WESTERN NATIONS ARE preparing to intervene on a massive scale in Bosnia's intractably complicated civil war. Voices urging caution (many of them pointedly coming from military chiefs) have been drowned out by the chorus of demands that "something must be done" to stop the atrocities in former Yugoslavia. Foreign military involvement will certainly have an effect, though it is as likely to prolong and exacerbate the crisis as to assist in its resolution.
The advocates of intervention would do well to ponder an earlier attempt to establish a military presence in the middle of someone else's civil war, an attempt which was just as worthy in its intentions and just as regardless of the political context and the practical consequences. In 1982, following Israel's invasion of Lebanon, a multinational force made up of US, French, British and Italian contingents was sent to Beirut with an ill-defined peacekeeping mission. It remained until 1984, by which time it had contributed nothing to the resolution of the Lebanese civil war and instead made itself a gratuitous target for terrorist attacks - an outcome which worked neatly to the advantage of Syria's President Assad.
In Lebanon: Fire and Embers, Dilip Hiro comments scathingly on the misguided multinational intervention and the attempts at the same time to impose a new political reality in the aftermath of the Israeli invasion through the futile Lebanese-Israeli peace agreement. The withdrawal of the Western forces and the collapse of the Lebanese-Israeli agreement, he writes, "underlined certain basic geopolitical and historical facts about Lebanon which had been ignored first by the Maronite Christians (in the 19th century), then by France as the mandate power (between the two World Wars), and latterly by Israel and America."
Lebanon, says Hiro, is "an Arab country in more ways than one, with Syria as its most significant neighbor; and the woes of Lebanon can be dissipated only within the larger framework of the Arab world. The Israeli plan to turn Lebanon into a client state governed by the Phalange party only made matters worse. Ignoring Syria was a futile and dangerous policy, as Washington was made to realise by Assad."
Depending on one's point of view, this judgment may be regarded as cynical or simply realistic. The whole story of Lebanon over the past century, Hiro seems to imply, slowly but inexorably points to Syrian domination (as at last formalised in the "Treaty of Brotherhood...