A former defense secretary for Ronald Reagan says he implored the
president to put Marines serving in Beirut in a safer position before
terrorists attacked them in 1983, killing 241 servicemen.
not persuasive enough to persuade the president that the Marines were
there on an impossible mission,” Caspar Weinberger says in an oral
history project capturing the views of former Reagan administration
Recollections of an initial 25 Reagan aides were
released this week by the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the
University of Virginia. Altogether, scholars interviewed 45 Cabinet
members, White House staffers and campaign advisers in a project begun
in 2001, when Reagan was secluded with advanced stages of Alzheimer’s
disease. Reagan died in June 2004 at the age of 93.
offer largely admiring portraits by Reagan’s chief loyalists and
Weinberger is no exception, crediting the president with restoring U.S.
power and outfoxing the Soviet Union.
But he said one of his
greatest regrets was in failing to overcome the arguments that
“‘Marines don’t cut and run,’ and ‘We can’t leave because we’re there'”
before the devastating suicide attack on the lightly armed force.
had no mission but to sit at the airport, which is just like sitting in
a bull’s-eye,” Weinberger said. “I begged the president at least to
pull them back and put them back on their transports as a more
On another dark corner of Reagan’s
presidency, the Iran-Contra affair, former Secretary of State George
Shultz said Reagan was so moved by meeting the families of U.S.
hostages that officials feared the encounters would cloud his judgment,
and began keeping the families at bay.
“The president, it just
drove him crazy that there were these hostages in Lebanon,” Shultz said
in his December 2002 interview. Consequently, the “cockeyed dream” took
hold of secretly selling arms to Iranians in return for their leverage
in freeing the captives.
Weinberger, who often clashed with
Shultz on foreign policy, agreed that Reagan’s “idea of trying to get
the hostages back overweighed almost everything” and arose from meeting
the families. “Those meetings destroyed him, absolutely,” he said.
said Reagan discovered that his description of the Soviet Union as an
“evil empire” twice got lopped out of drafts of his soon-to-be famous
1983 speech. “The third time he didn’t put it in the draft, but he gave
the speech with that phrase,” Weinberger said.
“And you could hear this gasp from the conventional-wisdom people virtually all over the world.”
Kuhn, Reagan’s second-term executive assistant, credited Nancy Reagan
with much of her husband’s success but said she was hard to please. He
described her as a first lady who “could ask questions that there were
no answers to.”
For example, she would demand details of the
weather in whatever place the Reagans were going. “And she’d say:
‘Rain. Why is it raining? Why is it raining in Cleveland?'” Kuhn
“I’d say, ‘Well, I guess there’s a low pressure system that came in.’
“I’d think, ‘Oh God, I’m getting in deeper here.'”
On the Net:
Ronald Reagan oral history: https://www.millercenter.org/programs/poh/reagan/