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A Tale of Two Presidents
Making Sense, by Michael Reagan
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This is the story of two very different American presidents and how they each answered their emergency Libyan phone calls.
First, the story of Ronald Reagan. When he got a call about trouble with Libya it was in August of 1981 and I happened to be having dinner with him and Nancy in Los Angeles.
We had just finished eating and were having coffee when Ed Meese phoned. Meese was my father’s top policy adviser, and there was a serious military crisis brewing in the Mediterranean.
At the time, the United States Navy was conducting war exercises in international waters in the Gulf of Sidra off the Libyan coast.
Since 1973 Moammar Gadhafi had claimed the gulf was part of Libya’s territorial waters and had “drawn a line” in the water that no one could cross.
The United States ignored the claim, which clearly violated international law, and during naval maneuvers in 1973 and again in the fall of 1980 our reconnaissance planes were fired on by Libyan fighter planes.
Jimmy Carter had cancelled American war games in the Gulf of Sidra because he didn’t want to upset Gadhafi. But when my father took office he ordered them to be resumed.
Ed Meese told my father over the phone that Gadhafi was sending out fighters that were locking onto our planes with their radar. There was worry that one of the Libyan jets would fire on one of our airplanes.
Meese asked my father what we should do if our planes were fired upon.
“Ed, fire back,” he said.
“What if they fire at our planes and run?”
“Chase them,” my father said.
“What happens if they fire on our boys and not only fire and run, they fly back into their own airspace?”
“Ed, if they fire on our boys, you chase them all the way back to their hangars if necessary, but you shoot them down.”
“Fine, Mr. President. Should I call you and wake you if necessary?”
“No,” my father said. “Only call me if our boys are shot down.”
The next morning we woke up to find two Libyan Su-22 fighter planes destroyed because a missile had been fired at one of our F-14 Tomcats. Meese never called my father to tell him because our boys were not shot down.
When his emergency phone call came in, Ronald Reagan answered it like a commander in chief.
When President Obama’s call came in telling him our consulate in Benghazi was under attack by terrorists, he put American lives on hold.
He didn’t send in the Marines or scramble jets. He was too busy trying to be eye-candy on “The View” or making his appointment for his fund-raiser in Vegas.
That’s the difference between two presidents -- one strong, one weak. One who answered the call, one who did not.
And you can add a third president to this story. As weak as he was, Jimmy Carter at least tried to rescue the hostages in Tehran. Barack Obama did not even try to save our brave men in Benghazi.
I tell that story about how my father dealt with his Libyan crisis to show you the stark difference between him and our sorry excuse for a commander in chief who wants four more years in office.
We all understand that next week’s election will come down to “the economy, stupid” for many people. But we should never forget how a president should answer the call when American lives are on the line.
Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan, a political consultant, and the author of “The New Reagan Revolution” (St. Martin’s Press). He is the founder and chairman of The Reagan Group and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation. Visit his websites at and Send comments to Follow @reaganworld on Twitter.