In This Review

Notes From the Minefield: United States Intervention in Lebanon and the Middle East, 1945-1958
Notes From the Minefield: United States Intervention in Lebanon and the Middle East, 1945-1958
By Irene L. Gendzier
Columbia University Press, 1997, 470 pp

Until the recent American military intervention against Iraq in the Persian Gulf War, there had been no significant deployment of American military forces in the Middle East -- with one exception. That exception was Lebanon in 1958. The conventional account of that episode has maintained that it had little to do with Lebanon per se. Instead, most analysts have argued that the American troops were sent in response to the revolution in Iraq in that year as a way of insuring that it would not sweep the entire region. The archives are now open, and Gendzier has examined the record in detail. She has produced a revisionist account that argues forcefully that American policy placed much more value on Lebanon as a base from which oil and other political interests could be protected. To this end, the United States became deeply involved in Lebanese internal affairs, propping up a conservative oligarchy that was willing to collaborate with the United States. In so doing, she argues, Washington contributed to the internal crisis that eventually led to civil war. A hardheaded realist will not be surprised by her assertion that American policy in Lebanon was driven by national interest rather than concern for Lebanese democracy. Nor will a realist be shocked by the revelation that the United States and Britain were rivals as well as allies. Gendzier's barely suppressed anger at American policy during this period seems rooted in a higher-minded notion that the United States should have promoted democracy and social justice in Lebanon and been less greedy in pursuing its material interests. She implies that the United States bears a heavy responsibility for the civil wars of both 1958 and 1975. These are serious charges, and the book cannot be dismissed as an ideological tract. It is carefully researched and uncovers much new information. One can read the book, however, and still feel that Lebanon was not really so central to American policy in the region. It was more than sideshow, but less than main attraction.