Presidents and Terrorism

By Schorr, Daniel | The Christian Science Monitor, August 14, 1998 | Go to article overview

Presidents and Terrorism


Schorr, Daniel, The Christian Science Monitor


Lack of justice may be price of being a democratic superpower

IN January 1981, the newly inaugurated President Reagan, welcoming home Americans from 444 days of embassy captivity in Iran, put terrorists on notice "to beware of swift and effective retribution." None of the Iranian hostage holders was ever punished.

In April 1983, the American embassy in Lebanon was bombed and 16 Americans killed, and in October in the Marine barracks, 241 were killed. Reagan rejected what he called advice "to turn tail and run," but ordered the removal of the remaining Marines to ships offshore. The authors of the two bombings were not apprehended. In October 1985, Reagan appeared in the White House press room to tell terrorists holding six American hostages in Lebanon, "You can run, but you can't hide." None of the hostage holders was captured, and the Reagan administration ended up offering arms to Iran for hostages in Lebanon.

Presidential fist-shaking after an act of terrorism has now become a kind of grim convention. Last Friday, after the Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam bombings, President Clinton was quick to go on television and promise to "use all means to bring those responsible to justice, no matter how long it takes." On the weekend talk shows, that became the approved line for the president's lieutenants, Secretary Albright talking of "America's very long memory and very far reach."

It is hard to see what such hyperbole accomplishes. …

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