"Reagan Was Tough on Terror."
Wrong Again. George W. Bush's administration endlessly compared its battle against jihadi terrorism to Reagan's battle against Soviet communism. But the irony is that in Reagan's own "war on terror," his policies more closely resembled Obama's than Bush's.
For starters, Reagan was not exactly seen as tough on terror in Jerusalem. A few months into his presidency, he announced that the United States would sell AWACS surveillance planes to Riyadh, advanced aircraft that would make it harder for Israel to launch a pre-emptive military strike against Saudi Arabia (as it had done against Egypt in 1967). When Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin expressed "profound regret and unreserved opposition," Reagan shot back that it was "not the business of other nations to make American foreign policy."
In 1981, when Israel did strike Iraq, bombing its Osirak nuclear reactor, Reagan backed a U.N. resolution condemning the move. And in 1982, when Israel attacked West Beirut in an effort to destroy Yasir Arafat's PLO, Reagan told Begin that Israel's behavior constituted a "holocaust." (Begin, whose parents and older brother were murdered by the Nazis, did not appreciate the line.)
That summer, after U.S. diplomats negotiated a cease-fire in Lebanon, Reagan sent Marines to help enforce it. They were still there on Oct. 23, 1983, when a terrorist later linked to Hezbollah detonated a truck filled with TNT outside the barracks where the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines slept, killing 241 young Americans. It was a seminal moment in the growing collision between American power and jihadi terror. Rhetorically, Reagan did his best John Wayne. "He may be ready to surrender," Reagan barked after House Speaker Tip O'Neill proposed withdrawing the remaining Marines in February 1984, "but I'm not." Then -- just weeks later -- Reagan withdrew them.
In 1985, after a U.S. Navy diver was shot in the hijacking of TWA Flight 847, Reagan once again channeled John Wayne as he vowed, "America will never make any concessions to terrorists." But within months, he was not only making concessions, he was selling anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Iranian "moderates" in the hope that they would use their influence to help free Americans taken hostage by Hezbollah in Beirut.
Midge Decter, Podhoretz's wife and a noted neoconservative in her own right, declared herself "disgusted" by Reagan's capitulation in Lebanon. But to Reagan, the mistake was having sent the Marines in the first place. Almost five years later, in his final moments as president, he told press secretary Marlin Fitzwater that "the only regret I have after eight years is sending those troops to Lebanon." Then he saluted and walked out of the Oval Office for the last time.