How America's Wars in the Middle East Began
What wasn’t learned from a U.S. intervention that succeeded
In July 1958, U.S. Marines stormed the beach in Beirut, Lebanon, ready for combat. They were greeted by vendors and sunbathers. Fortunately, the rest of their mission—helping to end Lebanon’s first civil war—went nearly as smoothly and successfully, thanks in large part to the skillful work of American diplomats who helped arrange a compromise solution. Future American interventions in the region would not work out quite as well.
Bruce Riedel’s new book tells the now-forgotten story (forgotten, that is, in the United States) of the first U.S. combat operation in the Middle East. President Eisenhower sent the Marines in the wake of a bloody coup in Iraq, a seismic event that altered politics not only of that country but eventually of the entire region. Eisenhower feared that the coup, along with other conspiracies and events that seemed mysterious back in Washington, threatened American interests in the Middle East. His action, and those of others, were driven in large part by a cast of fascinating characters whose espionage and covert actions could be grist for a movie.
Although Eisenhower’s intervention in Lebanon was unique, certainly in its relatively benign outcome, it does hold important lessons for today’s policymakers as they seek to deal with the always unexpected challenges in the Middle East. Veteran analyst Bruce Reidel describes the scene as it emerged six decades ago, and he suggests that some of the lessons learned then are still valid today. A key lesson? Not to rush to judgment when surprised by the unexpected. And don’t assume the worst.
Praise for Beirut 1958
“In 1958, ‘America opened the Pandora’s box of war in the Middle East,’ writes Bruce Riedel in this brilliant and original work. The events of that year—a history he recounts, informed by his own experiences as a child growing up in the region—have been largely forgotten. They should not be, as the analysis Riedel provides about past and present makes clear.”
—Steve Coll, dean, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University, and author of Ghost Wars and Directorate S
“Bruce Riedel’s book is a gripping and colorful account of the first U.S. combat operation in the Middle East. It’s packed with narrative detail, including events Riedel witnessed himself as the young son of a United Nations worker in Lebanon. This brief but potent work from a seasoned expert—who has since witnessed a lifetime of events in the Middle East—offers wisdom from the Marines’ fateful 1958 landing in Lebanon that is still relevant in a region that continues to confound U.S. policymakers.”
—Jane Harman, director, president, and CEO, Wilson Center; former member of Congress
“Bruce Riedel combines real-world policy experience and a profound understanding of the Middle East to weave a fascinating, complex tapestry of Cold War-era coups and conspiracies, culminating in President Eisenhower’s unprecedented decision to deploy U.S. Marines to Beirut in 1958. With the action shifting swiftly among Arab capitals and Washington, this nonfiction thriller provides a cautionary note for today: how seeing the world through a zero-sum prism (Washington-Moscow then, perhaps Washington-Tehran today) can lead to distorted analysis and high strategic costs.”
—Jeffrey Feltman, former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon and former UN under-secretary-general for political affairs