Did the Marines Die for Absolute Power?

This is the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Marines. President Reagan sent in U.S. troops to try to help stabilize Lebanon after the Israeli invasion (and massacres by Israeli proxies in Palestinian refugee camps) the prior year. This was Reagan’s biggest antiterrorism debacle. He failed the Marines and he compounded the abuse by lying about it to the American people. But apologists for the U.S. warring continue to invoke the sacrifice of the Marines to vindicate practically any and all proposed U.S. invasions of foreign countries.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page today contains a piece implying that the Marines perished as a result of Democrats trying to limit the president’s power to intervene abroad. Robert Turner insists, “Had it not been for crass political partisanship, and efforts by Sen. Joe Biden and other congressional liberals to usurp the constitutional powers of the president, the loss of life in Beirut may have been avoided.” In reality, the folly and blame lies in those responsible for sending the troops to Lebanon, not for those trying to bring them home.

Turner then proceeds to blame 9/11 on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which attempted to limit the power of the president to wiretap any phone call he pleased. Turner implies that the only reason the 9/11 attacks were not detected was because U.S. government spies did not have boundless power to intrude on communications in America. This is tripe, as the reports of the Senate Intelligence Committee and 9/11 Commission showed. The subtitle on his article captures his message: “Liberal assaults on the executive branch have made us vulnerable.”

Robert McFarlane, Reagan’s national security advisor, has an article in the New York Times with a different song-and-dance on the anniversary. McFarlane says that the problem with the U.S. incursion into Lebanon was that the U.S. military did not plunge itself massively into the Lebanese civil war: “I urged the president to give the marines their traditional role — to deploy, at the invitation of the Lebanese government, into the mountains alongside the newly established Lebanese Army in an effort to secure the evacuation of Syrian and Israeli forces from Lebanon.” Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger recognized that it would be folly to commence a general war against Muslim forces.

I wrote about Reagan’s Lebanon debacle in Terrorism & Tyranny and for Counterpunch in 2003, looking at the Beirut debacle as a microcosm of the growing fiasco in Iraq. I concluded back then, “The Reagan administration paid no political price for its Beirut debacle. Reagan and Bush Sr. succeeded in falsifying, blustering, and smearing their way out of political trouble. Now, two decades later, the only ‘lesson’ that seems to be recalled is to stick resolutely to floundering policies – at least until the number of dead soldiers threatens to become politically toxic.” [cross-posted here]

12 thoughts on “Did the Marines Die for Absolute Power?”

  1. I’m with you, Andy — as is Jim on that point. You bring to mind an old edition of Liberty Magazine — back in the mid-1990s. My friend Tim O’Brien — who actually has unseated many incumbent politicians with his Small Government Alliance (http://www.smallgov.us/opeds.html) once wrote this reply to David Ramsey Steele in Liberty; it was a response to Steele’s sloppy invocation of the word “terrorism” in reference to the IRA, which was responding to a centuries-long tradition of persecution by the British; here’s a tiny excerpt that applies to this discussion and the United States of Amnesia (my apologies to Gore Vidal):
    … Steele, like virtually everyone else, bandies about the term “terrorism” without ever defining it. And the definition is crucial. Governments (including those in the U.S. and England) define terrorism as an act of violence intended to achieve a political goal committed by some individual or individuals without the sanction of a government they recognize. People generally define terrorism as an act of violence intended to achieve a political goal committed by some individual or individuals which deliberately targets civilians.
    Governments are, of course, anxious to blur the distinction. By the first definition the attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon several years ago was an act of terrorism. By the second definition it was not. By the second definition the carpet bombing of Hanoi was an act of terrorism. By the first definition it was not. By either definition the bombing of Herrud’s department store in London some years ago was an act of terrorism (and it was roundly denounced as such by Irish-Americans, IRA leadership and Sinn Fein through Gerry Adams).
    The bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building is more problematic. Though there were numerous civilians — including children in a day care center — killed in the attack, the target was clearly the federal offices (though media accounts might lead one to conclude that the target was a day care center that merely happened to be in a federal building). This calls up a problem nearly as old as warfare itself: “innocent shields,” i.e. how does one plan a military campaign against an enemy who puts POW camps or hospitals or day care centers adjacent to its military/C&C installations?
    Steele opens but instantly abandons several cans of worms when he opines, “In no significant matter of principle does the Oklahoma bombing differ from the terrorist campaign of the IRA,” not the least of which is the responsibility of the organization for the actions of its renegade members. What culpability does the IRA bear for the Herrud’s bombing, the Michigan Militia for the Oklahoma bombing, the U.S. Army for the Mi Ly massacre?
    Steele’s implication that the IRA has some agenda beyond ending British occupation and restoring Ireland is as curious as his bald assertion that “no one doubts” that the reason for the presence of British troops on Irish soil is merely to prevent the killing of civilians. I am personally acquainted with more than a few individuals who suspect that it is the British Empire that has a somewhat larger objective…”

    1. Agreed, we had no business being there.

      The Michigan Militia had NO culpability for the Oklahoma bombing as they played no part in it other than as a scapegoat. Neither of the bombers were members of the Michigan Militia. This lie was put out to discredit the growing militia movements accross the nation. In much of Michigan the militia was growing at a rate that alarmed the government. In Northern Michigan the numbers of militia members outnumbered the national guard. After the bombing and the propaganda blitz that followed many people shied away fearing what the fed’s would do next.

      I have many friends in the Michigan Militia and I have been asked to speak at meeting and join as well. I refused for my own reasons. Although the Michigan Militia is very well armed (they have even been allowed to use the ranges on National Guard bases for live fire exercises), I know for a fact that they do not condone any violent actions, especially the Oklahoma bombings. The bombing and negative media coverage did more damage to the militias than it did the goverment.

      Of course this validates Lawrence’s point. The government is willing to use any event to spin the propaganda their way. Beirut, Oklahoma, 9/11, what next?


  2. I am a former US Marine and a Vietnam veteran.
    When Ronnie Ray-gun sent those Marines to Beirut and put them in the location they were in, I knew it was going to be bad. I never did like old Ronnie, but after the disaster at the barracks I despised his ignorant ass even more. He caused the deaths of those troops and he never was held to account for it.
    He just used PR and bullshit to talk his way out of any responsibility. “Great Communicator” my ass. He was a professional liar and ought to be despised for his crimes.
    Now the fools who say the Marines didn’t do enough in that instance? Bull crap! They had NO business being there in the first place. It was a fools errand, just like Iraq and Afghanistan are. ENOUGH!
    semper fi

  3. Ronald Reagan’s Address on Lebanon and Grenada, October 27, 1983:


    Still makes entertaining reading.

    Grenada, ah yes–the diversion that mesmerized the media through December and kept the Caribbean safe from Cuban construction workers.

    If nothing else, the Neo-Cons were quick studies.

  4. Eugene, you failed to mention the dire peril of that nasty Coke machine. How soon we forget! Oh, the obstacles that faced Amurrrica’s heroes. The humanity, the humanity.

  5. Hmmm. I dismember Robert Turner’s WSJ piece (supra) and end up in empty ether. What’s up, Jim?

  6. They died for Reagan’s vanity and the vanity of the American people. If we can’t fix our own social problems, how can we fix anyone else’s?

    Lester Ness

  7. Soldiers deserve to die for their crimes of violating the natural rights of peaceful people around the world on behalf of the vile US regime and military. Hopefully, the resistance movements in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue to fight the world’s greatest threat to peace and liberty in defense of their lives, liberty, and property.

    1. What soldiers deserve is a nation and leaders who will bring them home and never send them out again. They deserve a media, schools and churches that don’t feed them endless propaganda that is pro war. Blaming brainwashed children for the wars isn’t the answer. Our leaders who lied us into this war deserve to be tried for war crimes. One question, what do you think the endless slew of Americans who support these criminals deserve?


      1. The soldiers are NOT helpless pawns. They could put a stop to the madness simply by refusing orders en masse. Not just orders to shoot, but patrol orders, deployment orders, etc. The military would be paralyzed if that happened — they couldn’t court-martial hundreds of thousands of soldiers at once. All they could do is make highly-publicized examples of a few and hope fear does the rest. IIRC the US army was on the verge of open revolt in Vietnam, which was the main reason the draft was abolished.

        1. Strider, I agree that they are not all helpless pawns. However, unless you have served in the military I doubt if you can truly understand the level of brainwashing that goes on. Most Joe’s will never refuse orders “en masse”. It’s not just that they face being jailed, they also face the social repercussions, loss of future jobs etc. I would like to think that if I was serving now I would refuse to deploy and not take any part in the murder of the Iraq people. However, I am now a far different person than I was as a child of 19 when I joined up. Knowing what I know now I would not enlist for any amount of money and I activley work at talking anyone I know out of joining up.

          Expecting brainwashed children to make a stand against the military is wishfull thinking. We can’t even get the majority of US citizens to make a stand and they don’t face the prospect of long jail terms or loss of jobs. I think one thing we would both agree on would be to stop all this support the troops nonsense. No one should be called a hero because they enlist. This type of thinking helps aid recrutement and retention. although I have sympathy for our children soldiers I wouldn’t ever call them a hero for taking any part in the mass murders we are commiting. I have no sympathy for the adults who continue to re up for tour after tour. However, there are even times when reenlisting makes sense if you understand how the military works. Many Joe’s are stuck in a position where if they refuse to reenlist they will be stop lossed and stuck in a front line job. If they reenlist they have a choice of having a less dangerous MOS and might even have a chance at staying stateside. It’s hard for me to blame anyone for wanting to stay out of harms way either for themselves or their families.

          It’s true that if our soldiers where the hero’s they are protraided to be they would go awol, but they won’t. They are after all just humans like the rest of us. When it becomes socially acceptible for them to take such a brave action it may change but not until then.


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