Middle East Gunboat Diplomacy

The U.S. makes a show of force as the hostage war goes on and on

In the hazy seas off the Lebanese coast, the huge fleet steamed slowly eastward. Composed of 20 fighting ships, the armada was led by two of the world's largest aircraft carriers, the nuclear-powered U.S.S. Nimitz and the John F. Kennedy. The presence of so large a force in the volatile eastern Mediterranean last week inevitably raised the question: Was the U.S. preparing to launch a military assault to free all or most of the 24 foreigners, including eight Americans, held hostage by Shi'ite radicals in Lebanon?

Though the U.S. had clearly ordered the Sixth Fleet to make a show of force,...