(WMR)—Last week, President Obama proclaimed that George W. Bush’s “global war on terrorism” must come to a close and that, henceforth, the United States would respond to planned or actual acts of terrorism with traditional counter-terrorism, something short of full-blown global warfare. So-called liberals lauded Obama’s actions.
Speaking of civilian deaths resulting from his policy of preemptive drone strikes, Obama said, “for me, and those in my chain of command, those deaths will haunt us as long as we live.” Obama also expressed anguish about the human beings who have been targeted and the morality of killing civilians.
However, Obama’s previous policy of preemptive military attacks on areas where civilian casualties are a given is merely rehashed Ronald Reagan counter-terrorism policy. In the 1980s, Reagan used remote-controlled bombs to carry out preemptive attacks, today, Obama used drones.
On March 8, 1985, the CIA remotely detonated a bomb with 440 pounds of dynamite in the west Beirut suburb of Bir al-Abed. The CIA’s plan was to assassinate Lebanese Shi’a leader Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, the spiritual leader of Lebanese Hezbollah and someone believed to have blessed those terrorists who bombed the U.S. Marine Corps barracks and U.S. embassy in Beirut in 1983, the U.S embassy annex in west Beirut in 1984, and had kidnapped a number of American hostages in Beirut. There was never any proof that Fadlallah authorized terrorist attacks against American targets in Lebanon but that did not stop Reagan’s national security team, aided and abetted by the Saudis, British, Israelis, and Lebanese Christian intelligence agents loyal to President Amin Gemayel, in trying to assassinate the Shi’a holy leader.
Fadlallah escaped death but the U.S. car bomb killed 80 people, mostly civilians, injured 200 others, and brought down two seven-story apartment buildings and a cinema and badly damaged a mosque.
Obama, the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize award winner, has lulled Democrats and liberals into a cathartic nap by pretending to care about avoiding civilian deaths. At Fort McNair last week, he more or less proclaimed the war on terrorism over. But what Obama is introducing is a cold war against terrorism, one that he hopes the media will largely ignore. Reagan tried the same tactic playing off his popularity against his policy failures.
Reagan denied he violated his own Executive Order 12333, originated by President Gerald Ford and “strengthened” by Reagan in 1981, which banned assassinations of foreign officials, in the assassination attempt against Fadlallah, authorized by CIA director William Casey and National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane.
Reagan, like Obama, snowed the public with a denial that he would ever authorize the murder of innocent civilians. Reagan said, “Never would I sign anything that would authorize an assassination . . . I never have, and I never will, and I didn’t.” Similarly, Obama stated he is anguished over coming up with a “kill list” targeting terrorist suspects.
Reagan signed a classified Presidential Finding, National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 138, authorizing preemptive attacks and assassinations in April 1984. Reagan, like Obama, lied about his personal aversion to killing innocent civilians in the name of counter-terrorism.
CIA Deputy Director John McMahon rejected the car bombing operation against Fadlallah, but he was overruled. Today, there is no one willing to stand up to Obama’s preemptive drone operations that kill innocent civilians.
In 1985, Secretary of State George Schultz said innocent civilians would always be lost in responding to terrorism, however, Reagan and Vice President George H. W. Bush contended they did not want to endanger civilians lives. In fact, they agreed with the policies of Casey, Schultz, and McFarlane and had no problem with civilian collateral damage. They, like Obama and his CIA director, John Brennan, have no problem with civilian deaths in preemptive counter-terrorism operations.
And Reagan administration officials also had no problem in the deaths of American civilians in preemptive strikes. Fred C, Iklé, the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that although he “knew nothing” about the Beirut bombing, there was a “potential for the loss of innocent life in Philadelphia and Beirut.” the former a reference to the bombing of the MOVE black activist house in west Philadelphia that killed 11 people, including five children and destroyed 65 row homes. Although the Philadelphia Police Department denied it had military assistance in the bombing, the military-grade bomb dropped on the MOVE house on Osage Avenue was found to have come from a military stock, one of the first indications that Posse Comitatus restrictions on domestic use of the military for law enforcement were being loosened.
Robert Oakley, the State Department’s counter-terrorism chief, testified that “there are going to be times when innocent life is going to be taken.”
Senator Thomas Eagleton (D-MO), a committee member, said he would be “silenced” about the Beirut operation after a classified CIA briefing following the testimony of Iklé and Oakley. Senator Jeremiah Denton (R-AL), a former Vietnam prisoner of war, opined that the rules of warfare did not criminalize the killing of civilians.
Obama was not “anguished” over the drone killings of one-time Pentagon guest Anwar al Awlaki, his son Abdel-Rahman Anwar al-Awlaki, Samir Khan, and Jude Kenan Mohammed, all American citizens. Neither did Reagan flinch when his secret “finding” was used in 1986 to authorize the aerial assassination of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, an attack that missed Qaddafi but killed his adopted baby daughter. CIA fingerprints were also on the assassinations of Iranian President Mohammad-Ali Rajai and Prime Minister Mohammad-Javad Bahonar in 1981 (a few months after Reagan signed NSDD-138), former Chilean President Eduardo Frei Montalva in 1982, Grenada Prime Minister Maurice Bishop in 1983, Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986, Colombian presidential candidate Jaime Pardo Leal in 1987, Lebanese Prime Minister Rashid Karami in 1987, and Burkina Faso president Thomas Sankara in 1987. Obama counts Reagan as one of his political mentors, which is understandable that for a large part of his covert career with the U.S. government, Reagan was Obama’s commander-in-chief.
In the 1980s, one senator rejected the Reagan administration’s notion that rules of warfare applied to counter-terrorism police actions. He questioned Reagan’s raising counter-terrorism operations to the level of a state of war, in which civilians were fair game. The name of that senator: Joseph R. Biden, Jr., the junior senator from the state of Delaware.
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
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Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).