Radio Address to the Nation on the Situation in Lebanon

October 8, 1983

My fellow Americans:

I'm sure you're all aware of the debate during recent days and weeks with regard to our marines in Lebanon. Congress, on a strong bipartisan basis, has passed a resolution approving their presence there for 18 months if need be. But in the debate, many questions were raised as to what they were doing there and whether their presence there was in our national interest. In the midst of all this debate, I received a letter from the father of a young marine corporal stationed in Beirut, Lebanon.

Justly proud of his son, he enclosed a clipping from his hometown paper. It was a letter to the editor written by his son. And here's what the young corporal had to say about the marines and whether or not there was a reason for their presence in Lebanon. His family had been sending him the hometown paper, and he'd noticed ``editorials and opinions denouncing American involvement in the various troublespots of the world, particularly Central America and the Middle East.''

He went on to say, ``I've been keeping up with what's happening in Central America, and I have firsthand knowledge of what is happening in the Middle East. In the case of Central America, the general American consensus is to stay out, that we're getting into another Vietnam. Whenever American military forces go abroad, the average American believes that we should keep to ourselves and mind our own business. I'm not an advocate of war,'' he says, ``as I've seen the ravages of war here in Lebanon. War is a very terrible thing. Yet when diplomatic methods fail, we must be prepared to defend and, if necessary, to die for what we believe in, for the American way of life. I do not enjoy being here in Beirut. My fellow marines and I miss the simple yet wonderful aspects of life back home that so many take for granted. Yet, we realize we'll be going home in a few months. But the people of, say, El Salvador or Lebanon are home. For them, there is no escape. It is our duty as Americans to stop the cancerous spread of Soviet influence wherever it may be, because someday we or some future generation will wake up and find the U.S.A. to be the only free state left, with communism upon our doorstep. And then it will be too late.''

A young marine corporal writing from Beirut, Lebanon, to his hometown paper -- there's no doubt in his mind about the need for us to have a presence there. But many of us are not that sure. Many believe we are involving ourselves needlessly in someone else's quarrel and should bring our young men home and mind our own business. The corporal may not have spelled out the specifics as to why it was in our best interest to be there, but he was certainly correct in his conclusion that it is our business.

Can the United States or the free world stand by and see the Middle East incorporated into the Soviet bloc? What of Western Europe and Japan's dependence on Middle East oil for the energy to fuel their industry? Do we remember the oil embargo and the lines at our own gas stations? And didn't we assume a moral obligation to the continued existence of Israel as a nation back in 1948? I've never heard anyone in this country ever suggest that we should abandon that obligation.

A little over a year ago, I proposed a peace initiative for the entire Middle East. It was based on the Camp David accords and the United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338. We offered our help in bringing the Arab States and Israel together in negotiations to settle the longstanding disputes that had kept that entire area in turmoil for many years. We sought more peace treaties like the one between Egypt and Israel.

Lebanon, the site of refugee camps for a great many Palestinians, had been torn by strife for several years. There were factions, each with its own militia, fighting each other. Terrorists in Lebanon violated Israel's northern border, killing innocent civilians. Syrian forces occupied the eastern part of Lebanon. Israeli military finally invaded from the south to force the PLO attackers away from the border. There could be no implementation of our peace initiative until this situation was resolved.

With our allies -- England, France, and Italy -- we proposed a withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon and formed a multinational force to help maintain order and stability in the Beirut area while a new Lebanese Government and army undertook to restore sovereignty throughout Lebanon.

Over the course of several months, Lebanon and Israel negotiated a friendly agreement for security of the border between the two. We stand by this as a good agreement. But Syria, which had earlier agreed to withdraw if Israel did, changed its mind, and today has some 5,000 Soviet advisers and technicians and a massive amount of new Soviet equipment in its country, including a new generation of surface-to-surface missiles -- the SS - 21. We have to wonder aloud about Syrian protestations of their peaceful intentions.

For a year, we've continued diplomatic negotiations leading to the present cease-fire. President Gemayel is committed to a process of national reconciliation as the means to end factional fighting. The presence of our marines as part of the multinational force demonstrates that Lebanon does not stand alone. Peace for the Middle East and a fair settlement of the Palestinian problem is truly in our national interest.

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, Md.