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After reported gas attack in Syria, US must weigh intervention in light of history

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The United States and its allies succeeded in turning Afghanistan into a bloody quagmire – the so-called Soviet Vietnam. And the long-term repercussions were sobering: an estimated 2 million killed, Afghanistan destabilized, and an energized jihadist movement that would go global in the coming decades and harbor the militants who attacked the US on September 11, 2001.

The case of Lebanon – Syria’s close neighbor – is also worth remembering. The Reagan administration designed its intervention in the Lebanese Civil War in 1982 with humanitarian interests in mind, but once US forces were on the ground, they discovered a far more complicated situation. Tasked with restoring the power of the Lebanese government, American troops threw their support behind Christian forces in the civil war. US peacekeepers were then pulled into the conflict.

The 1983 bombing of the US Marine compound in Beirut, which killed 241 American servicemen and stands as the deadliest single attack on US troops overseas since World War II, showed just how dangerous such operations can be. Reagan decided to pull US combat forces out of the country the following year, and Lebanon was left to suffer through six more years of civil war. At the end of the conflict, large parts of the country lay under Syrian and Israeli military occupation and the militant Shiite group Hezbollah had become a force to be reckoned with.

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