Libya: How One President Responded To Terrorism Thirty Years Ago

Terrorism isn't a new phenomenon. We tend to get caught up in today and rarely think back further in time. To those of us who were alive in the 1970's & 1980's, we can recall Libya and it's strongman dictator, Mu`ammar Qadhafi. Long before Al-Qaeda and The Islamic State, there was another Muslim terrorist who made it his mission to bring harm to America and Israel, as well as Europe. This is a history lesson that can act as a learning experience and a guidepost for us today, as we travel down this current path of increased terrorism. If we heed the lessons of history, then hopefully, with wisdom and knowledge, we can choose the right response and avoid more heartache and bloodshed.

On April 5, 1986, it was just your average Saturday night in West Berlin, Germany. Like most American servicemen, Sergeant Kenneth Ford was out on the town enjoying some free time. He chose to go to the La Belle discotheque and listen to some music. What he and numerous other people didn't realize, was that a bomb was about to go off and result in his death. A bomb was hidden under a table near the disc jockey's booth, killing Ford and a young Turkish woman, and wounding 230 others, including some 50 American military personnel. Just two weeks before the bombing, Qadhafi called for Arab assaults on American interests worldwide. Telex messages were uncovered linking the bombing to Libya and it was clear that the evidence pointed strongly to Qadhafi. The question was, how would America respond? Would they continue to pursue increased sanctions against Colonel Qadhafi or allow the United Nations to work on turning up the pressure, with limited success?

On April 15, 1986, just ten days later, President Reagan ordered the bombing of Libya and Qadhafi. The strikes included the palace in which he resided, as well as, other strategic facilities. The message that was sent was loud and clear. The speech that President Reagan made on the night of April 14, 1986, is included below in full. He gave this speech from the Oval Office at 9pm EST. As you read it, really soak up the tone and the resolve of Mr. Reagan. Read it and then try to imagine that same speech being given by President Obama today. Maybe, try to imagine Hillary Clinton making that same address from the Oval Office. Hard to fathom, isn't it? Why is that?

Address to the Nation on the United States Air Strike Against LibyaApril 14, 1986

My fellow Americans:At 7 o'clock this evening eastern time air and naval forces of the United States launched a series of strikes against the headquarters, terrorist facilities, and military assets that support Mu`ammar Qadhafi's subversive activities. The attacks were concentrated and carefully targeted to minimize casualties among the Libyan people with whom we have no quarrel. From initial reports, our forces have succeeded in their mission.
Several weeks ago in New Orleans, I warned Colonel Qadhafi we would hold his regime accountable for any new terrorist attacks launched against American citizens. More recently I made it clear we would respond as soon as we determined conclusively who was responsible for such attacks. On April 5th in West Berlin a terrorist bomb exploded in a nightclub frequented by American servicemen. Sergeant Kenneth Ford and a young Turkish woman were killed and 230 others were wounded, among them some 50 American military personnel. This monstrous brutality is but the latest act in Colonel Qadhafi's reign of terror. The evidence is now conclusive that the terrorist bombing of La Belle discotheque was planned and executed under the direct orders of the Libyan regime. On March 25th, more than a week before the attack, orders were sent from Tripoli to the Libyan People's Bureau in East Berlin to conduct a terrorist attack against Americans to cause maximum and indiscriminate casualties. Libya's agents then planted the bomb. On April 4th the People's Bureau alerted Tripoli that the attack would be carried out the following morning. The next day they reported back to Tripoli on the great success of their mission.
Our evidence is direct; it is precise; it is irrefutable. We have solid evidence about other attacks Qadhafi has planned against the United States installations and diplomats and even American tourists. Thanks to close cooperation with our friends, some of these have been prevented. With the help of French authorities, we recently aborted one such attack: a planned massacre, using grenades and small arms, of civilians waiting in line for visas at an American Embassy.
Colonel Qadhafi is not only an enemy of the United States. His record of subversion and aggression against the neighboring States in Africa is well documented and well known. He has ordered the murder of fellow Libyans in countless countries. He has sanctioned acts of terror in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, as well as the Western Hemisphere. Today we have done what we had to do. If necessary, we shall do it again. It gives me no pleasure to say that, and I wish it were otherwise. Before Qadhafi seized power in 1969, the people of Libya had been friends of the United States. And I'm sure that today most Libyans are ashamed and disgusted that this man has made their country a synonym for barbarism around the world. The Libyan people are a decent people caught in the grip of a tyrant.
To our friends and allies in Europe who cooperated in today's mission, I would only say you have the permanent gratitude of the American people. Europeans who remember history understand better than most that there is no security, no safety, in the appeasement of evil. It must be the core of Western policy that there be no sanctuary for terror. And to sustain such a policy, free men and free nations must unite and work together. Sometimes it is said that by imposing sanctions against Colonel Qadhafi or by striking at his terrorist installations we only magnify the man's importance, that the proper way to deal with him is to ignore him. I do not agree.
Long before I came into this office, Colonel Qadhafi had engaged in acts of international terror, acts that put him outside the company of civilized men. For years, however, he suffered no economic or political or military sanction; and the atrocities mounted in number, as did the innocent dead and wounded. And for us to ignore by inaction the slaughter of American civilians and American soldiers, whether in nightclubs or airline terminals, is simply not in the American tradition. When our citizens are abused or attacked anywhere in the world on the direct orders of a hostile regime, we will respond so long as I'm in this Oval Office. Self-defense is not only our right, it is our duty. It is the purpose behind the mission undertaken tonight, a mission fully consistent with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.
We believe that this preemptive action against his terrorist installations will not only diminish Colonel Qadhafi's capacity to export terror, it will provide him with incentives and reasons to alter his criminal behavior. I have no illusion that tonight's action will ring down the curtain on Qadhafi's reign of terror. But this mission, violent though it was, can bring closer a safer and more secure world for decent men and women. We will persevere. This afternoon we consulted with the leaders of Congress regarding what we were about to do and why. Tonight I salute the skill and professionalism of the men and women of our Armed Forces who carried out this mission. It's an honor to be your Commander in Chief.
We Americans are slow to anger. We always seek peaceful avenues before resorting to the use of force -- and we did. We tried quiet diplomacy, public condemnation, economic sanctions, and demonstrations of military force. None succeeded. Despite our repeated warnings, Qadhafi continued his reckless policy of intimidation, his relentless pursuit of terror. He counted on America to be passive. He counted wrong. I warned that there should be no place on Earth where terrorists can rest and train and practice their deadly skills. I meant it. I said that we would act with others, if possible, and alone if necessary to ensure that terrorists have no sanctuary anywhere. Tonight, we have.
Thank you, and God bless you.
Note: The President spoke at 9 p.m. from the Oval Office at the White House. The address was broadcast live on nationwide radio and television.

What lessons can we learn from this moment in history? There are several. First of all, terrorism needs to be acknowledged, called out, and then confronted head on. To be continually weak and not ever responding to terrorist attacks, you invite more aggressive attacks. By failing to have a backbone and fighting back, you just embolden the terrorists. Secondly, while the use of sanctions and restrictions against terrorist organizations and rogue terrorist nations has a place, you have to understand that can't be your only option. Countries like Libya and Iraq, ignored and thumbed their noses at the United Nations, and continued to support and carry out terror attacks throughout the world. Force is not only an option that needs to be considered, history shows us, it is an absolute must in confronting evil.  Lastly, a strong and capable military allows you to respond with stunning might and quickness, anywhere it is needed. A weak president and a weak military only invite more instability and chaos. You tie your hands behind your back and allow your enemies to dictate their will on you.

The intent of this piece is to educate and provide insight from our past. Do we, like President Reagan, believe that it is necessary to ensure that terrorists have no sanctuary anywhere in the world? Or do we wish to cower in fear and continue to live with increasingly more deadly terrorist attacks? What do we want from our next President of the United States? Do we want a true leader and Commander in Chief or do we want another enabler and someone who lacks a backbone? These are questions that the American people have to think about and study as we head to November. It is quite clear that Mrs. Clinton would be just a continuation of President Obama's foreign policy approach. The question really is, can you envision Mr. Trump making a decision like this and addressing the American people in this manner? And if you can't, then where does that leave us, as we seek some much needed direction and resolve in an increasingly unsafe world?


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