Opening Pandora’s Sandbox: The Lebanon 1958 Intervention

Leonard O Goenaga

Professor Cox

INR3102

November 19 2007

Opening Pandora’s Sandbox

            In the spirit of addressing modern foreign policy dilemmas in the Middle East, it’s always important to trace histories footprints to find areas where current problems and attitudes were initially planted. It’s of grave interest to both students and those in high political offices to pay close attention to the starting point of the chaotic fire that has consumed the oil rich Arabic countries. As a fire detective deeply analyzes the remaining ash and charcoal to detect signs of a flames ignition, so do I as a student scholar look to the past to draw clues and lessons for current engagements and problems. In this spirit, I’ve drawn myself to analyze an intervention usually overlooked as a military victory, and a ‘finest hour’ in the use of U.S. strike-forces to quell rebellion and bring about western-friendly regimes. In this essay, I plan to analyze the causes of the Lebanese intervention of 1958, and conclude that America’s intervention within the Lebanon was sold upon the false pretense of Communistic Aggression while really grounded within the rise of Arab Nationalism and the presidential-election affairs of Lebanon, and that the U.S.’s military promises to such Lebanese leaders placed itself in a position where inaction was more damaging than military action.  With the ‘sold’ causes and the actual causes of the Lebanese 1958 intervention presented, as well as the ‘blank check’ offered to Lebanese leaders, we will then analyze any potential blowback sparked from the above-mentioned involvement, and what this means for current and past engagements.

            The interesting thing about the Lebanon intervention of 1958 isn’t solely it being America’s first major militarily injection within the Middle East, but rather the underlying scenarios that accompanies the situation; or in more linguistic terms, the raging fires surrounding the powder-keg that is Lebanon. These situations are keen in understanding Lebanon, and perceiving which fires led to the ignition and later explosion of the state’s situation. To truly understand Lebanon’s flames and the U.S. firefighting mentality, one must first address the situations of the Suez Canal, the Eisenhower Doctrine, The UAR, the Iraq Situation, and generally the Cold War Mentality.

Shortly before the occurring rebellion, the Middle East was experiencing an opening in the vacuum of authority. The old colonial powers of France and Britain had experienced a “fiasco, showing that they no longer had the strength to play independently the part of great powers” because of their political defeat in the Suez Crisis.[i] The U.S. played the role of a peacekeeper as it sought to quell the Anglo-French-Israeli aggression via U.N. cease-fire resolutions and diplomatic pressure.[ii] Due to he Anglo-French humiliation, “Nasser emerged from the crisis stronger than ever, a hero of Arab nationalism.”[iii] However Nasser wasn’t the only one to gain prestige, as “the Soviets…gained new stature in the Middle East,” for their “denunciations of Western Colonialism,” and the U.S. also won new respect among Arabs and anti-colonial nations for their stand against the British and French.[iv] With this scenario in mind, we come to understand that a power-vacuum was left open in Britain’s diplomatic defeat, and aids in our understanding for Nasser’s rise as the Arab-nationalist figurehead, the Soviets increased influence, and the U.S.’s desired to counter that newfound influence.[v]

Keeping in mind the increased popularity that the Soviets had with their outright rejection of Western interference in Arab affairs, as well as their increased trading with Nasser, one can see where the U.S., in the height of it’s Cold War mentality, can begin to fear any increased Soviet role.[vi] Following the spirit of the Truman Containment Doctrine, the U.S. sought to step up its known presence in the Middle East.[vii] Eisenhower worried that “if the US did not engage the Soviet Union in the battle for the hearts and minds of the ‘emerging’ nations, then she would in future see herself economically stifled through the denial of markets and raw materials.”[viii] Eisenhower respond with the Eisenhower Document, which “tap[ed] a reliable well of anti-communist sentiment at home,” in stating that “if the President determines the necessity thereof, the United States is prepared to use armed forces to assist any such nation or group of nations requesting assistance against armed aggression from any country controlled by international communism.’ ”[ix] As predicted, Chamoan’s Lebanon quickly welcomed the rhetorical and wide-reaching device, and as we’ll later see used it to pin the U.S. into fulfilling later promises.

In response to the balancing of power, Nasser and Syria made a far-reaching move by “merging themselves into a single state called the United Arab Republic with Nasser as president.”[x] Wrongly seen by the U.S. as communist sponsored, this new Union tended to upset the delicate balance in Lebanon between Christians and Muslims.[xi] “Like the Syrians, the Moslems and other nationalists in Lebanon desired closer ties with Egypt, wanted their government to disentangle itself from the commitments to the West, primarily the United States, and favored a policy of ‘positive neutralism’ as proclaimed by Nasser.”[xii] This clearly sobered the Christian Lebanese leader, Chamoan, and led to his formal complaints to the United Nations Security Council of “armed bands from Syria, the destruction of Lebanese life and property, the supplying of arms to Lebanese rebels, and the waging of a violent radio and press campaign against the established authorities in Lebanon.”[xiii] Although the U.S. sided with Chamoan’s claims, scholars such as Genzier argue that “Contrary to the assumption implicit in U.S. and Lebanese rationalizations of civil war—that the motor force determining action in Beirut was the subversive interference of UAR agents—it was the progress of opposition forces on the ground that moved Washington closer to full-scale military intervention.”[xiv] Hahns also argued “Many Lebanese and U.S. observers suspected, however, that Lebanon’s internal security problems stemmed less from Syrian or Soviet subversion than from domestic opposition to Chamoan’s increasingly autocratic rule.”[xv] The U.N. responded to Chamoan’s claims by sending observers, yet these observers didn’t “find evidence [to] substantiate Chamoun’s charge of ‘massive intervention’ by Nasser.”[xvi] With the absent findings of the U.N., the opening of powers from the Suez crisis, and the recent Union between anti-western Syria and Egypt, the stage is set with Lebanon in an extremely volatile position: Chamoan coming under ideological Arab nationalist Aggression via the UAR, and the lack of U.N. evidence to warrant an intervention. The tinder is pilled high among Lebanon’s border, and then a spark sets Lebanon ablaze: The Iraqi Coup of July 14th.[xvii]

Now having the knowledge of the fuel that surrounded Lebanon, we can analyze the internal situation that left it flammable toward the spark of the Iraqi Coup of 1958. This internal trouble wasn’t solely the rise of Arab Nationalism amongst the Muslim population, but more importantly Lebanese who were “Outraged by what they regarded as massive fraud during the June elections.”[xviii] His critics had “charged that he [Chamoan] had packed parliament with his cronies in order to amend the constitution so that he could serve a second term as president.”[xix] Scholars tend to overlook any Communist influence, and instead argue “The Lebanese crises of May 1958 was occasioned, [as] according to Professor Harry N. Howard, ‘by the evident determination of President Chamoun to maintain himself in his high office, in violation of the Lebanese Constitution.’ ”[xx] Even the U.S. Department recognized that the real threat was the sentiment of Chamoan seeking a second term, as it concludes in a study “that…minimized the red threat and suggested instead that the tide of anti-U.S. sentiment surging through Lebanon ‘may well arise from a desire to prevent Chamoun from obtaining a further term of office.’ ”[xxi] However, this was sadly ignored as Eisenhower instead thought it easier to “exaggerate the communist threat in Lebanon and stretch the logic of the Eisenhower Doctrine to the breaking point, [rather] than to risk defeat on Capitol Hill by seeking congressional approval for the use of U.S. troops to combat anti-Western Arab nationalism.”[xxii]

Before the spark of the Iraqi Coup, the U.S. had extended military intervention roughly under the Eisenhower Doctrine to Chamoan, yet Chamoan first had to fulfill three prerequisites.[xxiii] With the bubbling chaos flowing from Lebanon’s presidential election affairs, as well as the cascading dilemma of Arab nationalism as championed by Nasser and his UAR, the coup of once Western friendly Iraq sent a strong message to Western nations. For the U.S., the takeover of Iraq was a deadly blow that put them in an awful position. On the one side was the once-western friendly nation being toppled by Arab nationalist ideas, while on the other side was Chamoan and his ‘blank check’ from the United States to honor their promise in protecting the Middle East. The tables were now slightly turned in favor of Chamoan’s desire for assistance, and with the event in Iraq, he wasn’t hesitant to call on American aid. Secretary of State Dulles argued that “if we did not supply troops if Chamoun tried to cash the check [promise of U.S. troop intervention], it would raise throughout the world the question of whether the United States was willing to perform on its promises when the chips were down.’ ”[xxiv] It is also important to notice that the desire for intervention on the part of the US wasn’t solely advocated by Chamoan, but that “Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan were pressing hard for U.S. military intervention to contain the ride of radical nationalism sweeping the Arab world.”[xxv] With such countries advocating intervention, and the Cold War mentality of confronting communism and the Soviets abroad, it’s not a stretch to imagine the importance Lebanon played in showing the world, especially the Soviets, that the U.S. would stick to it’s promises and protect it’s friends.

Having seen that the U.S. masked the surrounding activities as Communist aggression when it was really Arab nationalism, and having pinpointed U.S. leaders knowledge in this and the importance of Chamoan’s possible intentions to run an unconstitutional second term, one is left with the task of asking how the U.S. was placed in a position to choose action instead of inaction. This rational behind the U.S.’s quick military engagement can be summed in two approaches. The first approach is the already touched upon ‘blank check’ between the U.S. and Chamoan, and the need to appear as a combating aggressor against Communism.[xxvi] This blank check signified the promises to Chamoan, masked under such open-ended devices as the Eisenhower Doctrine, that when weighed properly by the Lebanese leader, could be used to draw the U.S. into military intervention. The U.S.’s “main reason at this stage…was to show the Soviet Union that the US would act to protect its friends around the world, and more specifically, that it had the military might available and the political will to defend the Middle east.”[xxvii] With the Iraqi Coup, Lebanon’s cashing of its check put the U.S. in a position to either act or appear weak. The U.S.’s cards were off the table, and it now had two choices: Adhere to the promises given to Chamoan and appear to both it’s friends and the Soviets as a nation who practiced what it preached, or allow Lebanon the opportunity to emulate Iraq and lose this beachhead within the Middle East and appear weak against the rising role of the Soviets in the area. With the image of combating Soviet aggression as a key to understanding the U.S.’s actions in it’s Cold War mentality, we’re left to analyze another factor that proves absolutely invaluable in understanding both the Lebanese intervention and current tribulations.

As one may have sensed, the U.S. had a specified adherence to that of the second approach to understanding why the U.S. intervened: its image. This factor, dubbed the image of credibility, is imperative in our case study. A huge quantity of the Cold War can be summed in the American effort to appear and act as if it were combating communism across the globe and fulfilling it’s promises. This image of appearing aggressive lead to the American Foreign Policy fascination with it’s own image of credibility. Lebanon then, can be looked upon as a central point to whether or not America could both maintain it’s credible image and appear as if it truly combated Soviet aggression worldwide. “The Americans intervened in Lebanon…largely in order to make a credibility-building point to the Soviets about their resolve to defend their friends in the Middle East and, indeed, worldwide.”[xxviii] This image and these promises made to the Middle East were magnified in the Lebanon case, as “White House, top State Department, Pentagon, and CIA officials met briefly and concluded that unless Ike honored Chamoun’s request, the United States would ‘lose influence not only in the Arab states of the Middle East but in the area more generally.’ ”[xxix] In the war of ideologies, the American image of credibility was key, and although some scholars mention that “In hindsight, both operations have been characterized as extraordinarily successful in view of the fact that little or no internal disorder erupted in the countries concerned, and the troops departed without incident,”[xxx] Ike said it best when he said “ ‘we are opening Pandora’s box’ without really knowing ‘what’s at the bottom of it’ ”[xxxi] The image of credibility, as tested in the Lebanese case, opened the ideological Pandora’s sandbox that lead to it’s need to apply this reasoning to future cases, such as Vietnam and modern Iraq.

In summary, we have seen and explored the surrounding areas of Lebanon. We have seen the gapping of powers due to the recessed dominance of the Anglo-French in the Suez Crisis, which lead to the role of Nasser as Arab-nationalism spokesperson, Soviet increased activity in the region, and the U.S. stepped-up role to counter that Soviet rise. In reaction to that Soviet and Arab-nationalist rise, we analyzed the U.S.’s response in the form of elevated promises via the Eisenhower Doctrine, and how this was used by Lebanon’s Chamoan to draw the U.S. into making promises of protection. We then lightly analyzed the spark that set both international and national Lebanese affairs in flame via the sporadic Iraqi Coup. With these international events setting the stage, we then analyzed the internal affairs of the Lebanon, and concluded that although the true source of rebellion surrounded Arab-nationalism and Chamoan’s potential unconstitutional bid for a second term, and the U.S. falsely used the Cold War Mentality to sell intervention at home. All these lead to our two conclusions on why the U.S. intervened in the Lebanon: To appear as if it were combating Soviet and communist aggression, and to remain credible to worldwide allies and enemies.

Although in hindsight modern individuals stress the military successes of the intervention of Lebanon, “The entire crises might actually have been avoided had not key officials at the White House, the State Department, and the CIA developed such close personal ties with pro-Western Lebanese leaders.” (Hahn 40). With these deepened ties between the U.S. and Lebanon, as well as the image of combating communist aggression and maintaining credibility, one is left analyzing potential blowback. Here we find three results of the intervention that are dire in our understanding of current issues. The first blowback in Ike’s actions is that “he helped place the United States on a collision course with Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and other Arab radicals during the following quarter-century,” by characterizing Nasser as a Soviet puppet and by combating the rise of Arab Nationalism.[xxxii] [xxxiii] Ike’s second blowback comes from his “absence of communist subversion in Lebanon [which] prevented him from acting under the auspices of the Eisenhower Doctrine, [and] Ike had to resort instead to his powers as commander-in-chief…[which is] regarded as a dangerous step down the road toward what would later be called the imperial presidency.”[xxxiv] Although the imperial presidency is an essay on its own, it’s overt to see how major a role this increased imperial presidency has played in such areas as Johnson’s Vietnam and Bush’s Iraq. One last form of blowback is found in that above-mentioned image of credibility. One could argue, as Peter L. Hahn does, that “the same reason that Lyndon Johnson… plunge[ed] into the Vietnamese quagmire after 1964: [was] credibility.”[xxxv] This may also be loosely applied to current situations in Iraq, where the U.S. needed to appear as a credible force against terrorism.

In conclusion, we are left as students of history asking whether Ike’s actions were a ‘finest hour’ of military successes with limited casualties, or whether Ike really opened Pandora’s sandbox which later prompted an increase in the imperial presidency, a rise of anti-U.S. sentiments with Arab nations, and the promise to keep an image that would spill into such bloody engagements as Vietnam. In this essay I’ve concluded that America’s intervention within the Lebanon was sold upon the false pretense of Communistic Aggression while really grounded within the rise of Arab Nationalism and presidential-election affairs of Lebanon, and that the U.S.’s military promises to such Lebanese leaders placed itself in a position where inaction was more damaging than military action.  With the causes of the intervention found in both the U.S.’s desire to combat the Soviets and appear credible to allies and enemies, we then analyzed the three forms of blowback applicable to modern scenarios. We conclude that the U.S.’s placed itself in a position, via loose ideological promises such as the Eisenhower Doctrine and dedication to credibility, that it had to act or lose credibility in the region and sacrifice influence to both the Soviets and Arab nationalism. Although the U.S. may have quelled the fires from consuming Lebanon, it may have merely famed flames that later spread into Arabic resentment, dedications to appearing credible, and a sad rise to a later unimaginable presidential presidency. Although some flames may have been quelled, Lebanon stands as an ideal case in observing U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, and in analyzing what fires the U.S. may have caused via the embers of it’s intervention in Lebanon.

 

 


[i] Alexander DeConde, A History of American Foreign Policy 2nd Edition, p.755

 

[ii] Alexander DeConde, A History of American Foreign Policy 2nd Edition, p.754 “faced by…opposition of their major ally, the British and French gulped their pride, stifled their resentment, ad agreed to withdraw from Egypt.”

 

[iii] Alexander DeConde, A History of American Foreign Policy 2nd Edition, p.755

 

[iv] Alexander DeConde, A History of American Foreign Policy 2nd Edition, p.754-755; See Nixon quotations on 754, as well as DeConde’s commentary on U.S., Nasser, and Soviet respect among Arabs and anti-colonial powers for their stand.

 

[v] Alexander DeConde, A History of American Foreign Policy 2nd Edition, p.755. “British and French prestige nearly vanished through the Middle East.”

 

[vi] Faiz S. Abu-Jaber, American-Arab Relations from Wilson to Nixon, See p. 135-138 for increased aid for Nasser’s Dam funding, as well as secret Egyptian-Czechoslovakian arms deals.

 

[vii] See President Harry S. Truman’s Address Before a Joint Session of Congress, March 12, 1947. http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/trudoc.htm

 

[viii] Nigel John Aston, Eisenhower, Macmillan and the Problem of Nasser, p. 107

 

[ix] Nigel John Aston, Eisenhower, Macmillan and the Problem of Nasser, p. 108

 

[x] Alexander DeConde, A History of American Foreign Policy 2nd Edition, p.758

 

[xi] Alexander DeConde, A History of American Foreign Policy 2nd Edition, p.758

 

[xii] Alexander DeConde, A History of American Foreign Policy 2nd Edition, p.758

 

[xiii] Nigel John Aston, Eisenhower, Macmillan and the Problem of Nasser, p. 157

 

[xiv] Irene L. Gendzier, Notes From The Minefield, p. 280

 

[xv] Peter L. Hahn, Empire and Revolution; The United States and the Third World Since 1945, p. 27

 

[xvi] Alexander DeConde, A History of American Foreign Policy 2nd Edition, p.759

 

[xvii] Alexander DeConde, A History of American Foreign Policy 2nd Edition, p.759. “At the same time Nasser had loosed a torrent of propaganda against Iraq’s pro-Western government. Suddenly, on July 14, a group of army officers in Baghdad overthrew the government, murdering the king, the crown prince, and the prime minister, and announced the founding of the Republic of Iraq.”

 

[xviii] Peter L. Hahn, Empire and Revolution; The United States and the Third World Since 1945, p. 25

 

[xix] Peter L. Hahn, Empire and Revolution; The United States and the Third World Since 1945, p. 25

 

[xx] Faiz S. Abu-Jaber, American-Arab Relations from Wilson to Nixon, p. 149.

 

[xxi] Peter L. Hahn, Empire and Revolution; The United States and the Third World Since 1945, p. 25

 

[xxii] Peter L. Hahn, Empire and Revolution; The United States and the Third World Since 1945, p. 39

 

[xxiii] Peter L. Hahn, Empire and Revolution; The United States and the Third World Since 1945, p. 28. “Eisenhower administration informed Chamoun later that same day that it was prepared to honor his request for U.S. troops under three conditions: that he accept UN help in resolving the crisis, that he accept UN help in resolving the crisis, that he obtain support from at least on other Arab state, and that he renounce his own candidacy for a second term.” This wasn’t truly expected, as the U.S. predicted the restrained role of the U.N.

 

[xxiv] Peter L. Hahn, Empire and Revolution; The United States and the Third World Since 1945, p. 30

 

[xxv] Peter L. Hahn, Empire and Revolution; The United States and the Third World Since 1945, p. 31

 

[xxvi] Nigel John Aston, Eisenhower, Macmillan and the Problem of Nasser, p. 181. “A point had to be made to the Soviets and to Nasser, the man who was now seen once again as their ‘puppet’, about American resolve to defend friendly nations in the area. Hence the Rapid dispatch of troops to Lebanon.”

 

[xxvii] Nigel John Aston, Eisenhower, Macmillan and the Problem of Nasser, p. 170

 

[xxviii] Nigel John Aston, Eisenhower, Macmillan and the Problem of Nasser, p. 188

 

[xxix] Peter L. Hahn, Empire and Revolution; The United States and the Third World Since 1945, p. 31-32

 

[xxx] Nigel John Aston, Eisenhower, Macmillan and the Problem of Nasser, p. 188

 

[xxxi] Peter L. Hahn, Empire and Revolution; The United States and the Third World Since 1945, p. 33

 

[xxxii] Peter L. Hahn, Empire and Revolution; The United States and the Third World Since 1945, p. 40

 

[xxxiii] Nigel John Aston, Eisenhower, Macmillan and the Problem of Nasser, p. 181. “A point had to be made to the Soviets and to Nasser, the man who was now seen once again as their ‘puppet’, about American resolve to defend friendly nations in the area. Hence the Rapid dispatch of troops to Lebanon.”

 

[xxxiv] Peter L. Hahn, Empire and Revolution; The United States and the Third World Since 1945, p. 40

 

[xxxv] Peter L. Hahn, Empire and Revolution; The United States and the Third World Since 1945, p. 40

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