The United States has not always picked the loser in its associations in the outside world. Its record of being friends with the popular and ultimately winning cause was reasonably good down through World War II. But since then Washington has exhibited a frequent fondness for losers in its foreign policy. The Shah of Iran was one.
The most historically important example was clinging to Chiang Kai-shek in postwar associations with China. It caused a 22-year hiatus in normal relations with the world's most populous country. It pinned China in an unnatural alliance with the Soviet Union. It opened the way to the Korean war. In part, it caused the Vietnam war.
It need not have happened. The leaders of the new China, Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai, both tried to keep in easy relations with the US.
They resented Soviet looting of northern China immediately after World War II. They enjoyed no help from Moscow in their rise to power. They broke away from the association with Moscow as soon as Richard Nixon opened the way for them to do so - 22 years later.
Vietnam was equally avoidable. Ho Chi Minh asked for US aid. The OSS, forerunner of the CIA, recommended that Washington build its post-World War II policies for Southeast Asia on Ho. The Southeast Asia desk at the State Department seconded the recommendation. But it was overruled by the European desk which felt that it was more important to please the French, who wanted their old colonies back.
The present failure in Lebanon was as clearly avoidable. Amin Gemayel could have been built up as the acceptable leader of all the Lebanese factions had the US required him to come to terms with all of the Muslim factions in Lebanon and - most important of all - with the Arab country most deeply interested in Lebanon, that is, Syria.
Syria has vital interests in Lebanon. Throughout most of history the present Lebanon has been part of Syria. Beirut is the ancient seaport of Damascus. The populations of the two countries are largely identical.
The Gemayel regime is finished now, largely due to Washington's mistake. It was finished partly by the failure to insist on rebuilding the government to give full representation to Shiite and Druze factions. It was finished partly by failure to engage Syria in the process of rebuilding Lebanon. It was finished finally by the attempt to associate the Gemayel regime with Israel.
The association of Washington with the Gemayel regime became a millstone around the neck of that regime.
Washington's inept management of the affair led Amin Gemayel into war with the Shiite-Druze-Sunni-Muslim majority of the population of the country.
Washington's inept management of the affair led Amin Gemayel into hostility with Syria.
Washington's inept management made Amin Gemayel appear to be Israel's stooge in Lebanon.
The war ends with American warships shooting at the armed forces of the majority of the people of Lebanon and at Syrians who are supporting those soldiers of the Muslim majority.
There will be a new order in Lebanon. No one can yet know whether Amin Gemayel will have a role in it. More likely, he will disappear. But whatever happens, the memory will linger among the majority of the people of Lebanon that the Americans as they left were shooting at them and at their soldiers.
America has made itself the present enemy of the interests and welfare of the majority of the people of Lebanon. Those people were befriended and helped to a larger share in power by Syria.
Someday, perhaps, Washington policy will change and it will seek friendly association with the Muslim majority in Lebanon and with the government of Syria.
Meanwhile, 1984 goes down as the year in which the US, by inept management of the Lebanon crisis, converted Amin Gemayel into the loser, and then backed him to the bitter end.