A year ago, President Reagan outlined our four broad objectives for the Middle East:
1. a cessation of Syrian/PLO/Israeli hostilities;
2. a secure northern border for Israel;
3. the reestablishment of a strong central government of Lebanon, which could secure sovereign control of Lebanese territory; and
4. the departure of all foreign forces from Lebanon.
We have encountered many difficulties over the past year, but our efforts have on balance moved us closer to meeting those objectives. The first--the cessation of Israeli/Syrian/PLO hostilities--has already been achieved. American forces joined those of Italy, France and Great Britain in a multinational force that created the climate necessary for the successful conclusion of Ambassador Philip Habib's cease- fire negotiations and the evacuation of PLO guerrillas from Beirut.
By achieving the first objective we also created the conditions necessary to achieve the others, particularly a secure northern border for Israel, free from threat of bombardment and terrorist attack.
Although the Lebanese government is not yet strong enough to secure sovereign control of its territory, great strides have been taken toward meeting this third objective. A year ago the Lebanese army was not a viable military force. Today, after a major training and rearming effort by U.S. forces--90 percent of which has been paid for, in cash, by the Lebanese--the Lebanese army is a well-trained force whose internal cohesion and esprit de corps have been tested repeatedly and, thus far successfully, under fire. The officer and enlisted corps of today's Lebanese army is also representative of the ethnic and religious groups within the general Lebanese population--another great stride forward in a country where factional strife has been the norm for the last eight years.
But greatly complicating the Lebanese government's effort to reestablish order and national unity is the continued presence of foreign forces on Lebanese soil. As long as foreign forces occupy sections of Lebanon, factional domestic militias have little incentive to lay down their arms and cooperate with the Lebanese government. Instead, these militias are exploiting the situation to improve their individual positions by skirmishing with each other and the Lebanese Army--particularly in the Chouf mountain area.
Our diplomatic efforts, concentrated in the shuttle diplomacy of Ambassador William McFarlane, are aimed at securing the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon and encouraging the domestic Lebanese factions to cease fire and join with the central Lebanese government in a national dialogue; that is, they are aimed at securing our fourth objective--the departure of all foreign forces from Lebanon. But as we have learned from other--successful--Middle East negotiations, this diplomacy will need time to succeed. Successful diplomacy also requires the conviction on the part of other nations, especially Syria, that they do not have more to gain by simply outwaiting the patience of the United States, Italy, France and Great Britain.
The presence of the multinational force, of which our Marines are a critical part, provides a level of stability necessary for diplomatic efforts to succeed. Its role today remains the same as a year ago--to support the efforts of the Lebanese government in consolidating its authority. It is not an offensive force, nor is it a substitute for the Lebanese army. By remaining in Lebanon, however, the multinational force serves as a deterrent to more intense fighting; it also provides a visible symbol of international support for the Lebanese government.
The Lebanese government and Lebanese army must have time to strengthen and solidify their position politically as well as militarily. President Amin Gemayel's attempts to gain the full support of the Druze, Moslem and Christian communities must be given a chance to work. And finally, Ambassador McFarlane's initiatives to negotiate among the parties involved and to work for withdrawal of all foreign forces must be allowed to continue.
The situation in Lebanon is now at a critical juncture. Events of the next few weeks and months will determine whether our objectives are achievable. But certainly we know this much: our diplomatic efforts have a chance at succeeding only as long as the fighting in Lebanon can be kept to a minimum, and that is why, for now, the multinational force must remain.