In August 1981, Ronald Wilson Reagan sat down with his cabinet for a foreign policy briefing. The Navy had become increasingly worried that there might be combat in the skies over the Gulf of Sidra. They’d been conducting maneuvers near the Libyan coast, and Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, never up to any good, had been sending his planes to harass American pilots. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger wondered aloud what the orders would be if Qaddafi fired on American planes and then returned to Tripoli. “How far can we go?” he asked.
“All the way into the hangar,” Reagan said, after a moment of thought.
As has been widely reported, on October 15 three Americans were killed and another was wounded when a remote-controlled bomb exploded beneath an American diplomatic vehicle in the Gaza Strip. The bomb went off as a three-car U.S. diplomatic convoy with a Palestinian escort drove past a gas station on the outskirts of Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip. The FBI almost instantly committed a team of investigators to look into the matter.
The three men killed were security personnel traveling with diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, who were en route to the education ministry, at which Palestinian candidates for Fulbright scholarships were to be interviewed. Their bodies were taken across the border to Israel.
Shortly after the attack, officials at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv advised all Americans to leave the Gaza Strip and to exercise extraordinary caution in the West Bank. Further, they asked that Israelis help evacuate Americans from the region.
Though manifestly a terrorist action, various terrorists have been quick to condemn the attack. Yasser Arafat denounced the assault and ordered an investigation, which one assumes will be about as accurate as his friend Bill Clinton’s upcoming book. Islamic Jihad spokesman Nafez Nazzam, also condemned the attack, kindly acknowledging that “it’s not proper to target Americans.” Hamas political leader Adnan Asfour told Reuters, “it’s not Hamas’ mission to expand its struggle, [only to end] the Israeli occupation.”
In 1986 Libya bombed a West German discotheque, killing a U.S. soldier and injuring several others. In response to the attack, President Reagan instigated a major retaliatory strike against that nation. As Time magazine reported at the time, “The U.S. launched its bombers out of a grim conviction that ruthless attacks on Americans and the citizens of many other countries will never let up until terrorists and the states that sponsor them are made to pay a price in kind.”
President Reagan, who also single-handedly brought down the Soviet Empire, was far from coy when it came to Qaddafi’s Libya. “We have done what we had to do,” he told the world in a televised address. “If necessary, we shall do it again.”
It is this attitude, this bravery, with which George W. Bush has thus far dealt with threats to our national security. There is no better example of this than his riveting address of September 20, 2001: “Every nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us or you or with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.” He must act with this same conviction and courage in this current matter.
We cannot allow terrorist attacks on American interests, whether those interests are abroad or at home. A terrorist who attacks an American in the Middle East should be treated by the United States government with the same fervor as a terrorist who attacks an American in Seattle or Chicago or Atlanta; terrorists do not discriminate, and neither should we. This was a well-planned attack, and our response should be well-planned. The people who did this were angry. We should be, too.
President Bush has shown extraordinary leadership and incredible strength in dealing with terrorism and threats to American security. This mustn’t be an exception. Whether openly or covertly, now or months from now, the U.S. must respond with might.