12. Telegram From the Embassy in Lebanon to the Department of State1

3310. Re Department’s telegram 38072 presume Department has now received my 32823 reporting views General Chehab which are somewhat in contrast with Malik’s interpretation of General’s position as described [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] report March 31.4 In my view Malik’s listed alternatives before Chehab are too categoric. On the basis of his estimate of situation, Chehab might neither be insubordinate or resign and leave country but merely claim to act as loyal subordinate of government, but to deplore his inability to deal with widespread guerrilla warfare and point to his other mission of defending country against external aggression. This would have political effect of handing Chamoun’s fate to decision of mob.

Furthermore, Chehab in his talk with me did not give impression of being out and out anti-Chamoun as represented by Malik. Chehab, in fact, seemed entirely impersonal, confining his appreciation to military situation and means he had to deal with it.

As indicated Embassy telegram 3255,5 I believe Chamoun will go through several changes of heart before he reaches his ultimate decision. I do not believe stormy interview between Malik and Chamoun reported [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] March 31 can be taken for more than a temperature reading of that moment seen through Malik’s binocular paralax.

Last night (Embassy Despatch 560)6 Raymond Edde told me his bloc of four votes in Parliament would oppose Chamoun’s amending constitution. As time passes and both government and opposition test each other’s strength and determination, as witnessed yesterday’s [Page 21]rioting and killing in Tyre,7Chamoun will then after Ramadan reach his final estimate of situation whether (A) even in his supposedly secure Parliament he can muster sufficient votes for amendment and reelection; and (B) if successful in Parliament intimations of civil war are so convincing as to threaten his overthrow by violence. In this struggle within Chamoun’s own soul he will be torn between stubborn pride, conviction his policies have been right, and certainty he could pull off reelection if his Western friends stood fast against his own calculated judgment of odds pro or con.

In this very fifty-fifty situation, and with mounting evidence guns will shoot to kill, I am revising conclusions set out a month ago in Embassy telegram 29648 and am trending to judgment it would be better for Lebanon, US interests and Arab World generally, and Chamoun himself, if he stepped down at end of presidential term next September. This is based on reasoning (vide final paragraph Embassy telegram 3282 that if Chamoun is deposed by force pendulum would swing so widely away from West as to crash through the sides of the clock. I am likewise trending to opinion that Raymond Edde would be a competent and generally acceptable compromise candidate to replace Chamoun, who would with less fanfare but with quiet effectiveness maintain a pro-Western policy conducive to our interests. However, I prefer to send in my final recommendations on these points after consultation early next week with French and British colleagues.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/4–358. Top Secret.
  2. In telegram 3807 to Beirut, April 2, the Department asked the Embassy to comment on a report that Chamoun had expressed the intention of retiring on September 23. (Ibid., 783A.11/4–258)
  3. The reference should be to telegram 3274 from Beirut, April 1, in which McClintock reported on a conversation he had that day with Chehab. McClintock found Chahab calm, dispassionate, but convinced that if Chamoun sought to amend the constitution and succeed himself there would be severe civil strife in Lebanon, amounting possibly to civil war. (Ibid., 783A.00/4–158; included in the microfiche supplement)
  4. Not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, 783A.11/4–258)
  5. Dated March 31. (Ibid., 783A.00/4–358)
  6. Not found.
  7. USARMA telegram CX 55 from Beirut, April 3, reported on clashes which occurred in Tyre on March 28 and April 2 between pro-UAR demonstrators and local security and army forces. (Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00(W)/4–358)
  8. Document 9.