Lesson Unlearned

Don't blame Hezbollah for the Marine barracks bombing. The United States is at fault, for becoming a combatant in Lebanon's civil war.


Another October 23rd has come and gone, another anniversary of the 1983 U.S. Marine barracks bombing in Beirut -- and more inane articles written by people drawing the wrong lessons. As usual, the authors perceive the United States as some innocent Little Red Riding Hood attacked unjustly and without provocation by evil wolves. Last year, former Reagan-era National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane penned an especially ill-informed piece titled "From Beirut to 9/11." McFarlane blamed Hezbollah, though the Shiite resistance group did not yet really exist and nobody knows who actually committed the attack.

A short history lesson is in order: The 1983 bombing, in which suicide bombers driving explosives-laden trucks killed 241 U.S. military personnel and 58 French servicemen, was in response to an American attack. The United States, at McFarlane's behest, chose to back one side in Lebanon's civil war. Opposition groups, composed of Lebanon's various religious sects, battled the Lebanese Army, which was acting as a sectarian Christian militia. The United States had just given the Lebanese Army a great deal of military equipment. The opposition forces confronted the Lebanese Army in Suq al-Gharb and were defeating the U.S.-backed forces, which could have led to an end to the civil war and a victory for the opposition forces. There was little consultation within Ronald Reagan's administration when McFarlane decided to call for the USS New Jersey off the coast of Lebanon to provide gunfire support for its beleaguered allies. Until then, the United States had maintained a fairly neutral stance, but after this attack the U.S. warships continued to sporadically shell the opposition fighters. At this point, the United States became just another militia in the Lebanese civil war.

The United States chose not to raise the alert level for the Marines participating as part of the multinational peacekeeping force in Beirut because it thought that would imply that the Marines were also implicated in the attack. But, as U.S. military personnel, of course they were implicated -- McFarlane had made them so, and their blood is on his hands. The attitude among some at the National Security Council was that it was time to teach the Lebanese opposition forces -- read: Muslims -- a lesson. At the State Department's political and military affairs bureau, "we were shocked" by the shelling at Suq al-Gharb, one former senior member told me. "We were left speechless." They knew there would be retaliation for this American act of war.

Interestingly, my views are supported by none other than retired Col. Timothy J. Geraghty, the man who commanded the Marines in Beirut 25 years ago. Geraghty wrote an article last year for the U.S. Naval Institute's publication Proceedings: "The Marine and the French headquarters were targeted primarily because of who we were and what we represented. ... It is noteworthy that the United States provided direct naval gunfire support -- which I strongly opposed for a week -- to the Lebanese Army at a mountain village called Suq-al-Garb on 19 September and that the French conducted an air strike on 23 September in the Bekaa Valley. American support removed any lingering doubts of our neutrality, and I stated to my staff at the time that we were going to pay in blood for this decision."

Geraghty was not the only military expert who has doubts about the U.S. role in Lebanon during the 1980s. Robert Baer was a CIA field agent covering Lebanon out of Damascus at the time of the bombing. "Don't forget the Lebanese Christian forces kidnapped the Iranian chargé d'affaires, a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps officer," he told me. "The Iranians held the U.S. responsible. As far as they were concerned, we opened the first shot in the war."

Clashes between the Marines and the Lebanese Shiites living in Beirut's southern suburbs also turned the United States into a combatant in the Lebanese civil war. "The Marines killed a lot of Shiites. So we're talking about simple revenge. Well, on second thought, revenge isn't that simple. The problem in any war is that there is no such thing as a precision weapon," Baer continued. "We didn't have a clue who we were killing [in Lebanon]. ... It was just numbers. It made good above-the-fold headlines. An eye for an eye."



Nir Rosen is a fellow at New York University's Center on Law and Security. He has reported extensively from the Middle East, and his book In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq was published in 2006.



7:12 PM ET

October 30, 2009


Your summation says it all in a nutshell! AMEN!



12:40 AM ET

October 31, 2009

First time...

This is the very first time I have read in our media an honest explanation of the hostility and violence seen in the last few decades between the "Muslim world" and the "civilized world."

It's not going to help your popularity in the corridors of power, Mr. Rosen.

It's not as though other analysts don't know that the truth is bigger than "They hate our freedoms". They do. But they deliberately prevaricate and spin, to conform to sinister agendas. When major issues arise, freedom of the media goes into hibernation, and everyone falls in line with the official theme, led by that bastion of integrity, The New York Times.

Just as the attack on our marines in Beirut followed the murder of uncounted Lebanese Muslims by our bombs and bullets, so also 9/11 was a direct act of revenge for the destruction of Iraq and the murder of over a million Iraqis.

Since 2001 we have massacred another one million Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq. And no one seems to talk of the murder of thousands of Palestinians by US-supplied weapons, and the uprooting, suppression and humiliation of an entire nation by colonialist Europeans. What response of revenge will these atrocities elicit? I shudder to think.



2:39 PM ET

October 31, 2009

"Restoring the caliphate

"Restoring the caliphate isn't really a motivation for most groups," ...

In other words, who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes ? A google search for bin Laden or al Zawahiri with restoring the caliphate yields tens of thousands of results. The wikipedia entry for caliphate says

One of clearly stated goals of the radical Islamist group al-Qaeda's is the re-establishment of a caliphate.[41] Bin Laden has called for Muslims to "establish the righteous caliphate of our umma."[42]

I could go on all day. I could also point out multiple other exaggerations and untruths in your article, but this was just the most egregious example



2:38 PM ET

November 2, 2009

Who does the Caliphate serve?

Rosen doesn't deny that some groups declare support for a renewed Caliphate. The fact that some do doesn't cut against the statistical/demographic argument that few are motivated by such a grand goal.

Implicit is the point that US hawks make more of the issue than most of the islamists or muslim nationalists themselves. Miller wants us to think that the civil wars of the Middle East are consequential for our very existence. Fear for your future! Bah. Once Al Qaeda was able to launch a significant terrorist attack. Most believe AQs operational capacity is no longer up to another one. None has the ability to threaten our existence, and few seem to want to - their local wars are sufficient to occupy their attention.

Where do you stand? Do you believe there is any real prospect for a renewal of the Caliphate against the entrenched interests of local power holders? (Remember the disastrous infighting of the Arab League?) Do you believe that a renewed Caliphate would threaten our security? (It would have so much more infrastructure to bomb than the terrorist/insurgent groups.)



5:06 PM ET

October 31, 2009

It seems that there are good

It seems that there are good and bad points to find in this. While the author is essentially correct in that most major militant Islamist groups are focusing more on creating Islamic states rather than trying to rebuild a Caliphate there are still several groups that see that as their ultimate aim, notably Al Qaeda. Personally I feel that the 'nationalist Islamist' groups are more dangerous to allies of the U.S than the 'Caliphate' groups, but the Caliphate groups show more willingness and interest in launching terrorist attacks in lands that are not historically Muslim. By comparison to Al Qaeda the group Hamas (a nationalist one) has not launched a single attack outside of Palestinian/Israeli land to my knowledge.
On Lebanon, to be sure the United States acted without proper planning and coordination but that hardly excuses a terrorist for launching a terrorist attack. The decision to pull out may have been no worse than a decision to stay, but it .convinced terrorists and insurgents that the United States is unwilling to sustain casualties. Lastly Hizballah (or Hezbollah if you wish) does not have quite the universal support in Lebanon that the writer suggests.



5:38 PM ET

October 31, 2009

>>>Personally I feel that the

>>>Personally I feel that the 'nationalist Islamist' groups are more dangerous to allies of the U.S than the 'Caliphate' groups, but the Caliphate groups show more willingness and interest in launching terrorist attacks in lands that are not historically Muslim.

There is an interesting third category, regional groups with irredentist claims upon lands that were once Muslim inhabited or ruled. Hence the south Asian Islamists' obsession with India or parts thereof (Kashmir, and even land-locked Hyderabad)



6:33 PM ET

October 31, 2009

Reply to Grant

Your point of view is arrogant and costly in the very long run. Above all your opinion is one of a colonist.

Where right and wrong no longer has defined boundaries. In the name of wrong we continue to do what is wrong because we know so little and are led by leaders who even less: Here's and example:

The US House of Representatives is expected to vote Tuesday on a resolution calling on President Barack Obama to reject the UN's Goldstone report, which accuses Israel and Palestinian militants of war crimes in Gaza.

The bipartisan proposal calls on President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "to oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration" of the Goldsone report, dismissing it as "irredeemably biased and unworthy of further consideration or legitimacy."

The measure also "reaffirms its support for the democratic, Jewish state of Israel, for Israel's security and right to self-defense," as well as "Israel's right to defend its citizens from violent militant groups and their state sponsors."

Named after former South African judge Richard Goldstone, who headed the inquiry committee, the UN report accuses Israel and Hamas militants of war crimes during the 22-day conflict that erupted on December 27, 2008.

When the fighting was over, 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were thought to have been killed.

The UN General Assembly will take up the Goldstone report one day after the US House of Representatives vote, which is sponsored by two Republicans and two Democrats.

Goldstone recommended that the report's findings be referred to the International Criminal Court prosecutor in The Hague if Israel and Hamas failed to conduct credible investigations within six months.

Israel has strongly criticized the report as "unjust" and "flawed."





8:25 PM ET

October 31, 2009

In re. to Sreekanth: I

In re. to Sreekanth: I personally consider those groups to be nationalist as well. As an example, in Kashmir the Islamist militants seem to want to create an independent nation of Kashmir (whereas both India and Pakistan want all of it in their own nations).

In re. to Jeffboste: I hardly see how it is 'colonial'. I wasn't suggesting that the United States should occupy other regions and remain in them for decades so much as I was stating that the decision to pull out of Lebanon, along with the matter of Somalia in the 90s, led insurgents and terrorists to assume that the United States is unwilling to accept casualties in combat. Given news coverage where eight dead is reported in the media as 'the bloodiest month yet' I would say that those assumptions are correct. Incidentally, in both Somalia and Lebanon the United States was there as a member of a U.N force, hardly a colonial matter.
Also, I really don't see what the Goldstone report has to do with Lebanon or colonialism. The United States doesn't have a presence in Palestine currently, votes on the report really can't be seen as anything but international politics.



4:11 PM ET

November 1, 2009

Rosen's Lebanon

In 1949's civil war in Lebanon Eisenshower sent in marines to enforce a UN
effort to end the conflict. At the time the array of oppositon resembled the lineup in 1983 when marines were sent in again in linkage with a UN effort to peacekeep. In both cases the US collaborated with the elected Lebanese head of state of the time.

In 1949 Nasser was the behind-scenes instigator of the uprising; in 1983 it was the Syrians (who, incidentally, for some years joined in a union with Nasser's Egypt) .To a lesser extent the Iranians also meddled (in support of oppostional Shiism in Lebanon).

Mr. Rosen's version of events is an oppostional one ( though a leegitimate case could be made for a melding of Syria and Lebanon, provided Damascus began acting in ways consonant with a peaceful Middle East, rather than an irrtant of it).



10:10 AM ET

November 2, 2009


Thank you sir.

You speak the truth.

I hope you don't plan to run for office! ;)

There is indeed a reason why we are subject to terrorism, besides Mr Bush's "They hate our freedoms...." --

They hate our immoral policies is closer to the truth.

Many of terrorism's _causes_ (generally) are legitimate and correct, even though their _means_ are reprehensible and wrong.

e.g. Hamas is completely correct to want freedom from Israeli chokehold -- even though they are wrong to use rockets to achieve this aim.

One has to be able to keep those two non-contradictory thoughts in one's head to understand the origins of terrorism.



4:28 PM ET

November 2, 2009

Making your own Reality

The more important point of McFarland etal's constant invocation of the good ole days of Reagan (black hats/white hats, them/us, kill/be killed, ad nauseum), is how the myth, repeated consistently, eventually becomes the reality. Remember the story of Liberty Valence? No? Then try Joseph Goebels (sp?) and the Big Lie.

Guys like this have similarly been rebuilding the myth of Reagan higher and taller than even that world-class poseur was in real life. The episode in Beirut is important since it contributes to a mindset being propagated by the neocons. It is being made into something it wasn't by McFarland, and others, in order to prepare the populace for a Next Step against Iran: whose biggest crime, when you really get down to it, is their underlying impudence.

We could pick nits in Rosen's analysis, but the way the neocons are working to CREATE our current reality through simply, consistently and relentlessly raising their voices and KEEPING AT IT, is what is really scarey. How much in the way of well-honed rationality will it take to offset the drum-beat and vision McFarlane, etal, are selling?

January/February 2010