Two decades ago, Ronald Reagan committed his greatest foreign-policy blunder: intervening in Lebanon’s civil war. After Muslim opponents of the bedraggled Lebanese government targeted U.S. diplomats and Marines to deadly effect, however, he “redeployed” U.S. forces to ships offshore and sailed away. Now, the Bush administration risks sliding back into the Lebanese imbroglio.
The bloody murder of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri has led to calls for the United States to force Syria, which retains paramount influence over her smaller neighbor, to withdraw her 14,000 occupying troops. Some Syrian exiles are even calling for regime change, which, in practice, would require a U.S. invasion.
The President’s rhetoric has been measured, but the administration has withdrawn the U.S. ambassador, Margaret Scobey, and is threatening to expand sanctions beyond those embodied in last year’s Syrian Accountability Act. Limiting the movement of Syrian diplomats, freezing Syrian assets, and banning investment and trade are possibilities.
Lebanon turned from a tolerant commercial oasis of stability into a fulcrum of hellish conflict when she descended into civil war in 1975 after the carefully crafted Christian-Muslim power-sharing arrangement collapsed. The conflict was complicated by Syrian intervention with as many as 42,000 soldiers over the years, the Israeli...