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Terrorism and U.S. Policy in the Reagan Era

"The Riddle of Terrorism"

Writing in The New York Review of Books for Sept. 24, 1987, the historian Shaul Bakhash surveyed four books dealing with terrorism in the 1980s. "There is considerable interest ... in explanations for the rise of terrorism, the ideology and structure of terrorist groups, the psychology and social background of those attracted to terrorist movements, the extent of state-sponsored terrorism, and the links between terrorist organizations. Most books touch on the subject of counterterrorist measures. Indeed, the problem of 'What is to be done?' is central to much of the literature."

"Thinking About Terrorism"

"The combating of terrorism," Conor Cruise O'Brien writes in the June 1986 Atlantic Monthly, "is not helped by bombastic speeches at high levels, stressing what a monstrous evil terrorism is and that its elimination is to be given the highest priority.... What applies to speeches applies a fortiori to unilateral, military action against countries harboring terrorists." Examining the policy alternatives facing the Reagan administration, O'Brien argues that discussions of terrorism are dominated by two stereotypes -- one sentimental and dovish, one hysterical and hawkish -- which "cloud thought and inhibit effective action."

"Breaking All the Rules: American Debate Over the Middle East"

The Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes sets the U.S. engagement in Lebanon within the context of the larger foreign-policy debates of the time, and argues that the Middle East holds a unique place in American policymaking. "The Middle East (meaning here, the area from Egypt to Iran) stands outside the great debate of American foreign policy since World War II-the disagreement over the danger posed by the U.S.S.R. ... Issues local to the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli dispute in particular, overwhelm conservative/liberal controversies. Ideology fades as one approaches the Eastern Mediterranean ..." Published in the Fall 1984 issue of International Security, the article is posted on the author's web site.

The U.S. and Lebanon

"Lebanon: 1982-1984"

In this chapter from a 1996 RAND report on "U.S. and Russian Policymaking with Respect to the Use of Force," John H. Kelly, who served as U.S. ambassador to Lebanon from 1986 to 1988 and assistant secretary of state for the Near East and South Asia from 1989 to 1991, offers an overview and analysis of the Reagan administration's military intervention in Lebanon in the early 1980s. "As events unfolded, American decisions were reactive to actions in Lebanon. In many respects there was no clear policy -- nothing but immediate tactical objectives and a mission never clearly enunciated for the troops who went ashore."

The New York Times: On This Day, October 23, 1983

In this front-page article on the terrorist truck-bomb attack killing 241 U.S. Marines at the Beirut airport, New York Times correspondent Thomas E. Friedman reports: "President Reagan, voicing outrage over the 'despicable' destruction of the Marine Corps headquarters in Lebanon, called on the nation today to be more determined than ever to keep a force in that country and resist 'the bestial nature of those who would assume power.'" In addition to the article, The New York Times on the Web (registration required) provides an image of the newspaper's front page for this date.

The Weinberger Doctrine

"The Uses of Military Power"

Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger's influential speech to National Press Club on Nov. 28, 1984, outlined what came to be known as the "Weinberger doctrine." It contained six points that set strict limits on the use of American combat forces: vital national interests had to be at risk; the war had to be fought "wholeheartedly, with the clear intention of winning"; we should employ decisive force in the pursuit of clearly defined political and military objectives; we must constantly reassess whether the use of force is necessary and appropriate; there must be a "reasonable assurance" of Congressional and public support; and force should be used only as a last resort. (Current Secretary of State Colin Powell, who served as a military aide to Weinberger in the Reagan administration, developed his own well-known "doctrine" as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H. W. Bush.)

The Iran-Contra Investigation

Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters

"Volume I: Investigations and Prosecutions"; Lawrence E. Walsh, Independent Counsel; August 4, 1993. From the report: "In October and November 1986, two secret U.S. Government operations were publicly exposed, potentially implicating Reagan Administration officials in illegal activities. These operations were the provision of assistance to the military activities of the Nicaraguan contra rebels during an October 1984 to October 1986 prohibition on such aid, and the sale of U.S. arms to Iran in contravention of stated U.S. policy and in possible violation of arms-export controls. In late November 1986, Reagan Administration officials announced that some of the proceeds from the sale of U.S. arms to Iran had been diverted to the contras."

Terrorism and U.S. Policy Today

Government Reports

"Patterns of Global Terrorism 2000"

The U.S. State Department releases its "Patterns of Global Terrorism" reports every April. The latest report documents every significant terrorist incident worldwide in 2000, and provides analysis on the terrorist threats in six key areas: Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. Especially useful is Appendix B, which contains background information on most of the major terrorist groups. The 2000 report, which dedicates significant space to outlining the Taliban's support for Islamic extremists, also states that "the terrorism picture in the Middle East remains grim."

"Countering the Changing Threat of International Terrorism"

This is the 2000 report of the National Commission on Terrorism, which was set up by Congress in the aftermath of the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Recent commentators have called the report prescient -- the commission predicted that there would be a terrorist attack on the United States on the scale of Pearl Harbor. It also noted that our multibillion dollar counterterrorism effort designed to thwart and warn against such an attack is plagued by procedures that have made it difficult for the CIA to employ "the services of clandestine informants" while the FBI "suffers from bureaucratic and cultural obstacles in obtaining terrorism information."

"U.S. Commission on National Security Report"

Former Senators Gary Hart (D-Colo.) and Warren Rudman (R-N.H.) co-chaired the U.S. Commission on National Security, whose mandate was to examine issues of national security facing the U.S. in the 21st century. In its debut report delivered on Sept. 15, 1999, the commission said that "America will become increasingly vulnerable to hostile attack on our homeland, and our military superiority will not entirely protect us." The final section of its three-part report, delivered on February 15, 2001, was punctuated by some 50 recommendations for strengthening the country's defense. One of those recommendations called for the establishment of a cabinet-level agency to coordinate homeland defense, much like the one created by President George W. Bush in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

(Click here to download a PDF version of the report.)

"Terrorism, the Future, and U.S. Foreign Policy" (PDF Only)

This issue briefing for Congress, prepared by the Congressional Research Service and updated in March 2001, outlines the issues facing policymakers as they try to craft a successful approach to combating terrorism. Noting that the percentage of terrorist attacks aimed at U.S. citizens and targets rose from 40 percent to 52 percent between 1998 and 1999, the brief states that "although terrorism may be internationally motivated, financed, supported, or planned, on the receiving end all terrorism is local." It also provides introductions and brief histories of the several policy tools -- diplomacy, economic sanctions, covert action, military action, international conventions -- that the U.S. has used in its multi-pronged approach to combating terrorism.

Articles, Studies, and Discussions

"Think Again: Terrorism"

In the Fall 1997 issue of Foreign Policy, former CIA director John Deutch argues that "controlling terrorism will require new mechanisms of cooperation -- both nationally and internationally -- between intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Effective action must be simultaneously defensive and offensive and inevitably requires some compromise of civil liberties."

"The New Threat of Mass Destruction"

Writing in the January/February 1998 issue of Foreign Affairs, Richard K. Betts, director of national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and professor of political science at Columbia University, offered "a prescient discussion of the dangers of terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland and our failure to protect against them."

"Catastrophic Terrorism: Tackling the New Danger"

This article by Ashton Carter, John Deutch, and Philip Zelikow (from Foreign Affairs, November/December 1998) "describes the deadly new forms of terrorism, the reasons for targeting America and what will be required to combat the new threats."

"Countering the New Terrorism"

A 1999 RAND study "traces the recent evolution of international terrorism against civilian and U.S. military targets, looks ahead to where terrorism is going, and assesses how it might be contained."

"Terrorism and U.S. Policy"

This April 2001 panel discussion hosted by the Brookings Institution featured Paul R. Pillar, former deputy chief of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center and author of Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy (Brookings, 2001); Patrick L. Clawson, director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; John Parachini, executive director of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies' Washington Office; and R. James Woolsey, former director of Central Intelligence. Click here for an overview of Pillar's book, and the full text of the first chapter, available on the Brookings site.

Recent Commentary

"No Choice"

Discussing the challenges of U.S. foreign policy after Sept. 11, Lawrence F. Kaplan writes in The New Republic (Oct. 1, 2001), "Dubious that America's dominion can be sustained under assault, leading opinion makers have presented Americans with a list of phony choices. The United States, they claim, can't defend against missiles and terrorists. It can't fight terrorists conventionally and unconventionally. It can't wage a war against terrorism and uphold its competing obligations abroad. But the United States can do all of these things. Indeed, it has no choice."

"The Trap"

In the Oct. 1, 2001, issue of The New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg and David Remnick contend: "How the 'they' comes to be defined in the months ahead, and who does the defining, will be absolutely critical. The terrorists' fondest hope is that 'they' will expand to include countries inhibited and ultimately paralyzed by the fear (or the power) of their own Islamic extremists (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia); countries where corners of 'the street' exulted in the sight of the falling towers (the Palestinian territories, Egypt); and, finally, the whole of the Arab if not the Islamic world."

"The Terror"

Philip C. Wilcox Jr., a former U.S. ambassador at large for counterterrorism, writes in The New York Review of Books for Oct. 18, 2001: "We should ... search for ways to strengthen the common bonds between Western values and Islam to combat the notion of a 'clash of civilizations' and to weaken the Islamist extremist fringe that hates the West and supports terrorist actions. Such new departures in US foreign policy would require devoting far greater resources to support a more engaged, cooperative, and influential American role abroad. Redefining national security and counterterrorism in this broader sense is the most promising way to fight the war against terrorism. It is vital that we do this soon, now that the stakes have been raised so high."

Two Thinkers on Islam and the West

"Islamic Revolution"

Tracing the origins and consequences of Iran's Islamic revolution, historian Bernard Lewis writes: "Islamic history provides its own models of revolution; its own prescriptions on the theory and practice of dissent, disobedience, resistance, and revolt; its own memories of past revolutions, some ending in success, others, in the historic memory the more significant ones, ending in failure and martyrdom. It is against this background of Islamic action and ideas, memories and symbols, that the Islamic revolution [in Iran] must be studied and may, just possibly, be understood." (From The New York Review of Books, Jan. 21, 1988)

"The Roots of Muslim Rage"

In this influential examination of the relationship between Islam and the West, published in the September 1990 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Bernard Lewis explores "why so many Muslims deeply resent the West, and why their bitterness will not easily be mollified." He writes: "It should by now be clear that we are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations -- the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both. It is crucially important that we on our side should not be provoked into an equally historic but also equally irrational reaction against that rival."

"The Clash of Civilizations?"

Samuel P. Huntington's pivotal -- and controversial -- article in the Summer 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs argued that "the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future."

"The Islamic Resurgence"

In this excerpt from his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996), Samuel P. Huntington looks at Islam's worldwide revival -- how it is being fueled by culture and cultural identity, and why it's the latest phase in the adjustment of Islam to the West and modernization.

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