U.S. policy options to the hostage crisis in Lebanon

by Bruce Hoffman

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The execution of American hostage Lt. Col. William Higgins has again underscored the power that a handful of Middle Eastern terrorists holds over the United States. The legacy of one presidency destroyed by its inability to free American diplomats held hostage in Teheran and another tarnished by its futile attempt to trade arms for the hostages in Lebanon are reminders of the U.S. failure to solve the problems of terrorism. This paper reviews the problems that past presidents have faced in responding to terrorist acts and provocations, and offers some thoughts on what types of military responses might prove most effective. The author suggests that Israel should not be condemned, but be praised for its bold move in apprehending Sheikh Obeid, the commander of the pro-Iranian Hezbollah terrorist organization; we should accept that no progress will be made in the struggle against terrorism until the terrorists' state sponsors are held accountable for their aid and encouragement; and the United States must have a clear and consistent policy on terrorism.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation paper series. The paper was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1948 to 2003 that captured speeches, memorials, and derivative research, usually prepared on authors' own time and meant to be the scholarly or scientific contribution of individual authors to their professional fields. Papers were less formal than reports and did not require rigorous peer review.

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