Today Mitt Romney is set to deliver what is being characterized as an important foreign policy speech to an audience at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. He is expected to draw a "stark contrast" between a Romney foreign policy and that of his would-be predecessor. Exhibit "A" is expected to be the violent assault on our installation that resulted in the deaths of American personnel.
And he has good grounds to do so.
In fact, prior to the attack on our people, the President himself was specifically warned that placing Americans in an unstable, civil war-torn Middle Eastern country barely existing with a dysfunctional government was a situation ripe for terrorist opportunity.
He ignored the advice, and Americans died as a result.
But the year was 1983. The country was Lebanon, not Libya, and Mr. Romney's would-be predecessor was Ronald Wilson Reagan.
In the attack on the American Marines barracks, the death toll was 241 American servicemen: 220 marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers, along with sixty Americans injured, representing the deadliest single-day death toll for the United States Marine Corps since the Battle of Iwo Jima of World War II, the deadliest single-day death toll for the United States military since the first day of the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War, and the deadliest single attack on Americans overseas since World War II.[President Reagan responded by calling it a "despicable act:"
U.S. President Ronald Reagan called the attack a "despicable act" and pledged to keep a military force in LebanonIndeed, a despicable act it was. And it was entirely predictable.
Years later Caspar "Cap" Weinberger, Reagan's Secretary of Defense at the time of the attack bitterly recalled "imploring" Reagan to pull the Marines out of a situation he considered untenable:
A former defense secretary for Ronald Reagan says he implored the president to put Marines serving in Beirut in a safer position before terrorists attacked them in 1983, killing 241 servicemen.Reagan, well into his first term and eager to establish his hawkish foreign policy credentials in the face of a persistent recession, ignored Weinberger. But it was not Reagan, but the military who took the fall.
"I was not persuasive enough to persuade the president that the Marines were there on an impossible mission," Caspar Weinberger says in an oral history project capturing the views of former Reagan administration officials.
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[H]e said one of his greatest regrets was in failing to overcome the arguments that '"Marines don't cut and run,' and 'We can't leave because we're there'" before the devastating suicide attack on the lightly armed force.
"They had no mission but to sit at the airport, which is just like sitting in a bull's-eye," Weinberger said. "I begged the president at least to pull them back and put them back on their transports as a more defensible position."
Shortly after the barracks bombing, President Ronald Reagan appointed a military fact-finding committee headed by retired Admiral Robert L. J. Long to investigate the bombing. The commission's report found senior military officials responsible for security lapses and blamed the military chain of command for the disaster. It suggested that there might have been many fewer deaths if the barracks guards had carried loaded weapons and a barrier more substantial than the barbed wire the bomber drove over easily.Notably absent was any organized attempt by Democratic Congressional House members to investigate the Administration's knowledge of the military's defense strategy regarding the barracks.
But there was much more reason to expect an attack than simply the concern of Caspar Weinberger.
In April, 1983, only six months prior to this attack, our Embassy in Beirut was attacked by a suicide bomber.
The 1983 U.S. embassy bombing was a suicide bombing against the United States embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, on April 18, 1983, that killed 63 people, mostly embassy and CIA staff members, several soldiers and one Marine. 17 of the dead were Americans. It was the deadliest attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission up to that time[.]Reagan's response was to call the bombing a "cowardly act":
U.S. President Ronald Reagan on April 18 denounced the "vicious terrorist bombing" as a "cowardly act," saying, "This criminal act on a diplomatic establishment will not deter us from our goals of peace in the region."After both of these discrete attacks, the Administration moved our Embassy to a supposedly more secure location:
Following the attack, the embassy was moved to a supposedly more secure location in East Beirut. However, on September 20, 1984, another car bomb exploded at this embassy annex, killing twenty Lebanese and two American soldiers.It's not clear what adjective or adverb President Reagan used to describe this third attack. But I trust it was a powerful one.
The Congressional response, again, was muted, no doubt in deference to the President, the inherently hazardous nature of keeping an American presence in a war zone, as well as the human scope of the tragedy:
The House Foreign Affairs Committee April 19 voted to approve $251 million in additional economic and military aid for Lebanon, as requested by the administration. But it attached an amendment to the bill that would force the White House to seek approval for any expanded U.S. military role.But apparently that was then, and this is now. As Fox News dutifully reports, candidate Romney is chomping at the bit to leap into the fray and cast blame:
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee followed suit April 20, approving the aid request but attaching an amendment that required the president to obtain congressional authorization for "any substantial expansion in the number or role of U.S. armed forces in Lebanon or for the creation of a new, expanded or extended multinational peacekeeping force in Lebanon." If Congress did not act jointly on such a request within 60 days, however, the increase would then take effect automatically.
“I believe obviously what happened was a tragic failure. There had been warnings of a possible attack. There had been requests on the part of … diplomats there to have additional security forces there,” Romney said on Fox News. “We expected candor and transparency from the administration and we didn’t get it.”Darrell Issa, who in 1983 was less concerned about foreign policy and more interested in selling car alarms, has announced his intention to proceed with a full-blown investigation:
Congressional Republicans’ top inquisitor, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), on Tuesday jumped into the bitter fight over last month’s attack in Benghazi, calling for a hearing on allegations of lax security at the U.S. Consulate there...[.]Issa's own lack of interest in embassy security doesn't seem to bother him:
Since retaking control in 2010, House Republicans have aggressively cut spending at the State Department in general and embassy security in particular. Chaffetz and Issa and their colleagues voted to pay for far less security than the State Department requested in 2011 and again this year.It's always instructive to look back and see how times have changed.
Or perhaps it's only instructive to reflect on who occupies the Oval Office and the Congress.
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