AMERICAN diplomacy in Lebanon in the current crisis has been successful in that it has secured the release of the TWA Flight 847 hostages without further bloodshed or violence (after the original violence and bloodshed of the hijacking). The success in this case is in contrast with the failure of American intervention in Lebanon in 1983.
The difference between failure in 1983 and success in 1985 is important, and should be noted for future reference.
The main difference is that in this case United States action was based on an accurate reading and acceptance of the political realities in Lebanon.
US diplomacy, and military force, were used in 1983 in an attempt to establish a new regime in Lebanon built around the Christian Maronite minority, which was to enjoy a special treaty relationship with Israel. The effect, had the effort been successful, would have been Lebanon coming within the economic and military orbit of Israel.
The 1983 US purposes were opposed by a majority of the political factions inside Lebanon, including the Shiites, the Druze, and even the Franjia faction of the Maronite Christians.
Not only a majority of the factions but also a substantial majority of the total population of Lebanon clearly, and vehemently, opposed the American effort to impose upon them a pro-Israel, minority regime. The end of the affair was the car bomb that wrecked a United States Marine barracks and killed 243 US servicemen. The Marines and the battleship were eventually withdrawn as the Shiites and their Druze allies fought their way into Beirut itself, and into the higher councils of Lebanon.
The 1983 effort also was opposed by Syria, which is the Arab neighbor most interested in Lebanon.
In 1985 the White House appealed directly to Syria in its search for a solution to the hostage crisis. Syria used its good offices with Amal in Lebanon. Amal is the main political and military organization of the Shiite community, the largest community in Lebanon.
In 1983 the United States was working against the interests of the main political elements in and around Lebanon.
In 1985 the US recognized the political facts in the area and dealt with them.
The implications go beyond merely the happy return of the hostages.
The Syrians would not have used their good offices with Amal and Amal would not have agreed to the release of the hostages had the two of them not been interested in doing further business with the US. Neither has any reason to do a favor to the US just to please us. Amal wants its hostages back from Israel, yes. But Syria and Amal must have broader reasons than just that to do what amounts to a big, big favor for President Reagan in Washington. What do they get out of it?
Probably the biggest thing they get is recognition by the US that they are the two most important political elements in Lebanon. If there is to be a new Lebanon, the Shiite faction, and Amal, will be at the top, not at the bottom. And Amal will be in close association with Syria, and Syria will have a veto power over any new arrangements inside Lebanon.
The mere fact of accepting the hostages back from Amal by courtesy of Syria is itself recognition of the actual importance of those elements in the Lebanese equation. Washington now knows where the power is in that area, as it did not in 1983.
One of the basic rules in diplomacy is to know your facts about the region in question. If you know where the power is, then you can proceed to do business with people who can deliver. In 1983 Mr. Shultz thought he could arrange a lasting peace between a Maronite-controlled Lebanon and Israel in defiance of Syria and the Lebanese majority. President Assad of Syria allowed Mr. Shultz to learn a painful lesson.
Let it be also noted that it was Syrian self-interest that secured the release of the hostages. It was not the brandishing of a US carrier task force off the Lebanese coast.