In the days after the Beirut massacre of October 1983 both the print and electronic media went into their instant business of interviewing. People’s most frequent reaction to the reporters’ questions was in the form of a question: “Why are we, that is the Marines, there in the first place?” Of course, a phalanx of officials, politicians, and pundits tried to explain it; the more they exerted themselves, the less sense their explanations made–to us, at least. Their televised and op-ed page excogitations fell, generally, into three categories:
-the Administration and moderate, so-called pragmatic Republicans claim that we are there to bring peace to Lebanon, to support there a pro-Western government that is committed to the same goal;
-Democrats from left to right maintain that we are there because of the dismal ineptness of Reagan and his advisers;
-the international left, from U.S. “peace” activists to Andropov, clamors that we are there to further the agenda of American imperialism and keep the benign, blissful Soviet influence away from the area.
All three explications sound like bunk to us. We have our own explanation, and its reasoning goes much further back than any of the preceding ones.
After World War I, some British strategists and intelligence operatives–T. E. Lawrence prominent among them–decided that the sons of the desert had performed beautifully for the Allied cause against the Turks; they concluded that their romantic valor could be converted into political support for the West in the Middle East. Two decades later, the Arab world was studded with Hitler’s admirers, and during World War II the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem organized Arab military units that fought for the Axis. Yet, a sentimental proclivity for the Arabs not only survived in the Foreign Office, but also has spread to the State Department, and is tenderly flourishing in the big oil corporations. After the last war, a new factor emerged: the fledgling state of Israel. Ever since, an implacable and nonnegotiable hatred against Israel has qualified, motivated, and governed every Arab political movement and initiative–be it radical or conservative in character. Those in the British and American foreign-policy establishments who, more or less overtly, supported mindless Arab emotionalism were called “Arabists,” but they preferred to call themselves “pragmatists”: Arabs, they maintained, number several hundred million, possess invaluable raw resources, and to alienate them by not giving them whatever they wish means Western suicide. Those who supported Israel pointed to the fact that Israel, with which we share a common civilizational heritage, could evolve into a superior political force whose impact on and expertise in the region might prove much more valuable to the West than demographic and material factors–they were called “idealists.” Presidents Eisenhower and Carter were typical “pragmatists”; Truman and Nixon, not especially noted for their ardor for Jews, whether in Haifa or the Bronx, were “idealists.” History has proved the idealists right. Israel did become a rarity among statehoods and societies in the modern world: democratic, staunchly pro-Western, and militarily efficient all at once. When nazism vanished as an adored exemplar, most Arab military regimes extended their warmest sympathies to the Soviet Union–the West’s principal challenger and enemy on the global scene. But a fondness for the Islamic cultural image, combined with the love for Saudi Arabia’s billions and the hope of fabulous corporate profits from dealing with whoever can provide macrodividends, caused American “Arabists” and “pragmatists” to multiply, in spite of all factual and reasonable evidence that an “even handed,” that is pro- Arab, policy is not of benefit to us.
In 1982 Israel, prompted by a strategic necessity of self-defense, freed Lebanon from the Syrian-sponsored PLO occupation, thus delivering the country back to Western influence. At the behest of “Arabists” at the State Department, and “pragmatic” Republicans in his White House entourage, President Reagan–an “idealist” by instinct and earlier ideological allegiance–somehow under pressure from the international left’s campaign against Israel’s “imperialist cruelties” (exerted chiefly by the U.S. liberal press), reversed his position on the Middle East and sent the Marines to Beirut. By doing this, he thwarted Israel’s victory, impaired the accomplishment of its final objectives, saved the remnants of the PLO, preserved the Syrian positions in a large part of Lebanon, and disdained all Israeli advice on how to proceed in the hellish cauldron of Lebanese-Arab factional politics. Soon, we saw Marines brandishing their pistols at Israeli soldiers (who simply knew better where to look for snipers) and being praised for their “resolve” by Secretary Weinberger, the Administration’s chief “Arabist,” “pragmatist,” and Saudi Arabia spokesman. Thus, the Israelis, who are not convinced that Lebanon can be preserved as a political entity without a war with Syria, withdrew from the center of the struggle. The Marines stayed. Their presence, to our mind, symbolizes the Western concept of how to deal with the Middle Eastern imbroglio without knowing who wants what, why, and at what price. The Lebanese government, which the Marines are supposed to protect, is weak, corrupt, treacherous, arid utterly unreliable–in itself living proof that the state of Lebanon, as a legal framework for diverse groups constantly at each other’s throats, is no longer a viable and feasible proposition. To many it seems, therefore, that we have resigned ourselves to losing young lives there without firing a shot because the “Arabists” and “pragmatists” who shape this administration’s Middle Eastern policies and manipulate its alliances and “friendships” will never admit their expediency, irresponsibility, and bungling. Their careers are at stake. This is why we were in Beirut on that fatal October day.