Stabilizing the Middle East -- then and now

Fifty years ago today, an American president successfully stood up against the Moslem tide in the Middle East and won a victory. But the anniversary may pass completely unnoticed by most of the media, and the lesson of that event remains unlearned by most Americans. 

On July 15, 1958, President Eisenhower began what was called "Operation Blue Bat."  President Chamoun of Lebanon, a Maronite Christian, had refused to side with Arab Moslem nations against the West.  The result was that within Lebanon, supported by Syria, Muslims pushed for the end of the Chamoun administration (and, tacitly, for an end to the middle course of democracy that Lebanon had long pursued.)

The pro-Western government of Iraq had also just been toppled.  The pro-Soviet government that took its place would in time be overthrown by the Baathist Party, establishing a direct link between the sort of government we are trying to establish in Iraq today and the government that had existed in Iraq until July 1958.  Fifty years ago marked the unraveling of much of what we are living with today in the Middle East.

Operation Blue Bat largely worked.  By October of that year, American troops were withdrawn.  Another Maronite Christian replaced Chamoun as President of Lebanon and the Prime Minister of Lebanon continued to be a Sunni Moslem (which had been the successful modus vivendi between the half-Christian and half-Moslem population of democratic Lebanon for years.)

During the next Arab-Israeli War, the Six Day War in 1967, Lebanon was neutral -- it had fought against the new Israeli state in 1948.  The Lebanese people enjoyed the benefits of neutrality and the blessings of peace.  We often talk today of Israel being "the only working democracy in the Middle East," and, alas, it is now.  But fifty years ago, when America intervened directly with military forces, there were two working democracies in the Middle East.  Lebanon, in fact, was the first working democracy in the Middle East.  It achieved independence in 1943, under the Free French. 

When Lebanon worked, Christians and Moslems shared power in rough proportion to their percentage of the population.   Sunni and Shia, within the Moslem community, also divided power, with the Prime Minister a Sunni and the Speaker a Shia.  Like so many political systems that ought not to have worked, it did work for many decades.  Mutual self-interest -- the profitability of the system to many power brokers -- quite frankly helped Lebanon survive.  It was not a perfectly pristine polity, but rather a generally pro-Western, basically tolerant, essentially democratic system that provided each confession within Lebanon with a "piece of the pie." 

In looking at Iraq today, we should see some rough similarities that ought to encourage us.  Although Iraq lacks a Christian population of size, and that Christian population is increasingly persecuted (a fair issue for both presidential candidates to take President Bush to task over), the Kurds are religiously diverse and ethnically non-Arabs, which provides something vaguely comparable to the Maronite Christian influence in Lebanon fifty years ago.  Sunni and Shia in Lebanon made a deal, just as Sunni and Shia in Iraq must. 

American troops proved indispensable to keeping Lebanon from collapsing into a wretched situation which would spiral downward into chaos and violence. This is just like American troops restoring democracy to Iraq, halting the violence which came when Baathist state terrorism ended.   The vacuum of power in an inherently unstable state like Lebanon or Iraq invites the bad guys to create mischief which bedevils generations.

If a modest American military contingent stays in Iraq another fifty years, and if Iraq remains a working democracy which suppresses terrorism and sides with the West, then it will have been worth the blood, time and treasure. 

If Eisenhower had kept troops in Lebanon -- if he had been invited fifty years ago to do so -- what might Lebanon look like today?  Syria, a fifth rate military power, would never have tangled directly with the American military.  The Maronite population, once the majority of Lebanon, would have retained at least a co-equal voice in Lebanese affairs, thwarting Moslem extremists.  And instead of just having to explain why Israel was a prosperous, free, peaceful democracy, the enemies of human joy would have been compelled to explain also why a Christian-Moslem nation just to the north of Israel was also prosperous, free and peaceful. 

We who resist the creep of totalitarianism and bloodlust around the globe need to have hope.  Lebanon was once a beacon of hope.  Iraq may be that beacon tomorrow.  Fifty years ago, Lebanon was saved and Iraq was lost.  One by one, we must restore hope in freedom and in peace everywhere.  Our world is filled with men who dream nightmares and men who dream hope.  One dream will prevail.  Which dream depends upon us, who can overwhelm evil, if we have the willpower.  Fifty years ago, in Lebanon, we had that willpower.  Today, in Iraq, we must have that willpower again.
Fifty years ago today, an American president successfully stood up against the Moslem tide in the Middle East and won a victory. But the anniversary may pass completely unnoticed by most of the media, and the lesson of that event remains unlearned by most Americans. 

On July 15, 1958, President Eisenhower began what was called "Operation Blue Bat."  President Chamoun of Lebanon, a Maronite Christian, had refused to side with Arab Moslem nations against the West.  The result was that within Lebanon, supported by Syria, Muslims pushed for the end of the Chamoun administration (and, tacitly, for an end to the middle course of democracy that Lebanon had long pursued.)

The pro-Western government of Iraq had also just been toppled.  The pro-Soviet government that took its place would in time be overthrown by the Baathist Party, establishing a direct link between the sort of government we are trying to establish in Iraq today and the government that had existed in Iraq until July 1958.  Fifty years ago marked the unraveling of much of what we are living with today in the Middle East.

Operation Blue Bat largely worked.  By October of that year, American troops were withdrawn.  Another Maronite Christian replaced Chamoun as President of Lebanon and the Prime Minister of Lebanon continued to be a Sunni Moslem (which had been the successful modus vivendi between the half-Christian and half-Moslem population of democratic Lebanon for years.)

During the next Arab-Israeli War, the Six Day War in 1967, Lebanon was neutral -- it had fought against the new Israeli state in 1948.  The Lebanese people enjoyed the benefits of neutrality and the blessings of peace.  We often talk today of Israel being "the only working democracy in the Middle East," and, alas, it is now.  But fifty years ago, when America intervened directly with military forces, there were two working democracies in the Middle East.  Lebanon, in fact, was the first working democracy in the Middle East.  It achieved independence in 1943, under the Free French. 

When Lebanon worked, Christians and Moslems shared power in rough proportion to their percentage of the population.   Sunni and Shia, within the Moslem community, also divided power, with the Prime Minister a Sunni and the Speaker a Shia.  Like so many political systems that ought not to have worked, it did work for many decades.  Mutual self-interest -- the profitability of the system to many power brokers -- quite frankly helped Lebanon survive.  It was not a perfectly pristine polity, but rather a generally pro-Western, basically tolerant, essentially democratic system that provided each confession within Lebanon with a "piece of the pie." 

In looking at Iraq today, we should see some rough similarities that ought to encourage us.  Although Iraq lacks a Christian population of size, and that Christian population is increasingly persecuted (a fair issue for both presidential candidates to take President Bush to task over), the Kurds are religiously diverse and ethnically non-Arabs, which provides something vaguely comparable to the Maronite Christian influence in Lebanon fifty years ago.  Sunni and Shia in Lebanon made a deal, just as Sunni and Shia in Iraq must. 

American troops proved indispensable to keeping Lebanon from collapsing into a wretched situation which would spiral downward into chaos and violence. This is just like American troops restoring democracy to Iraq, halting the violence which came when Baathist state terrorism ended.   The vacuum of power in an inherently unstable state like Lebanon or Iraq invites the bad guys to create mischief which bedevils generations.

If a modest American military contingent stays in Iraq another fifty years, and if Iraq remains a working democracy which suppresses terrorism and sides with the West, then it will have been worth the blood, time and treasure. 

If Eisenhower had kept troops in Lebanon -- if he had been invited fifty years ago to do so -- what might Lebanon look like today?  Syria, a fifth rate military power, would never have tangled directly with the American military.  The Maronite population, once the majority of Lebanon, would have retained at least a co-equal voice in Lebanese affairs, thwarting Moslem extremists.  And instead of just having to explain why Israel was a prosperous, free, peaceful democracy, the enemies of human joy would have been compelled to explain also why a Christian-Moslem nation just to the north of Israel was also prosperous, free and peaceful. 

We who resist the creep of totalitarianism and bloodlust around the globe need to have hope.  Lebanon was once a beacon of hope.  Iraq may be that beacon tomorrow.  Fifty years ago, Lebanon was saved and Iraq was lost.  One by one, we must restore hope in freedom and in peace everywhere.  Our world is filled with men who dream nightmares and men who dream hope.  One dream will prevail.  Which dream depends upon us, who can overwhelm evil, if we have the willpower.  Fifty years ago, in Lebanon, we had that willpower.  Today, in Iraq, we must have that willpower again.