A Tale of Two Terrorist Attacks
A terrorist attack on a U.S. outpost in the Middle East. Americans killed. Congressional hearings. Evidence that the administration failed to take security as seriously as it should have.
It was over 30 years ago that a terrorist attack on a U.S. Marine compound in Beirut killed 241 American servicemen, which came just six months after militants had bombed the U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people, including 17 Americans. Jane Mayer, who covered the attack in Lebanon at the time, reflects today on the domestic political environment - and how much it’s changed.
There were more than enough opportunities to lay blame for the horrific losses at high U.S. officials’ feet. But unlike today’s Congress, congressmen did not talk of impeaching Ronald Reagan, who was then President, nor were any subpoenas sent to cabinet members. This was true even though then, as now, the opposition party controlled the majority in the House. Tip O’Neill, the Democratic Speaker of the House, was no pushover. He, like today’s opposition leaders in the House, demanded an investigation - but a real one, and only one. Instead of playing it for political points, a House committee undertook a serious investigation into what went wrong at the barracks in Beirut. Two months later, it issued a report finding “very serious errors in judgment” by officers on the ground, as well as responsibility up through the military chain of command, and called for better security measures against terrorism in U.S. government installations throughout the world.