Congress: a wary 'aye' on marines
If President Reagan's decision to send American troops back to Beirut came to a vote, Congress would - with considerable reluctance - approve.Skip to next paragraph
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This is the conclusion drawn by a number of congressmen and staff aides on Capitol Hill in the light of President Reagan's assurances that American participation in a multinational peacekeeping force would not involve police action and would be for a limited period.
Congressional hesitation, reservations, and fears are such, however, that should American troops suffer casualties in Beirut, many senators and congressmen would immediately reconsider their support.
There is already more criticism of the President's decision in Congress this time around than there was when he sent marines in a month ago, for only 16 days , to oversee the departure of Syrian and PLO forces from Beirut. On that occasion, the marines left Beirut earlier than had been anticipated. On this occasion, the commitment is more open-ended, the planning more hurried, and the functions of the force not yet precisely defined.
But the reintroduction of American forces is designed to fulfill the same overall goal as the earlier deployment of US marines there: to establish a highly visible military ''presence'' that will help bring stability to a country racked with violence. In addition to that goal, the administration hopes to use the momentum created by the move back into Beirut to work toward the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon and toward reestablishing the credibility of President Reagan's plan for a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
As seen from here, Israel's takeover of west Beirut and the subsequent massacre of civilians threatened to destroy not only the credibility of American guarantees for the protection of Beirut and its noncombatants but also threatened to destroy the credibility of the entire Reagan peace plan.
The administration would have preferred to help send in a United Nations peacekeeping force - without the commitment of American troops - but it was finally decided that such a force would take too long to form and would be unacceptable to the Israelis. The administration is still working, however, toward the goal of having a UN force replace the multinational force of American , French, and Italian soldiers now on their way to Beirut.
The Congress is not required to act on the issue unless the United States' contingent in that force is to be deployed for more than 60 days.
Clement J. Zablocki, the Democrat from Wisconsin who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, seemed to sum up much of the sentiment in the Congress when he said, ''We are a little concerned that this time our military forces will be in greater jeopardy. The last time they were stationed in a very limited area, and the chances of their suffering casualties were minimal.''
Mr. Zablocki told the Monitor that he thought a bare majority - about 55 percent of Congress - supported the presidential decision to send troops at this point.