On what would have been Ronald Reagan’s hundredth birthday, we find the past offers lessons for the present: does the United States have to fight a war when it is attacked by a ruthless group of militant Islamic fundamentalists? Reagan’s response to attacks on US forces in Beirut in 1983 suggests a way out of the Afghan war for Obama: invade Grenada.
When Islamic fundamentalist militants attacked the US Marine barracks in Beirut with a truck bomb on October 23, 1983, they killed 241 American servicemen—the deadliest single attack on Americans overseas since World War II. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility—they are now seen as a precursor to Hezbollah. (The Americans were in Beirut as part of an international peacekeeping force following Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon.)
Reagan could have sent 130,000 US troops to invade Lebanon. But he didn’t. Instead, he did something completely different: two days after the Beirut barracks bombing, Reagan sent 7,000 troops to invade Grenada, the smallest independent country in the Western Hemisphere. He claimed to be fighting communism there, and to be “rescuing” 800 American medical students studying there (because they couldn’t get into American medical schools). The Americans killed fifty-nine Cubans and forty-five Grenadans, suffered nineteen casualties and declared victory after two days.
The UN voted 122-9 that the US invasion was a “flagrant violation of international law,” but it was a big hit with the American public, except for those of us on the left.
A few months later, Reagan withdrew all the marines from Beirut, without any retaliation against the Islamic militants responsible for the barracks bombing. Some on the right howled in protest, but as PBS’s American Experience later explained, “By the time of the 1984 election, the Grenada success replaced the bitter memory of the massacre at Lebanon.” Reagan won re-election in a landslide.
The US invasion of Grenada certainly was bad for the Grenadans. But now we can see that sending 7,000 troops to Grenada for a couple of weeks was a lot better for the United States than sending 130,000 troops to Lebanon for a decade.
A modest proposal: Obama should invade Grenada for a few days. Perhaps we have reports that Al Qaeda’s number-three man is vacationing there. Then Obama should pull out of Afghanistan. The right will howl in protest, but voters will happily re-elect him to a second term.