tv Bruce Riedel Beirut 1958 CSPAN December 15, 2019 8:20am-8:56am EST
and hope you also join us now for a glass of white and i'm sure susan will be happy to answer more questions. thank you so much for coming this evening. [applause] >> you are watching booktv on c-span2 with top nonfiction books and authors every weekend. booktv, television for serious readers. >> thank you, guys so much for coming to kramerbooks. i am the been spent to him. i'm honored introduce our author bruce riedel director of intelligence project and a senior fellow and center for middle east studies. his book, "beirut 1958: how america's wars in the middle east began" is a nonfiction a thriller that provides a kashi tale for today. he combined real-world policy
experience and a profound understand of the middle east to weave read a fascinating complex tapestry of cold war era, conspiracies committee present eisenhower's decision to deploy u.s. marines in beirut. he will be doing a presentation about his book and the topic followed by a q&a so as one please join in welcoming bruce riddell. [applause] >> i don't think i need this, right? i do need it, okay. good to know. first of all thank you for coming tonight. on july 15, 1958 at roughly 3 p.m. in the afternoon lebanese time, the second marine regiment landed on beirut beach. the marines came ashore anticipating that this would be d-day, that they were going to
be facing a hostile audience. in fact, what they ran into is lebanese and other foreign tourists sunbathing on the beach. some of them in the nude, or newly invented bikini. unfortunately i don't have the picture of anybody in the bikini on the beach but i do have a picture of lebanese rushing to the shore fascinated by the marines having landed. literally as the marines charged up the beach, weapons loaded ready to go to war, vendors charged down the beach selling coca-cola, cigarettes, and other lebanese delights. lebanese turned out in large numbers to see the sights. here you can see taxis pulling up. it was all in the way a little bit of a comic opera, but everything underneath it was
deadly dangerous point the marines were landing in lebanon in 1958 in the midst of a very vicious civil war between christians and muslims. the marines expected to go into combat. the lebanese army regarding the marines as invaders violating the sovereignty and sanctity of lebanon. muslims saw the marines coming ashore as supporting their christian enemies and in particular the christian president who was trying to hold onto power for an extra second term. in germany, tactical nuclear weapons were being prepared to be airlifted to the beachhead. the 82nd airborne division back in the united states was put on alert in order to reinforce the beachhead. so while there was something of
a comic opera approach to it, in very real terms this could turn into a disaster. it was the first time u.s. combat troops ever went into a mission in the middle east, our first combat mission. or chile, it turned out well. only one army sergeant would die in the mission. he was killed with sniper fire later on, , not on the day. the marines were able to leave after a few months. i'll come back to that in a little bit. but it began a tradition of american combat operations in the middle east. and, of course, as we all know now, subsequent missions didn't turn out as happily as beirut 1958. in fact, the second marine intervention in beirut in 1982 turned out in a disaster and the
death of over 240 american marines. it's useful to look back on this first mission to gain some understanding into what was going on. a few hours after the marines landed, of course 3:00 beirut time is six hours earlier in washington, president dwight david eisenhower got on national tv to explain why he sent marines into harm's way. i you before eisenhower had laid out what's now called the eisenhower doctrine -- a year before -- the first time an american president said to the american people and to the world, the middle east is vital to american national interest. no president until then had ever identified the middle east as important or vital to american national interest. it's very interesting what ike laid out as crucial to american interest turkey said we have two crucial interest in the middle east.
one of the windows, oil. the second was that middle east was the birthplace of the three great modesty of religion, judaism, christianity and islam. and in the context of the cold war, united states not allow atheistic communism to take over the birthplace of the three great religions. it's very interesting that eisenhower in 1957 did not identify the defense of israel as a strategic vital interest of the united states. no subsequent american president of course would ever look at it in those ways. on july 15, 1958, the marines coming ashore, ike gave the new explanation as to why they were there. essentially what he said was that a coup in iraq the previous day, the 14th of july, in which the most pro-western
government in the middle east had been overthrown was a direct threat to american national interest. the pro-american hashemite government in iraq was deposed in in a very brutal and violent coup, one of the most violent even by middle eastern standards, this was an exceptionally violent coup. ike identified the crew as perhaps the starting point of the entire middle east falling into the hands of the soviet union and international communism. he said if the united states did not respond to the coup, the third world war could start in the middle east, and that the loss of iraq was as significant as the loss of china the communism in 1948. it's really a remarkable statement. it's also completely divorced from the facts on the ground. his statements had very little
to do with reality in iraq and the middle east in 1958. he was less than forthcoming. his real concern in 1958 was not communism, but this man, nasr, the charismatic young very attractive present v-chip. he had taken power in 1952. he was an extraordinary speaker, able to literally lift the audience with his words. he also survived literally the onstage having assassin fire a bullet at him and he never stopped speaking. this is charismatic to the nth degree. he was the winner of the 1956
suez crisis in which egypt essentially defeated united kingdom, , france and israel, a remarkable outcome, in part because eisenhower had leaned towards egypt over the aggressors. in february 1958, syria and egypt had united together over the united arab republic. today we have kind of forgotten arab nationalism as a motivating factor, but in the 1950s arab nationalism, the idea of one arab nation from the gulf to the ocean, from omar to morocco was one of the most powerful ideologies in the world. and nasser was at the center of that. it's ironic because nasser was in many ways a protége of the cia in the 1950s.
the cia didn't put nasser in office, even before this coup the caa was in contact with nasser, and the caa identified nasser as arab nationalism, the weight of the future. that united states wanted to be on the wave of the future and saw arab nationalism as a very effective counter to communism in the middle east. the individual associated with this whole policy was come all, the one holding his hand in the picture. he's the sky and of the roosevelt family. he was born it argentina. he's most famous to americans as the man who put the shaw back in power in 1953 when most will remove from power in iran. that's what he's famous for. he's less famous for the fact that he was the initial person
who dealt with nasser. nasser very shortly after taking power asked the cia for money in order to buy arms. he's a military general who is a hearer of the 1948 war against israel, and naturally one of the things he wanted to do was reward the egyptian army by building up its military capabilities. the cia gave him a very small stipend, variously $3-$5 billion depending upon dollars depending upon the source, which would not by you very many arms. nasser instead spent the money on building a radio tower for his radio station, the voice of the arabs. lack in the 1950s radio was the equivalent of twitter today. it was the means of communicating with people. this is the tower that nasser built. it is known in egypt as
roosevelt's erection. [laughing] i won't go further than that. the relationship between the united states and egypt soured over the years. nasser went to the russians and to their czechoslovakian puppet regime in order to get weapons,, and that really soured the relations. i 1950 relations between the united states and egypt, united arab republic had deteriorated significantly as . as i said in february of 1958 egypt and syria united and form the united arab republic. in response to that the two hashemite monarchy is created an alternative, the federation of arab monarchies. on march 3, 1958, baking of saudi arabia here in the middle between richard nixon and dwight eisenhower, king solid, told the
american ambassador in saudi arabia that the plot was underway to overthrow the syrian government and breakup the united arab republic. 48 hours later, the syrian intelligence service announced that they broke up a plot to assassinate gamal abdel nasser. that was being spearheaded by the king and not only the death evidence that they intended to assassinate him by blowing up his airplane, they had the canceled checks signed by the king to the plot makers, message to self, don't sign the checks if you're going to overthrow the regime. please find a cutout. siloed had become by 9058 ike's favorite alternative to eisenhower. king saud has had them is head of the saudi arabia, , defend of
the holy mosque was a much more moderate pro-western version, and the eisenhower administration was told they could use him to counter president nasser. but the year before, king saud that come to the united states. he was the first saudi king to ever visit the united states. his visit was planned for nine days. it ended up lasting 12 days. the king had indicated that he would bring 80 people within. he brought almost too ugly. there were so many saudi in his delegation that they could all fit in blair house and to literally set up tents on lafayette square to house the rest of the saudi delegation. it must've been an extraordinary site. saud was i would like to say wine and dine that he obviously wasn't wind but he was given great profile by the eisenhower
administration. the failure of his plot to assassinate nasser resulted in a severe throwback within the saudi royal family. the saudi royal family within a matter of days stripped saud of all of his power and gave it to crown prince faisal. saud date in power as king but he was essentially powerless after that. fisa was much less datable to the united states then saud have been so that was one big setback for the united states. shortly afterwards, the lebanese civil war began. i'll come back to that in in a minute. that was another setback to american influence in the region. lebanese president was one of the few arab leaders who publicly endorsed the eisenhower declaration. in jordan, the cia uncovered a plot to overthrow king hussein. king hussein at this point is in
his early 20s. he's a very inexperienced king. he's running a country that is 80% palestinian, that has no support for hashemite monarchy. the cia uncovered a plot, actually the fbi uncovered a plot by tapping the phone of the jordanian defense attaché at washington was plotting an egyptian counterpart to overthrow the king. in late june 1958 the cia gave all the information to the jordanians and they arrested the plot makers. they king turned to his brother-in-law, baking of jordan, king faisal the second and asked him between the two of them are remarkable young they are back in 1958. the two of them agreed iraq
would send a brigade of the iraqi army to oman in order to stabilize the jordanian situation. unfortunately the brigade they selected was filled with coup plotters who are preparing a plot against king faisal. the plot succeeded on the 14th of july 1958. as i said earlier it was a very, very violent plot. the coup plotters brigade was moving through baghdad in the early morning, with ammunition which was very unusual and instead of heading towards jordan, it headed towards the royal house defense ministry. they overtook the royal palace. they lined the entire royal family up against a wall and machine gun all of them and their bodies were dragged to the streets. it was a really ugly scene.
the prime minister had been the de facto leader of the country for 20 years was found a day later and he was similarly executed on the spot and dragged through the streets. it was a very, very violent and stunning blow to american interests in the middle east. you have a series of events which are all building up here, and on the 14th of july, the coup in iraq. the coup was led by this man. nobody knew who this guy was. he was a complete unknown. egyptians did know he was. the americans did know he was. the russians did know who he was. he was a complete unknown factor. the coup plotters may or may not have been pro-egyptian, but people on the streets in iraq demonstrated immediately that their sympathies were with
nasser. you see a picture of streets in baghdad on july 14 filled with people holding up pictures of gamal abdel nasser. the tanks that overthrew the government had pictures of gamal abdel nasser all over them. it was not a big stretch to come to the conclusion that this was, in fact, an egyptian sponsored coup. lebanese at that point were also in civil war. this gentleman was the prime minister, i'd second the present of lebanon in the 1950s. lebanon then and today has a highly sectarian government. it's based on the fiction that christians are the majority of the people, even by 1958 that was no longer true but that was the government that was imposed on lebanon by the french.
the president had to be a christian. the prime minister a sunni muslim, and the speaker of parliament as shia muslim. by convention, the present only served one term. in 1958 he was seeking a second term. everybody knew it. and that resulted in a civil war between christians and muslims. it was messier than at actually. the patriarch, the church which is the dominant christian church in lebanon actually supported the muslim rebels. so a very confused situation and accuracies of it were far more than most americans, even most americans with any knowledge of the middle east want to get into. on the afternoon of the 14th of july, eisenhower convened his national security council, and
return to the director of central intelligence, allen dulles, to give an appraisal of the situation. remember that in the eisenhower administration you had the unusual scene that the secretary of state, john foster dulles, was the brother of the director of the central intelligence, allen dulles. something like that has never and may never happen again in american history. allen dulles presented the most bleak picture they could possibly imagine he said the coup in iraq was egyptian inspired. it would lead to the overthrow of the lebanese government, of the traditional government, and very quickly in time sooner or later to overthrow of saudi arabia and kuwait and the gulf states. the entire region would fall into the hands of nasser within a matter of days, unless america quote did something. his brother john foster dulles
then chimed in and said if it's -- if it falls to nasser, that means it falls to international communism. and the middle east and the world's oil supplies would be in the hands of the soviet union. all of this was baloney. first of all, it wasn't at all clear that the coup in iraq was egyptian inspired. and nasser, , while they did tae arms from the soviet union, is not exactly a client of the soviet union. eisenhower panicked, in short. it's very interesting to read his memoirs because he said i felt i had to, quote, to something. now, eisenhower, the hero of the day, maybe the greatest american general of the 20th century, was smart enough to realize, unlike some of his successors, that in invading iraq is really, really hard thing to do.
but invading the lebanon is really, really easy to do because the united states has a large fleet in the eastern mediterranean. so when those 2000 marines with the short on july 15, they were backed up by 70 ships of the american six fleet, completing three carrier battle groups. it was a goliath and a midget battlefield. by invading lebanon, or going to the defense of chamoun, the united states was doing something to prevent nasser from sweeping the region. nasser was very popular in lebanon. when he first went to syria after the merger of the two countries in early 1958, 350,000 lebanese came to damascus to hear him speak. this is a country that had less than 1.5 billion people.
that's an awful lot of people to get in their cars and trucks and buses and go to another country to hear a speech. the civil war that broke out in the spring of '19 58 pitted the muslims with some christians against chamoun. the united arab republic, the syrian government in particular, supported the revels in lebanon, provided them with arms assistance. that was undisputed. chamoun asked repeatedly for the united states to intervene on his behalf. until the 14th of july, 1950, eisenhower did not put on the 14th of the agreed and the marines followed. nasser for his part was in yugoslavia at the time, and he immediately secretly flew to moscow, the cia discovered quickly which of course reinforced the paranoia that
nasser was really in the hands of the russians. the russians and the egyptians agreed that the really important event in middle east in july 1958 was not what was going on in beirut. they were a sight you. the really important issue was what was going on in baghdad and he decide to just let events licenses of. while they frantically tried to find who was running the new government in baghdad. the situation on the ground in beirut was extremely dicey on the 15th and 16th. the lebanese army which is mostly christian officers and mostly muslim troops regarded the invention as an invasion, a violation of their sovereignty. and was prepared to fight back. the american ambassador on the scene, robert mcclintock, who
advise eisenhower not to send the troops over and over again, including on the 14th, came up with the brilliant solution. he went to the commander of the lebanese army, a christian and said, why don't we pretend that you have invited the american succumbing to have stabilized the situation, and that the americans are not here as an intervention but they are here as the guests of the lebanese army as their host? he went along with this fiction, and for the remainder of the americans to plummet in beirut, technically, the marines were being escorted from place to place by patrols of the lebanese army. it was a fiction, but it avoided a showdown. mcclintock also got the assistance of the the under
secretary of the state, actually very interesting, the number three in the state department was sent out by eisenhower with instructions to tell mcclintock to get on the program. the program is to support chamoun. he got on the grant any said, i'm going to support the ambassadors at first to try to defuse the conflict in together the undersecretary of state robert murphy and robert mcclintock began engaging with the various lebanese powers. this is not a particularly good picture of them. chamoun is the man sitting on the sofa on the far side. what they agreed is that chamoun would be removed from office and the general would become the next president of lebanon. this was, in fact, exactly nasser had wanted from the beginning. so in effect the american
intervention in lebanon in 1958 became the instrument to accomplish what egypt had wanted all along which is getting rid of chamoun and replacing him. to the wisdom of mcclintock, murphy and above all eisenhower, that ended come to grief in the end that this was the smart way out of the crisis. one g.i. was killed as a sit in the intervention by sniper fire from the muslims, but by octobet american troops in the intervention had gone home. shahada was president. the civil war was over and operation blue bat as it was called -- kind of a curious name, blue bat, was more or less a success story. in one case, this is all about the eisenhower -- eisenhower in
his eight years in power avoided sending troops into combat. he got us out of the korean war. he did not intervene in the struggle between mainland communism and -- is generally avoided sending troops into combat which is understandable. as a general eisenhower actually never fought in combat himself, but he saw the results of combat much more than most people did and you knew he wanted to avoid that. july 14, 1958 is the one time in those eight years when he essentially panicked and decide to do something else. murphy went on to baghdad. he met with them and discovered iraqi nationals, had no interest in being a part of either egypt over the soviet union, was mostly interested in in running his own country. there are several things to learn on this episode and i would just focus on one. the middle east is a very
unpredictable place. anybody who tells you they know it's going to happen in the middle east tomorrow doesn't know what they're talking about. all kinds of surprises come up all the time. and many of the time they are very, very unpleasant surprises for the united states of america. the lesson is don't panic. let it play out, give it some time, , see what happens. don't necessarily reach the worst conclusion overnight. don't jump to the worst possible outcome. give it a little bit of time to play out. i have one more thing to say about all this before i take your questions. one of the reasons i wrote "beirut 1958" is i was a bear. i was -- i was there. i was five years old. that's me in the really cute cowboy outfit. that's my older brother trying
desperately to say i have no idea who this person is. i have no relationship to this person and in and want to see this person again in my life. my father was with the united nations. he been posted to jerusalem when i was two years old and then we moved to beirut in 1957. beirut in the 1950s was called the paris of the middle east, and it literally was. it was the most open and fun place to live in the entire region. beirut is sitting right on the mediterranean with the mountains of lebanon right behind it. you literally could go swimming in the morning and skiing in the afternoon, or the other way around. of course when the civil war began, it all went pretty sour quite in a hurry. in the end my father stayed. my mother, brother and i were evacuated to that really hard spot, naples italy where we
stayed with the american sixth fleet until the civil war had wound down and then we went back in. that's my personal account of the story, and with that i would be happy to take your questions or comments. [applause] >> this is obviously question with a very comforted and that you probably can't get to entirely here, why do you think the civil war in 1958 was resolved so quickly where the later civil in the '70s and 80s was much longer and much more bloodier? >> that's a very good question partly it was that you had a mediator in the united states
who, after an awkward beginning, to put it mildly, then shifted the focus. mcclintock in particular had already established a great network of ties with the various lebanese muslim, sunni-shia leaders and was able to use that to his advantage in negotiations. i think even more importantly, in 1958 lebanon was not battlefield in the arab-israeli conflict. the palestinian movement that we know, plo, have not developed yet. the palestinians which is refugees in lebanon. they didn't have a real political profile. once you get to the post 1967 era, the palestinian community in lebanon had staked out its own position and the conflict was lebanon was a battlefield
between arabs and israelis. bring in the syrians can bring in the saudis anybody else taking it much, much more complicated to come up with a solution. >> i just wanted to you for a great presentation and all of you for coming to kramerbooks, and we will do signing appear as well. thank you, guys. >> thank you. [applause] [inaudible conversations] >> here are some of the current best-selling nonfiction audiobooks.