The Mideastwire Blog

Excerpts from the Arab and Iranian Media & Analysis of US Policy in the Region

Missing Pieces In The Debate Over Eisenhower’s 1958 Invasion of Lebanon

This needs a lot more discussion, but leaving aside Riedel’s short piece on the 1958 Marine landing/invasion in Lebanon – which had few insights and several errors (tactical nuclear weapons were indeed brought into the area) – Anthony’s well-written piece deserves emphasis and debate. Key points to start:

— A missing, but crucial point to draw out is the belated discovery by the US that there was at least one enormous, longstanding division within the Christian community, specifically, in Lebanon which centered on its orientation, i.e. put crudely: balanced, accommodating and confident towards the Eastern/Arab/Islamic worlds or fully titled, in relative fear and loathing, towards a narrow conception of the West. Bechara El Khoury vs. Camille Chamoun. This is a key finding by US Envoy Robert Murphy that allowed the US to be comfortable with flexibility towards Nasserism in Lebanon i.e. it turned out there was a substantial and historically embedded “half” of the Christian community which would balance, live with and also temper radical Nasserism, emphasizing and therefore assisting so-called “moderate” Nasserism towards preponderance.

— Which leads to the main missing point: NSC 5820, here. For me, this is the high point of enlightened US thinking (such that is available) that would quickly U-Turn back to the default “our man in X country” alongside rigid anti communism/anti arab nationalism. It must be mentioned in any treatment of the 1958 invasion since it was the “lesson learned” document put out in October 1958 with Lebanon driving the thinking since Eisenhower’s envoy Murphy “discovered” that the US had been hoodwinked into invasion by a narrow slice of the Christian community – and that flexibility and institution building rather than tribal investments was not only possible but desirable. “Never again” became the mantra: There was a far better approach, detailed in the NSC document, than invasion and investment in narrow parties and personalities. Anthony seems to suggest that the US came in strong and then retreated in a counter productive way (I could be wrong here, but this is what I gathered). He writes: “But they did not secure, let alone sustain, their success by investing in American allies during and after the intervention. After the landings, American officials cut financial and military assistance, declined to provide multiyear support, and didn’t craft a post-conflict political plan to support pro-American leaders in Lebanon.”

— He is a correct in a narrow sense, but wrong overall. NSC 5820 laid out exactly why this was the right approach. Crucially though, it 1) did not mean “no post conflict plan”, 2) did not bring a reduction of support but instead a rational re-ordering that I wish would have been sustained in the decades after.

Here are the crucial findings that, I would argue, let us understand a moment in US policymaking where there was a real potential for a better approach to Lebanon and the Middle East. Sadly – and again in contrast to Anthony who argues “American officials ended up acting—and then getting out anyway.” – the US very much did “get in the way” quickly after Eisenhower in the 1960s with the same failed tools of pre-1958 i.e. supporting narrow parties and personalities rather than investing in multi-lateral institutions and processes. In the end, this approach, eschewing NSC 5820, steadily helped lay the crucial infrastructure for the Lebanese Civil War and other disasters in the Mideast:


4. It has become increasingly apparent that the prevention of further Soviet penetration of the Near East and progress in solving Near Eastern problems depends on the degree to which the United States is able to work more closely with Arab nationalism and associate itself more closely with such aims and aspirations of the Arab people as are not contrary to the basic interests of the United States.

8. Seek to demonstrate to the peoples and governments of the area that primary U.S. objectives are fundamentally compatible with the goals of Arab nationalism, whereas the objectives of international Communism are incompatible with the aims of true nationalism.

26. On the grounds that the United States has not been a major supplier of arms to Israel, continue limitations on shipments of arms to Israel except for the minimum numbers and types necessary for maintenance of internal law and order, and on a realistic basis for legitimate self-defense. Solicit the assistance of other nations in implementing this policy of limitation.


40. Support the continued independence and integrity of Lebanon, but avoid becoming too closely identified with individual factions in Lebanese politics and seek discreetly to disengage from relationships that may be disadvantageous to U.S. interests.


Provide Lebanon with political support and with military assistance for internal security purposes, stressing our support for the country as a whole rather than for a specific regime or faction.

Reduce grant economic assistance as feasible and emphasize Lebanon’s capacity to borrow from international lending institutions for purposes of economic development.
Where appropriate seek to encourage the acceptance of Lebanon’s unique status by its Arab neighbors, and, if desired by and acceptable to the people concerned, be prepared to subscribe to a United Nations guarantee of the continued independence and integrity of Lebanon.


Written by nickbiddlenoe

September 20, 2018 at 11:44 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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