Following the collapse of the government of President Amin Gemayel and intensified fighting between the Lebanese army and Moslem militiamen in Beirut, President Reagan announced Feb. 7 that the U.S. Marine contingent in Beirut would be withdrawn to ships offshore. At the same time, Reagan authorized military commanders to launch air strikes and artillery bombardments against Syrian-controlled positions that fired on Beirut. On Feb. 8, American warships mounted a nine-hour artillery barrage against pro-Syrian militia positions, in what was described as the largest U.S. naval action since the Vietnam War. Previously, Reagan had vigorously resisted congressional pressure to withdraw the Marines, so his announcement took Washington by surprise.Given little warning of Reagan's decision, Britain and Italy announced their own plans to withdraw peacekeeping troops from embattled Lebanon.
The Sixth Fleet on patrol off the coast of Lebanon, 1984
7 February 1984
Reagan Orders Marines out of Beirut, Following Collapse of Lebanese Cabinet
Authorizes Wider Military Action
Following a rapid deterioration of conditions in Beirut, President Reagan Feb. 7 ordered the U.S. Marines of the multinational peacekeeping force in Lebanon to begin withdrawing to U.S. ships offshore.
Reagan's decision followed the resignation of Lebanese President Amin Gemayel's cabinet Feb. 5 and a military collapse that left Moslem militiamen in control of western and southern Beirut.
As a show of continuing support for Gemayel, however, Reagan coupled his decision to withdraw with new rules of engagement that allowed U.S. commanders to mount naval and air attacks on antigovernment forces in Lebanon.
Reagan's announcement, which took most U.S. politicians by surprise, was greeted with relief by congressional leaders. The widening of the U.S. military role in support of Gemayel, however, came under immediate attack.
The U.S.'s European allies in the multinational peacekeeping force had also been given little warning of Reagan's decision, but Britain and Italy Feb. 8 quickly announced their own plans to withdraw from the embattled capital.
Gemayel Cabinet Quits
The government of President Amin Gemayel collapsed Feb. 5, when Premier Shafik al-Wazan and his nine-member cabinet resigned in the face of fierce Moslem opposition to the government and its policies....
As the fighting in southern Beirut reached a high pitch Feb. 4, Nabih Berri, the leader of the Shiite Moslem Amal militia, called on all Moslem members of the government to resign. Druse Moslem militia leader Walid Jumblat had made a similar demand two weeks earlier.
Berri made his call in a news conference in which he denounced the indiscriminate shelling of Shiite neighborhoods by the Lebanese army. Berri said he could understand the government's attempt to regain control of its positions in southern Beirut, but he asked, "But the shelling of the heart of populated areas? Why the destruction of tens of schools, clinics, hospitals and orphanages?"
....In a public statement accompanying his resignation Feb. 5, Wazan said he was stepping down in an effort to halt the further deterioration of public order....
Gemayel Offers Reconciliation Plan
Later Feb. 5, Gemayel issued an urgent public call for national reconciliation. The appeal followed repeated consultations throughout the day with U.S. Ambassador Reginald Bartholomew.
Gemayel offered an eight-point plan calling for the following steps:
Immediate talks to establish a cease-fire.
Speedy resumption of the Geneva national reconciliation talks, which had been suspended since November 1983. [See 1983 Lebanon Bombings: Lebanese Unity Talks Postponed]
Formation of a national unity government made up of all factions.
Agreement on political changes to increase Moslem representation in government.
Talks with Syria on future relations.
The ability to deploy the army everywhere in the country.
Gemayel proclaimed himself willing to open the talks to all issues. The president made no specific proposals, however, on what was regarded as the most divisive issue of all: the government's May 17, 1983 treaty with Israel. Under intense pressure from the U.S., the Lebanese government had reluctantly agreed to a formal pact with Israel providing for an Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in exchange for Lebanese guarantees of a continued Israeli security role in southern Lebanon. The pact had been implacably opposed by Syria and by the Syrian-backed Lebanese factions....
Both Shiite leader Berri and Druse leader Jumblat Feb. 6 rejected Gemayel's last-ditch proposal. In a radio broadcast, Berri derided the president and said, "The battle is about to end. Lebanon's little shah is on the verge of collapse."
West Beirut Falls to Militiamen
By Feb. 7, the Lebanese army had been routed not only from the shantytowns south of the capital but also from the heart of Moslem west Beirut.
For weeks, army units in the hills southeast of the capital had been engaged in sporadic combat with the Druse militia, and shellfire had periodically hit Christian east Beirut and other sectors of the capital. By Feb. 2, army units on the strategic Suk al-Gharb ridgeline above the city were again locked in fierce combat with the Druses.
The new fighting in the capital erupted Feb. 2. Shiite Moslem sources quoted by the New York Times the next day said the clashes had begun when the Lebanese army shot and killed a young Shiite militiaman in retaliation for the shooting of two army soldiers by snipers. Shiite fighters quickly took to the streets and overran two Lebanese army positions. The army responded with heavy shellfire.
Although the army Feb. 3 claimed to have regained the positions after intense house-to-house fighting, the claim was disputed by leaders of Amal, the Shiite militia, which was believed to have 10,000 full-time fighters in the Beirut area.
In subsequent days the focus of the battle became a gutted Maronite church near the "green line" separating the Christian and Moslem sectors of the city. Although the position had no particular strategic importance, the struggle for control of the area was widely portrayed as a key test of the fighting ability of the hastily-trained Lebanese army....
The decisive action came Feb. 6. With the army largely routed from the southern slums, Shiite and Druse militiamen began attacking Lebanese army outposts throughout west Beirut, and bands of young militiamen skirmished in the streets with the dwindling army forces. In a final attempt to shore up its position, the government at midday declared a round-the-clock curfew throughout the city, with orders to shoot to kill. The battles continued, however, and shellfire hit not only west Beirut but also east Beirut and the presidential palace southeast of the city. Some residents said the fighting in the city was more intense than any in the 1975-76 civil war.
U.S. warships offshore fired artillery at hostile positions in the mountains above the city Feb. 6, and U.S. jets flew air strikes. U.S. officials said President Reagan had ordered the strikes as a show of support for Gemayel and as a warning to Syria and its allies. The Pentagon called the strikes limited and said they were intended to protect the U.S. Marines ashore.
By nightfall, fires were burning in many sectors of the city, and smoke hung over much of Beirut. At least 17 Lebanese were reported killed in the day's action, as well as one French soldier from the multinational force. Two French soldiers, one Italian, and one U.S. Marine were reported wounded. Lebanese security sources said "hundreds" of Lebanese had been wounded. Total casualties in the five days of fighting could not be estimated.
By Feb. 7 a measure of calm was restored, as the victorious militiamen consolidated their hold over west Beirut. Militiamen roamed jubilantly through west Beirut's streets, and some residents who had been trapped in their homes or offices by the previous days' fighting began leaving the city.
U.S. Marine positions at the Beirut airport came under rocket attack again, however, and one Marine was seriously wounded. The U.S. battleship New Jersey again fired its smaller naval guns at an artillery position south of the airport....
House Panel Defers Pullout Call
In the face of the deteriorating situation in Lebanon, the House Foreign Affairs Committee Feb. 6 decided to delay consideration of a Democratic resolution calling for a "prompt and orderly" withdrawal of U.S. forces from Beirut. The nonbinding resolution had been scheduled for a vote the next day....
Committee Chairman Dante B. Fascell (D, Fla.) said, "We want to be responsible. We don't want to add to the danger the Marines are in."
Other members said the recent turmoil only confirmed the urgency of getting the Marines out....
Reagan Orders Marines out of Beirut
In a move that took Washington lawmakers by surprise, President Reagan Feb. 7 said he had sent orders to the U.S. Marine contingent in Beirut to begin withdrawing to U.S. ships offshore. The announcement was made in a statement distributed to reporters as the President arrived in California to begin a vacation at his Santa Barbara ranch.
Reagan coupled the announcement with new orders to U.S. military commanders in Lebanon giving them the power to launch artillery bombardments and air strikes against Syrian-controlled positions that fired on Beirut. He also promised stepped-up military aid for a "broadly based" Lebanese government.
Reagan had repeatedly described the U.S. presence in Lebanon as vital to the survival of a stable government, and his administration had vigorously resisted congressional efforts to compel a withdrawal of the Marines.
On Feb. 3, Reagan had told the Wall Street Journal, in an exclusive interview, "As long as there is a chance for peace, the mission remains the same. If we get out, that means the end of Lebanon." In a barb directed at House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr. (D, Mass), Reagan had said, "He may be ready to surrender, but I'm not."
The next day, in his weekly radio address, Reagan had said the dangers of the U.S. mission in Lebanon were "no reason to cut and run." "If we do," Reagan had added, "we'll be sending one signal to terrorists everywhere: They can gain by waging war against innocent people."
In the statement issued by the White House the evening of Feb. 7, however, Reagan announced that he had ordered the approximately 1,400 Marines in Beirut to begin "shortly" a phased withdrawal to U.S. ships offshore.
Reagan stressed that his administration's commitment to stability in Lebanon was unchanged. "Yielding to violence and terrorism," Reagan said, "may seem to provide temporary relief, but such a course is sure to lead to a more dangerous and less manageable future crisis."
Reagan said, "Even before the latest outbreak of violence, we had been considering ways of concentrating our forces . . . in order to take the initiative away from the terrorists."
Reagan announced three "decisive" new steps:
U.S. naval commanders had been authorized to provide "naval gunfire and air support against any units firing into greater Beirut from parts of Lebanon controlled by Syria," and against any units attacking the international peacekeeping force.
"When the government of Lebanon is able to reconstitute itself into a broadly based representative government," Reagan said, the U.S. would accelerate its training and support of the Lebanese army and speed up delivery of military materiel.
Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger had been asked to draw up a plan for "redeployment" of the U.S. Marine force "to their ships offshore." "This redeployment will begin shortly and proceed in stages," Reagan said. Some U.S. troops would remain in Beirut to continue training and equipping the Lebanese army. The offshore troops "will stand ready, as before, to provide support for American and other MNF [multinational force] personnel in Lebanon and thereby help assure security in the Beirut area," Reagan said.
....Administration officials Feb. 8 moved swiftly to portray the move as consistent with previous policy.
Defense Secretary Weinberger told a television interviewer that the U.S. was not abandoning its policy, merely redeploying its troops to a place where they would be more effective.
Chief White House spokesman Larry Speakes asserted that Reagan's policy had brought "significant achievements." "The mission remains, the goals remain, and we are looking for a more effective way to do it," Speakes said....
Britain, Italy Join Exodus
America's European partners in the multinational peacekeeping force in Lebanon Feb. 8 announced their own actions in response to President Reagan's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Beirut. Britain immediately withdrew its small force, and Italy announced plans to begin a phased withdrawal of its contingent. Only France, which had long historic ties with Lebanon, announced no immediate decision....
The withdrawal of the small British contingent was completed swiftly Feb. 8. The 115 British troops, members of the 15th/6th Lancers, were evacuated by helicopter from the port of Junieh north of the capital to the Reliant, a British helicopter carrier offshore....
According to one news story, Thatcher's government made little effort to dispute charges that it had been taken by surprise by the U.S. policy reversal. In a debate in Commons Feb. 8, the Labour Party spokesman for foreign affairs, Denis Healey, declared that recent events represented the "collapse of American policy."....
The Italian defense minister, Giovanni Spadolini, Feb. 8 instructed his chiefs of staff to set in motion coordinated plans for the withdrawal of Italy's contingent of the multinational force under "maximum security conditions." He declined to say when the withdrawal would begin.
Spadolini added that Italy would continue to protect the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in southern Beirut, where hundreds of Palestinian civilians had been killed by Christian militiamen in September 1981. The task had become more difficult, Spadolini said, but he added, "We cannot create a void in an area already marked by terrible massacres."
Italy currently had about 1,600 troops in Beirut, down from more than 2,000 two months earlier. Spadolini did not say when the pullback would begin or how many troops would be involved.
French President Francois Mitterrand Feb. 7 had told the nation that French troops would not stay in Beirut indefinitely, and he reiterated his preference for a United Nations force to take their place....
Lawmakers Express Relief at Pullout
President Reagan's announcement of his intention to withdraw the U.S. peacekeeping force from Beirut met with widespread approval from U.S. congressional leaders Feb. 7.
House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr. (D, Mass.), who had recently distanced himself from Reagan's policy, declared, "I'm more than pleased to know the phase-out is taking place, and the speedier the better."
Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R, Tenn.) said, "I'm convinced the President has acted wisely and well given the present circumstances. The rest we'll take one day at a time."
Baker was echoed by House Minority leader Robert H. Michel (R, Ill.), who had openly urged a pullout. Michel called Reagan's action "a wise one" and added, "The important thing is that we are not simply leaving this situation before we know what is going to come out of all this turmoil."....
Warships Pound Militia Positions
Two U.S. warships Feb. 8 mounted a nine-hour artillery barrage against pro-Syrian militia positions in the hills southeast of Beirut. Together, the battleship New Jersey and a destroyer fired 550 or more rounds, in what was described as the heaviest and most sustained U.S. military action in Lebanon and the largest naval action since the Vietnam War.
A U.S. destroyer followed up with another 150 rounds the next day....
The naval barrage Feb. 8 followed President Reagan's announcement of new rules of engagement, which authorized U.S. commanders to respond to any artillery attacks on greater Beirut from Syrian-held territory, even when U.S. Marines were not directly threatened.
A U.S. Marine spokesman Feb. 8 said the gunfire was directed at positions "in Syrian-controlled Lebanon which have been firing on the city of Beirut." The shells from the pro-Syrian positions had hit Christian east Beirut.
O'Neill, White House Clash on Shelling
The naval shelling and the new rules widening the U.S. combat role in support of Lebanese President Gemayel provoked new opposition in the U.S. Congress.
House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr. (D, Mass.) Feb. 8 declared that Reagan's policy of shelling Syrian-controlled positions was "absolutely not" within the war powers authorized in a compromise congressional resolution in October 1983....
The White House Feb. 8 rejected O'Neill's contention. White House spokesman Larry Speakes, talking to reporters at Reagan's California ranch, asserted that under the October 1983 compromise on the President's war powers in Lebanon, Reagan had been authorized to take "whatever steps are necessary" to back the Lebanese government....
Druse Leader Warns Americans
Walid Jumblat, leader of the Lebanese Druse militia, Feb. 8 warned that his forces would retaliate against U.S. diplomats and civilians if U.S. warships continued their "indiscriminate" shelling of Druse villages....
There were believed to be 2,000 to 3,000 Americans in the Beirut area, many of them attached to the American University of Beirut.
There would be no easy means of mounting an evacuation, because the Beirut international airport remained closed and fighting had rendered major roads unsafe.
The U.S. embassy, on Feb. 6, had already evacuated 39 American staff members considered "nonessential." The embassy workers were flown by helicopter to ships of the U.S. 6th fleet offshore, and from there to Cyprus. A U.S. spokesman promised the Americans would return "as soon as the situation improves."....
Vol. 96, No. 7, 20 February 1984
A City That Has "Reached the End"
This war-battered capital is a city of fear, frustration, gloom.
Moslem militiamen are jubilant over the defeat of the Lebanese Army in seizing west Beirut. But Lebanese in both the Moslem western sector and largely Christian east Beirut are in anguish.
They are convinced that the latest fighting is a preview of the full-scale civil war that will engulf Lebanon unless politicians rapidly decide to talk, not fight.
"We have reached the end," says one woman whose home in east Beirut was destroyed by shellfire.
Concern is also rising among the Americans who remained in Beirut after the U.S. Embassy ordered a general evacuation. They fret that if U.S. naval vessels continue to shell Moslem-militia gun positions, the militias may decide to retaliate against any American they can find.
....Yet the shelling by the battleship New Jersey -- so powerful that it shook buildings throughout Beirut -- is quietly applauded by those Lebanese who want U.S. Navy ships and planes to fight more actively in support of President Gemayal.
Gemayal's opponents, however, describe the artillery fire as the tantrum of an "imperialist bully" who ordered his fleet into action out of anger at having to withdraw the Marines.
Many residents of west Beirut are anxious about resurgence of the near anarchy that prevailed after the militias ousted regular Lebanese Army troops.
There are few reports of looting. But at one point, Shiite militiamen roamed the city destroying liquor stocks of establishments...that sell alcohol. Other gunmen stole five vehicles from the Beirut office of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon.
....Nabih Berri, leader of the Shiite's Amal militia, has ordered roving gunmen to stay off the streets and to stay out of private property....
But there is doubt as to how much control commanders can exert. Already, there are strains between various Moslem factions that claim jurisdiction over the same territory....
Beirut residents have seen little but violence during recent years. Nevertheless, as they emerged from hiding after the heaviest fighting, they were shocked by the wreckage of their neighborhoods.
Buildings have been gutted by fire. Shell craters pockmark the streets. Broken glass litters the sidewalks. Scores of cars are burned or destroyed by gunfire.
Says hafi1 Wazzan, whose resignation as Prime Minister touched off the most recent fighting: "It's downhill from here. I was always afraid of this."
His worry: With Lebanon's capital again divided between Moslems and Christians, the country once more seems headed for civil war.
Vol. 123, No. 8, 20 February 1984
The Long Road to Disaster
After 17 months, the U.S. effort to rebuild Lebanon has failed
In retrospect, it never worked particularly well as a nation-state. But during the late 1950s and 1960s, Lebanon was prosperous, relatively peaceful, more or less democratic, a relaxed oasis of tolerance for the Islamic world....
At the time Lebanon became independent in 1943, after 23 years of French rule under a League of Nations mandate, political power was largely divided between Maronite Christians and Sunni Muslims. This demographic equilibrium was jeopardized by the influx of Palestinian refugees following the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967 and Jordan's 1971 crackdown on the P.L.O. The resulting destabilization led to Lebanon's 1976-76 civil war, to the presence of Syrian forces, and to the P.L.O.'s "state within a state."
On several occasions, Israel moved into southern Lebanon in response to sporadic Palestinian shelling of settlements in northern Israel. A U.S.-negotiated ceasefire in 1981 brought these attacks to a halt, but in June 1982 Israel used them...as a pretext to invade Lebanon. Instead of merely clearing the border area, as Prime Minister Menachem Begin and his Defense Minister Ariel Sharon had promised, the army charged ahead to Beirut. The real aims of Israel's Peace for Galilee campaign: to destroy the P.L.O., humiliate the Syrians and reinforce Lebanon's Christian-dominated government.
The U.S. finally brokered an end to Israel's 40-day siege of Beirut and effected a ceasefire to facilitate the forced evacuation from Lebanon of some 12,000 P.L.O. commandos. It then offered to contribute Marines to a multinational peacekeeping force....But the U.S. pulled out its troops after only two weeks. A traumatic series of events followed: President-elect Bashir Gemayel was assassinated, Israeli forces occupied Moslem West Beirut, and vengeful Christian militiamen murdered some 700 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila camps. The U.S. brought the Marines back to help restore order.
Then came the period of lost opportunity: the failure to impose a diplomatic solution on a war-weary region. The U.S. offered a peace plan for the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, but did not press it effectively....
In September, hoping to reduce their continuing casualties, the Israelis decided to withdraw from the Beirut area and the Chouf Mountains....As soon as they pulled out on Sept. 4, fighting broke out.
On one side were the Druze and the Shiite Muslim forces, backed and armed by the Syrians. On the other were the Lebanese Army and, unfortunately, the Marines, whose role was now being described by the Reagan Administration as upholding the government of President Amin Gemayel. Increasingly, the U.S. forces fought back as they came under attack, but they were woefully unprepared for the realities of Lebanon, as demonstrated by the Shiite terrorist bombing of last Oct. 23, which took the lives of 241 Marines.
Though he often talked about national reconciliation, there is little evidence that the young and inexperienced Amin Gemayel, a Maronite Christian, made any concerted effort to become President of all the Lebanese. Moreover, the agreement he had signed with Israel last May at Washington's urging drove a wedge between him and the Lebanese Muslims, who wanted no part of a pact with Israel....The agreement was not really of any use to anybody, but the Israelis treasured it as their only souvenir of a purposeless war....
Last week, as Druze and Shiite forces took over West Beirut, the U.S. indicated that in the future it would help defend what was left of the Gemayel government by hurling 16-in. shells into the Chouf Mountains in the general direction of Syria. With Muslim and Druze militias in control everywhere in the region except the Christian enclave of East Beirut, the Marines' mission impossible seemed at an end.
-- William E. Smith, reported by Laurence I. Barrett & Johanna McGeary
Washington DC, 12 February 1984
Why has the United States been firing its big guns from warships off the coast of Lebanon? Perhaps there is a simple explanation: to cover the "redeployment" of the Marines and meanwhile to facilitate the best political transition -- not a happy one -- now available in Beirut. Perhaps there is also a simple explanation for the administration's reluctance to say just what it may be doing. To do so would announce to Syria and its Lebanese allies that they can write their own ticket after a certain date; in the interim, the United States would lose much of what residual influence it has.
The Reagan administration, however, has failed to convey a firm sense that it has any purpose and method suitable to the difficult circumstances at hand. Reflex, confusion and a lack of straight talk are the elements most evident to the naked eye. As a result the administration is narrowing its political elbow room at home just when it needs it most.
Something more is involved here than the possible breaking of the administration's War Powers pact with Congress, though it is no small thing for a president who may have to use force in another foreign crisis to assert, as Mr. Reagan is in effect asserting now, that he is not necessarily abiding by the previously negotiated terms. He had won Congress' and the country's reluctant consent to send units to Lebanon for the limited purpose of protecting the Marines. He is now employing American ships and planes directly to shore up the battered regime of President Amin Gemayel.
....Can it be that Mr. Reagan is actually considering a policy of leaving the Sixth Fleet of Lebanon -- even after all the Marines are evacuated, whenever that may be -- as long as it may take to shape up Lebanon on approved lines? That job could take years, if it can be done at all.
....The Moslem and Druze militias, which are the targets of American fire, represent communities whose legitimate political aspirations, though not their military means, have been broadly endorsed by the very administration firing at them now. With Syria, whose forces in Lebanon are also under American guns, the United States has a strong political conflict but not a cause for war.
It is so that the United States is a great power, which means not only that it has great pride but that it must act in the awareness that other nations depend on it and watch its actions closely. But if the imperatives of great-power prestige and credibility must be served, they cannot be allowed to overwhelm all other considerations of proportion and judgment.
The essence of good sense in this situation is to match the threat or use of force with finite, broadly supported political goals. Further U.S. military engagement in Lebanon, except in the context of covering fire while the Marine draw-down proceeds, does not appear to us to meet that fundamental standard.
Memphis, TN, 8 February 1984
No matter what the Reagan administration would like to see come to pass in Lebanon, the United States doesn't control events there. The scenario that the administration tried to create apparently will have to be abandoned.
The President's decision to redeploy U.S. Marines from Beirut to naval ships offshore was necessary in the face of the deteriorating situation in the Lebanese capital.
U.S. officials have not minimized the crisis: They urged Gemayel to form a broad government of national consensus and accepted his promise that "everything is negotiable," including, presumably, the agreement between Lebanon and Israel....
Support for the idea of a new government would also seem to require acceptance of a leadership responsive to the demands of the anti-Gemayel factions and inclined to establish friendly relations with Syria. The Israeli agreement, which Gemayel's opponents have unanimously denounced, may have to be sacrificed to the cause of an effective cease-fire....
The agreement links the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon with the withdrawal of Syrian troops. It includes border and trade arrangements, which point toward fully normal relations in the future.
Lebanese opponents of the agreement see it as a surrender to Israel and as a rejection of Lebanon's ties to the rest of the Arab world. They see the Gemayel government as a creature designed to serve U.S. and Israeli interests and to establish a Christian hegemony over Lebanon in spite of the country's majority Moslem population.
....The United States still wants peace among the factions and a central government strong enough to be independent of Syrian control. But Gemayel can't deliver those objectives. No Lebanese government may be able to do it.
....Israel also faces a dilemma. It, too, hoped that Gemayel would ensure peace between the two countries and reduce Syria's influence. But Israel says it won't go to Gemayel's aid militarily. It's even hard-pressed, for economic and political reasons, to remain in southern Lebanon. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said last week that Israel's main concern is the safety of its northern border....
The administration has to seek a way out with the hope that diplomacy will work where force failed....
But if peace in Lebanon is beyond the administration's power, at least it must continue to support Israel's legitimate interests for the security of its northern border. Israeli security remains an unquestionable and unchanging principle of U.S. policy in the Middle East.
The Kansas City Times
Kansas City, MO, 9 February 1984
To practice well the art of politics means to see openings and shoot through them before they vanish. Few practitioners in the contemporary world are as adept as President Reagan. The man doesn't often cling to untenable positions -- and the Marines holed up in Lebanon were untenable. When the resignation of the Moslem members of the Lebanese cabinet collapsed the Gemayel house of cards, Mr. Reagan reversed his public position and did the only thing he could.
He announced the withdrawal of 1,600 Marines near the Beirut airport to ships offshore. His announcement assures the pullout of the four-power symbolic force of U.S., French, Italian and British troops, leaving Lebanon to its militias to finish what was begun during the civil war 10 years ago. In one stroke this president issued the psychological coup de grace to a government to which two weeks earlier in his State of the Union address he had promised fidelity and support.
Mr. Reagan's short-term gain is, of course, indisputable. He has extracted his administration from a potentially messy situation in a presidential election year. The nation will not have to agonize over Marine hostages, as it did four years ago when the American embassy staff was held and humiliated in Tehran. The president can claim he gave Amin Gemayel 18 months to put something together and it just didn't worl out.
Well, international politics in that part of the world isn't so cleanly executed or dismissed. Since the United States has broad and enduring strategic interests in the region, its quick (though justified) decision to pull troops out will leave it in a diminished position of power and influence. To what degree only time and further experience will tell.
....For U.S. allies in the region, the lesson is to stay out of trouble because if you call on Washington, the Marines might come but you've got about six months before American public opinion sours....
For foes, the lesson is in watching Syrian President Hafez Assad. Mr. Assad is the winner for now or until his troops come up against the Israelis in Lebanon in what could become the seventh bloody chapter in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Lebanese buffer is vanishing. With the United States out of the way, it's up to Damascus and Jerusalem to decide whether there will be coexistence or war. Washington will have little influence.