Instead of 84 deaths in Nice, it was 241 deaths in Beirut. Instead of French lives lost, it was American lives lost. Instead of the American president having nothing whatsoever to do with causing it, the American president was actively responsible for the inconsistent decisions that led directly to it.
Instead of trying to put the blame on a president who was not in any way responsible for the attack as conservatives are doing now, they rallied around and supported the president who had made every decision that led to the attack.
Instead of President Obama being in office, it was Reagan.
Well, of course…sure. That explains it.
Lebanon sits north of Israel, both on the Mediterranean Sea. Syria and the PLO, operating from bases in southern Lebanon, had been conducting attacks into northern Israel. In June of 1982, Israel invaded southern Lebanon to create a buffer zone.
Lebanon was also embroiled in a full-scale civil war.
On one side: Lebanon President Bachir Gemayel; Lebanese Armed Forces; Phalangist Militia — a Christian terrorist organization.
The other side: Lebanese Muslims; Lebanese Druze; Islamic Jihad — a Lebanese terrorist organization which eventually evolved into Hezbollah.
The civil war in Lebanon became a proxy war for Israel versus Syria, Iran and the PLO, with Israel being on the side of the Lebanese government, LAF and Phalangists; and, Syria, Iran and the PLO on the side of Lebanese Muslims and Druze and Islamic Jihad.
America had three options: 1.) stay out of it; 2.) declare war and go in with full wartime engagement authority; 3.) go in as part of a multinational peacekeeping force with very limited rules of engagement and little ability to defend ourselves.
Reagan picked option three.
But option three requires a country to remain neutral.
And Reagan wasn’t neutral.
Reagan publicly provided weapons and material support to Israel as it invaded southern Lebanon to attack PLO and Syrian forces which were aligned with Iran. The Iran-Iraq War was raging and Reagan had stopped shipments of arms to Iran while extending a $2.5 billion credit to Iraq. And on September 13, 1983, Reagan gave Marine commanders the authority to call-in airstrikes against Muslim positions and authorized Navy ships in the Mediterranean to fire on Muslim positions.
But he left the Marines hamstrung by peacekeeping rules of engagement.
At 6:20 a.m. on the sleepy Sunday morning of October 23, 1983, a lone terrorist driving a 19-ton yellow Mercedes-Benz truck hauling 6 tons of explosives entered the compound that housed the US Marine Barracks in Beirut. He circled the outer parking lot twice, drove through the coils of razor wire into the inner parking lot, across the lot through an open gate, then directly through a small guard house into the lobby of the barracks where the truck detonated.
The inadequate number of guards posted at the gate did not have their guns loaded because America was a “peacekeeping-only” force. They were unable to load fast enough to stop the truck. But the FBI said it wouldn’t have mattered — the truck would have brought down the barracks even if it had detonated at the gate.
We had been warned.
Iran warned us not to take sides in the civil war.
Six months earlier on April 18, 1983, a delivery truck had pulled up to our embassy in Beirut and brought down that building, killing 16 Americans (4 times as many as died in Benghazi) and 30 other people.
Back at the barracks, incoming mortar-fire injured three Marines on July 22 and killed two on August 28.
But Reagan neither withdrew the Marines nor did he change their mission from “peacekeeping” to “combat” to allow them to defend themselves.
And he never thought to erect barriers to keep trucks at bay, in spite of our embassy being brought down only six months earlier by a truck bomb.
And the diplomatic cable from Iran to its ambassador in Syria telling him to “take spectacular action against the American Marines” which was intercepted by the NSA on September 26, took 30 days for delivery to the Marines, three days after the explosion.
Reagan never took any action against Iran.
Three months later he ordered the withdrawal process to begin.
The last Marine left Lebanon on February 26, 1984, four months after the attack.
“Cut & run” was complete.
Reagan appointed retired Admiral Robert L. J. Long to head a commission to investigate the incident. The commission convened on November 7, 1983. The final report was finished and published on December 20, 1983.
Six weeks. One commission. One investigation. One 147-page report.
And one heroic president…
Because he was “strong.”
Because he was “resolute.”
Because he “never backed down.”
Because he was all about “law and order.”
Because he “showed them terrorists who was boss.”
None of which was true.
All of which was believed.
Because he was white.