By Javan Latson
Two hundred and fourty-one United States soldiers were killed in a bombing at the marine compound in Beirut, Lebanon on October 23, 1983. It was the deadliest attack against U.S. marines since the Battle of Iwo Jima. These individuals were a part of a contingent of 1800 marines stationed in the country since President Reagan dispatched them in 1982. American, English, French, and Italian forces formed a multi-national force that was supposed to help pacify a country that found itself in the midst of a sectarian civil war. The conflict in Lebanon was complicated, involving numerous factions including Christian, Druze, and Shiite militias, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization under the leadership of Yasser Arafat. This situation was further complicated by the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon in 1982 with the hopes of creating a buffer against PLO attacks, and the installation of anti aircraft weaponry by Syria in the north. The multinational force (MNF) was sent in to help PLO militants evacuate, protect civilians, and assist the Lebanese government in stabilizing Beirut in what was supposed to be a non-combat mission.
There was no definite timetable as to when the MNF would leave the area, and no clear objectives or methods as to how they were to help the Lebanese restore order in the country. The mission was subject to frequent change and eventually the MNF was designated as an “interposition force” which is an armed group that serves as a buffer between two warring factions. The role of the U.S. continued to escalate and shift from that of a peacekeeping and humanitarian one to a military deterrent in what was becoming a more and more dangerous place. In the midst of the growing chaos, congress enacted the War Powers Act that authorized the marines to remain in Lebanon for 18 months. Furthermore it was advised that the troops be evacuated from Beirut offshore to one of the U.S. battleships in the region. However, this was not done and as a result more than 200 lives were lost in attack perpetrated by Shiite militants backed by Iran. Thus President Reagan was forced to withdraw the remaining troops while the French retaliated against an Iranian Revolutionary Guards barrack the month after.
About 10 years after the Beirut Bombing, President Bill Clinton and the American public watched in horror when seeing the footage of a dead American soldier who was dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somali, amidst a crowd cheering Somalis. Simultaneously, Somali-warlord Muhammad Farah Aideed shot down two Blackhawk Helicopters and led other uprisings in the Battle of Mogadishu that killed 18 U.S. servicemen. The American servicemen were originally sent to East African nation in 1992 as a part of a United Nations mission to help provide humanitarian aid to provide food to the thousands of starving people who were enduring a horrible famine. During a speech to the nation, President George H.W. Bush painted a vivid picture of suffering children who were unable to receive assistance due to the anarchy that existed in Somalia. In fact when he sent the troops, he told the public that the men and women participating in the mission were “doing God’s work”. However, much like the Lebanon campaign, the mission shifted from one of peace to a military endeavor to capture Somali Warlord Aideed after his forces had attacked a contingent of UN troops. This episode would provide another example of good intentions gone badly, and the current situation in Somalia is no better than it was 24 years ago.
Fast forward to the present. The nation of Syria has been embroiled in civil war for over six years and more than 400,000 people have been killed with millions more being displaced. What originally began as an attempt to pressure President Assad into making reforms has spiraled into a multisided conflict that now currently involves Russia, U.S., Turkey, Iran, ISIS, and consortium of rebel groups and militias. Under the Obama administration, American action in the region consisted mostly of airstrikes against ISIS and other terrorist groups. Funds, weapons, and training have also been given to anti-government forces that hope to depose the authoritarian Bashar Al-Assad. There is a lot of controversy in regards to supporting groups that we are still unsure of their motives, and even the United States support has led to some instances where rebels funded by the CIA and rebels funded by the Pentagon have fought each other.
Though there have been U.S. forces on the ground in Syria, these troops were mostly Special Forces that have been deployed to provide logistical support and training for our allies. The number of Americans had been kept very low due a cap imposed by the Pentagon under President Obama that limited the number to 500. However, on March 9th it was announced that 400 troops were being deployed to Syria to fight ISIS with plans to send 1000 more in the upcoming weeks. Among those that were sent was a team of Army Rangers and a Marine artillery unit, which raised the number of soldiers in Syria to around 1000. Their mission is to advise Kurdish militants in Northern Syria, share expertise on bomb disposal, help coordinate airstrikes, and provide artillery support. Another 2,500 soldiers are being sent to Kuwait with the expectation that they might also be sent to Iraq (where more than 5000 troops are already deployed) or Syria. U.S. soldiers have already made their presence known earlier this month where photographs were taken of armored vehicles flying American flags driving in the Syrian town of Manbij.
Syrian President Assad has not been silent over the increasing number of Americans in Syria, and has gone as far as to call them “invaders” because he hadn’t given them permission to operate within Syrian borders. In an interview with Chinese network Phoenix TV he went on to say that U.S. forces being in Syria would not improve the current situation and cited the military failures in Somalia, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan to support his belief that Americans only make things worse. In addition President Assad expects the Trump administration to take a more constructive role in the conflict since both U.S. political parties are against ISIS, but has yet to see him act accordingly.
All things being said, it seems as if the Syrian Civil War is about to get a lot more complicated. Much like Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton before him, President Trump is placing American men and women into an extremely dangerous and volatile situation. Although our soldiers volunteer their lives for the betterment of our country and others, their lives are precious and shouldn’t be thrown away without cause. It’s hard to believe that there will not be a casualty as the troop presence increases, and if something drastic occurs how are we going to respond? Are we going to escalate what is already hopeless situation? What history has taught us is that before entering into enemy territory, there needs to be a clear and definite mission objective as well as a timetable. The frequent change of mission for the MNF in Lebanon and the shift from humanitarian endeavor towards a military excursion only resulted in death and a dissatisfied public. If President Trump truly is America first, then he will take a course of action that values the lives of Americans first and won’t hastily rush into battle in Syria. In order to truly make America great again, we must learn to stop making the same poor choices that have been a detriment our nation.