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Five Disastrous Modern-Day Presidential Decisions Not Involving Iraq or Vietnam

Ronald and Nancy Reagan face the consequences.
Ronald and Nancy Reagan face the consequences.

Making tough decisions is what being a president is all about. But sometimes those decisions backfire.

Sometimes the backfire hurts only the president who made the decision; sometimes it hurts a whole lot of other people. Here are five most disastrous decisions made by modern presidents -- not involving a decision to invade a country that had absolutely nothing to with 9/11 and which had no WMD. Or to get involved in an Asian ground war because the "domino theory" decreed that failing to do so would lead to Communist world domination.

5. Reagan sends troops into a Lebanese civil war Lebanon in the early `80s was a horrific mess. Israel had invaded, various religions were fighting each other (they do their theological discussions armed to the teeth in the Middle East) and other groups worked hard to keep chaos alive. Ronald Reagan decided to send American troops into all this, ostensibly as "peacekeepers," but their mission was vaguely defined and they were immediately seen as the enemy by Lebanese Muslims.

The marines barracked in a lightly secured building at the airport; the sentries' rules of engagement called for them to have no clips or rounds in their weapons, which didn't help matters when they saw a suicide-bomb truck barreling at them. The blast killed 241 American servicemen. Reagan never retaliated, although he did distract attention by quickly ordering a successful, flag-waving invasion of the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada.

Rose Mary Woods demonstrates how she "accidentally" erased key evidence.
Rose Mary Woods demonstrates how she "accidentally" erased key evidence.

4. Nixon decides to tape himself Knowing that LBJ, JFK and even FDR had taped their White House conversations, Richard Nixon decided to follow suit even though he didn't have a three-initial shorthand version of his name.

That decision, of course, led to incontrovertible proof that he ordered a cover-up of the Watergate break-in, but it also exposed to the world not only the ineptness of the cover-up (secretary Rose Mary Woods said she accidentally taped over 18 and a half minutes of a crucial conversation), it also brought to light and posterity Nixon's foul-mouthed racism and anti-Semitism.

 

The element of surprise was not amongst their weaponry
The element of surprise was not amongst their weaponry

3. Kennedy goes along with the Bay of Pigs invasion The Kennedy brothers were obsessed with Fidel Castro, who had taken over Cuber, as they called it, a couple of years before JFK took office. Soon after taking over the White House, Kennedy was presented with a plan to land a force of CIA-trained Cuban nationals who would be put ashore at Cuba's romantically named Bahia de Cochinos. An instantaneous civilian uprising was supposed to ensue and drive Castro into exile or death.

Word got (extremely) out, the invaders were met with overwhelming force and Kennedy decided not to take the advice of angry generals demanding he bring in U.S. air support to save the mission.

Not only did it embarrass America greatly, it forever strained relations between JFK and his security and military people and convinced Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev that Kennedy was a weakling who wouldn't react to nukes being placed in Cuba, thus taking the world to the precipice of a nuclear World War Three.

 

The wreckage in the desert. (Not pictured: The wreckage of Jimmy Carter's re-election hopes)
The wreckage in the desert. (Not pictured: The wreckage of Jimmy Carter's re-election hopes)

2. Carter tries to rescue the hostages in Iran Jimmy Carter was flailing, and his administration was widely seen as in over its head, and all of it was symbolized by the taking of the hostages in Tehran by followers of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Although he would never admit he sought to boost his political fortunes by doing so, Carter approved an incredibly risky raid across the desert and into the metropolis, where 52 Americans would be whisked out of danger. Let's just say it didn't even look that good on paper.

Eight helicopters were involved, but the fine desert sand messed up two of them and they aborted. At a rendezvous point in an isolated part of the desert, the mission was abandoned because one of the choppers needed spare parts that were on a helicopter that had aborted. In the confusion and poor visual conditions, a helicopter and a transport plane crashed into each other, killing eight Americans.

Carter's Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, resigned in protest over the raid, and Carter's re-election, already in doubt, was doomed.

 

1. Clinton doesn't come in her mouth. Bill Clinton entered the White House with a notorious reputation as a womanizer, but the American public seemed content to not give it much thought.

In one of the country's most farcical episodes, right-wingers launched an unprecedented campaign to dig up dirt on Clinton. A special prosecutor with subpoena power used it relentlessly, even jailing witnesses whose answers he wasn't satisfied with. Ken Starr seemed obsessed with putting Clinton's alleged mistresses under oath.

Yet nothing would stick. Whitewater itself, a boring land deal incredibly hyped up to be a supposed scandal of the century (Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush had business deals far more shady with supporters), was going nowhere.

And then Clinton got distracted by an intern who flashed her thong at him in the Oval Office. Which still would have worked out all right, but mid-blow job the president could contain himself no longer, and spurted all over what would become the world's most famous blue dress. If Monica Lewinsky was a swallower, an impeachment might never have happened.


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