Before Bombing Syria, Four Cases Of Déjà Vu

Even with good intentions, America’s quick military strikes can have prolonged and unintended consequences.

1. US in Lebanon - 1983

Following a ceasefire between Israel and the PLO, a multinational peacekeeping force (including the US, France, and Italy) entered Lebanon to ensure the safety of the Palestinian citizens who would be left behind following the PLO’s withdrawal from Beirut.

In September 1982, Bashir Gemayel (Lebanon’s President-elect, and the leader of a Christian militia) was assassinated, and a wave of violence followed – with Gemayel’s militia killing hundreds of Palestinians in refugee camps. In response, the peacekeeping forces returned to the ground in Lebanon – and by early 1983, things seemed stable.

On September 19th, the US military opened fire on a Muslim militia.


Many Lebanese Muslims saw the US as siding against them in Lebanon’s Civil War.

Middle East expert Robin Wright notes that, “the commander bluntly warned Washington that a strike would have dire consequences for U.S. policy and his troops. ‘We’ll get slaughtered down here,’ he predicted. Nonetheless, the cruiser Virginia stationed offshore fired 70 deafening rounds on the Lebanese fighters.”

34 days later, a suicide bomber drove a truck of explosives into the US Marine barracks, killing 241 US troops

upload.wikimedia.org / Via Wikimedia Commons

It was the single largest nonnuclear explosion anywhere in the world since WWII – killing 58 French troops, 6 civilians, and 241 American troops in what was the largest loss of American military life in a single incident since Iwo Jima.

Four months later, the US pulled out of Lebanon.

2. US in Libya - 1986

For years, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi supported terrorist groups in the Middle East and Europe.

In April 1986, Libya became a priority for the United States after Libyan operatives bombed a nightclub in Berlin that was known to be popular with US troops stationed in Germany. The bombing killed three and injured more than 200 people (many of whom were not Americans).

Ten days later, the US launched airstrikes on Tripoli and Benghazi.

The operation hit Libyan military targets, but several bombs also missed and struck civilians

en.wikipedia.org / Via Wikimedia Commons

Two US airmen died in the bombings, as well as 45 Libyan soldiers and officials, and 15 Libyan civilians.

The strikes did little to halt Qaddafi.

Two years later, Libya masterminded the bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103 in Lockerbie, killing 270

And Qaddafi remained in power in Libya for another quarter century – until the revolution in 2011.

3. US bombs Iraq - 1998

In December 1998, the Clinton administration launched four days of cruise missile bombings against Saddam Hussein, who had repeatedly refused to comply with UN weapons inspectors. Many feared that Hussein was actively trying to obtain or manufacture weapons of mass destruction.

Hussein remained in power for another five years – until the Bush administration launched the Iraq War in 2003

en.wikipedia.org / Via Wikimedia Commons

Saddam Hussein was found in December of 2003. The Iraq War lasted from March 2003 (when US troops first entered Iraq to oust the Hussein regime) until December of 2011 (when the last US troops left Iraqi territory).

The Iraq War killed thousands of troops, hundreds of thousands of civilians, and cost hundreds of billions of dollars

Almost 4,500 American troops were killed. Tens of thousands more were wounded. Estimates for Iraqi civilians deaths number in the hundreds of thousands.

And in the end, the United States found that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction.

4. US bombs Afghanistan & Sudan - 1998

In August 1998, the Clinton administration ordered strikes on al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. Operation Infinite Reach was in retaliation for al Qaeda’s twin bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed more than 220, including 12 Americans.

The US’s bombs killed 224, including 12 Americans

Ayman al-Zawahiri told Newsweek, “The war has only just begun; the Americans should now await the answer”

The U.S. strikes made bin Laden more popular and powerful among Islamic extremists. And al Qaeda was able to adapt its tactics.

In 2000, it was responsible for the dinghy bombing of the the USS Cole, killing 17 American troops.

And on September 11, 2001, 19 al Qaeda operatives commandeered four American airplanes that flew into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington — changing both the nature of warfare and US national security.

The US has had some successes, including the 2011 US and NATO air strikes that helped oust Qaddafi in Libya


But, as Robin Wright notes, “it had the full endorsement of the Arab League, the United Nations and NATO, which ran the international mission. Thousands of Libyans actually did the fighting, while the Transitional National Council provided a viable alternative government from inside the country. And still Operation Unified Protector lasted 222 days.”

The decision whether or not to use force in Syria shouldn’t be taken lightly, Wright says


“In the case of Syria, a few days of strikes against military targets may assuage moral outrage over its heinous use of chemical weapons.

But they also carry the danger of widening the war by legitimizing or deepening involvement by other foreign powers…”

latimes.com / Via Robin Wright, Los Angeles Times

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