Along the Tracks

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Reagan’s greatest error

Twenty years ago today, the American Embassy in Beirut was hit by a suicide bomber, killing 241 Marines and sailors. In response, President Ronald Reagan pulled our troops out of Lebanon.

The result: A generation of Islamists who believed America would pull back anytime blood was drawn. Among those who learned this lesson: Osama bin Laden.

In Reagan’s defense, this was only 10 years after the Vietnam War, and the thought of a full-fledged operation to eliminate Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorists from Lebanon - which would have inevitably resulted in an “allied” effort with Israel, already in southern Lebanon - was probably seen as an impossibility. When Libya took advantage of this apparent lack of resolve, Reagan began to change course, bombing Colonel Qaddafi’s compound. Yet the seed had been planted, and the sheer volume of the loss in Beirut set the tone for ever-larger terror operations, seeking higher and higher death tolls. By the Clinton administration, the idea of military action to eliminate terrorist sanctuaries had been abandoned entirely, and al Qaeda was free to plan its most deadly attack 9/11.

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