Seven days after his inauguration, in a brief but widely reported passage in a speech welcoming the American hostages home from Iran, President Ronald Reagan had declared:
Let terrorists be aware that when the rules of international behavior are violated, our policy will be one of swift and effective retribution. We hear it said that we live in an era of a limit to our powers. Well, let it also be understood, there are limits to our patience. 1
It was a vow that the president would find difficult to keep. The inspiration for the promise of “swift and effective retribution” was obviously the military reprisal policy of Israel. Israel, however, a small country with few friends and little to lose, has a strong national consensus on the use of military force, a press subject to censorship in military matters, a geographical location close to the bases of its terrorist enemies, an overseas presence not so ubiquitous as to give terrorists targets to attack literally anywhere in the world, and a significant degree of endurance in its national character. In every one of these aspects Israel was antithetical to the United States. Reagan's promise of retaliation against terrorism nonetheless took on a significance of its own.
When the Reagan administration deployed Marines in West Beirut in 1982 it had not realized that it had fallen into a trap that would bring great humiliation