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10-20-03, 03:05 PM #1
BY SCOTT DODD & PETER SMOLOWITZ | STAFF WRITERS
BEIRUT U.S. embassies, military installations bombed. U.S. citizens hijacked, kidnapped, murdered. Thousands of Americans killed in terrorist attacks at home and abroad. This bold new breed of terrorism was sparked by far-reaching events 20 years ago in President Bush's administration includes many leaders who served under President Reagan during the Beirut barracks bombing, including the top officials in the Defense and State Departments.
A TRUCK BOMB RIPPED THROUGH THE U.S. MARINE BARRACKS IN BEIRUT 20 years ago this week, marking the first major assault in a two-decade terrorist war of embassy bombings and plane hijackings that culminated on Sept. 11, 2001.
The shocking attack killed 241 U.S. servicemen in a single strike -- more than died on the deadliest day of fighting in Vietnam, this year's six-week invasion of Iraq or the entire 1991 Persian Gulf War.
And it gave terrorists a major victory. The bombing drove the military from its peacekeeping mission in Lebanon and provided a blueprint for attacking Americans. The retreat of U.S. forces inspired Osama bin Laden and sent an unintended message to the Arab world that enough body bags would prompt Western withdrawal, not retaliation.
"There's no question it was a major cause of 9-11," said John Lehman, then-secretary of the Navy, who today is a member of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks.
"We told the world that terrorism succeeds."
About 2,000 Beirut veterans and family members will gather Thursday at Camp Lejeune in Eastern North Carolina, where most were stationed in 1983. They will mourn fallen comrades and remember a doomed mission.
At best, they believe, the world has forgotten their sacrifices. At worst, they fear they'll always be considered a failure -- and the painful lessons of their tragedy will be ignored.
"It was such a useless, fruitless thing," says Brian Kirkpatrick, who crawled from the rubble. "We gained nothing. We lost everybody."
But in the halls of the Pentagon and the State Department, Beirut has not been forgotten, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told The Observer. Many of the leaders from 20 years ago -- who now serve President Bush -- work to avoid a repeat of the disaster as they plan the military missions of today.
Bush reminded Americans of the tragedy in a prime-time speech last month. He urged the country to prepare for a long and costly effort to rebuild Iraq and not to repeat the mistake of leaving before the job was done.
"What would happen if we left this business unfinished," Armitage said, "is an Iraq that would become more of a threat -- sort of an Iraq unchained."
The Beirut bombing taught the United States more about protecting troops and picking battles. Using the military for peacekeeping, leaders learned, can be just as hazardous as fighting a well-defined enemy.
But as the U.S. death toll in Iraq rises, critics of the Bush administration question whether those lessons are being heeded, or if the United States has been set up for another failure at the cost of more American lives.
A political crisis
In 1983, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger didn't want the Marines in Beirut.They'd gone in the year before to calm fears that Lebanon's civil war could spark a battle engulfing the entire Middle East. The Marines' role was to evacuate Palestinian fighters and prevent an invasion from neighboring Israel.
U.S. diplomats promised the safety of Palestinian families who remained. But after the Marines finished their job and withdrew in 1982, thousands of Palestinians -- largely women, children and the elderly -- were massacred by Israeli-backed Lebanese militia.
"It was three days of absolute butchery," said Robert Dillon, then-U.S. ambassador to Lebanon. The slaughter jeopardized a high-profile initiative by President Reagan to end the Arab-Israeli conflict.
An embarrassed State Department persuaded Reagan to send the Marines back, hoping their mere presence in Lebanon would prevent further bloodshed and salvage the peace plan. Weinberger fought the decision.
"We didn't have any objective," he told The Observer. "The argument was that to simply have Americans on the ground would maintain the peace."
The Marines were handicapped, former National Security Adviser Robert "Bud" McFarlane said, by infighting in the Reagan Cabinet. McFarlane and Secretary of State George Shultz wanted a more aggressive mission in Lebanon to root out foreign support of the warring factions. Weinberger and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were opposed.
"Behind the scenes was a very, very pitched battle," McFarlane said. "Reagan didn't want to take sides between his Cabinet officers, and the Marines were hostage to this paralysis."
To signal they were neutral in the civil war, the Marines were stationed between warring factions. They made their base at Beirut International Airport -- the tactically unwise low ground.
They carried weapons, but the rules of engagement mostly forbade them from keeping a round in the chamber. They had orders not to shoot unless they were direct targets and knew for sure who had fired first. The on-base drinking hole became known as the "Can't Shoot Back Saloon."
But by trying to keep order in Beirut, the Marines and U.S. diplomats were seen as allies of Lebanon's unpopular government and became targets of snipers, shellings and car bombings.
In April 1983, terrorists smashed a stolen GMC pickup loaded with explosives into the U.S. Embassy, killing 63 people, including 17 Americans.
Six months later, the truck bomb at the Marine barracks killed 241 U.S. troops.
10-20-03, 03:09 PM #2
`Tail between our legs'
After the barracks bombing, Reagan had a choice: Commit more forces to Lebanon only nine years after Vietnam, when public support for a long military conflict was low. Or retreat.
"It's a hard thing to say, it's a hard thing to accept, but we had lost," said Ryan Crocker, the political officer in the Beirut embassy, who later became Deputy Secretary of State for Near East Affairs. "The situation would not have gotten any better. We would have had more dead Marines."
To political and military leaders in the United States, the pullout made sense. With a crippled Marine battalion and no clear military target, some thought withdrawal was the only option.
"You can't police the world," said P.X. Kelley, the Marine commandant in 1983. "Sometimes the best option is to do nothing."
But to terrorists and their backers, it was a sign of weakness, confirming their belief that the Americans had no staying power. The Syrian prime minister had told Morris Draper, a special presidential emissary, just months before: "You Americans can't hold your breath."
The U.S. response to the barracks bombing was limited. Despite indications that it was carried out by the radical Islamic group Hezbollah and backed by Iran, a planned U.S. military mission to bomb terrorist training camps was never carried out.
Top Reagan officials disagree on why. Weinberger says a conclusive link to Iran and Hezbollah was never proven. McFarlane said Weinberger was too concerned about the political risks of failure and losing support from U.S. allies in Arab nations.
Either way, critics say the lack of retaliation cemented America's weak image in the Arab world.
"If we had struck back and pulled out," said Bill Cowan, part of a top secret intelligence team sent to investigate the bombings, "we wouldn't have been leaving with our tail between our legs."
`A terrible blunder'
Two decades of Arab-backed terrorism have followed the bombings of the Marine barracks and the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.American soldiers are "paper tigers," Osama bin Laden said in his last interview with the Western media in 1998. "The Marines fled after two explosions."
Using the Beirut bombings as a guide, terrorists:
• Attacked American embassies in Kuwait two months later, and Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing 307 people.
• Hijacked TWA Flight 847 for 17 days in 1985, taking hostages and killing a U.S. Navy diver.
• Exploded Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing 270.
• Bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, killing six and wounding about 1,000.
• Killed 19 Americans in the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers, a U.S. military base in Saudi Arabia. The attack also wounded more than 500 Americans and Saudis.
• Struck the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, killing 17 sailors and injuring 39 others.
• Flew hijacked planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, killing nearly 3,000 people.
In those cases and dozens more, terrorists exploited unconventional methods and Western openness. And in almost every case until Sept. 11, the U.S. military response was minimal.
For bin Laden and other terrorist leaders, Beirut showed how to attack a larger force and inflict the maximum damage -- physical and psychological. Terrorism experts say manuals found in al-Qaida's Afghanistan training camps were filled with references to Beirut.
"The fact is, today, the people who ran that operation are heroes" among terrorist groups, "and nothing has ever been done against them," said Lehman, the former Navy secretary. "Not retaliating was a terrible blunder."
Changing the military
While terrorists took their lessons from Beirut, the Pentagon learned more about when to send troops and how to protect them.
"Culturally, it changed the military," said Phil Anderson, a terrorism expert and former Marine.
Weinberger summed up the lessons in a 1984 speech. The main points of what became known as the "Weinberger Doctrine" were restated after the first Gulf War by Colin Powell, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: The United States should commit troops only when vital national interests are at stake, only as a last resort, and with overwhelming force.
"It has to be for a sufficiently important cause," Weinberger told The Observer.
The doctrine has been modified -- and sometimes ignored -- over the years, but the Beirut lessons still had a major impact:
• Commanders insisted on more clearly defined missions with sufficient force to carry them out and a way to determine when troops could go home.
"You don't halfstep it," said Jay Farrar, a former Marine captain who served in Beirut and is now a military expert for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "You deal swiftly and with a tremendous amount of force."
• Policy-makers realized that "presence" is not a mission, and commanders became increasingly reluctant to commit troops to peacekeeping efforts unless they were welcomed by all sides. Armitage cited the recent example of the U.S. role in Liberia, when both sides in a civil war requested American troops.
• The concept of "force protection" came of age after the barracks attack. Rules of engagement are less limiting, and security around U.S. forces is tighter.
"We go in heavy," said P.J. Crowley, a retired Air Force colonel and former special assistant for national security affairs to President Clinton. "We have a plan for protecting our forces."
Crowley and other critics of the Bush administration say that's where planning for the occupation of Iraq has failed. War planners didn't send enough U.S. troops and failed to win enough support from other countries.
"We did the war without completely understanding how to do the peace," Crowley said. "We're ad hocing the peace."
Since the declared end of major combat operations May 1, more U.S. servicemen have died in Iraq than during the six-week invasion. Terrorist car bombings have ripped through the United Nations' Baghdad headquarters and other civilian targets.
A recent survey by the military newspaper Stars and Stripes found many troops in Iraq expressing sentiments similar to their Beirut counterparts. Roughly a third said their morale was low and their mission ill-defined. They characterized the war in Iraq as having little value.
But Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, said there are key differences between the mistakes in Lebanon and the situation in Iraq today.
"In Lebanon, we didn't have a clear mission," he said. "We didn't understand the complexities."
In Iraq, he said, the troops have that clear mission -- creating stability. Two-thirds of servicemen agreed in the Stars and Stripes poll. And other policy-makers argue that troops need to stay until that mission is accomplished.
"There would be lingering perceptions of Beirut today if we pulled out of Iraq prematurely," said Dennis Ross, a Middle East envoy under two presidents. "The perception would be the U.S. intervenes, but it does not stay."
10-20-03, 03:10 PM #3
President Bush's administration includes many leaders who served under President Reagan during the Beirut barracks bombing, including the top officials in the Defense and State Departments.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was a member of Reagan's advisory committee on national security affairs in 1983. Ten days after the bombing, Reagan appointed him a special envoy to the Middle East. Rumsfeld negotiated with the Lebanese factions and Middle Eastern leaders in hopes of finding a peace settlement, even meeting with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. U.S. Ambassador Reginald Bartholomew says Rumsfeld was nearly a victim of the fighting himself in January 1984. A shell hit the communications shack behind the ambassador's residence, blowing in the wall and shooting an IBM Selectric typewriter like a cannonball between their heads. "Six inches one way and he was dead," Bartholomew said. Rumsfeld recalled in a 1987 interview that he felt "sick in my stomach" when the Marines evacuated Beirut, leaving the Lebanese government to fall under control of neighboring Syria.
Secretary of State Colin Powell was a general in 1983 serving as senior military assistant to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. In his autobiography, "An American Journey," Powell recalls waking Weinberger to tell him the news of the bombing, and updating him throughout the night as the death toll rose. Powell wrote that the mission in Beirut and its tragic outcome gave birth to Weinberger's six rules for weighing the use of U.S. military force abroad. "When it became my responsibility to advise Presidents on committing our forces to combat, Weinberger's rules turned out to be a practical guide," Powell wrote. "... There are times when American lives must be risked and lost. Foreign policy cannot be paralyzed by the prospect of casualties. But lives must not be risked until we can face a parent or a spouse or a child with a clear answer to the question of why a member of that family had to die."
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz served as director of policy planning for the State Department in the early years of the Reagan administration, then as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was an assistant defense secretary under Weinberger. Like his boss, Armitage opposed the Marines' deployment in Lebanon. He told The Observer: "All of us who were involved in some way or the other, who didn't want us to be there, bear some of the blame, because we didn't prevail."
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