This is the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Marines. President Reagan sent in U.S. troops to try to help stabilize Lebanon after the Israeli invasion (and massacres by Israeli proxies in Palestinian refugee camps) the prior year. This was Reagan’s biggest antiterrorism debacle. He failed the Marines and he compounded the abuse by lying about it to the American people. But apologists for the U.S. warring continue to invoke the sacrifice of the Marines to vindicate practically any and all proposed U.S. invasions of foreign countries.
The Wall Street Journal editorial page today contains a piece implying that the Marines perished as a result of Democrats trying to limit the president’s power to intervene abroad. Robert Turner insists, “Had it not been for crass political partisanship, and efforts by Sen. Joe Biden and other congressional liberals to usurp the constitutional powers of the president, the loss of life in Beirut may have been avoided.” In reality, the folly and blame lies in those responsible for sending the troops to Lebanon, not for those trying to bring them home.
Turner then proceeds to blame 9/11 on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which attempted to limit the power of the president to wiretap any phone call he pleased. Turner implies that the only reason the 9/11 attacks were not detected was because U.S. government spies did not have boundless power to intrude on communications in America. This is tripe, as the reports of the Senate Intelligence Committee and 9/11 Commission showed. The subtitle on his article captures his message: “Liberal assaults on the executive branch have made us vulnerable.”
Robert McFarlane, Reagan’s national security advisor, has an article in the New York Times with a different song-and-dance on the anniversary. McFarlane says that the problem with the U.S. incursion into Lebanon was that the U.S. military did not plunge itself massively into the Lebanese civil war: “I urged the president to give the marines their traditional role — to deploy, at the invitation of the Lebanese government, into the mountains alongside the newly established Lebanese Army in an effort to secure the evacuation of Syrian and Israeli forces from Lebanon.” Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger recognized that it would be folly to commence a general war against Muslim forces.
I wrote about Reagan’s Lebanon debacle in Terrorism & Tyranny and for Counterpunch in 2003, looking at the Beirut debacle as a microcosm of the growing fiasco in Iraq. I concluded back then, “The Reagan administration paid no political price for its Beirut debacle. Reagan and Bush Sr. succeeded in falsifying, blustering, and smearing their way out of political trouble. Now, two decades later, the only ‘lesson’ that seems to be recalled is to stick resolutely to floundering policies – at least until the number of dead soldiers threatens to become politically toxic.”