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Beirut Bombings at 30: Interventionism Kills


Beirut Memorial

Today, October 23, 2013, marks the 30th anniversary of the US Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon. Some 241 American servicemembers were killed. These deaths were the direct result of US intervention in an area where there was neither US interest nor any threat to the United States.

Although after the bombing President Ronald Reagan initially pledged to stay the course in Lebanon, within months, facing waning support and a realization that his was a futile policy, he decided to withdraw the US military.

The US troops were sent in after the June, 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which was supported by the US government at the time. Resentment ran high at the US (and French) military presence, increasing with the gradual involvement of US forces on one side of the conflict. Following the grisly September 1982 Sabra and Shatilla massacres, carried out by the Israel-allied Phalangists facilitated by the Israeli Defense Forces, the temporarily withdrawn US forces were sent back in to Lebanon where they became magnets for increasing resentment and therefore targets for attack. It was recklessness.

Ron Paul, in a 2006 Floor speech rejecting yet another piece of legislation designed to involve the US more deeply in the Middle East, recalled the Beirut bombing and the aftermath:
I was in Congress in the early 1980s when the US Marines were sent in to Lebanon, and I came to the Floor before they went, when they went, and before they were killed, arguing my case against getting involved in that conflict.

Ronald Reagan, when he sent the troops in, said he would never turn tail and run. Then, after the Marines were killed, he had a reassessment of the policy. When he wrote his autobiography a few years later after leaving the Presidency, he wrote this:

Perhaps we didn’t appreciate fully enough the depth of the hatred and the complexity of the problems that made the Middle East such a jungle. [...]

In the weeks immediately after the bombing, I believe the last thing that we should do was turn tail and leave. Yet the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics forced us to rethink our policy there. If there would be some rethinking of policy before our men die, we would be a lot better off. If that policy had changed towards more of a neutral position and neutrality, those 241 marines would be alive today.

Reagan had undergone an epiphany of sorts, albeit too late to save the Marines -- or the US reputation in the Middle East. But at least he finally realized that it was the US policy of interventionism, not the lack of US involvement, that made us vulnerable. Though he blamed Middle Eastern "irrationality" for the attacks, in fact history is everywhere full of resistance to foreign intervention and occupation. It is not to excuse violence to understand history and motivation.

Unfortunately, even 30 years later the interventionists and neoconservatives have not learned the lesson. In an editorial today on AIPAC's Washington Institute website, Matthew Levitt makes it clear that he still does not get it. The attack on the occupying troops in Lebanon had nothing to do with foreign military occupation itself -- forget Robert Pape's findings -- but in fact was simply because they were terrorists. Never is cause and effect or motive explored by those whose only response to international dispute is the US military.
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Interestingly, Levitt's piece seems to concede that the Iran hawks are losing ground as the US/Iran negotiations continue to progress satisfactorily. His message in the piece is that even if the nuclear issue with Iran is solved without a US attack, the real issue is that Iran is simply a terrorist-supporting state and cannot be trusted.

Levitt is also guilty of some pretty egregious sleight of hand in his piece. In warning the US to continue to make war on Hezbollah, he writes:
Today, despite warming relations between the United States and Iran, Hezbollah remains a weapon in Iran's arsenal, a means to pursue the agenda of the Islamic Revolution in Syria and in terrorist operations around the world.
But that is entirely untrue. In Syria, Hezbollah has intervened on the side of the secular Assad government in clear opposition to the Islamist forces which seek to overthrow it. There is no way even a casual observer of the region who is not either completely dishonest or completely incompetent would make such a blatantly false claim. But when the task is to maintain the all-powerful Hezbollah bogeyman as a way to keep drawing the United States into a conflict that still has nothing to do with us, all rationality and honesty goes out the window.

The real lesson of the 1982 Beirut bombings is that interventionism kills.

Flickr/Michael D. Dunn
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