Skip to comments.Ronald Reagan on Libya
Posted on 06/05/2004 7:02:58 PM PDT by wagglebee
In early May 1981, FBI agents implicated a Libyan terrorist in a Chicago murder and we responded by ordering the Libyan government headed my Muammar al-Qaddafi to close its embassy in Washington. Qaddafi was a madman who was becoming an increasing concern not only to Western democracies but also to moderate Arab regimes and the civilized world at large. Through terrorism, he was trying to unify the world of Islam into a single nation of fundamentalists under rigid religious control. He wanted to create a theocracy, like Iran, that was ruled by priests and mullahs administering an ecclesiastical form of justice that in its most radical forms was regarded by many in the West as barbarous. He was seeking to accomplish his goal using Libya's oil wealth, Russian weapons, and terrorism.
Like the Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian despot with whom he was allied and often in contact, Qaddafi was an unpredictable fanatic. He believed any act, no matter how vicious or cold-blooded, was justified to further his goals. Under Bill Casey, whom I had appointed as Director of Central Intelligence, we stepped up covert activities in the region and knew in some detail how the Soviets were supplying arms to Libya and that Qaddafi gave support to a number of non-Libyan terrorist groups around the world. I wanted to let him know that America wasn't going to tolerate it and we'd do whatever it took to protect our interests and the interests of our allies.
My opportunity to do that came at a meeting of the National Security Council in early June. I authorized the Sixth Fleet to conduct maneuvers later that summer in the Gulf of Sidra, a part of the Mediterranean that indents the northern edge of Libya like a huge half moon. Ships and carrier-based planes of the Sixth Fleet had traditionally entered the gulf during annual summer maneuvers, but Qaddafi, during the 1970s, had begun claiming that it was legally a part of Libya, not international waters, and he had ordered foreign fleets out of the region. The Carter administration, during the period when it was trying to bring home the U.S. hostages in Teheran, had canceled the Sixth Fleet's maneuvers in the Gulf of Sidra the previous year. Secretary of Defense Cap Weinberger urged me to resume the annual exercises. He said that if we continued accepting Qaddafi's claim that the gulf was a Libyan lake, we would be accepting a precedent that any nation could claim any patch of water outside the conventional twelve-mile limit an interfere with lawful shipping. I agreed with Cap and gave an order for the maneuvers to proceed in August. Then we'd see how Qaddafi responded to our decision.
In early August, a senior admiral came to the White House to brief me and the cabinet about the maneuvers that were scheduled to begin in the Gulf of Sidra later that month. He said Libyan planes were already sporadically harassing our ships and aircraft in the Mediterranean north of the gulf, and it was likely the level of harassment would heighten substantially once the maneuvers began. It was clear he wanted guidance from me on how the navy should react if the Libyan planes fired on our aircraft or vessels or otherwise interfered with their freedom of movement on the high seas. My response was simple: Whenever our ships or planes were fired upon or otherwise deprived of rights granted sovereign countries in international waters, the navy was to respond in kind. "Any time we send an American anywhere in the world where he or she can be shot at, they have the right to shoot back," I said. One cabinet member asked: "What about pursuit?" He wanted to know the extent to which our planes should be permitted to pursue Libyan planes if they harassed our aircraft or ships in violation of international law.
The admiral stopped, cleared his throat, and looked over at me, waiting for an answer from me, and suddenly it was very quiet in the room. "All the way into the hangar," I said. A smile broke out on the admiral's face, and he said, "Yes, sir."
A few days later, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt came to Washington for a state visit. In the Oval Office, I revealed our plans for the maneuvers. Before I could finish, he almost shouted: "Magnificent." Sadat was a very likable man with both a sense of humor and a sense of dignity, and he had a good grasp of events and personalities in the Middle East. He was a staunch ally of the United States and also a courageous statesman whose efforts to achieve peace with Israel had isolated him from most other Arab nations. As had Jimmy Carter, I regarded him as a giant figure in the Middle East and thought he might hold the key to resolving that region's long and bitter struggle between Arab and Jew.
During his visit, Sadat had other things on his mind besides the difficult task of resolving the Arab-Israeli dispute. Terrorists and radical Muslims who were allied with Qaddafi and Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini in trying to create an Islamic fundamentalist state were trying to subvert his government and were making significant inroads in neighboring Sudan and Chad. The goal of Libya and the fundamentalists, Sadat said, was to remove him and impose a government in Egypt modeled after Iran's fundamentalist regime. The Soviet Union, he said, was working hard to gain influence over the Islamic fundamentalist movement and was using Libya as its surrogate in the region, supplying it with large amounts of arms that Libya transferred to terrorists in the Middle East and elsewhere. In response to indications that Libya was building up hostile forces along its border with Egypt, we had agreed to give limited technical assistance and other support to Egypt if Qaddafi did attack.
I assured him we would continue doing everything we could to help Egypt, and as he left I had a good feeling about the visit. That night, writing in the diary, "I'm encouraged that between us, maybe we can do something about peace in the Middle East." Two weeks later, on August 20, Qaddafi sent up several of his planes and they fired at two F-14 jets from the USS Nimitz that were participating in our naval maneuvers. The incident took place in the Gulf of Sidra about sixty miles off the coast of Libya, well into international waters, and in compliance with my instructions, the F-14's turned on their tails and shot down the two Libyan aircraft. We'd sent Qaddafi a message: We weren't going to let him claim squatters' rights over a huge area of the Mediterranean in defiance of international law. I also wanted to send a message to others in the world that there was a new management in the White House, and that the United States wasn't going to hesitate any longer to act when its legitimate interests were at stake.
A few days after the incident over the gulf, security people obtained secret information indicating that Qaddafi had advised some of his associates that he intended to have me assassinated. So, it was back into my iron vest whenever I was out in public. Subsequently, security people obtained what they considered highly credible information that George Bush, Cap Weinberger, and Al Haig were also targeted by Libyan hit squads that had been smuggled into this country. From then on, security precautions became even more rigid - not only was my iron vest de rigueur, a variety of other steps I can't even now discuss were put in place. One thing I can mention is that whenever we went anywhere by helicopter, the route was selected only minutes before takeoff because of intelligence reports that a Libyan group had entered the country armed with a heat-seeking missile capable of being launched by hand. Their intention was to shoot down the presidential helicopter, know as Marine One.
Just two months after Nancy and I said good-bye to Anwar and Jehan Sadat at the White House, I was awakened by an early morning call from Al Haig. He told me Sadat had been shot, but was expected to live. Several hours later we learned he had died instantly, assassinated by Muslim fundamentalists. I had to continue my regular schedule that day, but it was very difficult. The news had hit Nancy and me like a locomotive: we had spent only a few hours over two days with the Sadats, but felt we had formed a deep and lasting friendship with them. Now, suddenly, this great, kind man filled with warmth and humor was gone; it was an enormous tragedy for the world and a terrible and painful personal loss for us.
A few hours after we got news of Sadat's death, I watched Muammar al-Qaddafi on television. He was almost doing a jig, gloating over Sadat's death while Libyans danced in the streets. We discovered that even before Sadat's death was confirmed, Qaddafi had gone on the radio to call for a holy war on behalf of Islamic fundamentalism - propaganda material tied to Sadat's murder that had to have been prepared before the shots were fired in Cairo. He had to have known in advance that Sadat was going to be assassinated. As I prayed for Sadat, I tried to repress the hatred I felt for Qaddafi, but I couldn't do it. I despised him for what had happened in Cairo. With hundreds of Americans living in Libya, there were limitations on what we could do in response to this evil man. Through diplomatic back channels, we sent word to Qaddafi that any acts of terrorism directed against Americans would be considered acts of war and we would respond accordingly.
After the dogfight over the Gulf of Sidra, I hoped he realized I meant what I said.
On December 12, 1985, our nation got another reminder of the high price we had to pay for the continuing strife in the Middle East and our efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Nearly 250 American soldiers returning home after six months of duty as members of the international police force posted in the Sinai under the Camp David accords were killed when their plane crashed after a refueling stop in Newfoundland. Less than three weeks later - two days after Christmas - we got still another reminder: Palestinian terrorists callously sprayed automatic weapons into crowds of passengers at the Rome and Vienna airports, killing twenty people, including an eleven-year-old American girl and four other Americans.
Colonel Muammar Qaddafi promptly called the suicide attack a "noble act." On the body of one of the terrorists was a Tunisian passport. Libyan officials had taken the passport from a Tunisian worker at the time he was expelled from Libya. It wasn't hard to figure out where the terrorist had gotten the passport. I felt we couldn't ignore the mad clown of Tripoli any longer. By now, we had a shelf full of contingency plans designed to express in a concrete way our displeasure with his terrorism - but whatever we did, we had to take into account the presence of nearly one thousand American oil workers in Libya. Qaddafi wouldn't think twice about taking his vengeance on them.
In March 1986, the Sixth Fleet launched a new round of naval maneuvers in "Qaddafi's lake" - the Gulf of Sidra - and we waited to see what his response would be. Commanders of our flotilla were instructed to cross what Qaddafi called his "line of death" - an imaginary boundary in the high seas more than one hundred miles off the coast of his country, which Qaddafi claimed delineated Libyan territory. I ordered that if Libya attacked our aircraft or ships, our forces were to reply in kind, but with a measured and limited response. Two days after the maneuvers began, Qaddafi's forces fired SAM missiles at several of our carrier-based planes (and missed) and sent several missile-firing boats within the vicinity of our fleet - an act of aggression in international waters. We responded by sinking the Libyan vessels and knocking out the radar installation that had guided the Libyan missiles. After that, our intelligence agencies went on special alert, waiting to learn what Qaddafi's next move would be. In late March, Nancy and I flew to California to spend a few days at the ranch. While we were there, I was awakened late at night by John Poindexter, who said a terrorist's bomb had just exploded at a disco in West Berlin that was a favorite of U.S. servicemen. An American soldier and a Turkish woman had been killed and more than two hundred other people, including at least fifty American servicemen, had been injured in the blast.
Our investigation of the bombing quickly focused on Libya. Qaddafi went on television and condemned it as a senseless act of terrorism against innocent people (which it truly was). In less than a day, our intelligence experts established conclusively that there had been conversations between Libyan diplomats in East Berlin and Qaddafi's headquarters in Tripoli regarding the bombing before and after it occurred. The evidence was irrefutable. Intelligence data provided positive proof that Libya was responsible for the bombing. Our intelligence agencies also obtained information outlining secret plans for additional acts of terrorism by Libya against Americans and people of other countries.
Forewarned, we were able to prevent the attacks. Now that the American oil workers were out of Libya, I knew we had to do something about the crackpot in Tripoli. "He's not only a barbarian, he's flaky," I said at the time. I felt we had no alternative but a military response: As a matter of self-defense, any nation victimized by terrorism has an inherent right to respond with force to deter new acts of terror. I felt we must show Qaddafi that there was a price he would have to pay for that kind of behavior and that we wouldn't let him get away with it. So I asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff for a plan: What can we do that would send the right signal to Qaddafi without harming innocent people?
At a NSC meeting on April 7, 1986, we reviewed maps and photographs of Libya and weighed various options, including strikes at locations in Tripoli that might have resulted in civilian deaths. "I'm holding out for military targets to avoid civilian casualties because we believe a large part of Libya would like to get rid of the colonel," I wrote in my diary that night. Two days later, there was this entry in the diary: "A full - in fact, two full NSC meetings planning targets for retaliation against Qaddafi. Our evidence is complete that he was behind the disco bombing in West Berlin that killed an American sergeant and wounded 50 GI's. We have five specific military targets in mind." On April 10, I wrote, "Another session with Admiral (Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman William J.) Crowe on potential Libyan targets. I think it will be Monday night. I've sent a long passage to Prime Minister Thatcher explaining in generalities what we're up to. She has replied with a long message pledging support but expressing concern about possible civilian casualties. That's our concern also."
This was one of the times, incidentally - while we were trying to come up with targets that would let us make our point but not hurt innocent people - when I really lost my patience with the press. Through the inevitable leak, several reporters picked up a scent that we might be planning an operation against Qaddafi in response to the disco bombing. In some cases, they got fairly accurate information, and some of their reports virtually announced to Qaddafi that the United States was planning to attack him. We tried to talk them out of revealing these state secrets - as far as I was concerned, maintaining secrecy in a war against terrorism is crucial - but they would have none of it. Every time they got a leak, they ran with it, even though it meant risking human lives.
On April 13, we settled on the principal target: Qaddafi's military headquarters and barracks in Tripoli, which was located well away from civilian targets. Housed in this compound was the intelligence center from which Libya's worldwide program of state-sponsored terrorism was directed. The attack was not intended to kill Qaddafi; that would have violated our prohibition against assassination. The objective was to let him know that we weren't going to accept his terrorism anymore, and that if he did it again he could expect to hear from us again. It was impossible however, to know exactly where he would be at the time of the attack. We realized that it was possible, perhaps probable, that he might be at or near the intelligence center when our planes struck.
France and Italy refused to permit our F-111 bombers to cross their air space on the way from a base in England to Tripoli to join carrier-based planes from the Sixth Fleet in the attack. As a result, the F-111's had to detour more than a thousand miles over the Atlantic and Mediterranean; this would shorten their effective range and, by leaving them with less reserve fuel, would possibly make them more vulnerable during the attack. The refusal upset me, because I believed all civilized nations were in the same boat when it came to resisting terrorism. At least in the case of France, however, economic considerations prevailed: While it publicly condemned terrorism, France conducted a lot of business with Libya and was typically trying to play both sides.
On April 14, the night the attack was scheduled, I briefed congressional leaders on what was about to happen and told them about the intercepted messages that proved Libyan intelligence agents were responsible for the disco bombing. Late that night, sitting at my desk upstairs in the family quarters of the White House, I wrote in my diary: "Well, the attack took place right on the nose, 7 P.M. our time. About 11 minutes over the target areas. Preliminary report: All planes withdrew but two of our F-111's are unreported. Maybe it's only radio failure. Maybe they are down. We don't know as of this time. One thing seems sure. It was a success." During the first twenty-four hours, the White House received 126,000 phone calls in response to the attack, and in the following twenty-four hours, there were 160,000 calls. They were more than seventy percent favorable.
Tragically, one of our missiles went off track during the attack and caused fatalities in a civilian neighborhood. We had intended to strike military targets only, and I deeply regretted the mishap. I was also deeply saddened that two crewmen were shot down and lost, and that another American may have died as a result of the attack. According to reports that we found credible, after the bombing Qaddafi sought out the terrorists who had kidnapped Peter Kilburn, librarian at the American University in Beirut, and paid them a fortune to ransom him. Then Kilburn and two British hostages (apparently because of Britain's cooperation with us during the raid) were murdered in cold blood.
As tragic as the loss of life was, I don't think they were lives lost in vain: After the attack on Tripoli, we didn't hear much more from Qaddafi's terrorists.
While it publicly condemned terrorism, France conducted a lot of business with Libya and was typically trying to play both sides.
He understood the problem with France long before most of America did.
Rest in Peace President Reagan
REAGAN exposed our Terrorist Enemy Libya for what it really was
BUSH has just nailed'em
I will always remember that August day in 1981. I was 14 years old and had been old enough to comprehend the end of Vietnam and Carter's total mishandling of Iran. But that day I saw for the first time in my life America fighing back. I really think the first year of Reagan's presidency (his inauguration, the hostages returning, the first shuttle flight and shooting down the Libyan jets) yanked America out of the "Carter malaise." The world has had IMHO only two truly great leaders in the last century (the other being Churchill, who was also portrayed by the left as a trigger-happy dunce), I hope I live long enough to see another as magnificent as Reagan.
Qadaffi should realize that our inventory of F-111, F-15 and F-16 jets hasn't been emptied. Plus, we still have a return address for any bombs that happen to make their way to United States soil.
God bless Ronald Reagan!
The man was a fighter, a truth-teller and a visionary.
He'll always be remembered in our hearts.
Actualy our inventory of F-111s has been emptied. Only the Aussies still fly the aircraft. Some, but not all, of theirs are ex USAF. However we have replaced the F-111s with the F-15E. They stand ready, along with Navy F-14s now converted to "Bomb Cats", to address any problems Qadaffi might want to create. Then there are the F-117s, B-2s and the always popular, middle aged, B-52.
Plus, I'm sure we still have one or two Daisy-cutters lying around somewhere.
Once, as commanding officer of the U.S. Air Force base in Libya, and wearing a 45 automatic stuffed under his belt, he confronted the new dictator, Muammar Khadafy, at the front gate and forced his withdrawal. Khadafy had intended to seize the base with his half-tracks
Of course being the typical raghead wuss, Khadafy was only armed with a 9mm, which probably would have only made James, who was a big man (six feet, four inches and nearly 250 pounds), mad.
I read that Qaddafi is upset that Reagan never stood trial for the April, 1985 bombing of Libya. I think as a tribute to President Reagan that Bush should send another squadron of bombers over to finish off the job Reagan started.
And then that piece of human debris has the gall to say that he's sorry Reagan was never "brought to justice" for killing his adopted daughter and the others killed when the missile went astray during the raid. Why hasn't he ever been brought to justice for killing the airline full of people over Lockerbie? But Satan is waiting for him. He can't live forever.
Sounds good to me, although I don't know that a squadron would be required. A couple of F-117s or a single B-2 would do the job, and they'd never know they were coming and they'd never know they had been there, other than the smoking crater that is. :)
What plane did Bush fly ?
I bet Oliver North would be happy to go over there to Qaddafi's tent with a camera crew and give us the film of the century.
I just wish those assassins who targeted him a few years ago had paid slightly closer attention at the shooting range.
Then, maybe we wouldn't have to discuss this. After all, his debauched sons are way too incompetent to actually run a nation. Even, a third-rate pariah nation like Libya.
He sounds like an amazing man, it's just unfortunate that he isn't alive this Memorial Day.
You're right about Qadaffi, the guy's a total poseur. There's no way that he'd make the rank of col. in the United States Army.
The guy was a p***y compared to Anwar Sadat, who was a real airman.