"As the country plunges ahead with its new war on terrorism, Frontline pauses tonight to offer a sobering reflection on another time in our recent history when such rhetoric was employed--only to see a lack of resolve and cohesive policy within the government stymie the effort and, in the view of many, stimulate U.S. enemies to ever-bolder acts of destruction.
The documentary, called 'Target America,' focuses on the presidency of Ronald Reagan, whose election in 1980 was fueled in part by the perception that Jimmy Carter had been inept in responding to the U.S. hostage crisis in Iran, and who then had to respond to his own terrorist attacks against Americans in Lebanon. Reporters Jim Gilmore and Peter Taylor lay out the details of an administration that couldn't agree on how to respond to terrorism then or in the years to come, trying a number of approaches--diplomacy, covert actions, illegal arms deals with Iran, law enforcement, military action--but never with a long-term strategy.
The lesson for U.S. enemies, former National Security Advisor Robert C. McFarlane says here, was 'that the American people can be traumatized by terrorism, that it can create pressure on the government. That we were not in the 1980s well equipped in terms of power or political understanding to deal with it. And so they have continued to use it, and they've expanded their networks and their capabilities.'
Frontline notes that many of the Bush administration officials now tackling terrorism--from Vice President Dick Cheney to Secretary of State Colin Powell to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld--were also involved in the government then. We can only hope they learned lessons too."
"Thursday's special edition of Frontline is required viewing for all who would seek to understand the roots of the United States' murderously ineffective counterterrorism policy.
It is also a chilling reminder that what happened Sept. 11 may be new in magnitude and location, but it is not new in terms of the deep hatred that prompted it and the kinds of things politicians vowed to do in response. Stepping back to the beginnings of attacks on America with the Iranian hostage crisis and then following them through the 1980s, 'Target America' is the first of two special editions prepared by Frontline in response to last month's attacks.
Frontline's sources include many of the top people in the Reagan administrations during the string of bombings, hijackings and kidnappings, among then Secretary of State George Shultz and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. These sources reveal deep internal divisions, what we now recognize as a shortsighted failure to treat terrorism as more than episodic events, and the failure of will required to fight back.
This haunting program is replete with lessons for today as it provides some answers to the questions of how it came to this and what the U.S. might hope to do in response. Unspoken is that, as shocking as were the 1980s events, from the Beirut Marine barracks bombing on, they were largely forgotten during the next decade."
"... PBS' Frontline, one of television's premier nonfiction franchises, weighs in tonight on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with Target:America, an uneven and incomplete, but nevertheless essential hour of back-story on how policy failures in the 1980s paved the way for terrorists to take bolder and bolder actions against the United States.
The report contrasts the tough talk and rhetoric of the Reagan White House with the lack of real response in case after horrifying case such as the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut. What viewers are left with is a chilling sense that America has not known what to do in response to blatant terrorist attacks on our embassies, soldiers and officials for two decades or more.
The most glaring hole in the report: the fact that it never mentions what the Clinton administration did or, perhaps, more to the point, did not do in terms of dealing with terrorism during its watch."
"... 'Target America' may open a lot of eyes in this country, where events that took place even 10 years ago can seem like ancient history. As the program begins, Ronald Reagan has just been elected president, in part because some voters believed he would be much tougher on terrorists than Jimmy Carter had been.
'Reagan was, in effect, the mad bomber,' The Washington Post's Bob Woodward says.
Frontline shows how Reagan seemingly lost his clear vision of what to do after sending troops to Beirut, Lebanon. Over and over, terrorists attacked, but the White House was split on how to respond. One faction in the Reagan administration would argue for military action, while another would argue for a diplomatic solution.
Meanwhile, terrorists continued to attack. Even though the United States knew the location of a terrorist training camp, Reagan ordered a battleship to shell some neighborhoods.
Terrorists saw the act as an impotent gesture, and they were further heartened when, four months later, Reagan ordered the Marines to go home.
'The terrorists learn that a few casualties will cause us to retreat,' one expert says.
Shortly after the Marines departed, another suicide bombing hit the U.S. Embassy in east Beirut.
More attacks followed -- the hijacking of a TWA jet, the kidnapping and murder of CIA bureau chief William Buckley, the kidnapping of Americans in the Middle East. To free the kidnapped Americans, the United States traded arms to Iran. The action further painted the United States as ineffective against terrorists, and Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi felt free to order more murders.
Finally, Reagan ordered U.S. fighter jets to bomb targets in Libya, driving Gadhafi underground for two years -- until Libyan terrorists planted a bomb on a 747 that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland.
The lessons learned during those years have not been lost on the current Bush administration, Frontline notes. Many top officials in today's White House were subordinates during the Reagan years, and all remember the ineffective response to terrorism then.
After watching this episode, Frontline viewers will realize why the White House appears to be planning a wide-ranging response to terrorism."
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