America's thirty plus year encounter
with Islamic terrorism
terror attacks of September 11, 2001 did not come as a bolt out of the blue.
For close to thirty years, America's record of dealing with the hydra of
Islamic terror was at best abysmal. Two earlier attacks, however, and the
lack of American retaliation to these attacks, might very well have paved
the way for the atrocity of 9/11. These two attacks were the Iranian takeover
of the American embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the bombing massacre of the
Marines in Beirut in 1983.
On November 4, 1979, hundreds
of so-called "Muslim students" or "militants" stormed the American embassy
in Tehran, Iran, taking dozens of Americans hostage. The "Iranian
hostage crisis" had
begun. After 444 days of brutal captivity, fifty-two American hostages
were released on January 20, 1981. The attack, sanctioned by the government
of Iran, may be considered the date when fanatical Islam began its official
war on America.
The imprisonment of the American
hostages and the ongoing ordeal that ensued remain one of America's most
embarrassing humiliations. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his Islamic
Republic of Iran had brought the United States to its knees. Had the Carter
administration immediately threatened retaliatory military strikes on Iran's
political, military, and oil infrastructures, it is possible that the hostages
might have spent 444 minutes of captivity instead of the 444 days
that they were forced to endure. Instead, Carter wrote a polite
letter to the Ayatollah
requesting that the hostages be released. The letter appeared only to embolden
Khomeini, who later boasted that "America
cannot do a damn thing." The
failed rescue attempt on April
24, 1980 only added
to America's humiliation and Iran's contempt for Carter and the nation
(The storming of embassies
and taking of hostages was not an Iranian invention. On March 2, 1973,
members of the PLO stormed the Saudi embassy in Khartoum, Sudan. The United
States ambassador to the Sudan and his charges d'affaires were
viciously executed under the explicit orders of the godfather of terrorism
Arafat. The Nixon
administration took no action. While the two embassy takeovers had no direct
connection, the PLO and Khomeini had
excellent relations dating back to the early 1970s.)
When Iran freed the hostages
on January 20, 1981, it came minutes after Ronald Reagan had been sworn
in as president. Whether the Iranians feared Reagan or wanted to further
humiliate Carter is still open to debate. However, if Iran was indeed fearful
of Reagan, the fear did not last long. Iran suffered no repercussions from
the U.S. after the hostage crisis. Close to two and a half years later,
Ronald Reagan would have his first devastating encounter with Iran
and its proxies,
leaving a trail of American blood in the Middle East.
The background to the bloody
encounters began in August 1982. The United States had entered Lebanon
for the express purpose of overseeing the withdrawal of the PLO in the
wake of Israel's June incursion into Lebanon. Israel had conducted a military
campaign to stop
PLO rockets from shelling northern Israel. However, a series of bloody
events followed in September with the assassination of the Maronite
Christian president-elect and
reprisals by Christians and Muslims against each other. The U.S., which
had already withdrawn its troops, reentered Lebanon in late September to
try and stabilize the chaotic situation.
18, 1983, the
American embassy was rocked by a suicide truck bomber which killed 63
people. Seventeen Americans, including the Beirut CIA chief, were among
the victims. The Iranian- and Syrian-backed terrorist group Hezb'allah claimed
responsibility. As with the hostage crisis, there was no American response.
The failure to retaliate to this massacre was a catastrophic mistake
that would lead some five months later to a much worse murderous attack.
On early Sunday morning, October
23, 1983, another
suicide bomber struck. This time, the target was the U.S. Marine barracks
located at the Beirut International Airport. A Mercedes truck laden with
an estimated six tons of TNT was exploded. The blast resulted in the
murder of 220 Marines, 18 Navy, and three Army personnel. In the aftermath
of various investigations, including that of the FBI, the blast was considered
to be the biggest
non-nuclear explosion since World War II.
Once again, Hezb'allah claimed
responsibility. While President Reagan ordered a retaliatory strike, nothing
followed. According to a 2001
PBS interview, then
National Security Advisor, Robert McFarlane stated that Secretary of Defense
Caspar Weinberger had "aborted" the retaliatory raid. In any event, the
United States soon pulled out of Lebanon once and for all. This "cut and
run" behavior of America was not lost on a young Osama bin Laden, who later
recalled it as a sign of America being a "paper
Terrorist attacks against
Americans continued throughout the 1980s,
with more attacks in Lebanon and elsewhere. The attacks included hijackings,
kidnappings, murder, and bombings. Time and time again, there was no American
On October 7, 1985, Arab terrorists
from the PLO faction the Palestine Liberation Front hijacked a passenger
one disabled American Jewish man and throwing his body into the sea. Finally,
America acted. President Reagan ordered the plane carrying the hijackers
-- who had been freed by Egypt -- to be forced down and to land in Italy.
On April 5, 1986, a Berlin discotheque was bombed. Three American servicemen
were killed. American intelligence traced the source of the attack to Muammar
This time, President Reagan acted with strong retaliation, striking Libya's
capital of Tripoli and the city of Benghazi with U.S. aircraft.
As the 1980s turned into the
1990s, the first World
Trade Center bombing occurred.
This attack was treated as if it were a simple criminal matter and not
a case of international terrorism. President Clinton didn't even bother
the site of the
first Islamic terror attack to hit the United States mainland. The Clinton
administration also exhibited a "cut and run" attitude, most notably in
Somalia in October 1993. Eighteen American soldiers were killed in battles
with Somali militias, with some of the bodies dragged through the streets
of the capital, Mogadishu.
As the Clinton years continued,
there were the Khobar
bombings of the
U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the suicide attack against the USS
had claimed credit for the attacks, but Clinton's attempts
to capture or kill bin
Laden were lukewarm at best. A few cruise missiles were fired into Afghanistan,
and a pharmaceutical factory was struck in Sudan in response to the Cole bombing.
Of course, all changed on
September 11, 2001. George W. Bush finally took the war to the heart of
where the Islamic terrorists had devised their plans for 9/11 by invading
Afghanistan. To bin Laden and other terrorists, this must have come as
a great shock, based on the behavior of past American administrations.
The lesson to be learned,
especially from the Iranian hostage crisis and the Beirut massacre of the
Marines, is to strongly retaliate as quickly as possible. Not responding
only emboldens the enemy and is an invitation for even worse atrocities.
The attacks of 9/11 are witness to the decades of America's mistake in
its tragic failure to respond resolutely to Islamic terror.
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