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Arming The Syrian Rebels: Obama’s Worst Idea Yet

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Crossposted on Tikkun Daily

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President Obama’s decision to provide military aid to the Syrian opposition is incredible. The United States is barely out of Iraq. It’s still bogged down in Afghanistan. Obama insists on keeping the Iran war option “on the table.” Yet suddenly we are taking sides in a civil war in Syria. How many Middle Eastern wars can one superpower handle?

The most amazing thing is that the president has the audacity to even propose involvement in Syria to the American people. (Not that he is asking, just telling. If he asked, he’d know that 70% of American oppose aiding the rebels).

Since 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson came up with a phony pretext to gain passage of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing the Vietnam war, it has been one presidentially-initiated intervention after another: Dominican Republic, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Persian Gulf, Yugoslavia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya. (This list does not even include the delivery of arms to the mujahideenin Afghanistan which brought us the Taliban, Osama Bin Laden, 9/11 and the endless War on Terrorism).

I won’t argue that all the results of those interventions and wars were bad, although most of them were. I will however elaborate on just one, because it seems most comparable. It is in the immediate neighborhood of Obama’s current initiative and involves many of the same players: Lebanon in 1983.

In June 1982, the Israeli government invaded Lebanon to drive the Palestine Liberation Organization and its fighters out of the country it had been using as a base for operations against Israel. (This was 11 years before the Oslo agreement in which the PLO recognized Israel).

The invasion led to a series of humanitarian disasters, most notably the slaughter by Christian forces allied with Israel of 800 civilians (almost all women, children and the elderly) in the Palestinian refugee camps called Sabra and Shatila. When the Israelis insisted that they would not stop the war until the Palestinians left the country, President Ronald Reagan dispatched 1800 Marines to serve as peacekeepers, along with French and Italian forces, until the Palestinians were forced to board ships (to Tunisia!) and the Lebanese government reestablished some semblance of control over the country.

Reagan’s stated intentions were good. He said that the Marines were going in solely as peacekeepers, not fighters, and that they would stay for a maximum of 30 days.  He said that his goal was freeing Lebanon from domination by Palestinians and Syrians and enabling Israel to get out. (Not surprisingly, he described Israel as more the victim of the Lebanon war than as its instigator).

Of course, it didn’t turn out as Reagan hoped. In the words of Lawrence Korb, who was Assistant Secretary of Defense at the time, the peacekeeper force soon became “entangled in Lebanon’s sectarian conflict.” Its presence resulted “only in exacerbating the problems it was supposed to resolve.”  Other than achieving Israel’s goal of expelling the PLO, the U.S. intervention succeeded only in infuriating all sides while accomplishing nothing.

And then, on October 23, 1983, 14 months after Reagan pledged that the Marines would stay only one, 241 Marines were blown up while asleep in their barracks at the Beirut airport by Hizbullah terrorists. It was the worst Marine loss of life since Iwo Jima. Five months later President Reagan pulled all U.S. forces out: Lebanon was no better off than before. It’s not necessary to elaborate on the families of the 241 lost Marines.

There is no need to expend many words on the most destructive of U.S. interventions in the Middle East, the Iraq war, because it is so recent.

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