Did the Marines Die in Beirut for Absolute Power?

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.”


6 Responses to Did the Marines Die in Beirut for Absolute Power?

  1. Dirk W. Sabin October 23, 2008 at 11:00 am #

    Thomas Friedman, flat earth Booster wrote a tremendous book on the Lebanese-Palestinian situation early in his career. Entitled “From Beirut to Jerusalem, the book chronicles the complexity of issues involved in the conflict and accurately portrays both the fatalism of the people in the midst of tribal antagonism and the nihilistic …psychotic quality of the conflict. What is most interesting is the great hope many in Lebanon saw in the deployment of Marines initially but how this was undone by our own rash, ill-informed and arrogant deployment of a naval bombardment induced by one Lebanese tribe against another……under false premises. I believe it was Bud McFarlane, purportedly, who went over the heads of military brass on the ground and encouraged the President to allow the use of naval artillery at the behest of one faction against
    another. Friedman suggests that the attack on the Marine barracks was a direct response to our mistaken involvement in factional warfare.

    Sound familiar? As a certain low fat Napoleon sage avers, “fool me once , shame on you, fool me again…and well you can’t be fooled again”. I suppose when one is locked in a permanent phase of serial foolishness, the word “again” is immaterial.

  2. Jim October 23, 2008 at 9:46 pm #

    Friedman’s book on the follies of Middle East policies and politics was superb. He was especially courageous exposing the massacre at the Palestinian refugee camps.

    But that seems like a thousand years ago, at least compared the stuff he has been shoveling during this century.

    The fact that the New York Times would give McFarlane a chance to strut on the anniversary of the Marines’ killings is appallilng.

  3. Dirk W. Sabin October 24, 2008 at 1:13 pm #

    I read McFarlanes chest thumping strut piece after I sent the prior and it hits a new low for the Times. This “Paper of Record” has abandoned its post as an important element of the Fourth Estate and is now little more than a Sousa March Band for the various Think Tanks, War Profiteers and Eternal Crusaders that make the White Man’s Burden into the cockeyed thing it so richly is. The least they could have done is had Friedman…or someone else, counterpoint McFarlane’s screed against Weinberger but they didn’t and so it is…All the News that is Fit to Print Halfway.

  4. Fascist Nation October 25, 2008 at 4:54 pm #

    Back when Reagan ordered the troops into Lebanon, my father — a WWII vet and lifelong Republican — turned to me and said this would be the biggest mistake of Reagan’s presidency and a lot of those soldiers would get killed. He even predicted pretty succinctly exactly the manner in how they would get killed.

  5. alpowolf October 25, 2008 at 5:57 pm #

    Those jerkoffs.

    Sorry, but I was there in 1983, so this sort of nonsense irritates me.

    Of course I was just a lowly enlisted man. But the thing about us enlisted men is this: few of us have access to much of the intel; a lot of us hardly read much of anything other than skin books. But all of us, whatever our educational level, can smell indecision and ignorance in our leadership. We smelled it big time in the fall of ’83. It was painfully obvious to even the dullest of us that our “leaders” had no clue and no plan. They just stuck us in there in the blind hope that it would make them look “decisive” and that they would be able to muddle through. If some of us got killed, well, what the hell, that’s what we’re paid for, right?

    Those jerkoffs.

  6. Jim October 25, 2008 at 10:16 pm #

    Alpowolf, I’m glad you survived that time in the fire.

    I appreciate your insights on the perceptions of the enlisted men at that time.

    They sounded much sharper than the policy wizards like McFarlane who weren’t putting their own hides on the line to make some BS statement.