What? A party for Lebanese Army Day?

"It's a signal of hope and determination," said Arab League Ambassador Clovis Maksoud at the celebration last night. "The army is the manifestion of national unity."

Things have been terrible for the army lately, what with two recent weeks of air and sea attacks by the Israelis. Although there's a cease-fire now, more than 300 people have died in bombings of Beirut and Palestinian refugee camps. The Lebanese army appears defenseless.

Last night, select army nabobs wore their ribbons and medals to a party at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. They had drinks, ate cream cheese and caviar, poked at chicken livers and spread salmon on crackers.

"This is the miracle of Lebanon," said Brig. Gen. Antoine Barakat, the Lebanese Embassy's armed-forces attache who threw the party. "We are stronger than our crises."

"It's the most normal thing in the world," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Nicholas A. Veliotes of the celebration. "They've been reconstituting their army after the unfortunate events of 1975-76. And we've been helping them."

The party was in the medical center's Officers' Club, a low, dark, wall-to-wall-carpeted room full of food and formal uniforms. It was vaguely divided by the buffet table into two distinct socio-diplo-military groups. Those in front of the table included Lebanese Ambassador Khalil Itani, Maksoud, Barakat, Veliotes, etc. They talked seriously of international crisis and posed for pictures.

Behind the buffet table were the regular U.S. colonels, generals, admirals, commanders, lieutenant commanders, state department folks and their spouses. Generally, they talked of suburban noncrisis. Like this:

"Yes, we're all visiting that good dentist you recommended."

"It's good food. Did you taste it?"

"I had one little piece of cheese with caviar."

"Was it real caviar?"

"We installed a swimming pool."

"And the house belongs to whom?"

"Boy, that was really an interesting golf course."

Then, suddenly, there appeared at the buffet table a man who looked startingly like Iranian ex-president-in-exile Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr. But no, just another guest.

"One cab driver really thought I was Bani-Sadr," said the guest. "I convinced him by telling him that Bani-Sadr had lost his mustache -- and I still have mine."