The very worst disaster ever to befall U.S. diplomats and military in a foreign country did not occur in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, when four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed by terrorists.
Nor did it take place on August 7, 1998 during near-simultaneous Al Qaeda attacks against the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, in which 223 people were killed and more than 4,000 were wounded.
They happened in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983, during the Lebanese civil war between Christians, Muslims, and Druze, which did so much damage to that fractured land.
In June 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon, installed a Christian pro-Israeli government and drove the Palestine Liberation Organization out of its West Beirut headquarters. Lebanese Christian forces slaughtered between 762 and 3,500 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians in the infamous Sabra and Shatila massacres while Israeli troops stood by. An Israeli commission found its troops indirectly responsible, and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon resigned.
President Reagan had committed the U.S. military to a multinational peace-keeping force to end the hostilities and preside over a settlement after the PLO ‘s withdrawal.
But many Lebanese Muslims accused the U.S.of siding with the Christians. On April 18, 1983, a suicide bomber drove a delivery van packed with 2,000 pounds of explosives right into the lobby of the U.S. Embassy, where it exploded. Much of the building collapsed, and the blast shook all of West Beirut.
Sixty-three people were killed, including 17 Americans. Among them were nearly all of the CIA’s important Beirut station, including seasoned operatives. A pro-Iranian group, Islamic Jihad (later named Hezbollah), claimed responsibility, but Iran denied involvement.
President Reagan denounced the bombing as “a criminal act,” but vowed it would “not deter us from our goals of peace in the region.” He repeatedly stuck by the mission of the multinational force.
Six months later, on October 23, 1983, two truck bombs blew up outside the barracks housing French and U.S. troops. These massive explosions killed 299 servicemen, including 241 Americans, 220 of whom were Marines. It was the biggest one-day death toll for Marines since the brutal battle of Iwo Jima and the deadliest attacks on U.S. forces overseas since World War II.
Although the president called it a “despicable act,” there was no serious retaliation by the U.S., which withdrew its forces from Lebanon in February 1984.
After both incidents, commissions recommended stepped-up security, and that occurred. But I couldn’t find reports of full-fledged Congressional investigations. Just two days after the Marine barracks bombing, the U.S. invaded the tiny nation of Grenada, and Americans’ short memories kicked in. Talk about wag the dog!
Just three years later, the Iran-contra affair came to light, in which the Reagan Administration defied Congress and sold arms to Iran—which was likely behind the murder of Americans in both Beirut bombings—to raise money to arm the Contras fighting the left-wing Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Ten top Reagan national security officials pled guilty or were convicted on charges related to the affair.
So, Saint Ronald of Reagan allowed top American officials to be blown up at a U.S. embassy, then did nothing and six months later 241 Marines were killed by the same terrorists—all to support a multinational peace-keeping mission in the midst of a civil war?
Can you imagine what Fox News and Sen. Mitch McConnell would say if President Obama presided over anything remotely like this?
Benghazi was mismanaged and the loss of American lives was tragic. But Ronald Reagan’s monumental negligence in Beirut in 1983 makes Benghazi look like the molehill it really is.