A little snippet from last week’s news: the USS Mount Whitney is on its way to Lebanon for “an unscheduled deployment.”

This comes after the USS Cole entered the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal a week ago. But the USS Mount Whitney is different. It is the flagship of the US Navy’s 6th fleet and has a very “democratic” history, with such interventions on its CV as Operation Uphold Democracy and Operation Enduring Freedom. It has also served less war-like purposes, such as assisting in the 2006 evacuation from Lebanon.

The Americans have been visiting our waters even before the days of oil. In 1903, when the inhabitants of Beirut were at it again with Muslim/Christian clashes, two American men-of-war arrived in the neighborhood, prompting the British consul to hope that they “would have a salutory effect on the Vali and other officials responsible for safeguarding the public peace” (Foreign Office Records 195/2140, September 5, 1903).

The British and French also engaged in some gunship diplomacy of their own, all under the pretense of maintaining peace and order:

The frequent visits of warships during the autumn of 1896 and the early part of this year were undoubtedly conducive to the maintenance of order both on the coast and in the interior, where many British missions are established.

(Foreign Office Records 195/1980, October 28, 1897)

These visitations at this sensitive juncture when the Lebanese leaders are trying to reach some sort of agreement in Doha is no coincidence. It constitutes part of a long-standing historical practice rooted in tradition and nurtured by more than a century of love for the other and subtle diplomacy.