department official, "Habib . . . took the decisionmaking process by storm." The official also stated, "In Habib, you had a guy who was on the scene, who has an imposing history, who's respected, and who has the confidence of the President and acts accordingly." Habib and selected members of the NSC exercised centralized control of American Middle East policy, with no traditional interagency debate as to ends, ways, or means of achieving the goals. Habib made the decisions and often merely informed the State Department of where policy was headed.(5) Because of this centralized control of policy, goals were established based on an optimistic assessment of what America would like to achieve versus what we were capable of achieving. A key element of Reagan's new policy was the commitment of U.S. forces as a means to guarantee the security of the Gemayel government. According to Middle East scholar George W. Ball, the U.S., in Lebanon, repeated the mistake of Vietnam: "the belief that, with resolute will and vast resources, America could mix in the internal affairs of a small country with exotic customs and values and effectively impose a papier-mache regime on all the warring factions."(2:18) In Lebanon, the U.S. had committed to supporting the minority Christian government without adequately assessing the impact this support would have on the Muslim population and various political and religious groups and alliances opposed to the government. The Christian government not only lacked support from the Muslim population but suffered from a lack of support from a significant portion of the Christian community. American forces were used for the first time in Lebanon in June 1982 as Israeli forces prepared to institute a military blockade of Beirut. A NEO operation was conducted on 23 June by the 32nd MAU to evacuate U.S. citizens through the port city of Juniyah. A multi-national force (MNF) consisting of the 32nd MAU, along with French and Italian contingents, assisted in the evacuation of 15,000 armed Palestinian and Syrian forces from Beirut on 2 July in an effort aimed at preventing full scale war in Beirut. U.S. forces, along with the other MNF contingents, were withdrawn by 10 September 1982 after successfully completing their missions. However, during the period 14-18 September 1982, Lebanese President Bashir Gemayel was assassinated, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) occupied West Beirut, and Palestinian and Lebanese civilians were massacred at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. This massacre had particular significance since the IDF, reportedly, allowed anti-PLO elements access to the camps in order to commit the massacre. These events resulted in a decision by the U.S., France, and Italy to reconstitute the MNF. For America, a move back into Beirut was seen as necessary since the U.S. had guaranteed the safety of the camps as part of the withdrawal agreement to evacuate the 15,000 PLO fighters from Beirut on 2 July. The 32nd MAU moved into Beirut on 29 September. American policy now sought to use Marine forces within the MNF as a peacekeeping force and to provide support to the new Lebanese government of Amin Gemayel, all geared toward stabilizing the political and military environment. A critical element of this policy included Marine Mobile Training Teams in support of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). The following mission statement was provided to USCINCEUR by the JCS Alert Order of 23 September 1983: To establish an environment which will permit the Lebanese Armed Forces to carry out their responsibilities in the Beirut area. When directed, USCINCEUR will introduce U.S. forces as part of a multinational force presence in the Beirut area to occupy and secure positions along a designated section of the line from south of the Beirut International Airport to a position in the vicinity of the Presidential Palace; be prepared to protect U.S. forces; and, on order, conduct retrograde operations as required. Additional tasking included the direction that U.S. forces would not be engaged in combat, peacetime rules of engagement would apply, USCINCEUR would be prepared to extract forces if required by hostile action, air and naval gunfire support would be provided to forces ashore as required, and liaison teams would be provided to the LAF. The commitment of U.S. forces was contingent upon the Government of Lebanon and the LAF providing for the security of the MNF from factional fighting. This included guarantees that armed factions would respect the neutrality of the MNF and neither engage nor interfere with their activities. Special envoy Habib was given confirmation that agreements had been reached with all the armed factions. As a result, American forces were initially sent into a relatively benign military environment. According to the Long Commission Report, "It was anticipated that the USMNF would be perceived by the various factions as evenhanded and neutral and that this perception would hold through the expected 60 day duration of the operation." In the beginning of the operation, American troops were welcomed by the majority of Lebanese in Beirut as a stabilizing force. This initial, non-hostile period of operations had ended by March 1983.(4:39) U.S. forces increasingly became the target of factional violence. The most significant early incidents were a grenade attack on a USMNF patrol on 16 March and the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut on 18 April. In August, factional groups began launching rocket, artillery and mortar attacks against Marine positions at BIA. Marines returned fire for the first time on 28 August. During September, fighting between the LAF and Druze increased dramatically, especially in the vicinity of Suq-Al-Gharb, a strategic area of high ground overlooking the Marine positions at BIA. Also, Marine forces were conducting counter-battery fire regularly while under attack from various militia groups. On 16 September, U.S. Naval gunfire support was used in response to shelling of BIA and the U.S. Ambassadors residence. On 19 September, Naval gunfire was used again to support LAF forces fighting for control of Suq-Al-Gharb. LAF forces were engaged in intense fighting with Druze and various factions throughout August and September, and were supplied by U.S. ammunition from the MAU, CONUS, and USCINCEUR stocks. The U.S. was rapidly becoming non-neutral in the eyes of many Lebanese and the Naval gunfire support to the LAF left no doubt to the various factions that the U.S. had taken sides in the conflict. As a result, U.S. forces were seen by a majority of the belligerents in Lebanon and the region as just another militia competing for control and influence. American policy had made the error of taking sides in the conflict in support of a government that lacked popular support. The policy also sought to support the LAF, which lacked the capability to effectively defend against the various warring factions, inevitably drawing the U.S. into the fight. The Long Commission Report found that policy decisions during this time frame were characterized by an emphasis on military options and the expansion of the U.S. military role. This occurred despite the fact that the conditions upon which the security of the USMNF were originally based continued to deteriorate as progress toward a diplomatic solution slowed. The Commission reported that policy decisions may have been taken without clear recognition that the initial conditions had dramatically changed and that our expanding military involvement greatly increased the risk to U.S. forces in Lebanon. The Long Commission made the following recommendation regarding U.S. policy in Lebanon: "The Commission recommends that the Secretary of Defense continue to urge that the National Security Council undertake a reexamination of alternative means of achieving U.S. objectives in Lebanon, to include a comprehensive assessment of the military security options being developed by the chain of command and a more vigorous and demanding approach to pursuing diplomatic alternatives."(4) This finding, which was published after the bombing of the Marine barracks on 23 October, occurred too late to change our Lebanon policy in time to avoid the extensive loss of life. Nevertheless, policymakers had received numerous reports in 1983 from the National Intelligence Agencies, indicating clearly that U.S. forces were perceived by the warring factions as having become actively involved in the conflict on the side of the LAF. These warnings had no appreciable impact on our policy. In order to avoid disasters like Lebanon in the future, American foreign policy goals need to be realistic and achievable. The policy formulation process should include an assessment of how a balance of the political, diplomatic, economic, and military resources of the U.S. can be best used in order to secure our interests. American policy in Lebanon was idealistic, and there was no strategy to accomplish our extremely aggressive goals. In future regional conflicts, military forces should never be committed without clear and compelling evidence that all other means have been ineffective, and that there is a military solution to the problem. The President is ultimately responsible for foreign policy decisions. However, the centralized control of America's Lebanon policy during 1982-83 resulted in the failure of policymakers to provide the President with a viable strategy for policy and failed to anticipate, for the President, the complexity of the Lebanon problem and the danger to military forces deployed in Lebanon. This centralized control of policy not only contributed to the establishment of overly aggressive goals, it effectively eliminated the expertise on the Lebanon situation that had warned against U.S. military involvement. In future conflicts, foreign policy must not unilaterally ignore the recommendations of senior foreign policy experts and the civilian and military leadership of the Armed Forces. To do so imperils the lives of American soldiers, is counter- productive to U.S. interests, and ultimately contributes to American policy repeating past mistakes. Foreign policy goals for future regional or low-intensity conflicts need to be established by first analyzing the problem from the eyes of the belligerents, not from a purely American perspective. The situation in Lebanon virtually demanded that policymakers have a knowledge of the goals and motivations of the factions and their state sponsors, in addition to the historical antecedents of the conflict, before rational and achievable policy goals could be established. Before American forces are committed to secure policy goals in future regional conflicts, policymakers must accurately assess the suitability of using military forces. A key to this assessment will be how American military forces are perceived by the citizens/military forces of the country we are going into and whether the U.S. is seen as part of the problem or part of the solution. It is generally accepted that the use of military force is an extension of policy by other means and that it should be used as a last resort after all diplomatic means have been exhausted. In Lebanon, military forces were used as a first resort in support of policy. The military mission was never clear, either to policymakers or the forces themselves. They were employed as a peacekeeping force in an extremely complex low-intensity conflict where American policy goals clearly supported a minority government. American forces were seen by most Lebanese as just another force vying for goals contrary to their own. American policy in Lebanon during 1982-83 was in disarray. Centralized control eliminated the healthy interagency debate that would have provided policy focus through an assessment of the ends, ways, and means of that policy. American policy did not take into consideration the complexity of the Lebanese conflict or its history, and our policy was pursued from a purely American perspective without adequately considering the goals and motivations of the various factions. American forces were mistakenly used as a first resort rather than as a last resort. The mistake of using military forces in a conflict that did not have a military solution resulted in the death of 241 American soldiers and a humiliating defeat for U.S. policy in the Middle East. Policymakers need to know, and remember, what went wrong in Lebanon to adequately understand what the U.S. is capable of achieving with military forces in the future in regional conflicts. The religious and geopolitical roots of the Lebanon conflict, the multitude of belligerents and conflicting issues involved, and the involvement of regional players, looked at in terms of U.S. policy at the time, offer policymakers unique lessons that can be used to support future policy formulation. Most importantly, if we are to benefit from the difficult lessons of the past, Lebanon should serve as a "test" for determining when to use military force to secure American interests in regional conflicts. BIBLIOGRAPHY 1. Alnwick, Kenneth J. and Thomas A. Fabyanic. Warfare in Lebanon. Washington, DC: National Defense University, 1988. 2. Ball, George W. Error and Betrayal in Lebanon. Washington, DC: Foundation For Middle East Peace, 1984. 3. Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook 1992. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1992. 4. Department of Defense. Report of the DOD Commission on Beirut International Airport Terrorist Act, October 23, 1983. DOD "Long Commission" report on the bombing of the Marine barracks 20 December 1983. 5. Kennedy, David and Leslie Brunetta. Lebanon and the Intelligence Community. President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1988. 6. U.S. Army and Air Force. Field Manual 100-20, Military Operations In Low Intensity Conflict. Washington, DC: Headquarters Departments of the Army and the Air Force, 5 December 1990.
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