Monday, February 10, 2014

Reagan's retreat

Micah Zenko draws attention to the 30th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan's abrupt change of policy, despite his apocalyptic rhetoric, and his withdrawal of U.S. troops from Lebanon. The American forces were part of a UN mission first sent in 1982 to police the withdrawal of PLO forces, and renewed in 1983 because of increased sectarian violence. Congress even approved an 18-month commitment under the War Powers Resolution.

Many in Congress called for a withdrawal of troops following the marine barracks car bombing that killed 142, but Reagan stood firm.
On the day after the barracks bombing, however, the president reaffirmed his commitment: "The reason they must stay there until the situation is under control is quite clear. We have vital interests in Lebanon. And our actions in Lebanon are in the cause of world peace."

Over a month later, on Dec. 1, Reagan stated that the Marines were in Beirut to "demonstrate the strength of our commitment to peace in the Middle East.... Their presence is making it possible for reason to triumph over the forces of violence, hatred, and intimidation." Nine days later, he told the nation: "Once internal stability is established and withdrawal of all foreign forces is assured, the Marines will leave."

Finally, on Feb. 4, 1984, Reagan stated something frequently heard in debates over Afghanistan and other theaters of conflict today -- if the United States withdraws, "we'll be sending one signal to terrorists everywhere: They can gain by waging war against innocent people.... If we're to be secure in our homes and in the world, we must stand together against those who threaten us."

Yet, just three days later, on Feb. 7, Reagan ordered the Marines to "redeploy" to their ships offshore -- which was actually a full withdrawal achieved in three weeks.
Zenko considers Reagan's action an admission of error. I think we should also recognize that U.S. military leaders  and the Secretary of Defense were strongly opposed to the operation, and Congress had limited the mission to defensive actions. It also raises the question of how much credibility the U.S. loses when it changes course so radically and abruptly.

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