Murtha is Right: Reagan’s Redeployment Made America Stronger

Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) has argued recently that in Iraq, President Bush should follow the lead of President Reagan in Lebanon, who redeployed U.S. forces. Last week, Cheney responded:

If we follow Congressman Murtha’s advice and withdraw from Iraq the same way we withdrew from Beirut in 1983…we will simply validate the al Qaeda strategy and guarantee more terrorist attacks in the future.

The departure of U.S. troops did not stabilize the situation in Lebanon: the civil war raged on, Syria’s influence grew, and U.S. prestige throughout the world, especially in the Islamic world, was tarnished. But Reagan’s decision saved the United States from becoming further entangled in a raging civil-regional war and was essential to winning the broader Cold War.

As Reagan’s Asst. Defense Secretary Lawrence Korb and I have argued, the real lesson of Lebanon is that our country must be willing to change course when an operation does not advance our strategic interests.

While the Soviet Union was sinking deeper into a quagmire of its own in Afghanistan, Reagan recognized that the United States had overreached in its effort to “solve” a civil-regional war with military force. The Bush administration faces a similar choice today — whether to further drain our resources in a civil-regional war in Iraq or redeploy our assets to defeat global terrorist networks.

Much as Reagan redeployed U.S. troops to better fight the Cold War, so must we redeploy today to better fight the war on terror. Cheney’s approach “” sapping U.S. resources, further taxing the U.S. military, and immersing the United States in an escalating civil war “” endangers the entire effort.

— Max Bergmann