30. Memorandum of a Conversation, White House, Washington, May 13, 1958, 5:50 p.m.1


  • Lebanese Crisis
[Page 46]


  • The President
  • The Secretary of State
  • Governor Herter
  • Mr. Allen Dulles
  • General Twining
  • General Gruenther
  • General Goodpaster
  • Mr. John Irwin, Department of Defense
  • Mr. William M. Rountree, NEA

The Secretary read to the President telegram number 38262 from Beirut. He added his own comments concerning the gravity of the situation. He said that he had received a telephone call from Mr. Selwyn Lloyd,3 and later a message from Mr. Lloyd conveyed by Ambassador Caccia,4 informing him that the British Cabinet had considered the possibility of responding to President Chamoun’s request for military intervention, and that the Cabinet had decided that the United Kingdom should respond favorably, if the United States agreed. Mr. Lloyd had said the British would be prepared to do what they could although they assumed that the major responsibility would be American.

The President thought it would be a great mistake if the French would participate in such a military intervention. The Secretary agreed, and said he had discussed the matter with the British who shared this view.

The Secretary and the President discussed generally the problems involved in United States intervention. The President observed that it was well to consider such problems, but that we also had to take into account the apparently much larger problems which would arise if the Lebanese needed our intervention and we did not respond. The Secretary agreed, and said he had been giving thought to the mission of any forces which might be sent in. Perhaps our dispatch should be on the basis of protecting, at the request of the Lebanese Government, lives and property of United States citizens, and of assisting the Lebanese Government in connection with its military program.

In response to the President’s question, the Secretary pointed out that he did not see how we could invoke the provisions of the Middle East Doctrine relating to the use of United States forces specifically, since that would entail a finding that the United Arab Republic had attacked Lebanon and that the United Arab Republic was under the control of international communism. The mission of the United States forces could be brought into context with the Middle East Doctrine at least to some extent, however, because of the Mansfield Amendment, which stated that the preservation of the independence and integrity of the nations of the Middle East was vital to the national interests and world peace. Nevertheless there was a question of constitutional authority to send in combat troops for a stated mission of fighting for Lebanese independence.

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The President recalled our former so-called “gun boat policy” and asked by what authority we had sent such missions to South American countries. The Secretary responded that this policy in the world today no longer represented an acceptable practice, unless the forces went in at the invitation of the host government. Such an invitation, of course, was not a condition to the introduction of American forces at the time referred to by the President.

The President was aware of considerable Congressional excitement over the Lebanese issue and what the United States proposed to do to help its friends in the Middle East. Senator Knowland in particular had raised this matter with him. He felt that resolute action should be taken as necessary to preserve the situation.

In outlining the implications of the introduction of American forces, the Secretary mentioned the following: once our forces were in, it would not be easy to establish a basis upon which they could retire and leave behind an acceptable situation; the move might create a wave of anti-Western feeling in the Arab world comparable to that associated with the British and French military operation against Egypt, even though the circumstances were quite different; it was probable that oil pipelines would be cut in Syria; action by Egypt in connection with the Suez Canal was not predictable, but at least there was a strong possibility that the Canal would be closed to American and British shipping; the action might result in a new and major oil crisis. Another important consideration, the Secretary said, was that while we might get support initially from the Iraqi and Jordanian Governments, such support might lead to pressure upon them which could result in their collapse. The President thought that if it became necessary to move forces in, we should have our Ambassadors call on the various governments and explain that we had no intent other than helping a friendly government to maintain its sovereignty and independence; that the move was not in any way directed toward legitimate interests of other nations. The Secretary said that most of the Arab governments to which such representation might be [made?] had in fact asked us to give all necessary support to Chamoun. However, there was a problem in this case, that often arose in such matters, that the governments were prepared to say helpful things privately but not publicly. The President thought there would be a great advantage in having the Arab states join Chamoun in asking for our help.

The Secretary expressed the view that any communication to Chamoun informing him of our willingness to intervene should make it clear that our purpose was not to back him for a second term as President. The President agreed, saying that we must know exactly what Chamoun was asking help for.

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Mr. Irwin pointed out the necessity for making clear to the military forces whatever mission they might have. They would be fighting forces, and there should be no doubt in their minds what they would be called upon to do and the extent to which they were able to protect themselves, and, if necessary, be reinforced for that purpose.

In commenting upon the President’s observation that it was difficult to see how we could afford not to respond to a properly worded request by President Chamoun and the Lebanese Government if circumstances clearly showed that our aid was essential for the preservation of Lebanese independence, the Secretary reviewed current Communist methods of warfare throughout the world. He mentioned their tactics in Venezuela, Burma, Indonesia, Lebanon, etc., where they employed techniques of inciting rioting, which were techniques extremely difficult to combat. At least in the case of Lebanon, however, there might be an instance in which we could comply with a legitimate request and, operating “in accordance with rules of the game as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations”, do something constructive. If we did nothing, we would have to accept heavy losses not only in Lebanon but elsewhere.

The President speculated upon the desirability of sending some sort of message to Congress setting forth an evaluation of the situation and asking specifically for authority to move in United States forces if they should be required. The Secretary recalled that even at the time the Middle East Resolution was being considered in Congress many members had said that the President already had authority to take military action to protect United States interests.

The President said that at some stage we might give a report to the Congress of what we do. In it Congressional action would not be requested, that Congress would be given a full account of an important development affecting our security.

The President concluded by saying that he thought it was right to let the Lebanese know that we would help them in case it should become necessary. He thought the military should immediately issue a warning order to our forces and put them on the alert.5

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers, Meetings with the President. Top Secret; Personal and Private. Drafted on May 15 by Rountree.
  2. Document 27.
  3. See supra.
  4. Not found.
  5. Another memorandum of this conversation was prepared on May 15 by General Goodpaster. According to Goodpaster’s account, there was further discussion concerning deployment of U.S. forces, and “the President indicated agreement that the Marines should start moving eastward.” When Secretary Dulles raised the question of a possible Soviet reaction, Eisenhower responded that he did not consider a significant Soviet reaction likely if the military intervention was limited to Lebanon, but if U.S. forces were to attack Syria, “that would be something else again”. (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Eisenhower Diaries; included in the microfiche supplement)