Brude Riedel, Brookings Institution - Beirut 1958: How America’s Wars in the Middle East Began

Brude Riedel, Brookings Institution
Beirut 1958: How America’s Wars in the Middle East Began


Watching the cool, professional performances of America’s diplomats in laying out the evidence of President Donald Trump’s impeachable acts in trying to squeeze Ukraine, an important and embattled ally menaced by Russian-driven military aggression to smear a potential political opponent, it reminded me of the cool, and in this case, probably life-saving work of two American diplomats in Beirut in 1958.

Ambassador Robert MacClintock managed to turn a potentially disastrous military confrontation into a masterful political collaboration between the just-landed U.S. Marines and the Lebanese National Army.  And, although he and State Department special representative Robert Daniel Murphy couldn’t talk their bosses out of their bogus cold war framing of a local political dispute, they did keep the ultimate cold war weapon, Honest John nuclear rockets away from the conflict zone.

The Marine battalion that landed on July 15, 1958 was the first American combat unit to set boots on the ground of the Middle East.  It was not the last, and like too many of its successors was misrepresented to the American people by President Dwight Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.

As military interventions go, it proved relatively inconsequential, probably because it was also, it turned out, completely avoidable. Which, considering what it costs to put 5,000 Marines into combat and hold another 70,000 sailors offshore, and how frightening the idea of bringing nuclear weapons to bear on such a small problem, is completely terrifying.


Bruce Riedel is a senior fellow and director of the Brookings Intelligence Project, part of the Brookings Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence. In addition, Riedel serves as a senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy. He retired in 2006 after 30 years of service at the Central Intelligence Agency, including postings overseas. He was a senior advisor on South Asia and the Middle East to the last four presidents of the United States in the staff of the National Security Council at the White House. He was also deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Near East and South Asia at the Pentagon and a senior advisor at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Brussels.

Riedel was a member of President Bill Clinton’s peace process team and negotiated at Camp David and other Arab-Israeli summits and he organized Clinton’s trip to India in 2000. In January 2009, President Barack Obama asked him to chair a review of American policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan, the results of which the president announced in a speech on March 27, 2009.

In 2011, Riedel served as an expert advisor to the prosecution of al Qaeda terrorist Omar Farooq Abdulmutallab in Detroit. In December 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron asked him to brief the United Kingdom’s National Security Council in London on Pakistan.

Riedel is the author of “The Search for al Qaeda: Its Leadership, Ideology and Future” (Brookings Institution Press, 2008), “Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of the Global Jihad” (Brookings Institution Press, 2011; translated into Persian), “Avoiding Armageddon: America, India and Pakistan to the Brink and Back” (Brookings Institution Press, 2013), and “JFK’s Forgotten Crisis: Tibet, the CIA and the Sino-Indian War” (Brookings Institution Press, 2015). He is a contributor to “Which Path to Persia? Options for a New American Strategy Toward Iran” (Brookings Institution Press, 2009), “The Arab Awakening: America and the Transformation of the Middle East” (Brookings Institution Press, 2011) and “Becoming Enemies: U.S.-Iran Relations and the Iran-Iraq War, 1979-1988” (Brookings Institution Press, 2012). His book “What We Won: America’s Secret War in Afghanistan, 1979-1989” (Brookings Institution Press, 2014) won the gold medal for best new book on war and military affairs at the INDIEFAB awards. His new book is “Kings and Presidents: Saudi Arabia and the United States since FDR” (Brookings Institution Press, 2017).




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