Assessing the options

LINDA DIEBEL October 3 1983

Assessing the options

LINDA DIEBEL October 3 1983

Assessing the options

The Reagan administration faces a classic foreign policy dilemma in Lebanon. It is not simply that there is no single option that seems likely to succeed, but that any option is either wholly unacceptable or, in large measure, unsatisfactory.

On the basis of past experience, the White House fears that in removing its peacekeeping forces it would be held responsible for an ensuing Lebanese bloodbath. In August, 1982, after Reagan evacuated the Marines, Phalangist militias began their three-day massacre of 800 Palestinians in Beirut’s Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The United States had guaranteed the safety of the Palestinian civilians. Its current mandate includes the safety of all civilians in the area under government control. In addition, withdrawal would raise doubts about the U.S. commitment to the Mideast peace initiatives that Reagan unveiled on Sept. 1, 1982, when he advanced his plan to “resolve the root causes of conflict between Arabs and Israelis.”

Nevertheless, the United States cannot afford to fight alongside the Lebanese Army. Effectively, it would then directly confront the Syrians. Joining the Lebanese would also mean another Vietnam-style confrontation, unpopular both at home and abroad. Angry PLO threats aimed at U.S. opinion have already deepened fears that more American lives will be lost in Lebanon. As dissident Palestinian Mousa Awar warned in Damascus last week, “We are ready to turn Lebanon into another Vietnam.” French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson best summed up British and French reservations when he declared: “If the Americans want to take the place of the Israelis, that is their responsibility.”

In all likelihood, the United States will continue its present policy of maximizing the pressure on the Syrianbacked Druze and Palestinian forces while continuing to work for political compromise. However, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt has charged that the multinational peacekeeping force supports the minority Christians and their hold on the Lebanese government. Each time the United States has retaliated against Druze shelling, the Druze and their allies have only had to target another U.S. military facility and fire. That has led inevitably to still further escalations in the war.

LINDA DIEBEL in Toronto, with correspondents ’ reports.