Terrorist Attack on the U.S. Marine Compound

Terrorist Attack on the U.S. Marine Compound at the Beirut Airport in 1983

In the early morning hours of October 23rd, 1983, a truckload of explosives would introduce America into a new era of terrorism. Forever gone would be the days where terrorist attacks were small-scale, poorly thought out, schemes. In its stead was the new breed of terrorist. These terrorists, from that point forward, would be well-trained, well-armed, and well-informed with the latest intelligence. Oftentimes, they would now be working for legitimate State governments, governments looking for underhanded means of obtaining their objective, with the deniability of the use of a terrorist outfit. These newly evolved terrorist were no longer afraid to take on big targets for fear of not getting supporters. They had entire governments behind them, and were willing to fry much bigger fish than they had in the past. And on that fateful morning, 241 Marines and 58 French paratroopers would be some of their first victims.

The bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut would place the United States between a rock and a hard place. If they continued with the peacekeeping strategy that had brought them to Lebanon, they were surely to be targeted again. If they left the area, they would be abandoning some of their best allies. and, if they stepped up their position and waged war on those responsible, they may negatively affect other tenuous relationships in the Middle East, while increasing the danger for their troops. In the end, it would be a decision that would be heavily debated and still questioned more than twenty years later.

Factual Summary of Events:

During the process of dividing the former Ottoman Empire, the French and British effectively created Lebanon, following World War I. The French arranged a power-sharing agreement between the Christian, Sunni Arab, and Shiite Arab populations of the country, in 1943. Under this agreement, Maronite Christians would hold the presidency, the Speaker of the Parliament would be a Shiite, and the Prime Minister would be a Sunni. However, three decades later, this arrangement was no longer appropriate as the Maronites, once 50% of the population, had declined to approximately 30% of Lebanon’s population. In it’s place, the Shiites had garnered the majority (“Marine Barracks Bombing”). This ineffective power-sharing agreement escalated tensions.

In addition, the ousting of the Palestine Liberation Organization, from Jordan, in 1970, further exacerbated an already tenuous situation. Thousands of heavily armed Palestinian guerrillas made their way into established Palestinian refugee camps, within Lebanon. The Palestinians then demanded their sovereignty over the camps, resulting in a nation within a nation, which included its own military forces. Conflict arose and in 1976, Lebanon’s Christian president requested that Syria send troops to help curb fighting with the PLO, adding another armed force into the country. Included in this Palestinian presence was a variety of terrorist groups, and in 1978, Israel invaded southern Lebanon in response to several attacks on Israeli targets, with the objective of rooting out the terrorists, withdrawing a year later (“Marine Barracks Bombing”).

In June of 1982, Israel returned, pushing their invasion all the way to Beirut, hoping to end Palestine’s use of Lebanon as a base for attacking Israeli targets. The United States called for Israel’s withdrawal, and on August 25th, 1982, as part of a multinational effort to defuse the crisis, U.S. Marines went ashore. Their job was to oversee the evacuation of the PLO from Lebanon, as agreed upon in a negotiated peace agreement, and to protect civilians in Palestinian refugee camps. Their mission complete, the Marines returned to their ships on September 10th, 1982 (“Marine Barracks Bombing”).

However, four days later, the leader of the Christian militia forces, Bashir Gemayel, who had been recently elected president, was assassinated. In response, Israel moved their forces into West Beirut. Between September 16th to the 18th, two camps in Beirut, the Sabra and Shatila camps, were attacked, killing between 700 and 800 Palestinian civilians. In response to the brutality and international outrage, President Ronald Reagan called for a renewed multinational force.

And, on September 29th, 1982, 1,200 U.S. Marines landed along with a contingent of French, British and Italian forces. This number would eventually grow to 1,800 (“Beirut Bombings”; “Marine Barracks Bombing”). Their presence, however, did not have the desired effect and instead, the Marines came under attack, under the notion that they were supporting the Lebanese Army, despite the fact that no such declaration had ever been made.

It would be these events that led to the tragedy of October 23, 1983.

At approximately 6:20 in the morning, on October 23, 1983, a yellow Mercedes-Benz truck made its way onto the grounds of the Beirut International Airport, which had become home to the 1st Battalion 8th Marines, that were part of a multinational force, working to curb the virtual civil war occurring in Lebanon, at that time. With more than 12,000 pounds of TNT in its cargo area, the truck crashed through a chain-link fence and into the lobby of the Marine headquarters, which also served as a barracks, where most of the soldiers were sleeping. When it exploded, it collapsed the four-story building, killing 241 Marines (“Adequacy of U.S. Marine”; “Marine Barracks Bombing”).

Nearly simultaneously, a mere 20 seconds later, a second truck exploded at the barracks of French troops, La 3 eme Compagnie, 1er Regiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes, located only 2 miles away, at the Ramlet al Baida area of West Beirut. This second suicide bomber drove his truck into the ‘Drakkar’ building’s underground parking garage, leveling the eight-story building, with its detonation, killing 56 French soldiers. “In the immediate aftermath, rescue workers came under sniper fire” (“Adequacy of U.S. Marine”; “Marine Barracks Bombing”).

The responsibility for the attack was never definitively determined. However, it was assumed to be the work of Islamic forces. This was due to the United States providing of military support for the Christian-led Lebanese government against Islamic troops from a myriad of sources, including: Syria, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and the Palestine Liberation Organization (“Marine Barracks Bombing”). Other sources point to the Iranian-backed terrorist organization, Hezbollah, who were believed to be also responsible for a similar car bombing at the American embassy in Beirut, on April 18th of that same year (“Beirut Bombings”).

A pledge was made by both American and French governments that their forces would stay in Lebanon and not be cowed by terrorists. In response to the attacks, France launched an air strike against Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces, in the Beqaa Valley. In addition, President Reagan planned to target Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces that were housed in the Sheik Abdullah barracks in Baalbek, Lebanon, who were believed to be training Hezbollah fighters; however this mission was aborted (Bates).

Four months later, the Marines had been redeployed to American Navy ships that were anchored off-shore. This ended the United State’s ground presence in Lebanon. The internal warfare between the factions of Lebanese continued unabated, with the influence of Syria and Israel (“Marine Barracks Bombing”).

Deliberation and Debate Within the United States Government:

The deliberation and debate within the United States government regarding their response to the bombing of the Marine barracks, at the Beirut Airport, in 1983 had to take into consideration a variety of factors. They had to serve the interests of American security, first and foremost. However, their were other interests they had to consider as well. These included the interest of their strongest allies who were committed to the region as well, including: France and Italy, not to mention their Israeli ally.

In addition, they had to take into consideration the interest of the Lebanese government, as well as Palestinian civilians living peacefully in refugee camps.

It had been previously suspected that the United States was already active behind the scenes in Lebanese politics. In 1958, the United States had sent troops during a civil disturbance, in Lebanaon. At this time, the United States manipulated the installation of Army commander General Fuad Shehab as the president, blocking President Camille Chamoun’s second term. “Twenty-four years later many Lebanese also saw a nexus between American military support for Israel and Israel’s supply of weapons to Lebanese Christian militias in South Lebanon fighting to maintain control against Palestinian Muslims” (“Marine Barracks Bombing”).

The Threat:

The seriousness of the threat, in the short-term, for the United States was minimal. Although Lebanon was rife with different armed groups, from the PLO, to the Maronian Christian Militia, to Israeli forces, Syrian forces, the multinational forces, and Hezebollah, with several other terrorist factions, the country was a hot bed of violence, yet it was geographically far removed from the Untied States. The short-term interests of the varied threats to the United States were simply to continue the escalation of violence, with the long-term interests centered on seeing their sponsored organization acquire power in Lebanon, specifically, and acquire a greater influence in the Middle East, in general.

However, despite these goals, as Felton notes, at the time of the attack, Congress was committed to an American military presence in Lebanon. The House rejected an effort to require the withdrawal of the Marines by early 1984, on November 2nd, 1983.

And, Senate “Democrats were unable to force a vote on a proposal, introduced on Oct. 26 as SRes253, to replace the Marines with a United Nations, or some other “neutral,” force.”

The primary short-term threat was that Marines had become targets in Lebanon. They were no longer the neutral forces that had been intended to be. nor, was it argued, were they the effective peacekeepers they had been sent to be. Although immediate Marine safety and effectiveness was the short-term threat, a majority still felt as Marine Corps Commandant General P.X. Kelley felt when he spoke in front of the Senate and House Armed Services committees and said, “I don’t think the United States of America, the greatness country in the free world, should back off from some damn terrorist” (qtd. Felton).

The attack demonstrated the rising number of deadly terrorist attacks being directed against the United States, in the Middle East. Of considerable concern was that the United States had become a primary terrorist target in the region.

As mentioned, on April 18th, 1983, a pickup truck filled with explosives exploded outside the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. That explosion killed 63 people, including 17 Americans. On December 12th, less than two months after the bombing of the Marine barracks, an explosive-laden truck smashed into the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait, as well as four other places, killing 5 people. The government felt that these attacks were indicative of the deteriorating political and military situation in Lebanon, and this was of serious concern, for both the short-term and the long-term (“Adequacy of U.S. Marine”).

Threats to the United States and American forces, following the October 23rd bombings, were divided into two categories: conventional military action and terrorist tactics.

Terrorist attacks were a threat to “U.S. Embassy offices in the Duraffourd Building and co-located with the British Embassy, the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence, apartments housing U.S. military and Embassy personnel, hotels housing U.S. officials, and even American University” (“Adequacy of U.S. Marine”).

These terrorist threats came from a variety of sources.

Iranian-backed Shiite terrorists were not the only concern for the United States, at the time. Radical Palestinian and Lebanese terrorist groups, both with and without the support of Syria, were of great concern. A decade’s worth of explosive stockpiling was also a considerable threat to the United States and their forces (“Adequacy of U.S. Marine”). However, the threats did not simply lie in direct military or terrorist action, in Lebanon, following the October 23rd bombings.

Syria was a great threat to not only the political stability within Lebanon, but in the region, in general. Data gathered by the Investigations Subcommittee indicated a direct relationship between Lebanon’s increasing anarchy and Syria (“Adequacy of U.S. Marine”). This political instability made Lebanon ripe for continued terrorist grooming.

For eight years, Beirut had been an armed camp featuring indiscriminate killing, seemingly random acts of terror, and massive stockpiling of weapons and ammunition. (the Committee was) told that it (was) difficult, if not impossible, to find a Lebanese household which (did) not possess firearms. Notwithstanding the opportunity presented the Government of Lebanon by the evacuation of the PLO and the dispersal of LNM militias in September 1982, there (were) still neighborhoods in and around Beirut’s southern suburbs that the LAF dared not enter (“Adequacy of U.S. Marine”).

Clearly, this was a short-term threat to all multinational forces, including U.S. Forces, as well as a long-term threat for future generations of terrorist attacks and development.

Of particular concern, at the time was also the Iranian connection and the terrorist threat.

Understanding that Iranian operatives, in Lebanon, were in the business of killing Americans, the United States realized that only by restoring domestic order and removing foreign forces, could they hope to make training Iranian terrorists more difficult by cutting off their personnel, basing, supplies, and training access.

The conditions these terrorists, and nefarious countries, can exploit are varied. The balance of power in Lebanon was quite tenuous at the time. As mentioned, the power-sharing agreement originally established was no longer viable for the country. The Christians no longer held the majority of the population, which meant that many citizens felt their control of the presidency was unjustified.

In addition, terrorism itself is deeply rooted in the Middle East area. A recognized expert on terrorism, Brian Jenkins, notes “that the ideological and doctrinal foundations for campaigns of deliberate terrorism, which exist today in Lebanon, emerged from the post-World War II struggles in Palestine and the early guerrilla campaign against colonial powers in Cyprus and Algeria” (“Adequacy of U.S. Marine”). This cradle of terrorism has a profound effect on the power structure of the entire region.

Several governments and regional entities in the geographical area use international terrorism as a means for their power. For this reason, they had a significant stake in the outcome of the struggle within Lebanon. Nationally-sponsored terrorism, in the region, was growing significantly (Cooper). Between the years of 1972 and 1982, the State Department had identified 140 terrorist incidents that were conducted directly by national governments.

Ninety percent of this total had occurred during the three-year period of 1980 to 1982. The United States understood that the fact that terrorism was an integral part of the political and military landscape in the Middle East, and as such, would continue to be a long-term threat to American personnel and facilities in the region (“Adequacy of U.S. Marine”).

In addition to threats from specifically terrorist organizations, the threats coming at U.S. Forces, in Lebanon, at the time included Lebanese factions who had at their disposal: regular and guerrilla armies, private militias, and access to terrorist groups. Violence was an integral part of the political landscape at the time, with the maneuvering of opponents into politically untenable positions, as opposed to defeating them in a more traditional sense. Terrorism was crucial to the process as it could not be deterred with the threat of escalation or responsive firepower. Therefore, it was viewed as “an expedient form of violence capable of pressuring changes in the political situation with a minimum of risk and cost” (“Adequacy of U.S. Marine”).

However, in the Middle East, beginning in the late 1970s, early 1980s, terrorism had evolved beyond the random acts of violence previously associated with the act.

Terrorism in the Middle East had become a new dimension of warfare. It had become systematic and carefully orchestrated. This new breed of terrorist was not seeking to make random political statements, or did not wish to commit the occasional act of intimidation, due to some ill-defined long-term vision of the future. Instead, this new generation of terrorist used terrorism as part of an integrated strategy, with well-defined military and political objectives. For many nations in the Middle East, terrorism gave them an alternate means of conducting state business, where the terrorists themselves were agents, but whose association could be easily denied by the government (“Adequacy of the U.S. Marine”). In addition to this improved strategic focus, the individuals themselves were different from what the world was used to seeing.

Terrorists in Lebanon specifically and the Middle East in general had become formidable opponents. These individuals are intensely professional and dedicated. They are also well-trained, well-equipped, and well-supported. “With State sponsorship, these terrorists are less concerned about building a popular base and are less inhibited in committing acts which cause massive destruction or inflict heavy casualties” (“Adequacy of the U.S. Marine”). These capabilities are further enhanced by the operational guidance and intelligence that they are given by their sponsoring State. For this reason, they were a serious immediate and long-term threat to American forces in Lebanon, at the time.

As a super power, with global interests, the United States is an extremely attractive terrorist target, now and at the time of the Marine bombings in Beirut. Through the use of terrorism, small countries are able to attack U.S. Interests, inexpensively and with few risks. If these acts were committed openly, they would constitute an act of war, and would justify a direct American military response (“Adequacy of the U.S. Marine”). However, as they are done, on the sly, via acts of terrorism, with deniability by the sponsoring State, America is not able to respond against those who typically are truly responsible.

U.S. Responses:

As the House Subcommittee of U.S. Armed Services noted, “Combatting terrorism requires an active policy. A reactive policy only forfeits the initiative to the terrorists” (“Adequacy of U.S. Marine”). However, they also recognized that there was not going to be a single solution to adequately respond. To be effective, they sought a multilateral response that targeted all levels of government, politically and militarily. Political initiatives were directed at collecting and sharing intelligence on terrorist groups, and promptly challenging any behavior of States they found to be employing terrorism.

However, it was noted, in December of 1983, that the American military forces lacked an effective capability to respond to terrorist attacks. This was especially true at the lower ends of the conflict spectrum. It was surmised that the National Command Authorities should have, at their disposal, a variety of options for responses. They concluded that air strikes and gunfire were not always the most effective means of response. Instead, the Subcommittee that investigated the Beirut bombings put forth that the whole area of military response needed to be addressed, in order to develop a wider range of more flexible options for responses (“Adequacy of U.S. Marine”).

It was determined that although the United States’ decisions, in regards to Lebanon, over the previous 15 months had been primarily characterized by a focus on military options and the expansion of the U.S.’ military role, that these decisions greatly increased the risk and negatively impacted the security of U.S. Troops, as well as the USMNF. For this reason, the Subcommittee recommended to the Secretary of Defense, a continued urging that the National Security Council seek alternative means of achieving American objectives in the region, including a more vigorous and demanding approach to pursuing diplomatic alternatives (“Adequacy of U.S. Marine”).

Felton notes that Marine Commandant Gen. P.X. Kelley understood that the Marines had been targeted specifically by highly professional terrorists. He also felt that these acts would continue, and that the perpetrators would continue to examine their vulnerabilities and take efforts to exploit them.

He further suggested, in agreement with Senate committee Chairman John Tower, that changes needed to be made to reduce the vulnerability of the Marines, even if that meant they needed to have a reduced visibility.

To this end, it had been suggested that the Marines should be stationed on ships, off the coast, reducing their visibility and vulnerability.

However, Kelley was in disagreement with this plan of action.

He felt that by pulling troops from the ground, while the French and Italian troops were still there, that it would destroy the character of the multinational force (Felton).

Another suggestion was to change the nature of the Marines’ mission in Lebanon, from simple peacekeepers. However, Kelley rejected the idea of the Marines in a direct combat role. As Felton cited, he compared Lebanon to Vietnam when saying, “I feel a responsibility to future Marines not to get them involved in some slippery slope that we can’t control.”

Representative Marjorie Holt, of Maryland, questioned the size of the United States’ presence in Lebanon. She suggested that a smaller presence of 100 troops, as opposed to the 1,600 to 1,800 troops that were stationed there, would lessen their vulnerability while still providing a U.S. presence. However, Kelley argued that the high number of Marines had taken on a symbolic importance, especially to the Lebanese Army (Felton).

Desired responses ran the full gambit of options. Senator Sam Nunn, of Georgia, questioned whether it was even possible for enough to be done in Lebanon, indicating that perhaps the Marines were fighting a losing battle and should pull out.

Senator William Cohen, of Maine, suggested that the administration either relocate the Marines or change their mission to that of combat, in Lebanon.

He said, “The fact is that the Marines are in a war-torn country, they are in a terrorist zone, and yet they are operating under peacetime rules of engagement.” (qtd. Felton)

In the end, the responses boiled down to five basic strategies:

Removal all troops from Lebanon and abandon the multinational force.

Reduce the number of soldiers on the ground, in Lebanon, thereby reducing the exposure of Americans to the threat.

Re-station troops to ships offshore, on boats, reducing the visibility and vulnerability to the threats.

Change the nature of the Marines’ mission from peacekeepers to combat.

And, continue on as currently established.

Withdrawing troops completely from Lebanon would mean giving up on the country. It would also mean abandoning America’s allies in the multinational force. More importantly it would leave an increasingly unstable nation, that would be vulnerable to the control of less desirable forces, such as Syria, Iran and the PLO. However, many felt that the United States simply could not win in Lebanon, and to continue on, in any capacity, was to put American lives in danger for absolutely no reason.

The reduction of the number of troops was another option considered. Those supporting this position felt that it would still show the presence of America in the multinational force, thereby not wholly abandoning France and Italy, or the Lebanese people, on Lebanon.

But, would significantly reduce America’s exposure to threats. However, opponents to this possible response felt that it would reduce the symbolism of America’s participation at a significant level in the country.

This would send a negative message to the Lebanese Army, the rest of the multinational forces, and the warring factions and terrorists that America was not fully vested in the situation, but was just making a half-hearted show.

Re-stationing troops offshore seemed to be a possible compromise between those who wanted American troops out of the way, yet still maintain a presence in the country. Troop numbers would stay similar; however, the Marines would have reduced exposure to danger, with the more secure location. Yet, opponents to this response again stated that it would be unfair to leave America’s allies on the ground, still fully exposed to danger, while the U.S. troops holed up offshore. Again, it would also send a negative message to those meaning America harm, suggesting that the United States could be ‘scared away’.

The most aggressive of the unilateral response choices, changing the Marines’ mission from peacekeepers to combat, offered the response most likely to be a deterrent, to future attacks, according to proponents. In addition to establishing a precedent for a powerful U.S. response to such attacks, it would also allow troops to be more prepared to respond should an attack occur again. Because of the peacekeeping nature of their mission, the Marines on guard at Beirut International Airport didn’t even have their weapons loaded, when the suicide bomber drove into their compound (Felton). Changing the nature of the Marines’ mission would allow them to be more responsive to new attacks. Yet, there was still much debate on whether or not military reprisal was really an effective response to acts of terrorism.

Opponents noted that this escalation could further irritate tenuous relations with other nations, particularly Muslim nations, in the Middle East, should America officially take sides. They argued that it would also make America an even larger target.

Lastly, the suggestion that America remain on the course of their current mission, yet step up security and intelligence had the benefits of keeping America’s official position neutral, and allowing them to stay committed to the multinational force. In addition, it demonstrated to the terrorists that America would not be deterred by their efforts. Yet, it was believed that this would maximize the Marines’ exposure to threats and minimize their ability to respond effectively.

The strategy that was eventually chosen was, at first, the Marines’ re-stationing on Naval ships offshore. However, this than “led to U.S. withdrawal from the multilateral peacekeeping mission in Lebanon and was a dramatic setback for the administration in its efforts to bring about peace in the war-torn region. The airline hostage episode demonstrated anew the failure of Reagan’s attempt in 1982 — 83 to restore peace and stability to Lebanon” (“Speech by President Regan”).

Assessing America’s response to Beirut is done with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. Looking back, it became clear that America’s policy in Lebanon was in disarray. The centralized control of this policy meant that the benefits of the more traditional inter-agency debate on how best to achieve America’s goals, was not had.

Westra theorizes that this led to an overly aggressive policy that “attempted to solve virtually all of Lebanon’s complex problems simultaneously.” This resulted in not only the embarrassing retreat of U.S. forces, but worse the death of 241 soldiers.

Comparative Analysis:

In comparing how previous administrations may have handled Beirut, one particular presidency comes to mind – that of President Harry Truman.

Truman is best known for three foreign events. The first was the bombing of Japan, in which the U.S. dropped two Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, after which Japan surrendered. The other two dealt with postwar Europe. In 1947, President Truman issued the Truman Doctrine and implemented the Marshall Plan, designed to help nations recover from the war, and move towards democracy. In 1948, when the Russians blockaded west Berlin, the Berlin Airlift was launched, where plane after plane landed at Berlin airstrips to deliver supplies (“Harry S. Truman”).

These actions demonstrate the operational style of the then president.

Truman was not afraid to use force, in response to attack. Following the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Truman’s response was decisive with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

He took a huge risk in such a dramatic response, and it paid off. This risk was facilitated by Truman’s belief in America’s leadership role in the global political arena. He knew America could not sit idly by, turn the other cheek and hope Japan went away, or even respond with a slap on the wrist. He knew that only by responding with a significant show of force could he hope to not only deal a decisive blow, but also prevent other nations from thinking they too could attack American soil.

The Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan further illustrate Truman’s operational style, when it came to foreign policy. Truman believed America had a duty to spread and support democracy. The Truman Doctrine was created in response to an appeal by the Greek Government for assistance in acquiring the most basic of supplies for the Greek people. He noted, “The very existence of the Greek state is today threatened by the terrorist activities of several thousand armed men, led by Communists, who defy the government’s authority at a number of points, particularly along the northern boundaries” (“Truman Doctrine”). Truman surmised that the best way to keep America safe was to ensure that the world enjoyed the same freedoms as Americans did, and would do whatever it took to ensure that democracy flourished.

As such, Truman would not have hesitated to respond to the Beirut bombing of the Marine barracks with a force far greater than the truck bombs of the terrorists. Peremptory strikes would have been conducted, and he would have declared war on any parties that directly attacked American soldiers or facilities. In addition, Truman would understand that Lebanon’s freedom from terrorist rule was an worthy investment, for the United States and the world.

In comparison, the current George W. Bush Administration’s response to Beirut would’ve varied depending on the time it occurred in relationship to his presidency.

Prior to be elected president, Bush made clear in the last presidential debate that he didn’t believe in the use of American troops for what he deemed ‘nation building’. He stated, “There may be some moments when we use our troops as peacekeepers, but not often. (…) I’m not so sure the role of the United States is to go around the world and say, ‘This is the way it’s got to be.” (qtd. Sanger).

In contrast, shortly after September 11th, President Bush’s response to an attack such as what occurred in Beirut would have been much more aggressive. Bush’s War on Terror would’ve certainly been put into action, in Beirut. We saw an immediate response by this President to bring Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda to justice, while also working to prevent any other terrorists networks to emerge, or any new attacks to be conducted by al-Qaeda.

He sought to accomplish these goals by imposing economic and military sanctions against States that were believed to be harboring terrorists. In addition, once the possible involvement of Saddam Hussein was realized, he called for the invasion of Iraq (“Plans for Iraq”). Clearly, this president would’ve opted for full-scale war against the responsible parties for the Marine barracks bombing, a quick and decisive retaliation.

However, today’s President Bush may have handled the response much differently. Recently, President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-maliki “vowed to agree next year on the terms for what could be an open-ended U.S. military presence in the war-torn country” (“U.S., Iraq Set Stage”).

Although this president does want to see retaliation for al-Qaeda’s actions on September 11th, and also sees the value of a democratic Iraq, much as Truman wanted to strike back for Pearl Harbor and saw the benefit of a democratic Greece, Bush has dug his heels so deeply in Iraqi sand, he has become nearly stuck, as evidenced by this recent news that the U.S. could be a near-permanent fixture in the country.

This most recent administration would most likely continue on the course of planned strategy, for Lebanon, following the Beirut bombing. Whether or not the strategy was either effective or efficient, he would keep moving forward with the plan they had – with the United States remaining as part of the multinational force of peacekeepers.

He would be concerned about the threats of more terrorist attacks, and would try to address the need for additional security and better intelligence, but would not necessarily dramatically change tactics to either increase engagement or decrease exposure to risk.

In addition, today’s decentralized world power means that they are inadequate to the task (Lake). With power being shifted more equally across numerous nations, as opposed to just a handful of nations as it was only a few generations ago, the United States simply cannot have as big of an impact on outside events as it once could, when there were fewer ‘big kids’ on the block.

However, this decentralization of global power also has meant a broader spectrum of troops when dealing with a multinational force, such as the Iraq coalition forces. The coalition forces have seen as many as 34 non-U.S. countries providing troops. Everyone from Fiji to Mongolia, to the United Kingdom (“Iraq Coalition”).

This is a far more diverse representation of the world’s population than the multinational forces present in Beirut that had consisted of America, Italy and France.


No one would have ever imagined that a fairly unremarkable yellow Mercedes-Benz truck would usher in a new era of terrorism. The end of the 20th century would see terrorists trained better trained than some armies. These new super-terrorists had taken off their kid gloves and began to work not just for their own agenda, but for State sponsored agendas as well, allowing them bigger, better targets – made all the more reachable thanks to better training, funding, arming, and intelligence. and, although either Truman or Bush would have handled the situation differently, thanks to 20/20 hindsight, it was a difficult decision for the Reagan Administration to make, all the more because of the difficult situation they were in. but, in the end, this episode in American history serves as a learning tool for future administrations, in how to balance the immediate needs of safety for our troops and the long-term needs of safety for the nation’s democracy.


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Westra. S. Beirut’s Lesson for Future Foreign Policy. 1993. Global Security. November 29, 2007 http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/1993/WSK.htm.

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