Benghazi compared to Beirut bombing
Well in advance of the Islamist fundamentalist attack, the Secretary of Defense had personally forewarned the President of danger. He told him the compound represented an indefensible security threat in a hostile anti-American environment.
The Secretary said he “pleaded with the President, but not persuasively enough to convince him that Americans there were on an impossible mission.”
U.S. forces had bombed extremist positions and were fired on daily for weeks before the assault. The U.S. embassy in Beirut had been bombed six months before. Death toll 24. Numerous messages had been sent to Washington warning of likely attacks.
Nevertheless, by presidential order, compound guards were forbidden to carry loaded weapons. The compound perimeter was fortified only with barbed wire. The compound’s commander said “troops were placed in an indefensible situation.”
The ensuing predicted attack was horrifically deadly.
This attack took place in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983, after President Reagan sent about 1,600 American troops into a Lebanese warzone as part of a multi-national UN peace-keeping force. 241 American soldiers were murdered in their bunks.
Contemporary reports described it as the “deadliest single-day death toll for US Marines since the Battle of Iwo Jima, deadliest single-day death toll for the US military since the first day of the Vietnam Tet Offensive, and deadliest single attack on Americans overseas since WW II.”
The President forcefully told the world our Marines would remain. Four months later, the President withdrew the troops. The US had never retaliated against the attackers.
In fact, the attacker, a Hezbollah suicide-bomber, was not definitively identified for twenty years. Supplied and directed by the Iranian government, he set off what was called “the largest non-nuclear explosion that had ever been detonated on this earth.”
After the attack, the Reagan Administration’s own military commission called the disaster “a failure of intelligence, a failure of command and control, a failure of effective rules of engagement, a failure of clear-cut mission orders, and a failure in Washington to understand the Middle East, and Lebanon, specifically.”
The Commander-in-Chief acknowledged that if anyone were to blame, “the responsibility rests here in this office” but explained: “the attack was unstoppable.” There was one congressional hearing that issued recommendtions. No one resigned or was fired.
Two days later, President Reagan ordered “Operation Urgent Fury,” the code name for the invasion of Grenada, the smallest independent country in the Western Hemisphere. News outlets later reported: “By the 1984 election, the Grenada success replaced the bitter memory of the Lebanese massacre.” Reagan won re-election in a landslide.”
What did NOT happen after the Beirut slaughter were nine investigative inquiries and 41 briefings spear-headed by President Reagan’s congressional opponents, and a nationwide “two-fer” opposition-led campaign obsessively targeting President Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Writer Zack Beauchamp has summarized the key Benghazi questions: “whether the Benghazi mission was sufficiently protected, whether the US failed to stop the attack when it could have, and whether the administration covered up the truth about the attack’s origins.”
Adequate protection at our consulates is a real problem, but Congress has largely ignored this issue. Instead Republican legislators like Darell Issa, amplified by FOX News (pardon the expression), continue the endless search for THE “smokinggun” email or memo that will prove once and for all that the Administration was derelict, if not treasonous, in not sending aid, or was involved in a politically motivated cover-up in blaming a videotape rather than its “failed terrorism policy” for the tragedy. Though questions remain, the evidence so far has not risen beyond the level of ideological predisposed suspicion on these two charges.
Benghazi pales in comparison to Beirut in the number of American lives lost, the sheer scale of destruction, predictability of the event, and the unquestioned direct accountability of President Reagan for decisions occasioning the tragedy.
Benghazi, however, does dwarf Beirut in one respect: The duration, pervasiveness, and ferocity of premature, disputable conclusions about dereliction of duty and duplicity by President Obama and his former Secretary of State.
In Beirut’s horrific aftermath, Democratic criticism of President Reagan was muted compared to candidate Reagan’s own fierce criticism of President Carter about the Iranian hostage crisis four years before.
By contrast, a few hours after the murder of 4 Americans, before any details were known, Republicans went right for President Obama’s jugular. They have not stopped since.
Imagine a “Beirut” happening under President Obama, the “Velcro President” instead of under President Reagan, the “Teflon President.” With Benghazi, at the very worst, the jury is out. With Beirut, there wasn’t even a trial. Why the double standard? You tell me.
A cynic might be tempted to say that the only lesson to be learned here is this: Two days after the Benghazi attack, President Obama should have ordered another invasion of Grenada.
Mannello is a retired former hospital executive and management consultant who resides in Williamsport.