Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on the Pentagon Report on the Security of United States Marines in Lebanon
December 27, 1983
The President. Good morning.
I received the report of the Long commission last Friday and have reviewed it thoroughly. The report draws a conclusion that the United States and its military institutions are by tradition and training inadequately equipped to deal with the fundamentally new phenomenon of state-supported terrorism. I wholeheartedly agree.
The thrust of the history of this country is that we've recognized a clear distinction between being at peace with other states and being at war. We have never before faced a situation in which others routinely sponsor and facilitate acts of violence against us while hiding behind proxies and surrogates which claim -- they claim they do not fully control.
Now, this problem is not unique to Lebanon. We've seen the ugly manifestation in Kuwait, the terrorist bombing in Rangoon, the senseless murder of Turkish diplomats, the attack on the Pope, the bombing of our own Capitol, and on the streets of London.
In the days ahead we need to systematically redevelop our approach to this problem, recognizing that the worst outcome of all is one in which terrorists succeed in transforming an open democracy into a closed fortress. Now, one fact, though, is already obvious: The problem of terrorism will not disappear if we run from it. This is not to say that we're not working as urgently as possible to create political conditions in Lebanon that will make it possible for us to remove our forces. But we must not delude ourselves into believing that terrorism will vanish on the happy day that our forces come home.
For terrorists to be curbed, civilized countries must begin a new effort to work together, to share intelligence, to improve our training and security and our forces, to deny havens or legal protection for terrorist groups and, most important of all, to hold increasingly accountable those countries which sponsor terrorism and terrorist activity around the world.
The United States intends to be in the forefront of this effort. For the near term, corrective action is being urgently taken to ensure the maximum possible security of our forces. Nearly all the measures that were identified by the distinguished members of the Commission have already implemented -- or have already been implemented, I should say -- and those that have not will be very quickly.
The Commission report also notes that the mission of the marines is extremely difficult, and with this, too, there can be no dispute. We recognized the fact at the beginning, and we're painfully mindful of it today. But the point is that our forces have already contributed to achievements that lay the foundation for a future peace, the restoration of a central government, and the establishment of an effective national Lebanese Army. We do not expect utopia, but I believe that we're on the verge of new progress toward national reconciliation and the withdrawal of foreign forces.
And let me finally say that I have soberly considered the Commission's word about accountability and responsibility of authorities up and down the chain of command. And everywhere more should be done to anticipate and prepare for dramatic terrorist assaults. We have to come to grips with the fact that today's terrorists are better armed and financed, they are more sophisticated, they are possessed by a fanatical intensity that individuals of a democratic society can only barely comprehend.
I do not believe, therefore, that the local commanders on the ground, men who have already suffered quite enough, should be punished for not fully comprehending the nature of today's terrorist threat. If there is to be blame, it properly rests here in this Office and with this President. And I accept responsibility for the bad as well as the good.
In this holiday season, our minds are drawn more than ever to the Middle East. And while the violence of this region has been the cause of much of our anguish -- certainly over the recent years -- it is also worth recalling that the three great religions of the modern world have their roots in this ancient and austere soil.
From this paradox, we can take hope. And I intend to bend every effort to ensure that those who died in this tragedy can claim as their ultimate legacy the mantle of peacemaker over this troubled and vital land.
Q. Mr. President, there have been -- it's understood that you've been very concerned that these two reports might indicate that these men did die in vain. Do you have that fear or concern?
The President. No. I've been concerned that sometimes, in some of the debate and some of the political discussion about this, that an effort will be made to create this. And I think it would be tragic for the families who have lost a loved one if this comes about, because it hasn't been in vain. The cause was worthwhile, or four major nations would not have engaged in trying to find a solution.
Q. And so you intend to stay in Lebanon to see this through?
The President. We are reviewing all the facets of this -- the locale, everything else -- and going to intensively look at all the alternatives there might be. But I do believe that, yes, that while there's hope for peace we have to remain.
Q. Mr. President, you suggest in your statement that some sort of international commission be established to combat terrorism on an international front. Is that what you're saying here?
The President. No. I was talking about nations, themselves, recognizing that this terrorism isn't just some fanatical individual who gets an idea and goes out on his own. There is evidence enough -- even if you couldn't go into court with it -- that it has at least a kind of tacit encouragement from various political groups, and even from some states.
We have to recognize that. And then I believe rather than an international commission, I think that a much better exchange of intelligence information, everything of that kind that we can get.
The terrorist activities have multiplied, as the report shows, to three or four times as many incidents around the world as there were in 1968. And, incidentally, 53 percent of those have been aimed at American -- at United States' targets.
Q. Sir, if I may ask just one followup. You say in your statement we should expect more terrorism. And the impression that I get -- and, perhaps, the American people may get -- is that government knows a lot more than it's saying about what we could expect. I mean is there, again, any definite plan that you've discovered which may lead to, perhaps, more terrorism in this country?
The President. Well, we just know that these various groups have threatened. Well, and many times you, yourselves, in the press, have carried these threats where they've made them public, that they are going to continue these activities and step them up.
Q. Mr. President, if there's no change in the situation, is there a time when you would want to bring the troops home?
Deputy Press Secretary Speakes. Let's make this the last question, please.
The President. Well, he also had his hand up.
Mr. Speakes. Oh, all right -- --
Mr. Speakes. -- -- and then the last one.
The President. I was caught there between two.
Let me just say that I got into trouble a little while ago from trying to answer a hypothetical question with a hypothetical answer. And various interpretations were placed on it.
We are making every effort, and stepping up our diplomatic efforts, to bring about what I think must be the answer -- not a military, but a political solution there. And we're going to, as I say, step those up and continue doing everything we can to bring that about.
There is reason to believe that the presence of the multinational force has made some progress. We have, now, an agreement between Lebanon and Israel which has Israel's agreement to withdraw. I don't believe that it's impossible to have a similar kind of agreement with Syria, which would recognize some of Syria's interests. And we know that at Geneva there was a kind of tacit recognition that the present government of Lebanon was the government of Lebanon.
Q. Mr. President, do you welcome Jesse Jackson's trip to Syria to try and win the release of Lieutenant Goodman?
The President. Well, I would like to have some better understanding of what is contemplated there, because sometimes efforts of this kind can be counterproductive.
We are doing everything we can, and working as completely as we can, diplomatically, to bring about his release. And it's possible that, sometimes, someone with the best of intentions could change the balance unfavorably.
Q. He's going to call you. Are you going to take his call?
The President. Why, certainly. I wouldn't have any reason not to.
Mr. Speakes. Thank you, Mr. President.
Q. Thank you.
The President. All right.
Well, I hope you all had a merry Christmas. And Happy New Year.
Note: The President spoke at 9:16 a.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House. The report was prepared by a commission headed by retired Adm. Robert L. J. Long.