Lebanon: triumph for Syria, lessons for US
According to Secretary of State George P. Shultz, there are a number of reasons the United States went wrong in Lebanon - none of which seem to relate to actions of the Reagan administration.Skip to next paragraph
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As Mr. Shultz has explained it in interviews and congressional testimony, debate in the US Congress over America's Lebanon involvement ''took the rug out'' from under the US diplomatic effort. Shultz has pointed to Syrian intransigence as a key factor in the Lebanon setback.
He has also expressed disappointment in the Lebanese parties to the conflict and their failure to achieve a reconciliation. And in some quarters of the State Department, there is disappointment that Saudi Arabia did not practice more effective diplomacy and that Israel did not play a more active role in bringing pressure to bear on Syria.
But there seems to be little questioning at the top level at the State Department as to whether the administration itself might have miscalculated in Lebanon.
''You're not getting an intelligent assessment of lessons learned here,'' said a department official who has in private conversations criticized for some time the approach of top-level officials to Lebanon. ''You're getting sour grapes.''
''We never understood that we didn't have the assets to carry out the macho policy we were launched on,'' he said.
''There was an assumption in the administration that just about anyone can handle foreign policy,'' the official continued, implying that this assumption still holds. The most experienced Middle East experts in the career Foreign Service were the least consulted in recent months by Secretary Shultz and other top-level officials, he stated.
Outside the government, there is a widespread belief among diplomats and scholars that the administration stumbled badly in Lebanon.
The lessons to be learned, they say, concern the limits of force, the use and misuse of special envoys, and the need to define more precisely American interests and objectives.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week, Shultz appeared concerned that the US experience in Lebanon will reinforce a perception that America, almost a decade after the fall of Saigon, still has difficulty using military power successfully.
Many of his critics would agree with Shultz in arguing that Lebanon was not a real test of American military power. But they contend the administration went astray when it began to multiply its aims beyond the original role of the Marines.
* Lesson No. 1, say the critics, is that if you are going to send peacekeeping forces, set realistic goals, and stick to them. Don't get diverted beyond your means.
* Lesson No. 2: Don't get involved in backing one side if you want to be seen as an honest broker with all sides.
As one expert with long experience in organizing such peacekeeping forces explains it, the American Marine contingent - limited though it was in size - became a major psychological prop for the Amin Gemayel government. At one point, President Gemayel seemed to think that the Americans would solve all his problems, leaving him in a position to resist making concessions to his opponents.