The primary driving force of American foreign policy leading up to the Crisis in Lebanon during the 1970s was the Nixon Doctrine which came as a direct result of the failure of the Eisenhower Doctrine which no longer became a valid means of safeguarding democracy and American interests abroad. The domestic destabilization, due to the popular anti-war movements compounded by the escalation of the crisis in South East Asia surrounding the Vietnam war, forced the U.S. to reevaluate their options. The resulting new foreign policy was the Nixon Doctrine which promised to furnish military and economic assistance, but looked to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility of providing the manpower for its defense. This new doctrine would minimize direct combat of American troops around the world, but failed to rectify the fundamental flaw of seeing the independent and separate regional conflict as global conflict against communism. Again, the U.S. saw the growing crisis in the Middle East as an element of the Cold War where radical Arab nations were bent on destroying stable conservative regimes friendly to the west such as Iran (The Shah will maintain power in Iran until 1979) and Israel, and saw a moral responsibility to aid in its defense. The assumption that the Nixon Doctrine made was that any client state backed by the U.S. would deter Arab states, or rather Soviet allies from the American perspective, from going to war. The manifestation of this belief can be seen in the magnitude to which the United States armed the state of Israel prior to the Yom Kippur War. This was proven to be serious folly as the arming of Israel by the U.S. pushed the Arab nations closer to Moscow and began an arms race in the Middle East. The strategic failure of the United States was proven in the Yom Kippur War as the technological edge of Israel did not deter the Arab nations from going to war and proved Israel’s vulnerability to a devastating attack despite their preparedness. Although Israeli armament was seen as over excessive by some, “the expenditure of ammunition was inordinately high, the losses of aircraft was serious, and the figures of tanks destroyed were alarming” (Herzog 322). Despite the obvious futility of the arms supply in conserving American interests, the United States did not reverse their policy and continued to fund and arm the Israeli Defense Force. The unlimited flow of arms that had gone into the Middle East had established the foundations for a situation where otherwise impoverished nations had the ability to wage war. The end result of the arms race and the tension between the Arab States and Israel was the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 where frustrated and heavily armed states and groups projected their ideology and strength in the power vacuum left in the Lebanese civil war. As a result, Israel invaded Lebanon in order to project its strength and authority in the region in a preemptive means of deterring Syria and other states and organizations from taking offensive measures. Still exploiting the American communist paranoia, the Israeli minister of defense Ariel Sharon legitimized the war by stating that a new political order in Lebanon would weaken the pro-Soviet forces (PLO and Syria) in the Middle East. U.S. President Ronald Reagan definitely had the chance to forbid or censure Israeli military intervention in Lebanon, but his support for Sharon elongated the conflict and made a civil war a regional conflict.
The crisis in Lebanon, which spans almost half a century, is exemplary of the complication of the Arab Israeli conflict. Beginning as a domestic dispute it became a battle ground for nations supported by global powers and aided by elements not related to the U.S. or the USSR such as the militant Shiite organization Hizbollah supported by Iran. By the time Operation Peace of the Galilee became unpopular in Israel, the Israeli forces were caught in a death triangle between the Lebanese militias. Meanwhile, the United States, despite no concrete evidence of a formal alliance between any of the militias, saw a “Soviet-Syrian-PLO-Druze-Shiite front” and saw a need to create an “American-Israeli-Maronite (Christian) front” to defend Lebanon against communism (Shlaim 58).
President Reagan sent American Marines into the chaos of Beirut thinking that the presence of a global power would cease hostilities. His seriously underestimated strategy resulted in a coalition of forces opposing western intervention and resulted in the October 23rd, 1983 suicide bombing of the marine barracks in Beirut. The death of the 241 marines was a “heavy and unnecessary price to pay for ignoring the indigenous political, religious, and ethnic sources of tension and for seeing a Soviet shadow behind every Lebanese tree” (Shlaim 56). What Americans did not understand was that to the Lebanese since the Crisis of 1958, the American “marines had turned into another Lebanese militia” supporting not a native force but a foreign invasion force (Friedman 203). The withdrawal of the marines following the bombing taught two things to the Arab populous. First, the Americans are not truly dedicated to the cause of ensuring the security and welfare of an Arab state and second, that a single devastating blow with high casualties could alter the flow of foreign intervention. Already the mindset and asymmetrical tactic that Islamic extremists used in 9/11 was solidifying. Ultimately, the failed intervention of 1983 and the unpopularity of the United States among the Arab masses made it extremely difficult for an American government “to conduct, long term policy in the Middle East” (Kennedy 516).