The United States and Lebanon: A Meddlesome History

While the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon one year ago was certainly a positive development, claims by the Bush administration and its supporters that the United States deserves credit are badly misplaced. On the first anniversary of the ousting of Syrian forces by a popular nonviolent movement, it is important to recognize that American calls in recent years for greater Lebanese freedom and sovereignty from Syrian domination have been viewed by most Lebanese as crass opportunism. Indeed, few Americans are aware that for decades the United States pursued policies which seriously undermined Lebanon’s freedom and sovereignty.

Due to such misunderstanding, a brief review of the history of the U.S. role in Lebanon is in order:

The First U.S. Incursion

In 1926, France carved Lebanon out of Syria—which it had seized from the Ottoman Turks at the end of World War I—for the very purpose of creating a pro-Western enclave in the eastern Mediterranean. In 1943, France granted the country independence, leaving behind a unique governing system where the most powerful position of president would always go to a Maronite Christian and the second most powerful position, that of prime minister, would always go to a Sunni Muslim. The post of National Assembly speaker would go to a Shiite Muslim and on down through the country’s smaller ethnic communities such as Druzes, Orthodox Christians, and others. Seats in the National Assembly would be apportioned based upon religious affiliation according to a 1932 French census. This was designed to keep Lebanon under the domination of the Maronite Christians, the country’s largest single religious group, who were far more pro-Western and less prone to support radical Arab nationalists than most Lebanese and other Arabs. Indeed, Lebanon’s very existence as a separate state was predicated on Maronite domination.

One part of maintaining this balance of power was limiting the Lebanese president to one six-year term. In 1958, a crisis was sparked by efforts to push through constitutional changes that would allow the pro-Western president Camille Chamoun to seek re-election. Though Chamoun backed down, Arab nationalist forces threatened to topple the archaic neocolonial electoral system imposed by the French. The United States responded by sending Marines briefly into Lebanon to suppress the incipient rebellion.

Palestinian Refugees and the Outbreak of Civil War

Internal cleavages in Lebanon were compounded by the presence of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who had been driven from their homes during Israel’s war of independence in 1948 and were denied Lebanese citizenship or any representation in the political system. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)—which essentially served as the Palestinians’ government-in-exile but was denied recognition by the United States—had taken advantage of the relatively weak central government in Beirut to establish Lebanon as its principal military, administrative, and diplomatic base of operations after being forced out of the Kingdom of Jordan by the Hashemite monarchy in that country’s 1970-71 civil war.

Despite these tensions, the Republic of Lebanon—without a monarch or military dictator—enjoyed more political freedom than any other Arab country. The Lebanese capital of Beirut became a popular destination for American and European tourists and investors and became known as “the Paris of the Orient.”

At the same time, the confessional representation system effectively kept elites from various Lebanese clans in control of the country and, while relatively prosperous compared to other non-oil producing states in the region, the government’s laissez-faire economic policies exacerbated the huge gap between the country’s rich and poor. By the 1970s, as a result of demographic changes, the Maronites had long since lost their status as the largest religious community while Shiite Muslims—who were allocated the least political power of the three major religious communities—had become the largest as well as the poorest.

Tensions grew as rival Lebanese factions began forming heavily-armed militias. A full-scale civil war broke out in April 1975 between Maronite Christians and other supporters of the status quo and their predominantly Muslim opponents.

The “Muslim” side of the conflict during its first phase was actually a largely secular coalition known as the Lebanese National Movement (LNM) which, while consisting primarily of Sunnis and Druzes, also included leftists and nationalists from virtually all of Lebanon’s religious and ethnic communities. The LNM in many respects spearheaded an attempt to have Lebanon join the ranks of the other left-leaning Arab nationalist governments which had come to power over the previous 25 years.

Seeking to block the establishment of such a government that would likely enact policies less sympathetic with the West, the United States—along with the French and Israelis—clandestinely supported the Maronites and their Phalangist militia, the largest armed group among the Maronites and their allies. The far right-wing Phalangist Party was founded by Pierre Gemayel during the 1930s, who modeled his party after the fascist movements then on the ascendancy in Europe.

By the end of 1975, armed units of the PLO—based in Palestinian refugee camps throughout the western part of Lebanon—joined forces with the LNM. There were widespread killings of civilians by both sides, particularly by the Phalangists, and the cosmopolitan city of Beirut became a war zone. By the spring of 1976, the Phalangists and other rightist forces were on the defensive. At that point, some pro-Western elements of the Lebanese government—with the endorsement of the Arab League and the quiet support of the United States—invited Syrian forces into the country to block the LNM’s incipient victory, eventually pushing back PLO and LNM forces out of the central, northern, and eastern parts of Lebanon.

The 1982 Israeli Invasion

Beginning in the early 1970s, as the PLO expanded its presence in Lebanon, the Israelis engaged in frequent air strikes against both military and civilian targets, ostensibly in retaliation for terrorist attacks against Israelis by exiled Palestinian groups based in that country. Despite the high civilian death toll and damage to Lebanon’s economy, particularly in the largely Shiite southern part of the country, the United States defended Israeli actions. Meanwhile, with the collapse of the central government and the disintegration of the country’s armed forces into various armed factions with the outbreak of the civil war, fighters from the various PLO factions—particularly those of the PLO’s Palestine Liberation Army and guerrillas of the dominant Fatah movement—came to control much of southern Lebanon.

In March 1978, in retaliation for an amphibious Palestinian terrorist attack that killed dozens of Israeli civilians on a coastal highway north of Tel Aviv, Israel launched a major incursion into southern Lebanon, resulting in large-scale devastation and deaths of hundreds of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians. The United States voted with the rest of the UN Security Council in support of Security Council Resolution 425, which called upon Israel to cease all military action and withdraw immediately. U.S. President Jimmy Carter threatened to suspend some U.S. aid if Israel did not pull back its forces, resulting in a partial withdrawal to what Israel later referred to as a “security zone,” a 12- to 20-mile strip of Lebanese territory along Israel’s northern border. A United Nations peacekeeping force (UNIFIL) was brought into Lebanon to separate the two sides. Within the Israeli-occupied territory, the Israelis allied with renegade Lebanese General Sa’ad Haddad to form the South Lebanese Army (SLA), which effectively became a foreign regiment of the Israeli armed forces. Nine subsequent UN Security Council resolutions over the next several years reiterated the demand that Israel withdraw completely and unconditionally from Lebanese territory, but the United States blocked the UN Security Council from enforcing them.

Throughout the late 1970s and into the early 1980s, Israel and the SLA periodically bombed and shelled Palestinian military positions as well as civilian areas in southern Lebanon. Palestinian militia would then lob shells into northern Israel, resulting in scores of civilian casualties. Israel, with its vastly superior firepower, tended to inflict a lot more damage. In June 1981, following a particularly heavy series of Israeli air strikes in a crowded Beirut neighborhood that resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties, an envoy from U.S. President Ronald Reagan successfully brokered a cease-fire.

Despite the fact that the PLO largely honored this cease-fire during the subsequent year, right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin ordered a full-scale invasion of Lebanon in early June 1982 under the leadership of his Defense Minister General Ariel Sharon. Within weeks, Israel occupied nearly half the country and began laying siege to Beirut. Meanwhile, Israel bombed Syrian positions in eastern Lebanon and shot down dozens of Syrian military aircraft. The United States vetoed a series of UN Security Council resolutions demanding an Israeli withdrawal; subsequent resolutions simply calling for a cease-fire were also blocked from passage by U.S. vetoes.

In less that two months, heavy Israeli bombardment of residential areas of Beirut and other cities killed as many as 12,000 Lebanese and Palestinian citizens, the overwhelming majority of whom were civilians. Despite the level of carnage and Israel’s violations of international law, Lebanese sovereignty, and U.S. law which prohibits the use of its weapons for non-defensive purposes, the Reagan administration and Congressional leaders of both parties vigorously defended the Israeli invasion and increased military support for the rightist Israeli government.

U.S. Forces Return to Lebanon

In late August 1982, the United States brokered an agreement whereby the PLO would evacuate its fighters and political offices from Beirut to Tunis, capital of the North African country of Tunisia, 1500 miles to the west. In return, Israel pledged not to overrun the city. The agreement included the deployment of a U.S.-led peacekeeping force to oversee the evacuation of Palestinian fighters. Regarding the safety of the now-disarmed Palestinian refugee population, the agreement stated that, along with the government of Lebanon, the “ United States will provide appropriate guarantees of safety.” Of particular concern to Palestinian civilians was t he Phalangist militia, which had engaged in a series of attacks against Palestinian civilians during the first phase of the civil war, the most infamous being the 1976 massacre of as many as 2,000 Palestinians at the Tal al-Zaatar refugee camp in East Beirut.

Three days following the signing of the August 20 agreement, a rump Lebanese national assembly—under the gaze of Israeli artillery in nearby hills—met to choose a new president. Despite the Phalangist movement’s fascist leanings and its history of atrocities, Bachir Gemayel—the Phalangist militia leader and younger son of the movement’s founder—was chosen as president.

Within two weeks, U.S. forces withdrew from Lebanon, far earlier than anticipated. Three days later, President-elect Gemayel was assassinated in a bombing of Phalangist headquarters, which many have since blamed on Syrian intelligence operatives. Israel used the assassination as an excuse to break its pledge by ordering its armed forces to occupy Beirut. Though this was the first time since World War II that the capital of an independent state had been conquered by a foreign army, the Reagan administration issued only a mild rebuke. The Israelis then sent Phalangist militiamen into Sabra and Shatila, two Palestinian refugee camps on the southern outskirts of the city. There, the Phalangists massacred over 1,000 civilians under the watch of Israeli occupation forces, who did nothing to stop the ongoing atrocity and even launched flares into the camps so to allow the Phalangists to continue their assaults into the night.

In Israel, the growing popular opposition to their right-wing government’s invasion and occupation of Lebanon greatly intensified when Israeli complicity in the massacres became apparent, prompting massive demonstrations calling for a withdrawal of Israeli forces and accountability for Israelis responsible. (An independent Israeli commission, in a February 1983 report, singled out General Sharon for responsibility and his political career at that point was thought to be over. However, he later served as Israeli prime minister from 2001 until his debilitating stroke early this year with the strong support and praise by both President George W. Bush and Congressional leaders of both parties.)

Also controversial was the premature U.S. withdrawal which left the defenseless Palestinian refugee camps vulnerable to the Israeli-backed Phalangist massacre. Secretary of State George Schultz acknowledged to colleagues, “The brutal fact is we are partially responsible.” Deputy National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane went as far as to privately claim that the early departure of U.S. forces was “criminally irresponsible.”

Joined by smaller contingents of French and Italian forces, U.S. troops returned to Beirut by the end of September and Israeli forces withdrew to positions just south of the Lebanese capital. Bachir Gemayel’s older brother Amin, the political leader of the Phalangists, assumed power as president and was soon faced with a popular uprising against his far right-wing government. While France saw its military presence as part of “a mission of maintaining peace and protecting the civil population,” the United States insisted that its troops were there to “ provide an interposition force ” and to provide the military presence “requested by the Lebanese Government to assist it and the Lebanese Armed Forces.”

By that fall, it became apparent that the United States hoped to use its military presence to pressure the Lebanese government to negotiate a permanent peace agreement with Israel in return for an Israeli withdrawal and to force the withdrawal of Syrian forces in the eastern part of the country as well as the remnants of armed Palestinian groups in the northwest. The Reagan administration even pledged that U.S. forces would remain until the Lebanese army had reconstituted itself and foreign forces withdrew.

Lingering resentment at the U.S. support for the devastating Israeli invasion that summer compounded by anger at the increased military role of U.S. forces in the country resulted in a terrorist backlash: In April 1983, suicide bombers struck the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people.

Under heavy U.S. pressure and with Israeli forces still occupying much of the central and southern parts of the country, the Phalangist-led Lebanese government signed a peace treaty with Israel the following month. The agreement was never ratified, however, due to popular opposition and was formally canceled soon thereafter.

By the end of the summer of 1983, as popular resistance to the country’s Phalangist leadership installed under Israeli guns gained ground, U.S. forces began intervening more directly in support of the rightist government, exchanging fire with Shiite rebels in suburban Beirut slums and bombing and shelling Druze villages supportive of the Socialist-led resistance in the Shouf Mountains. The American air strikes and the utilization of big guns from the battleship New Jersey resulted in large-scale civilian casualties. Despite concerns by peace and human rights groups in the United States, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives joined with the Republican-controlled Senate to authorize the continued presence of U.S. forces in Lebanon for an additional 18 months.

Fighting between U.S. forces and the Lebanese resistance continued into the fall, resulting in scores of American and hundreds of Lebanese casualties. In October, a suicide bomber attacked a Marine barracks near the Beirut Airport, killing 241 servicemen.

Fighting escalated still further in the winter months, with U.S. warplanes bombing Syrian positions in eastern Lebanon. Using rhetoric similar to that now being used to justify the ongoing U.S. war in Iraq, administration officials insisted in the face of growing anti-war sentiment in the United States that a withdrawal of American forces from Lebanon would threaten the peace and stability of the entire region and would be seen as victory for terrorists.

By early 1984, however, as a result of growing opposition within the United States to a counter-insurgency war which appeared to be creating more terrorism and instability than it was suppressing, the United States finally withdrew its forces from Lebanon.

The damage to America’s reputation had been done, however. As a result of U.S. support for the Israeli invasion and its subsequent intervention on behalf of what was widely seen as an illegitimate right-wing minority government, Lebanon had evolved from being perhaps the most pro-American country in the Arab world to, by the mid-1980s, perhaps the most anti-American country in the Arab world.

Ongoing Anti-American Terrorism

The rebuilt U.S. embassy was blown up again in September 1984, killing 54 people. What had once been one of the safest Middle Eastern countries in which Americans could travel became the most dangerous. Despite almost all American residents of Lebanon departing the country, several fell victim to assassinations and nearly a dozen others were kidnapped and held hostage. Reagan administration efforts to buy Iranian influence to pressure the Lebanese hostage-takers to release their American captives led to the arms-for-hostages deals which later came to light during the Iran-Contra scandal.

Despite the enormous attention given to the American hostages, and much to the consternation of human rights groups, the U.S. government expressed little concern regarding the fate of thousands of young Lebanese and Palestinian men seized by Israeli occupation forces and sent to prisons in Israel and Israeli-occupied southern Lebanon. Hundreds were held without charge for more than 15 years and many later reported they had been routinely tortured.

Another U.S. response to Lebanese terrorism was counter-terrorism, including the formation of a CIA-backed Lebanese intelligence unit designed to target suspected Shiite radicals. In March of 1985, in an unsuccessful effort to assassinate the anti-American Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, this U.S.-trained and -funded hit squad planted a bomb in a working class Beirut neighborhood which killed 80 civilians.

In June of 1985, Lebanese hijackers—including a man whose family had been killed by shells launched from the battleship New Jersey— seized a TWA airliner and forced it to Beirut, holding the passengers and crew hostage on the airport tarmac for 17 days. A U.S. Navy officer on board was executed.

In an interview with the New York Times, former President Jimmy Carter observed, in regard to Lebanon, “We bombed and shelled and unmercifully killed totally innocent villagers, women and children and farmers and housewives, in those villages around Beirut. As a result, we have become a kind of Satan in the minds of those who are deeply resentful. That is what precipitated the taking of hostages and that is what has precipitated some terrorist attacks.”

The Rise of Hizbullah

By the summer of 1985, guerrilla warfare by Lebanese Communists, the Lebanese Shiite Amal militia, some Palestinian factions, and other guerrilla movements forced the Israelis to withdraw their occupation forces from central Lebanon back into the far southern part of the country originally seized in 1978. Meanwhile, Syrian forces—which still controlled most of the eastern part of the country—were turning their guns against Maronite strongholds in the east and in mountain regions of the north, shelling a number of Christian towns and villages.

The Lebanese terrorists who had targeted Americans included both Sunni and Shiite extremists. Many of the latter coalesced into the Hizbullah (Party of God), developed with the assistance of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Much the movement’s support was drawn from the hundreds of thousands of Shiites who, following years of Israeli attacks, were forced from southern Lebanon into the shanty towns on the southern outskirts of Beirut. In the wake of the forced departure of the PLO and the destruction of the LNM by successive interventions from Syria, Israel, and the United States, Hizbullah and older Shiite militias like Amal rose to fill the vacuum.

In the parts of southern Lebanon north of the Israeli-occupied sector, Hizbullah came to exercise almost full control and began an armed struggle against the remaining Israeli occupation forces. Israel, with American military, financial, and diplomatic support, continued its defiance of the UN Security Council by maintaining its occupation of the southernmost strip of Lebanon, now claiming it was necessary to protect Israelis from the Hizbullah. Yet this threat from Hizbullah was very much an outgrowth of U.S. and Israeli policy: the group did not even exist until a full four years after Israel began its occupation of southern Lebanon.

Through the remainder of the 1980s, Lebanon remained under the control of the Syrian army, the Israeli army, and a myriad of Lebanese militias. With Lebanon’s central government, which had still not re-formed a standing army, unable to challenge the Israeli occupation, the Hizbullah—despite its radical brand of Shiite Islamic ideology—was thereby able to take the lead in the nationalist resistance to the Israeli occupation.

The End of the Civil War

In 1989, an agreement was signed in the Saudi Arabian city of Ta’if which would end the civil war by disarming the militias and revising the French-imposed Constitutional structure to lessen Maronite dominance. The settlement was initially blocked by General Michel Aoun, who had been serving as interim prime minister since September 1988 of one of two rival Lebanese governments which had been set up at the end of President Gemayel’s term. In March 1989, he had declared a “war of liberation” against the Syrian presence in his country. Aoun was supported by Iraq, one of the few Arab governments to speak out against the ongoing Syrian military presence in Lebanon. (When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Saddam Hussein declared that Iraqi forces would not leave that occupied emirate unless Syria also withdrew its forces from Lebanon.)

In October of 1990, Syrian forces in Beirut led an attack on Aoun’s stronghold, ousting the general and finally ending Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. The senior Bush administration backed the Syrian attack against Saddam’s most regionally important ally, with State Department officials acknowledging that the assault and resulting Syrian domination of subsequent Lebanese governments would not have been possible without the U.S. government’s support. (Ironically, despite his earlier alliance with Saddam Hussein and his role in a number of notorious massacres, General Aoun has been widely feted and praised by both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill as a hero for his anti-Syrian stance.)

During the early 1990s, a revived central Lebanese government and its Syrian backers disarmed most of the militias that had once carved up much of the country. Due to the ongoing Israeli occupation in the south, however, the Israeli-backed SLA remained intact, as did Hizbullah, whose low-level guerrilla warfare against Israeli occupation forces had strengthened its popular support. Despite Lebanese participation in the U.S.-organized Madrid peace conference in 1991, it became apparent that an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon was not a high priority for the United States.

With the U.S. veto power preventing the United Nations from enforcing its resolutions calling for an Israeli withdrawal, the UN was largely powerless to deal with the situation. Even on the ground, the UN’s role was limited: Israel had long refused to allow United Nations peacekeeping forces, initially dispatched to Lebanon in 1978, to take up positions on the Lebanese side of the Israeli-Lebanese border as the Security Council demanded, so they were forced to patrol a “no man’s land” just north of the Israeli-occupied zone between Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the SLA on one side and Hizbullah on the other side. Caught in the crossfire, scores of UN soldiers—with only side-arms at their disposal—were killed, primarily by the SLA.

Hizbullah and the Balance of Power

Through most of the 1990s, Hizbullah periodically fired shells into northern Israel, killing and injuring a number of civilians. Hizbullah claimed it was in retaliation for Israeli attacks against civilian areas in southern Lebanon which had taken a far greater number of civilian lives and pledged to cease such shelling once Israel ended its occupation. Meanwhile, the United States condemned Hizbullah not just for its occasional attacks inside Israel but also for its armed resistance against Israeli soldiers within Lebanon, despite the fact that international law recognizes the right of armed resistance against foreign occupation forces. The United States was apparently hoping that enough Israeli pressure against Lebanon would force the Lebanese to ratify a separate peace treaty with Israel and thereby isolate the Syrians. Similarly, the Syrians saw an advantage of allowing Hizbullah to fight Israel in Lebanon as a means to pressure Israel to withdraw from the Golan region of Syria, which had been seized by the Israelis in the 1967 war and had been under Israeli military occupation ever since.

In an effort to discredit Hizbullah’s efforts to free Lebanon from foreign military occupation, U.S. officials began to portray the populist Shiite movement as simply a proxy of the Syrians. In reality, Syria had originally backed Amal, a more moderate Shiite movement which had previously clashed with Hizbullah. As Hizbullah, despite its fundamentalist ideology, gained in popularity among the Lebanese as a result of leading the resistance against the Israeli occupation, Syria increased its support as well, though more through allowing them freedom of action than through substantial military or financial support.

Throughout this period, much of the ordinance and delivery systems used by the Israeli forces against Hizbullah and civilian targets in Lebanon were from the United States, part of the more than two billion dollars of taxpayer-funded military assistance sent annually to the Israeli government. Successive U.S. administrations rejected demands by human rights groups that such military aid be made conditional on an end to Israeli attacks on civilian areas.

The United States repeatedly defended the Israeli assaults, vetoing UN Security Council resolutions condemning the violence as well as questioning the credibility of human rights groups and UN agencies that exposed the extent of the humanitarian tragedy. To cite one notable case from 1996, the Israelis launched a mortar attack against a UN compound near the Lebanese village of Qana that was sheltering refugees from nearby villages which had been under Israeli assault for several days, killing more than 100 civilians. Reports by the United Nations, Amnesty International, and other investigators all indicated that the bombardment was probably intentional. However, despite the failure of the Clinton administration to provide any evidence to challenge these findings, the United States insisted that it was an accident. Some reports have indicated that the U.S. decision to veto the UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s re-election the following year was related to his refusal to suppress or tone down the UN’s findings on the Israeli assault on Qana.

By the late 1990s, increasing casualties among Israeli soldiers in occupied Lebanon led to growing dissent within Israel. In response to public opinion polls showing that the vast majority of Israelis wanted their forces to pull out of Lebanon, Martin Indyk, President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Israel who had also served as his assistant secretary of state for the Middle East, publicly encouraged Israel to keep its occupation forces in Lebanon indefinitely. In other words, the United States was encouraging Israel—against the better judgment of the majority of its citizens—to defy longstanding UN Security Council resolutions that called for Israel’s unconditional withdrawal. When veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas asked about his ambassador’s comments at a press conference the following day, President Clinton replied, “I believe it is imperative that Israel maintain the security of its northern border and therefore I have believed that the United States should be somewhat deferential under these circumstances.” Given the Clinton administration’s demands during that period that the United Nations impose strict sanctions against Arab countries like Iraq, Libya, and Sudan for their violations of UN Security Council resolutions, President Clinton’s public defense of Israel’s ongoing violations of UN Security Council resolutions reinforced the widespread perceptions in the Middle East and elsewhere of rampant American double standards in its approach to international law.

The Israeli Withdrawal

In May 2000, ongoing attacks by Hizbullah against the IDF and SLA forced the Israelis and their proxy force to make a hasty retreat out of Lebanese territory. In the wake of the failure of those advocating a diplomatic solution to end the Israeli occupation, this perceived military victory by the Hizbullah greatly enhanced the status of the movement among the Shiites and others. Many cite the failure of the United States to allow diplomatic means to succeed in ending the occupation, either through the U.S.-led peace process or through the United Nations system, as a key factor in convincing many Palestinians that the only way to end Israeli occupation of their lands was through armed struggle led by radical Islamists. Indeed, the violent Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip began just four months later.

Since then, except for a few minor incidents, the Israeli-Lebanese border has been quiet. The small number of shelling incidents from the Lebanese side appears to have come from small leftist and Sunni groups, not from Hizbullah. There has been periodic fighting, however, between Hizbullah militia and Israeli occupation forces in the disputed Shebaa Farms area along Lebanon’s border with the Israeli-occupied Golan in southwestern Syria.

Though Israel has continued to violate Lebanese air space in violation of UN Security Council resolution 425 and related resolutions—actions which Secretary General Kofi Annan has labeled as “provocative” and “at variance” with what was required of Israel by these Security Council mandates—a nearly-unanimous 2003 Congressional resolution praised Israel’s “full compliance” with the resolution.

Hizbullah never disarmed its militia as required and neither did the Lebanese government nor the Syrians attempted to force them to do so. However, since Israeli forces were withdrawn and the SLA disbanded in 2000, the numbers of Hizbullah fighters are down to around 1,000. The movement functions today primarily as a political party with elected representatives serving in the Lebanese parliament. A detailed report published in July 2003 by the International Crisis Group, an independent organization with close ties to the U.S. foreign policy establishment, described the Hizbullah of today as “maintaining the rhetoric and armed capability of a militant organization but few of its concrete manifestations.” Despite the fact that Hizbullah had not been implicated in any terrorist attacks for more than a decade, the Bush administration’s insistence that they should be treated as a “terrorist group” rather than a political party was therefore greeted with widespread skepticism in Europe and elsewhere.

A Hizbullah-sponsored rally in Beirut on March 8 of last year in opposition to Western pressure against the Syrian and Lebanese governments forced Bush administration officials to acknowledge that they are indeed a powerful force in Lebanese politics which could not be simply dismissed as a band of terrorists. In response, despite reports from the State Department and Congressional Research Service which confirmed the absence of any terrorist attacks by Hizbullah over the past dozen years, the U.S. House of Representatives six days later passed a resolution by an overwhelming 380-3 margin condemning “the continuous terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hezbollah.”

In Lebanese parliamentary elections that May, a slate led by Hezbollah won 80% of the vote in southern Lebanon and ended up with approximately 25 seats in the 128-member national assembly.

The Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act

In a 2003 bill signed by President Bush and passed with only eight dissenting votes in both houses of Congress, the United States strengthened sanctions against Syria. The legislation cited, as one of its key grievances against Damascus, the ongoing Syrian violation of UN Security Council resolution 520, passed in September of 1982, which called for “strict respect of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence of Lebanon under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon through the Lebanese Army throughout Lebanon.” A reading of the full text on the UN resolution, however, reveals that it was primarily directed not toward Syria but at Israel, which had launched a major invasion of Lebanon three months earlier and at that point held nearly half of the country, including the capital of Beirut, under its military occupation. Indeed, while one could certainly make the case that this resolution also applied to Syria, Israel was the only outside power mentioned by name in the resolution.

It is interesting to note that none of the supporters of the Syrian Accountability Act had ever called upon Israel to abide by UN Security Council resolution 520, much less called for sanctions against Israel in order to enforce it. Indeed, virtually all of the backers of this resolution who were then in office voted in support of unconditional military and economic aid to the Israeli government during this period when Israel was in violation of this very same resolution for which they later voted to impose sanctions on Syria for violating. Annual U.S. aid to Israel went from $1.7 billion at the time Israel began its occupation of southern Lebanon in 1978 to $4.1 billion in 2000, the final year of Israel’s 22-year occupation, effectively rewarding Israel for its violation of Lebanese sovereignty and international law.

The Syrian Accountability Act and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act did not give Syria any incentive to withdraw from Lebanon since the bill required that sanctions be maintained even if Syria completely pulled out of Lebanon due to other policy differences. The bill also imposed sanctions on Syria until the Syrian government agreed to a series of additional demands which most international observers found unreasonable, such as the insistence that Syria unilaterally disarm itself of certain weapons and delivery systems that hostile neighbors such as Israel and Turkey were allowed to maintain.

The Final Chapter

In September 2004—nine months after the sanctions bill against Syria was signed into law—the United States and France pushed resolution 1559 through the UN Security Council, which reiterated the call for all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon. Syria’s violations of these two resolutions were frequently cited by President Bush, the mainstream media, and Congressional leaders of both parties to highlight Syria’s status as an international outlaw. However, given the U.S. tolerance of the Israeli government’s violations of UNSC resolution 520, 425, and eight other resolutions during Israel’s 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon calling for Israel’s withdrawal—as well as the U.S. veto of several other resolutions challenging Israel’s occupation of and attacks against Lebanon—it again raised questions regarding the sincerity of the United States’ commitment to the Lebanese people’s right of self-determination.

Popular Lebanese anger at the continued Syrian presence in their country and the widespread belief that Syrian intelligence operatives were responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005 led to a series of massive nonviolent protests in Beirut—nicknamed the “Cedar Revolution”—which compelled Syrian forces to finally leave Lebanon at the end of April. Elections in June led to a victory by an anti-Syrian coalition and the overbearing influence on the Lebanese government long wielded by Syrian intelligence has waned considerably.

Though the Bush administration expressed its enthusiastic support for last year’s popular anti-Syrian uprising, efforts by the United States to portray itself as a champion of Lebanese freedom and sovereignty are disingenuous in the extreme. For nearly a half century, the United States—like the French, the Syrians, the Palestinians, and the Israelis—has used Lebanon to advance its own perceived strategic interests largely at the detriment of the Lebanese people themselves.

As a result, it is unlikely that the widespread anti-American sentiment in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Arab world will change as long as U.S. demands that principles of self-determination, human rights, and international law be respected only when the violator of these principles is not allied with the United States.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/the_united_states_and_lebanon_a_meddlesome_history

Iraq Three Years after “Liberation”

Three years after U.S. forces captured Baghdad, Iraqis are suffering from unprecedented violence and misery. Although Saddam Hussein was indeed one of the world’s most brutal tyrants, the no-fly zones and arms embargo in place for more than a dozen years prior to his ouster had severely weakened his capacity to do violence against his own people. Today, the level of violent deaths is not only far higher than during his final years in power, but the sheer randomness of the violence has left millions of Iraqis in a state of perpetual terror. At least 30,000 Iraqi civilians have died, most of them at the hands of U.S. forces but increasingly from terrorist groups and Iraqi government death squads. Thousands more soldiers and police have also been killed. Violent crime, including kidnapping, rape, and armed robbery, is at record levels. There is a proliferation of small arms, and private militias are growing rapidly. A Lebanon-type multifaceted civil war, only on a much wider and deadlier scale, grows more likely with time.

Over 50,000 Iraqis have been imprisoned by U.S. forces since the invasion, but only 1.5% of them have been convicted of any crime. Currently, U.S. forces hold 15,000 to 18,000 Iraqi prisoners, more than were imprisoned under Saddam Hussein. Amnesty International and other human rights groups have cited U.S. forces with widespread violations of international humanitarian law, including torture and other abuses of prisoners.

It is not just the fear of arrest and torture that have worsened since the U.S. conquest of Iraq three years ago. Although the destruction of the civilian infrastructure during the heavy U.S.-led bombing campaign in 1991 combined with the subsequent economic sanctions led to enormous suffering among ordinary Iraqis, the United Nations’ Oil-for-Food program, despite the abuses, did substantially improve the quality of life in the years preceding the U.S. invasion. Now, deaths from malnutrition and preventable diseases, particularly among children, are again on the increase. The supply of drinking water, reliability of electricity, and effectiveness of sewage disposal are all worse than before the invasion.

As much as half of the labor force is unemployed, and the cost of living has skyrocketed. The median income of Iraqis has declined by more than half. The UN’s World Food Program (WFP) reports that the Iraqi people suffer from “significant countrywide shortages of rice, sugar, milk, and infant formula,” and the WFP documents approximately 400,000 Iraqi children suffering from “dangerous deficiencies of protein.” Oil production, the country’s chief source of revenue, is less than half of what it was before the invasion. And despite Bush administration promises to infuse billions of dollars worth of foreign aid to rebuild the country’s civilian infrastructure, only a small fraction of these ventures have been completed, and most projects have been cancelled. Close to one million Iraqis, most of them from the vital, educated middle class, have left the country to avoid the violence and hardship brought on as a result of the U.S. invasion.

Despite all this, a Harris poll at the end of December showed that a majority of Americans believe the Bush administration’s claims that Iraqis are better off now than they were under Saddam Hussein. Most Iraqis polled say just the opposite.

President Bush and his supporters still insist that Iraq is supposed to be a model for democracy that other countries in the region should try to emulate. In reality, the U.S. conquest and occupation of Iraq have, in the eyes of many Muslims worldwide, given democracy a bad name in the same way that the Soviets gave socialism a bad name through their conquest and occupation of Afghanistan. Democracy has become synonymous with war, chaos, domination by a foreign power, and massive human suffering. As a result, anti-American sentiment in Iraq is growing.

Amazingly, supporters of Bush policy cannot quite understand why this is the case. For example, Bush administration adviser Daniel Pipes, a leading proponent of the invasion, expressed his disappointment at “the ingratitude of the Iraqis for the extraordinary favor we gave them” by invading and occupying their country.

The Costs to the United States

One of the major sources of growing anti-American sentiment has been the Pentagon’s counter-insurgency offensives, which have resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. Though small-unit operations have been curtailed, air strikes have been increasing. From the use of heavy weaponry and phosphorous bombs against population centers in Fallujah to massive sweeps rounding up thousands of innocent men, many of which have been subjected to torture at the hands of U.S. forces, the United States is increasingly seen as an occupier, not a liberator. In Iraq’s tribal society, where the ethic of vengeance is still widespread, every civilian casualty at the hands of U.S. soldiers potentially adds to the recruitment pool of the insurgency, whose highly mobile cadres can easily slip away and resume operations in another locale or after American troops move on.

That the war has led to a growth of anti-American extremism throughout the Arab and Islamic world is no longer seriously questioned, as reports by U.S. intelligence agencies and the State Department have confirmed. Resentment also seethes from the disruption of Iraq’s economy, primarily through policies that have resulted in record unemployment, leaving nearly half the population without jobs. This economic devastation is a result not only of the commercial chaos stemming from the invasion but also of Washington’s decisions to eliminate tens of thousands of Iraqi government jobs, privatize public enterprises, give preference to foreign nationals for reconstruction efforts, and open Iraq to foreign multinationals against which local enterprises cannot compete.

The Iraq War has already cost the United States $500 billion, which is more in current dollars than the entire Vietnam War. Ongoing costs are close to $10 billion per month. With the vast majority of this money going to support the war, little is left to nurture civil society institutions, to train legislators, or to help build democracy. Despite this, there is still a clear bipartisan consensus to keep robbing the treasury to support President Bush’s desperate effort to control that oil-rich country. Not a single senator voted against the president’s most recent request to keep funding the war, and there were only 71 negative votes in the 435-member House of Representatives. Democrats, like Republicans, appear determined to force American taxpayers to keep paying for the death and destruction being wrought upon Iraq.

The Nature of the Iraqi Government

In recent months, Washington has begun to realize that several ruling officials retrieved from exile by U.S. forces—including Iraq’s prime minister—are incompetent religious fanatics closely allied with hard-line Iranian clerics. The Iraqi government is isolated within the U.S.-fortified Green Zone in Baghdad and is so weak and divided that it can barely be considered functional. Corruption is rampant.

Three years after the invasion, the Pentagon acknowledges that Iraqi forces are still “largely dependent” on American combat troops for logistics, supplies, and support. Indeed, not a single Iraqi unit is yet capable of fully independent operations.

Washington’s goal may be reasonable, but U.S. pressure on Iraqi leaders to form a more inclusive government and to replace Ibrahim al-Jaafari has created enormous resentment and is widely viewed as arrogant neocolonial interference. Furthermore, there is little to suggest that any of Jaafari’s likely replacements would be any better.

Human rights abuses are increasing, as hundreds of civilians, mostly Sunni Arab males, are killed every month by government death squads. Murders from these death squads rival even the violence perpetrated by terrorist insurgents, who have primarily targeted Shiite Arab civilians. Last month, Amnesty International reported that “not only has the Iraqi government failed to provide minimal protection for its citizens, it has pursued a policy of rounding up and torturing innocent men and women. Its failure to punish those who have committed torture has added to the breakdown of the rule of law.”

In the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, the ruling U.S.-backed coalition of two nationalist parties with sizable armed militias is not much better. Corruption is widespread, and opposition activists are routinely beaten, tortured, and killed. Kurdish-born Austrian lawyer and professor Kamal Sayid Qadir has reported that “Kurdish parties transformed Iraqi Kurdistan into a fortress for oppression, theft of public funds, and serious abuses of human rights like murder, torture, amputation of ears and noses, and rape.” These “privileges and gains achieved since 1991 by the Kurdish parties were impossible without direct American backing and support,” he added. For his efforts to alert the international community about abuses by the U.S.-backed Kurdish government, he was sentence to a year and a half in prison.

Given the dismal post-Saddam record of human rights abuses, it is questionable whether Americans should be dying to prop up either the central government in Baghdad or the Kurdish government in the North. Continued U.S. training and funding of Iraqi police and military forces will likely encourage even more anti-Americanism both in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats seem bothered by the death squads and torture. For example, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has further sullied her previous reputation as a defender of human rights by supporting billions of dollars in additional funding for Iraqi and U.S. forces, enabling them to continue engaging in human rights abuses.

Growing Questions at Home

Large segments of the American public still embrace many of the justifications for the invasion of Iraq that have long since been proven false. For example, according to a Harris Poll at the end of December 2005, 41% of adult Americans believe that Saddam Hussein had “strong links to Al-Qaida;” 22% believe that Saddam Hussein “helped plan and support the hijackers who attacked the United States on September 11;” 26% believe that Iraq “had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded;” and 24% believe that “several of the hijackers who attacked the United States on September 11 were Iraqis.” Furthermore, a plurality of Americans still accept the contention that despite a dozen years of debilitating sanctions, a barely functional military, and the complete absence of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) or offensive delivery systems, “Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, was a serious threat to the United States.”

Notwithstanding these misconceptions, criticism of the Bush administration has been growing, forcing the president to finally acknowledge the widespread citizen opposition to the Iraq War. Bush says that he is willing to “listen to honest criticism” and that he has heard those who disagree with his policies, but he continues to dismiss such critics as “defeatists” who advocate policies that threaten the “security of our people” and who would “give up on this fight for freedom.”

Though acknowledging that restoring order to Iraq has been “more difficult than we expected” and that “reconstruction efforts and the training of Iraqi security forces started more slowly than we hoped,” President Bush has blamed these failures solely on the insurgency, which he describes as “Saddam loyalists and foreign terrorists.” In reality, the majority of the insurgency consists not of supporters of the former Iraqi dictator nor of foreign terrorists but of Iraq nationalists and Islamists resentful of an invasion and occupation by what they see as a Western imperialist power intent on controlling their country’s rich natural resources.

Having provoked this resentment, the Bush administration now uses the insurgency to justify the continued U.S. military occupation of Iraq. Though the original rationale for the Iraq War was Saddam’s alleged WMD program, by redefining the U.S. incursion as a war on terrorism, Washington rationalizes an indefinite U.S. military presence and condones the ongoing American dominance of Iraq’s economy.

Combating terrorism cannot be done by a single nation, no matter how strong a military it maintains. For a counterterrorism strategy to be effective, a multilateral approach is essential, but the Bush administration continues to reject this reality and insists on acting alone. Moreover, combating terrorism must employ a variety of tactics, not just military action. But once again, President Bush has failed to examine the root causes behind the violence.

In the face of growing criticism over its Iraq policies, the current administration has acknowledged mistakes such as inaccurate prewar claims of Saddam’s military capability and inadequate policies to address post-invasion stabilization. However, these statements appear calculated to defend the ongoing U.S.-led war rather than to admit fault. Though Bush’s acceptance of ultimate responsibility for the failures of U.S. policy is a positive step, no one has yet been held accountable for these errors.

For example, the president says he was “responsible for the decision to go into Iraq.” Yet he defends that decision, even though the invasion was a clear violation of the United Nations Charter and was based upon false claims that Iraq—already disarmed of offensive military capabilities by the United Nations—constituted a threat to U.S. national security.

Regarding his prewar contention that Iraq still had chemical and biological weapons, an active nuclear program, and offensive weapons delivery capabilities, President Bush admits inaccuracy but attributes it to mistakes in intelligence gathering. He excuses his misjudgment by arguing that members of Congress and the intelligence branches of allied governments reviewed the same information and came to similar conclusions.

In reality, prior to the U.S. invasion, foreign governments noted that Iraq had failed to properly account for all proscribed weapons programs, and some countries suspected that Saddam had residual weapons or components banned under UN Security Council mandates, but most nations were dubious of U.S. and British claims that Iraq still constituted a military threat. Similarly, most members of Congress simply believed the intelligence presented to them by the administration rather than studies in scholarly journals and United Nations reports. It now appears that errors did not come from problems within the CIA but that administration officials deliberately manipulated intelligence data in order to frighten Congress and the American people into supporting an invasion.

Acknowledging obvious problems is a positive step for a president often considered arrogant and unaware of the havoc resulting from his decision to invade and occupy Iraq. However, until there is a serious re-evaluation of administration policies, there is little hope that such acknowledgements will improve America’s standing in the world or ease the suffering of the Iraqi people. What neither the administration nor Congress has acknowledged is that the invasion of Iraq would have been wrong even if Saddam Hussein still had WMDs and even if the post-invasion situation had been handled more responsibly.

Recently, leading figures in the Democratic Party who had largely supported President Bush’s Iraq policies are finally starting to voice their opposition in response to pressure from their constituents. However, the Democrats have yet to present much of an alternative. Their recently released defense plan entitled “Real Security” fails to renounce Bush’s preventive war doctrine and simply urges Iraqis to assume “primary responsibility for securing and governing their country with the responsible redeployment of U.S. forces.” Democrats and their apologists claim that a more forceful statement for withdrawal would risk their being portrayed as weak, but even their moderate plan was branded “a strategic retreat” by Vice President Dick Cheney. Republican Senator Christopher Bond was more honest. He noted essentially no difference between the Democratic position and that of the administration, observing, “It’s taken them all this time to figure out what we’ve been doing for a long time.”

Dealing with the Insurgency

There are dozens of armed groups in Iraq battling U.S. occupation forces and the U.S.-backed government. This resistance includes supporters of Saddam Hussein, well-armed remnants of his armed forces, other Baathists, independent nationalists, various Shiite wings, tribal-based groupings, and several Sunni Arab offshoots. The al-Qaida-inspired jihadists and the foreign fighters upon whom the Bush administration focuses represent a minority of the insurgency. Opposition is growing and, despite many differences ideologically and tactically, the various factions have demonstrated an increasing ability to coordinate their operations.

Beyond the many similarities between the war in Iraq and the one in Vietnam years ago, one key difference is in the nature of the opposition. Although some anti-Vietnam War activists naively downplayed the autocratic tendencies of the communist-led National Liberation Front (NLF), these rebels and the North Vietnamese government eventually brought relative peace and stability to the country. Despite current repression and misguided economic policies, the South Vietnamese have arguably suffered less in a reunified country under the communists than during the U.S.-led war under the corrupt and brutal Thieu regime in Saigon. Belying dire warnings from Washington prior to the war’s end, the NLF/North Vietnamese victory has not harmed the national security of the United States, and—other than its misadventure in Cambodia to root out the genocidal Khmer Rouge and a brief border war with China—Vietnam has coexisted relatively well with its neighbors and is now a full member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The same cannot be said of the armed opposition to the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad. Unlike in Vietnam, the Iraqi resistance is not unified. As a result, toppling the current leaders will not likely bring peace but rather continued violence and disorder. The insurgents also include some decidedly nasty elements that are genuinely fascistic in orientation. In the power struggle that would follow a hypothetical overthrow of Iraq’s central government, it is quite possible that the new rulers would include militant jihadists, Saddam’s wing of the Ba’ath party, or other elements far worse than those currently in power or likely to be elected next month. There is also a real risk of the instability spilling over into adjacent countries.

There are many scary scenarios that could result from the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. The country could plunge into full-scale civil war, it might split into three parts (accompanied by ethnic cleansing), fundamentalist Islamic rule may emerge, Iranian extremists could exert undue influence, or this war-torn nation could become a training and logistical base for international terrorism. All of these possibilities should be taken seriously.

Unfortunately, these scenarios may even more likely occur if U.S. forces remain than if they withdraw. Bush’s war in Iraq is creating insurgents, including terrorists, faster than the Pentagon can kill them. The U.S. and British military presence is exacerbating ethnic and sectarian divisions, not lessening them. The overwhelming U.S. domination of the Baghdad government is undermining its sovereignty, weakening its standing with the Iraqi people, and compromising its ability to govern.

Many observers, even among those who opposed the U.S. invasion, concede that—although the principle of self-determination must be respected and although Iraqis are more than capable of governing themselves once stability and basic services are restored—current circumstances in Iraq may require active leadership from the outside. The United States, however, simply does not have the credibility to fill that role. There are sound proposals for an international peacekeeping force led by other Arab or Islamic states that should be considered, but these options will not be possible as long as the United States insists on orchestrating military operations.

All but the most extreme jihadists in the opposition would likely be open to a negotiated settlement to the conflict, but only if there was a clear timetable or specific achievable benchmarks for a complete U.S. withdrawal. With the bulk of the insurgents then allied with the Baghdad government, Iraqis could likely deal with the jihadists and other radical elements themselves, since the jihadists’ extreme ideology and terrorist tactics have little popular following in the country.

The Bush administration has thus far refused to discuss withdrawing all U.S. forces from Iraq. The new bases under construction (under no-bid contracts with Vice President Dick Cheney’s firm Halliburton) are elaborate, self-contained towns that appear to be intended for permanence. One being built outside Baghdad is more than 15 square miles. The new U.S. embassy under construction in Iraq is designed to include 21 buildings comprising residences for 1,000 American officials, a school, a warehouse, and its own utilities. As long as such an overbearing, neocolonial lightning-rod presence remains, there will be armed resistance.

There have also been reasonable proposals for the United States to maintain an over-the-horizon military presence or to conduct more modest military operations. Such a plan, however, would require putting trust in the very same people who have proven themselves profoundly ignorant about Iraq and totally inept at managing the postwar situation. Perhaps U.S. forces could provide tactical air support to Iraqi soldiers if Jihadists seize Ramadi and start marching on the Green Zone. But absent such a crisis, the only responsible option is a withdrawal of U.S. forces as soon as possible.

Americans from across the political spectrum have a kind of optimism and “can do” attitude that has served us well on many occasions. There are some situations, however, where a series of tragic mistakes and unfortunate circumstances preclude a positive outcome. Iraq may be just such a case.

The War at Home

This is my third annual article analyzing the U.S. war in Iraq and its impact. Unless the American people more fully mobilize to change U.S. policy, I will have to write these articles for many years to come.

This year’s Democratic primaries and the general election will be key tests of whether the U.S. citizenry will be willing to challenge the bipartisan support for the Iraq War, the doctrine of preventive war, and the exaggerated claims of foreign strategic threats brandished to frighten the populace into supporting war. Scores of U.S. representatives and senators who voted in October 2002 to authorize the invasion of Iraq are up for re-election this year, and most of them still support funding the war. If the majority of these pro-war Republican and Democratic lawmakers are re-elected, it will signal Washington politicians that the growing grassroots opposition to the war will not threaten their political careers. Despite the message it would send, some leaders in the peace movement are insisting that progressives work to re-elect pro-war members of Congress, including those who lied about Iraq still having WMDs, simply because they are Democrats. Such a strategy will virtually guarantee many more years of death and destruction in Iraq, and—as the 2004 presidential election showed us—such Democrats will probably end up losing anyway.

But a determined citizenry is the decisive factor. The anti-Vietnam War movement, the anti-apartheid struggle, the nuclear freeze campaign, and Central America solidarity efforts demonstrated that the particular individuals or party that the American people elect are less important than the choices we give them. As the old adage goes, “If the people lead, the leaders will follow.”

The United States will eventually have to leave Iraq. The question is, how many Americans and Iraqis will have to die in the meantime? For the United States to pull out, Bush and his bipartisan group of supporters would have to recognize that they cannot Americanize Iraq, establish U.S. hegemony in the Persian Gulf region, control Iraq’s vast oil reserves, or intimidate other nations by subduing an intractable insurgency. In short, the leadership of the greatest military superpower the world has ever known would be forced to accept a humiliating retreat.

It may be unrealistic to believe that the Bush administration would simply pull out of Iraq even in the face of growing popular opposition. The Nixon administration was unwilling to simply pull out of Vietnam. However, the anti-war movement forced Washington to negotiate with the South Vietnamese resistance and their North Vietnamese allies, which eventually led to the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Demanding negotiations that include a timetable for a total U.S. withdrawal may be the most realistic strategy that today’s anti-war movement could advocate.

Otherwise, President Bush will likely hold firm and leave the painful decisions to a Democratic successor, who would then take the blame for not “finishing the job.” This is why it is so important for Democrats to stop funding the war and to insist that President Bush negotiate a settlement to withdraw U.S. forces before he leaves office, thereby accepting full responsibility for the consequences.

Another question is, what will the United States learn from all this? Will it be just a tactical, stylistic precept that—in the words of 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry—the war against Iraq was not a mistake but rather that “the way the president went to war is a mistake”? The next time the United States invades and occupies another country, should it be done the “right way” by a Democratic administration?

Will our lesson be merely a strategic realization that, even if Washington had not made what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called “thousands” of errors in Iraq, invading and occupying a large Arab Muslim state with a strong history of nationalism is fraught with disaster?

Or will Americans finally embrace what we thought had been learned at the end of World War II—with the ratification of the United Nations Charter—that invading another country is just plain wrong?

http://www.fpif.org/articles/iraq_three_years_after_liberation