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Beirut's Lesson For Future Foreign Policy
CSC 1993
                       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.
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
     B.   Changed  mission   and   deteriorating   security
     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
     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
     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
     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
     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
     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
     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.
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,
3.   Central Intelligence Agency.  The World Factbook 1992.
          Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office,
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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