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Saving Lebanon: Diaspora, Religion, and Advocacy for U.S. Intervention during the Lebanese Civil War, 1975-1990

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This dissertation argues that by examining the networks and advocacy of Americans interested in Lebanon and Lebanese with ties to the U.S., scholars can better understand how relationships cultivated away from the spotlight of policymaker attention have both guided and revealed the limitations of U.S. empire. Activists, both Lebanese and American, built support for their visions of Lebanon by appealing to diaspora and religious ties. These relationships helped both define and constrain U.S. policymaking when events in Lebanon become central foreign policy concerns in the early 1980s. In the 1970s, the most vibrant activism derived from Christian activists, both Lebanese Christian nationalists and American evangelicals who were motivated to intervene in Lebanon by their Christian Zionist beliefs. The work of these activists became more sophisticated and successful in the 1980s, in part due to a more receptive audience after the election of President Reagan. From 1982 to 1984 Lebanon became the site of the Reagan administration’s longest military engagement as a result of the combination of rapid destabilization following the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the new administration’s warmer reception of Lebanese Christian nationalist appeals. Many of the individuals who advocated for U.S. engagement with Lebanon believed that the United States was uniquely positioned to save Lebanon and that Lebanon was uniquely worth saving. Their arguments for intervention were often grounded in discussions of Lebanon’s worthiness and commonalities with the West. The failures of the U.S. engagement in Lebanon in the 1980s discredited the exceptionalism of both nations. The Marine barracks bombing of October 1983 and hostage crises of the 1980s, both conducted by militias connected with Iran, violently extinguished public characterizations of Lebanon as a pro-Western bastion and prompted decades of frustration with Lebanon within the American foreign policy establishment. American failures in Lebanon demonstrated to many observers that the United States was not able to rescue other nations and that American military intervention could not bring stability on its own. Both nations emerged from the 1980s with their sense of exceptionalism tarnished by their engagements in Lebanon. For the remainder of the 1980s Arab American activists who viewed war in Lebanon through the lens of universal suffering became the most significant voice in American advocacy for Lebanon. By working with the Jesse Jackson campaigns for the Democratic nomination for president in 1984 and 1988 they helped bring Arab American political activism into the mainstream.

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  • 01/29/2019
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