WEST BERLIN -- President Ronald Reagan got plenty of mileage out of his 1986 bombing raid against Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, his "mad dog of the Middle East." Reagan had blamed Gadhafi for the bombing of a West Berlin disco, La Belle, that killed two U.S. servicemen. And the United States retaliated with a strike against Gadhafi's headquarters in Tripoli.
But the raid, despite Reagan's boasting, was a failure in both of its missions -- to end Libyan-sponsored terrorism and to kill Gadhafi. West European and American intelligence sources confirmed that there has been more Libyan-sponsored terrorism since the raid than before it.
The lesson for President Bush is one that he already privately knows -- that military action against terrorists (Saddam Hussein of Iraq being the mad dog du jour) only escalates the violence.
Reagan was able to strut his victory over Gadhafi because Gadhafi covered up his tracks when he made terrorist strikes after the Tripoli raid. He simply hired foreigners to do his dirty work.
The classified history of Libyan-sponsored terrorism reveals that until 1986, Gadhafi made few serious moves to harm Americans. But that changed after Reagan sent 18 warplanes to bomb Tripoli. Their mission was to bomb Gadhafi and his family. When they failed, he came out fighting.
Libya has attempted to kill hundreds of Americans since the raid, beginning on the day of the raid, April 15, 1986, when Libyan agents shot a U.S. Embassy communications officer in Khartoum, Sudan.
Top secret reports indicate that it was Gadhafi who paid a Lebanese group as much as $1 million to kill American hostage Peter Kilburn two days later. Three days after the raid, Turkish police caught two Libyans with hand grenades on their way to a U.S. officers' club in Ankara, Turkey, where a wedding reception was going on.
Ten days after the raid, Libyan agents wounded a U.S. Embassy communications officer in North Yemen. Three months later, nine people were arrested in a Libyan-sponsored plot to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Lome, Togo. Four months after the Tripoli raid, Libyan-sponsored terrorists hijacked Pan Am Flight 73 in Karachi, Pakistan, killing 21 people, two of them Americans.
In May 1987, Egyptians with ties to Libya tried to murder three U.S. Embassy workers in Egypt.
Two days before the second anniversary of the raid, a Japanese Red Army terrorist was arrested with a bomb on the New Jersey Turnpike. He was on his way to blow up the United Nations. Other anniversary attacks in 1988 included a car bomb that killed an American outside a USO club in Naples and bombings of U.S. government facilities in Colombia, Spain, Costa Rica and Peru.
A Libyan-backed group remembered the third anniversary last year by trying to bomb the U.S. Information Service center in Peru.
Gadhafi announced last October that he was weary of the terrorism business and worried that he couldn't control his hired help anymore. In an interview with a Cairo magazine, Gadhafi blamed Reagan for "muscle flexing," and said Libya was now more inclined to negotiate.