US must tread warily before any boots hit ground
AS American military chiefs put the finishing touches to their plans for launching airstrikes against Syria, they would do well to remember the disastrous fate that befell America's last attempt to intervene militarily on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean.
In 1982, when US president Ronald Reagan dispatched an 1,800-strong force of US marines to neighbouring Lebanon, he was acting in response to an international outcry over the murders of hundreds of innocent civilians in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps. By authorising military intervention in the conflict, Mr Reagan sought to prevent further massacres of the civilian population. Britain, France and Italy also deployed forces to Beirut as part of a UN-sponsored multinational force seeking to bring an end to Lebanon's brutal civil war.
Within a year the mission had ended in tragedy, when 299 American and French servicemen were killed after Iranian-backed terrorists drove two truck bombs into separate buildings housing US and French forces. For America, the 241 fatalities represented the deadliest single attack suffered by forces since World War II; while France experienced its worst military loss since the end of the Algerian conflict. Within weeks the UN force had been withdrawn, and the US-led coalition's involvement in the Lebanese civil war brought to an ignominious end.
As things stand, no one expects that America and those allies that are willing to support military action against the Assad regime might suffer the same fate.
Assuming that Mr Obama succeeds in his quest to win Congressional support for military action, the most likely scenario is for a series of aerial strikes aimed at degrading the regime's ability to terrorise the civilian population.
As with the Libyan campaign two years ago, the only "boots on the ground" in Syria will be units of special forces deployed to ensure the missiles hit their targets. (© Daily Telegraph, London)