President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime

By Lou Cannon | Go to book overview
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15
LOST IN LEBANON

Many Americans are wondering why we must keep our forces in Lebanon. Well, the reason they must stay there until the situation is under control is quite clear: we have vital interests in Lebanon.

RONALD REAGAN, OCTOBER 24, 19831

DESPITE THE CONFLICTS that beset Reagan administration policies in Central America, the president and his contentious cabinet at least agreed that U.S. national interests required resisting the spread of Communist influence in the Western Hemisphere. While fears of Soviet influence in the Middle East would also influence Reagan's actions in that region, his administration was never able to agree on a common objective of U.S. policy in Lebanon, much less the means of attaining it. Lebanon is a war-torn ruin of a land the size of Connecticut where rival clans and sectarian forces battle for military and political supremacy. It is, as a U.S. report put it, "a country beset with virtually every unresolved dispute afflicting the peoples of the Middle East." 2 By the time the Reagan administration became militarily involved in Lebanon in 1982, nearly 100,000 persons in this nation of three million people had died in hostilities that began with a violent civil war in 1975.

Because rival barons in Reagan's cabinet could not agree on what the United States hoped to accomplish in the Middle East and because the president was unable to resolve their conflicts, Lebanon also became an arena for trial-and-error U.S. foreign policy initiatives that ended in debacle. If measured in loss of American lives abroad, Lebanon was the greatest disaster of the Reagan presidency. Reagan without hesitation ruled out use of U.S. combat troops in Central America, a region arguably crucial to national security. But he twice deployed troops to Lebanon, on the periphery of U.S. security concerns, in behalf of changing and ill-defined diplomatic

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