Alexander Wallis on International Relations

Reflections on the Clarke Forum Presentation on the 1983 Beirut Barracks Bombing

On September 21st, 2023, I had the great pleasure of attending an informative and sobering event in the Dickinson Clarke Forum. The topic was the 1983 bombing of the Beirut Barracks, which resulted in the death of 241 American servicemen. There were three speakers, each of whom covered different but equally important aspects of the attack, its history, and, its legacy.


It is fascinating how an event with such an outsized impact can be so overlooked in society today. I must, unfortunately, admit ignorance on the subject prior to my attendance of this event.


Perhaps the most important legacy of the attack were its dual influences on Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. In the case of Saddam Hussein, the attack played no small role in shaping his perceptions of American willingness to commit to a large and potentially prolonged conflict in the middle east. This, in turn, affected his decision to invade Kuwait, the aftermath of which the Middle East – and therefore the world – is still reeling from. The bombing of the Beirut Barracks had profound effects on the individual, domestic, and, systemic level of behavior and conception in America, Iran, France, Lebanon, and, therefore, the world.


I found that this neatly fit into an argument proffered up by the Texas National Security Review ( that advanced the illuminating argument that Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait was not, as general wisdom may suggest, simply an oil grab or the work of an unhinged autocrat, but rather, was due to an elaborated – and  likely incorrect – conception of the international system held by Saddam Hussein. This, in my mind, illuminates, among many things, the necessity of studying various schools of international thought. If the significance of a certain event – be it the bombing of the Beirut Barracks or Kuwaiti overproduction of oil – is determined in a manner deeply disparate from reality, the consequences can be vast, and potentially catastrophic.


Events can not be taken at face value, and multiple angles ought to be considered before the significance of a given event is determined. Saddam Hussein arguably got himself quite literally killed by his poor model of the international system. The consequences of projection and poor reflection can be monumentous.


The presentation similarly drove home how paradoxical events can be. The bombing of the Beirut Barracks was an unmitigated disaster and tragedy, yet it led to a revolution in military organization which persists to this day. Defeat was turned into victory.


I found the presentation to be an exaltation for cross cultural communication, as well. Despite deploying forces in the name of de-escalation, we arguably made a muddled situation even more complex than it already was, inviting escalation. We did not fully understand how we were perceived by the various factions operating in and around Beirut at the time. The loss of human intelligence in the American Embassy Bombing did little to alleviate this dearth of information.


I am grateful for having the opportunity to attend such a fascinating presentation, and look forward to future events.


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