Ronald Reagan on War & Peace
President of the U.S., 1981-1989; Republican Governor (CA)
In 1990, Pres. Bush I even sent a high-level congressional delegation, led by Sen. Bob Dole, to convey his personal greetings to his good friend and to assure him that he should disregard criticisms by "the haughty and pampered press," who are out of control.
A few months later Saddam defied or misunderstood orders, and shifted from admired friend to the embodiment of evil. All such matters have been consigned to the usual repository of unwelcome fact.
The new government had a destabilizing effect on Lebanon. Lebanon had been friendly to America, but had fallen into a devastating civil war, with one side fueled by Syrian and Iranian support and influence. In response, Pres. Reagan ordered an American armed force into that country--a move intended to protect our interests in the Middle East. A year later, however, with the deadly attack on the marine headquarters in Beirut, we would get our first deadly lesson in the determination and abilities of anti-American crusaders.
Lebanon should have taught us that the traditional hardware of war was becoming obsolete in a world in which enemies increasingly utilized deception, guile, misdirection, and other guerilla tactics--not as an adjunct of traditional forces, but as a replacement for them. In the end, Reagan ordered all military forces out of Lebanon.
"The longer we stay in Lebanon, the harder it will be for us to leave. We will be trapped by the case we make for having troops there in the first place. What can we expect if we withdraw from Lebanon? The same as will happen if we stay. I acknowledge that the level of fighting will increase if we leave. But I firmly believe this will happen in any event."
Less than one month later, 241 Marines were killed by suicide bombers in Lebanon, marking the deadliest attack on US soldiers during the Reagan presidency. The House tried to cut off funding for the deployment, but the measure failed, with McCain voting against it.
World War II was such a glorious political credential in the 20th century that some men felt the need to manufacture a more heroic war record for themselves. Even as President, Ronald Reagan fabricated stories about being an Army photographer assigned to film the horror of the Nazi death camps. The truth is that he never left California during the war. As a captain in the Army Air Force, he was assigned to a motion-picture unit in Hollywood, where he narrated training films and played the lead in musical comedy about the army.
"Yes, it does," Reagan answered. "I don't have a memory of it all taking place but I can see that, yes, that would be my attitude." The president talked about his anger at Congress for restricting aid to the contras and the arms embargo with Iran. "I was just madder than the devil about them and their doing this to us." Reagan said "I felt as far as being the president that a thing of this kind to get back five human beings from potential murder, yes, I would violate that other law."
The prosecutor asked deferentially, "In other words, to avoid responsibility for the death of the hostages, you would explain to the American people who you violated that law?"
"Yes," Reagan said.
It was an astounding admission. Reagan had essentially said he had violated the law. In the context of Reagan's memory, though, it meant nothing.
The President told [NSC staff] that we had, in fact, supplied arms to Iran, but it was only a small amount and we had not swapped for hostages. He knew, of course, that the US had shipped antitank and anti-aircraft missiles to Tehran and that certain Iranians had exerted influence over terrorists in Lebanon to facilitate the release of American hostages. But in Reagan's own mind that did not constitute a swap of arms for hostages.
At the time, I myself believed that the potential benefits--not only the return of the hostages, but also the opening of a dialogue with a faction that might one day come to power in one of the most strategically important countries in the world--outweighed the risk. Of course I did not at that time know all the secrets. Neither did the President.
On Oct. 23, a grinning suicide bomber had driven a yellow truck full of explosives through the guard gate of the Marine headquarters at Beirut International Airport, killing 241 US troops. The next few days, Reagan was involved in post-tragedy and pre-invasion meetings.
“Operation Urgent Fury” was an embarrassingly clumsy success. The world’s ranking superpower, hampered by old tourist maps and incompatible radio frequencies, needed two full days to overcome the resistance of an island not much bigger than Washington DC. Democracy was restored, and some damp Cuban documents impounded, along with 24,768 signal flares-clear evidence of incendiary Red activity.
This did not mean that the President forgave Begin and Ariel Sharon for encouraging the carnage in Beirut. Revealingly, at the height of Israel’s bombardment of Beirut, he had invoked race memory in a phone call to Begin: “I told him to stop or our entire future relationship was endangered. I used the word holocaust deliberately and said his symbol was becoming a picture of a seven-month old baby with its arms blown off.” Begin called back within minutes to say that the attack had been stopped.
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George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Past Vice Presidents:
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