The invasion of Grenada should draw attention to three different dimensions of American actions – the strategic importance of the Caribbean, the relationship between the media and government policy, and the response of politicians. The following essays by Professor Harold W. Rood, Professor Richard Reeb, and Theodore Blanton (former legislative assistant for Senator Daniel P. Moynihan) reflect on these themes.
GRENADA: THE STRATEGIC DIMENSION
By Harold W. Rood
Serious questions have been raised about the action taken by the United States and five members of the organization of Eastern Caribbean States in seizing the island of Grenada from Bernard Coard and his Cuban and East European cohorts. Prime Minister Eugenia Charles of Dominica, who contributed forces to the invasion of Grenada, described it as “a matter of preventing this thing [Marxism] from spreading throughout the islands.”*
A large majority of Americans gave evidence of supporting the relief of Grenada from the grip of the Marxists who had seized power in the island, responding as though the safety of the United States had been at stake. But mere popular support for American use of force has seldom, in the aftermath, satisfied those who deplore American foreign policy in any case. It is true that “popular opposition” to the war in Vietnam was taken as an adequate reason for the United States to abandon South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia to the Communists.
That did not, however, set any precedent for the inclusion of popularity as a criterion for judging the correctness of U.S. actions abroad. The notion that ordinary citizens of the country might have the intelligence, span of attention or even intuition to judge when the United States was being threatened by foreign powers, is hardly acceptable in those august circles that claim a monopoly of right thinking about what it is proper for the United States to do and not to do in defense of the Republic.
And the defense of the Republic, in the end, is the issue upon which judgment about the invasion of Grenada must turn. If the establishment of a Communist government in Central America is a nominal event unrelated to the safety of the United States, then the invasion of Grenada was gratuitous interference without merit.
If, on the other hand, establishment of a Communist government in Grenada, supported by Cuba, the Soviet Union, North Korea, East Germany-and other Communist powers, reflected Soviet strategy with the United States as its geographical objective, then the invasion was a crucial act in the strategic defense of the United States.
A survey of Soviet foreign policy and Western responses to it reveals two persistent themes: the opportunistic Soviet drive toward world hegemony and the concomitant belief of many sophisticated Western intellectuals to label this as a fantasy and to attribute a benignness to Soviet actions. Any attempt to understand the American response in Grenada apart from Soviet motivations is sure to go awry.
For many historians, the important question remains to be answered: whether the Soviet Union seriously intends to reorder the entire world into a Socialized commonwealth of nations. The 1948 Communist coup in Czechoslovakia, for example, was seen in some quarters as no more than an orderly readjustment of internal politics consequent upon the increasing number of Communists holding power in the Czech government. The suppression of the East German Workers’ rebellion, of the Hungarian revolution, and the invasion of Czechoslovakia by 25 Warsaw Pact divisions might be seen as indelicate and perhaps even ruthless. But those incidents were no evidence of Soviet policy toward the West; they were simply an understandable inclination on the part of the Soviet Union to keep order in what had become the Soviet household.
The judgment of what is high policy and what is simple rhetoric must turn on whether effort, blood, and treasure are expended. That upon which effort blood and treasure are expended is high policy. If no exertions are made, then the words that pretend to be policy are empty ones.
When President Kennedy vowed, in April 1961, never to “abandon Cuba” to the Communists and then did so as the consequence of the settlement of the Cuban missile crisis, the President’s words were not policy but empty rhetoric. When the Soviet Union stationed its troops in Cuba and developed military, naval, and air facilities there, it lent evidence to the fact that Soviet policy was at work. And that policy was described in the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1974:
The Soviet-Cuban Declaration signed by Comrades L. I. Brezhnev and Fidel Castro is a highly important document. It generalized the 15 years of experience of truly international cooperation between the world’s first socialist country and Latin America’s first socialist state, and it outlines a broad program for the further planned development of political, economic and cultural ties between the U.S.S.R. and Cuba, exchanges of experience in socialist and communist construction, and coordinated actions in the struggle to strengthen the solidarity of the socialist commonwealth and the world communist movement on the basis of the principles of Marxist-Leninism and proletarian internationalism.
Though International Socialism has evolved in various aspects, its enemy has remained the same: “capitalist democracy” and its American guardians. In 1969, Pravda wrote, “The developing countries that are freeing themselves of colonial oppression . . . form an inseparable part of the anti-imperialist front. This proves that there were no real neutrals in the struggle for the two world systems.”
And Leonid Brezhnev gave a clue to what comprised “the two world systems,” speaking in East Germany in 1969:
Of course, the Old World, the world of oppression and violence, will not surrender its positions of its own free will. It is making use of all the weapons in its arsenal. . . . But these are the hopeless efforts of a doomed system. The historical initiative belongs to socialism; it is on the offensive, and the future will belong to it, to socialism.
And this in 1973:
The leaders of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Socialist Unity Party of Germany emphasized that the positive changes in international life are to a decisive extent connected with the coordinated, purposeful actions of the socialist states . . . new opportunities are opening up for the cohesion of the socialist countries, the World Communist Movement and all progressive forces. . . .
Ten years later, Brezhnev’s successor Yuri Andropov, speaking to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s Central Committee, referred to the “two competing social systems of the East and West . . . locked in a momentous struggle for the hearts and minds of billions of people.” He said, “The future of mankind depends in no small measure on the outcome of this ideological struggle.” And Konstantin Chernenko, Andropov’s supposed rival, echoed the same sentiments in describing the world situation as “a tense, truly global struggle of two ideologies.”
Five thousand and one hundred miles from Moscow, in Havana, one year before, Osvaldo Porticos, member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Cuba and Vice President of the Council of Ministers, opened the 21st Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) Conference on Legal Affairs. In the presence of delegations from the CMEA Secretariat, the U.S.S.R., Bulgaria, Hungary, Mongolia, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Romania, Poland, and Cuba, he emphasized the need to “speed up the coordination process toward the ultimate goals of building a true worldwide socialist economic system.”
In 1974, the Assistant Director of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Economics of the International Socialist System, described in a Soviet journal the processes for the eventual unification of the economies of the socialist countries. He said, “The planned unification of national economies is leading to the gradual formation of a new economic community-an international complex that is the economic basis of the integrated commonwealth of socialist states,” for, he said,
Socialist economic integration is the concrete path for the realization of the objective law of development of world socialism, of the historic tendency toward the creation of a new international division of labor . . . the new really unified world economy of which Lenin wrote.
One of the mechanisms for bringing about integration was, according to the Assistant Director, “the formation of transnational complexes” based on “international ownership, several ownership by participating countries, national ownership by one country, or a combination of forms of ownership.” Caesar Perazzi, writing in Panorama (Milan) in 1983, described what he called “the Red Multinationals,” numbering “at least 544 companies”:
Their investments total billions of dollars. They control hundreds of companies. . . . They are the eastern bloc multinationals. . . . They include financial, industrial, and trade groups with headquarters in the Soviet Union or in other C.M.E.A, Countries . . . Bulgaria, Rumania, East Germany. . . .
That the “ideological struggle between the two world systems” might have an economic component is not surprising. Nor should it be unexpected that the “struggle” would have a strategic component, for it is against the existence and nature of that component that United States policy in the Caribbean has to be judged.
As to the Caribbean, the organ of the government of the People’s Republic of China, The Beijing Review (Peking) described Soviet policy:
For years the Soviet Union has wanted to turn Cuba into its unsinkable aircraft carrier, 90 miles from the United Slates, and make the island the bridgehead for expansion into the Western Hemisphere. Soviet planes are free to use the three existing Cuban air bases. Soviet long-range high-altitude strategic reconnaissance aircraft have frequently appeared over the Caribbean Sea on reconnaissance and information-collecting missions. Soviet pilots even flew Cuban air defense missions while their Cuban counterparts were sent to fight in Africa. All Cuban ports are open to Soviet warships. . . . Exposing Soviet global strategy, Latin American commentaries point out that the Soviet drive to turn Cuba into a forward position and to continue the military build-up there is not only directed at the United States, but also against Latin American countries. . . .
Recently when a Soviet Victor III-class submarine seemed in distress off the coast near Charleston, South Carolina, the strategic significance of Cuba to Soviet policy was rendered evident. The Soviet submarine-rescue vessel did not come out of the naval base at Murmansk to help the Victor III, it came out of the Soviet submarine base at Cien-fuegos, Cuba.
And it is certainly true to say that the countries associated with the Warsaw Pact and C.E.M.A. manifest more than casual interest in affairs of Latin American countries! In 1971, Mexico found itself beset by guerrillas who were Mexican students that had been recruited in Moscow at Patrice Lumumba University, received North Korean passports in East Berlin, and were then sent to North Korea for guerrilla training in a camp outside Pyongyang. From North Korea, they were sent back to Mexico to begin operations against that country’s government.
It was not out of character for the Cuban Foreign Minister, Comrade Isidorio Peoli to state that “The revolutionary awakening in Latin America and the Caribbean is an irreversible fact that is shaking the foundations of U.S. imperialism in the very area that it always considered its undisputed back yard.” What was odd was that Comrade Peoli would say it during an official visit to Hanoi in September 1981. The November 1981 discovery in Venezuela of an Iraqi espionage ring that worked for Cuban intelligence suggests the intricate web of relationships that serve the strategic interests of the Soviet Union and its many allies.
In Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, according to reports in January 1980 from Jamaica, special branch police uncovered Cuban spies who had obtained Venezuelan passports to come to Trinidad as “students.” They were uncovered when Cuba came out in favor of “the revolution that put Maurice Bishop in power in Grenada.” That same month, the Trinidad Guardian reported that “scores of Trinidadians are now undergoing training in terrorism, sabotage, and guerrilla warfare by Cubans in Grenada. . . .”
And in Havana, in November 1981, the secretary of the Libyan people’s bureau declared his country to be an ally of Cuba, while Cuba in its turn was undertaking highway and other construction projects in Libya. The guerrilla movement in El Salvador, the FMLN, sent delegates to Libya to participate in the World Conference of Solidarity with Libya.
Cuba and Mozambique expressed their fraternal relations during the course of a meeting of the Cuban-Mozambian Joint Commission in Havana, also in November 1981, as though Cuba were an African power, which of course it is since it has armed forces stationed in a half dozen African countries, including Mozambique. Finally, that same month Dmitur Stanishev, secretary of the Bulgarian Communist Party, met with Jesus Montane Oropesa, member of the Secretariat and of the Politburo of the Cuban Communist Party in Havana to celebrate Bulgarian Cultural Week.
Such goings and comings between the Caribbean, Africa, the Balkans, and East Europe often include Soviet defense ministers visiting the Caribbean or the defense ministers of countries like Cuba and Nicaragua meeting with their counterparts in the Warsaw Pact.
It is hardly to be wondered at, then, that non-Communist governments in the Caribbean might become alarmed when it was reported that “Cuba has been assisting Grenada in a number of areas such as fisheries, communications, and the construction of the island’s first international airport.”
Grenada International Airport
Why should Cuba wish there to be an “International Airport” on the island of Grenada? Certainly the Cubans seem to be air-minded, having 197 airfields, with 33 having runways in excess of 2,400 meters. Norway, which has a coastline as long as that of Cuba but an area three times as large, has 93 fewer airfields, 5 fewer having runways in excess of 2,400 meters. There is a difference, of course: Norway has general aviation in addition to military and commercial aviation; that is, Norwegian citizens may own and operate private aircraft for pleasure or other purposes. There is no general aviation in Cuba since all Cuban aircraft are owned and operated by the government. What the Cuban government means by an International Airport, therefore, is not quite the same as what is meant in Norway by the same term. (See The World Factbook, 1983 [Washington, D.C.: Central Intelligence Agency, 1983].)
Afghanistan, a country whose annual per capita income is $225, as against Norway’s annual per capita income of $13,915 and Cuba’s per capita income of $1,372, has 38 airfields, of which 25 have runways in excess of 2,400 meters. It is not just that Afghanistan possesses only six large transport aircraft, but that the principal airfields in the country were constructed by Soviet engineers between 1956 and 1976, during which time Soviet engineers constructed, as well, a series of modern highways connecting the airfields but also connecting the Afghan highway system with that of the Soviet Union. The highway system that connected with the Soviet Union became the routes over which Soviet motorized divisions moved into Afghanistan, while the airports were those used by Soviet airborne forces for their part in the invasion of the country. For example, 5,000 Soviet troops with tanks and artillery were airlifted into Bagram airport, north of Kabul, and used it to seize and hold the highway between Kabul and the Soviet border for the entry of the Soviet motorized units.
It is evident that airports can have some strategic value. Therefore, Cuban and Soviet interests, which run in tandem with one another in Africa, may well have been reflected in the airfield constructed nearby to Point Salines in Grenada. The interest may have been the development of civil aviation in the Caribbean; the CMEA countries held their conference on that subject in Havana in November 1981. The countries present at that conference included Bulgaria, Hungary, Vietnam, East Germany, Cuba, Mongolia, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union. And that was the month when it became evident that Cuba was undertaking the construction of the airfield in Grenada. But since “civil aviation” in Communist countries is government aviation, its purpose may be not entirely civil.
Soviet interest in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico has been, since the Cuban revolution, more than nominal and manifested in ways that were material, encompassing the movement of great quantities of military, naval and air equipment into the region, frequent visits by elements of the Soviet fleet, the basing of Soviet combat troops and air units in Cuba, and regular flights of Soviet reconnaissance aircraft out of Cuba along the Atlantic Coast of the United States. The Revolution in Nicaragua and the guerrilla insurrection in El Salvador seemed to intensify Soviet interest in the area. By 1982, it had become such an important area in Soviet eyes that a new ambassador was named to Cuba. He was Konstantin Katushev, who was a deputy premier of the Soviet Union and a member of the Secretariat of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
One may only speculate about what use an airfield on Grenada would have for Cuba and the Warsaw Pact powers. For example, Grenada lies at a distance of about 2,700 miles from Guinea-Bissau on the West Coast of Africa. Guinea-Bissau, with a per capita GNP of $141 per year, with a land area of 36,260 km2, a population of 827,000, enjoys the services of 53 airfields, eight of which have runways up to 2,439 meters. Belgium, with a land area only slightly smaller and ten times the population and a per capita GNP 90 times that of Guinea-Bissau, has 7 fewer airfields. Yet Guinea-Bissau has
only two transport aircraft while Belgium has 50 major transport aircraft in its commercial airlines and general aviation as well. The army of Guinea-Bissau is equipped with Soviet tanks, armored personnel carriers, and artillery. The navy is equipped with Soviet naval craft, and the air force with Soviet Yak transports and Mi-helicopters. But perhaps more important, Cuban military personnel are stationed in the country, and Cuba and Guinea-Bissau have more than a speaking relation with one another.
What that means is that Soviet aircraft flying from the Soviet Union via Libya could cross the Atlantic from Guinea-Bissau to refuel at Grenada and continue on to Cuba, 1,000 miles to the northwest, to Nicaragua 1,400 miles to the west, or to El Salvador should that country become accessible. And the flights would take place outside the purview of the air defense warning system of the United States. Soviet aircraft now fly into the Caribbean from Murmansk via Iceland, Greenland, down the coast of Nova Scotia and the Atlantic Coast of the United States. Libyan aircraft flying arms and equipment into the Caribbean area have, in the past, been caught up in Brazil or Colombia, and their efforts to deliver arms into the Caribbean on those occasions were frustrated.
Grenada and Soviet Foreign Policy
An island like Grenada, therefore, can be not just a refueling base for aircraft in transit across the mid-Atlantic, but also an arsenal where weapons can be accumulated for infiltration into those countries within small-boat range where it might be fruitful for Soviet-Cuban policy to support guerrilla movements aimed at overthrowing governments in those countries that might fall under the strategic or political attention of the Soviet Union and its allies. Trinidad-Tobago, Colombia, and Venezuela all have been beset by much guerrilla movements and, as the Trinidad Guardian reported, Grenada was being used as a base for training guerrillas for deployment into Trinidad.
An island like Grenada could be used as well as a base for deployment of Soviet, Cuban, or Libyan submarines to operate in the Caribbean, beyond the ordinary patrol paths of anti-submarine patrol aircraft operating out of American bases. The submarines themselves are the means for infiltrating guerrillas, sabotage parties, or intelligence agents into countries like those of the Caribbean area.
The deployment of airborne troops is not to be discounted as a use for an airbase on a Caribbean island. Agence France Press reported, for example, that the Soviet Union had deployed three airborne divisions into Africa during a test exercise in 1978.
In commenting on the invasion of Grenada, Zbigniew Brzezinski suggested that Grenada might have been a strategic location for the deployment of the Soviet SS-20 intermediate-range ballistic missile. While such a suggestion might be greeted with catcalls of skepticism as being too extreme for consideration or beyond the imagination of Soviet strategic planners, it may not be at all absurd. It is true that the Soviet Union generally keeps its land-based strategic nuclear weapons on its own territory. There was that one occasion when they did not, in Cuba in 1962; there have been reports, however, of the deployment of SS-20s in the region around Kabul in Afghanistan. Arve Roys Stranden has observed that the Soviet Union has developed a heavy transport aircraft for the air transport of the SS-20 (“Nytt sovjetisk transportfly for SS-20,” Norges Forsvar, June 1983).
There are numerous other uses to which such an advanced base as Grenada could have been put under Soviet and Cuban control. An air base in Grenada would have been strategically important for the support of submarine operations throughout the Caribbean, and in the Central and South Atlantic as well. Long-range aircraft flying reconnaissance and target acquisition for Soviet and Cuban attack submarines employed against shipping routes between South and Central American ports and the Gulf ports of the United States in war-time is one possibility. The bathymetric characteristics of the Caribbean are especially good for operations of deep-diving submarines. The depths of water in the Caribbean often exceed 1,500 fathoms, especially along the eastern approaches to the Panama Canal. Soviet ballistic missile submarines are often deployed in the fjords along the approaches to Murmansk port because the missiles they carry have sufficient range to strike the United States from there. It is speculated that Soviet submarine intrusions into Norwegian and Greenland fjords are, in fact, reconnaissance to determine suitability for concealing deployment of ballistic missile submarines in the event of war. The Caribbean is no less suitable for such deployment. The very deep waters, the immense number of inlets and islands render sonar detection of submarines difficult, while the thermal layers in the warm waters of the Caribbean make detection and location by sonar transponder buoys dropped from the air equally difficult.
What is clear is that the Soviet Union and its allies seem deeply interested in making the Caribbean a Soviet lake free of American interference. That is a general strategic problem. A more difficult problem is to determine whether the political and therefore strategic intervention of the Soviet Union in the region is aimed at consolidation of a Soviet position with the United States as the direct strategic objective or whether it is part of the Soviet strategy aimed at nothing more than the absorption of Western Europe. The answer to that problem lies in the Kremlin.
In sheer strategic terms, however, it appears that U.S. operations against Grenada were indeed justified if they put a spoke in the Soviet wheel. But that cannot be the end of the matter.
It must be recalled that two decisive battles were fought in the Pacific during the war with Japan. They were the battle of the Coral Sea and the battle for Guadalcanal and the Solomons. Together they blocked the Japanese move to Australia and therefore they were notable victories. But that was only the beginning of the task for Allied forces in the South Pacific. From there a long and painful campaign had to be fought northward along the chain of islands to the Philippines, Okinawa, and finally Japan itself.
Grenada is only one of hundreds of islands in the Caribbean, any number of which can be made to suit Soviet strategic purposes. And the principal island of concern to the defense of the United States is Cuba. So long as it remains a strategic advanced air, naval, and military base for the Warsaw Pact powers, for that long can Soviet power be deployed in those seas from which the safety of the United States can be threatened.
*For sources throughout this essay, consult especially The Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) reports. Standard handbooks, daily newspapers, and the Current Digest of the Soviet Press are also important.
GRENADA: THE MEDIA VERSUS AMERICA
By Richard Reeb
A Los Angeles Times news story of October 22, just prior to the Grenada invasion, revealed the quality of much of the media’s handling of it. Citing Cuban denunciation of the murder of Grenadian Prime Minister Bishop, George Skelton and David Wood asserted, “The Cuban statement countered speculation that Havana may have inspired the ouster and slaying of Bishop by hardliners within his New Jewel Movement.” Evidently the possibility of another Afghanistan-where one Soviet puppet replaced another-never even occurred to these reporters, and thus they could make a flat statement denying Cuban complicity. Events and captured documents confirmed the fatuousness of their nonsequitur. And even worse examples were to characterize media treatment of the subsequent invasion of Grenada.
Professional incompetence, vanity, and particular journalists’ ideological proclivities contribute to the media’s seemingly perverse behavior. But more fundamental reasons lie behind their skepticism of, and challenge to, the American government’s policy.
The media’s conduct concerning Grenada represents another in a series of their actions which question the very legitimacy of the American government. Such a radical critique, such partisanship, is at least implicit in their reluctance to take seriously the government’s-and the public’s-interpretation of American military action in Grenada and by their merely self-serving opposition to the government’s indispensable restrictions on battle-zone information.
Ironically, the media’s explanation of their posture lies in the quality which they pride themselves on but which their detractors find wanting: objectivity. The media argue that objectivity requires a determination to present all the facts and relevant opinions, including a willingness to use any and all means to do this, such as the use of stolen classified government documents (such as the Pentagon papers, in 1971). In their view, all government, even representative democracy, is hostile to “the free flow of information” and “the public’s right to know.”
To grasp the media’s understanding of themselves, it is revealing to examine the intellectual source. The spirit of the American media today continues to be governed by the teaching of the dean of modern journalism, Walter Lippmann (1889-1974). In the succinct Liberty and the News (1919) he laid down, as in a manifesto, the premises of modern “objective” journalism. He urged post-World War I journalists to give up the pursuit of all partisan political causes and to “model themselves after the patient and fearless men of science who labor to see the world as it really is.” Not congressmen, not judges, not chief executives-men who bear a direct political responsibility-but, rather, those who strive to free themselves from all attachments to their country are the models for journalism. Journalists, Lippmann declared, should not “care whose ox is gored” but “tell the truth and shame the devil.” Above all, they should acknowledge the dogmatic stance that all human thought is simply a product of the age in which it is expressed. Thus, there are no enduring ethical and political principles that should guide human life. Hence, any nation that claims to be based on them (such as the United States) would be simply foisting an ideology on its citizens, an ideology which the journalist should shun.
Lippmann insisted further that “It is blazing arrogance to sacrifice hard-won standards of credibility to some special purpose” (such as, say, national security). Men who would truly understand the human situation and inform the public should make the clear and careful presentation of “the facts” their primary loyalty. This is a “higher calling,” Lippmann believed, than mere political loyalty. (We should recall that Lippmann wrote in an age in which that newest science, political science [in this respect not unlike Marx], looked forward to the replacement of vulgar, corrupt politics with scientific, efficient administration.) Whether such detachment is humanly possible and whether the attempt to seek such detachment could only mask other versions of partisanship did not hinder Lippmann from advocating an attitude which generations of journalists have assumed is the only sensible way of considering the matter.
In a later, more famous work called Public Opinion (1921), Lippmann labeled all public opinions as “fictions,” which are neither true nor false but are more or less misleading in terms of their capacity to account for all the facts. (“The facts” is simply the name for the innumerable sense impressions which human beings have of the “blooming, buzzing confusion” that is the world.) By this standard, not just the fleeting and transitory opinions men have on particular political issues but the most fundamental public beliefs of any nation are “fictions.” For example, the “self-evident” truth that “all men are created equal”-and any corollary or inference from it-is a “fiction” which thoughtful men, especially those in the news media, do not necessarily believe. By the same reasoning, any men or institutions whose authority or legitimacy derives from these “fictions” are not simply to be believed. As Lippmann liked to phrase it, those who make their opinions responsible to the facts-as distinct from those who allegedly make the facts responsible to their opinions-are to be regarded as most reliable. In short, those who do not believe in the truth of, say, the proposition that all men are created equal are most to be believed. Thus, Lippmann’s prescriptions go far beyond the skepticism of a journalist who wants to make sure he has all the facts.
The fruits of Lippmann’s world-view are evident enough in such influential places as the New York Times, the television networks, and National Public Radio. It surely controls the editorial policy of the Los Angeles Times, as evidenced in the Sunday, October 30, “Opinion” section, whose front page featured four essays critical of recent aspects of the Reagan foreign policy, Grenada prominent among them. These essays were followed by, among others, one of the next Sunday, November 6, which continued to argue that the students were not in any real danger. Here one sees real indifference to the national interest-all the while claiming to be truly upholding it.
The lengths to which the media will go to cast doubt upon U.S. intentions is evident in a New York Times story of November 6: “There have been news reports quoting private statements by unidentified Caribbean leaders that unidentified United States officials had seemed to favor military intervention in Grenada since well before the October 19 killings.”
Moreover, the media would appear to take extraordinary glee and delight in fulfilling what they sternly claim to be their duty. (CBS News President Edward Joyce: “… [W]e are saddened to bear witness to this new, unchecked censorship, leading to an off-the-record war.”) The transcendent function Lippman urged on the journalist has encouraged arrogance and hyperbole. This is vividly illustrated in Howard Rosenberg’s Los Angeles Times column (November 2) which cites Daniel Schorr. “‘We’re talking about the public’s right to know, but where in the hell is the public?’ Asleep. Trick or treat.” Or to consider a more somber view, note the conclusion of a New York Times editorial (November 10): “So the invasion is finally justified because Americans needed a win, needed to invade someone. Happy 1984.”
The media will move in virtually any direction to play the critic. One might find cogent the criticism the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times heaped on the CIA for not having better intelligence. Yet neither paper is noted for its support of a more active CIA. The Los Angeles Times noted that the type of intelligence apparently lacking in the Grenada invasion was the type to be acquired from agents on the ground, not from, say, spy satellites. And this in turn demands appropriate use of such tools of espionage as theft, bribery, blackmail, and murder-he who wants certain ends must be willing to grant the means necessary to obtain those ends. But of course these newspapers are the first to denounce such dreadful conduct by the CIA. One must conclude that the duties of the media evidently absolve them of any need to be logically consistent.
The Problem with “Nightline”
Strikingly indicative of Lippmann’s prescription is the popular ABC late evening news program, “Nightline.” Superior to virtually all television journalism, “Nightline” has as its principle virtue the presentation of diverse points of view. Notable is the commentary of George Will, whose insights into political events transcend standard journalistic clichés. And “Nightline” host Ted Koppel quite often asks the right questions. But “Nightline’s” virtue of presenting “both sides” actually masks a vice, for the diversity of points of view includes those dogmatically and resolutely opposed to diversity of opinion. Koppel once, while on the air, conceded to Will that he should not have referred to frequent guest Vladimir Posner as his “counterpart” in the Soviet Union. Will had pointed out that Posner was simply a Communist Party spokesman, who happens to speak flawless American English.
This problem with the Communist as discussant became all too evident in “Nightline’s” treatment of the Grenada invasion. The moderators took scrupulous care to see that time was shared equally between Communists and representatives of the American government, as though they represented equally worthwhile points of view to consider. The whole procedure is, of course, a mockery of how rational people do and ought to make decisions. Also implicit in the argument between, say, a Cuban official and an American one is the assumption that both have the same thing to gain from telling the truth. This, of course, is absolutely not the case; that is, the whole context assumes that the two parties can have a discussion, a rational exchange of views.
And one should not overlook the problem created by the medium of television. One need not acknowledge McLuhan to note that television favors the “cool” over the “hot”-who inevitably appear ill-mannered and boorish. Thus the indignation, the anger appropriate to confrontation with Communists appears out of place. For all its considerable merit, “Nightline” fails as television journalism does generally; it attributes far more significance to matters of style than they deserve, and it is promiscuous in the diversity it promotes.
The Pentagon Papers
The Supreme Court has enabled the media to go far in their generally successful campaign to assert they are beyond the reach of the laws. In the famous Pentagon Papers case (New York Times v. U.S. ), the Court upheld the right of the Times and the Washington Post to publish stolen information from classified government documents. Afterward, the Times crowed that it had “presumptive” right to publish information about secret war plans in Vietnam if, in its unfettered judgment, the government had been devious with the people.
Interestingly, though the media may insist that the public (through the media) has a right to know all about the government, the media deny that the public has a right to know all about themselves. Again, in the Pentagon Papers incident, the New York Times maintained strict and elaborate secrecy for three months on its plans and methods for publishing the stolen government documents. In Political Power and the Press, an enthusiastic William J. Small describes the measures taken as “remarkable, something the Pentagon would envy” (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1972, pp. 235-40). The writers editing the stolen papers mysteriously disappeared from their regular assignments; other Times staffers were deliberately misled as to their whereabouts and their activities; two safes and a paper shredder were used for alternately securing or destroying valuable papers; hotel rooms were rented in one reporter’s name to preserve the anonymity of the others; security guards watched the rooms when they were unoccupied; a ninth floor of the Times building was stripped of office furniture and secretly converted into a printing room; only a limited number of page proofs were made for security reasons; and, inevitably, there were “leaks” to the outside.
At trial in federal district court, the Times’ lawyer, Floyd Abrams, admitted that the press has “a great many secrets, which is the essence, in good part, your Honor, of good journalism.” However, when their counsel Alexander Bickel argued in the Supreme Court that reporters have a right to refuse to reveal their sources even to a grand jury investigating criminal matters, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger retorted: “The newspapers and newspaper reporters claim for themselves the right which this argument would deny to the Government.”
In short, the media do not believe that the public has an unqualified right to know everything but, rather, only what the media themselves choose to reveal to that public. They arrogate to themselves a right which can legitimately belong only to the freely chosen government of the people. Congress is explicitly granted the power by the Constitution to conduct its business in secret (Article I, Section 5, clause 3), the President retains the power of executive privilege, and the federal courts have always deliberated in secret. Such power is necessary to provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, and secure liberty. As the media have neither the power nor the responsibility for government, they have no absolute right to secrecy in the management of their affairs, especially when they attempt to exercise governmental powers.
Thus, at the end of the road marked “the people’s right to know” are the media which are exercising governmental powers in opposition to the Constitution and the principles of democratic republicanism. The First Amendment did not grant any powers to the media; rather, it recognized the rights the people already had to publicize any abuses and usurpations by their government. The mere fact that a governmental decision was made or carried out in secret is no evidence of its injustice or folly. Rather, the test is, what are the effects of this governmental action for equality, liberty, and government by consent?
The continual clash of the media with the government gives a confused public the impression that rights are secure only to the extent that the government is prevented from carrying out its legitimate powers. But liberty is, of course, insecure without a government possessing adequate powers to protect it.
If, on the grounds of the public’s right to know, the media constantly and habitually prevent the government from functioning, they necessarily undermine and challenge the legitimacy of government. No doubt the media should raise all sorts of
questions about the government if the latter is, in fact, systematically abusing or usurping powers. But the media are obliged to prove that this is the case, rather than to assume that it has the power at all times to have complete, unhampered access to all governmental intelligence and unlimited discretion in deciding what they will publicize about the government. The government of a free society is authorized to use its best judgment for the common good inasmuch as it has been given public consent to do so in the form of a written constitution and is accountable to the people periodically through free and open elections. The media, we should always keep in mind as we read a paper or watch television news, are private, nongovernmental institutions with no greater right than any other institution to influence or persuade the government to pursue a particular course of action.
By Theodore A. Blanton
No sooner had the Marines and the Rangers and the 82nd Airborne set foot on Grenada than the Democrats, my party, sounded their opposition. Prominent among their number was Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, who hurried before the television cameras to label the invasion “an act of war”: “I don’t know that you restore democracy at the point of a bayonet.” This use of military power, which rescued Americans, began the restoration of constitutional government for the Grenadians, and gave the Soviets and their proxies the Cubans what they so richly deserve everywhere in the world, condemned by Moynihan? This has come as a great surprise to many, who still remember Moynihan as the almost Churchillian orator of United Nations days, the man who, as Russell Baker put it in the New York Times, “spoke English, an ancient tongue which, though long fallen into disuse, still has the power to sway men’s minds, and upon arrival at the United Nations . . . outraged all humanity by speaking it aloud.”
This is the Moynihan who became justly famous for calling Idi Amin a “racist murderer,” for observing that Soviet diplomats live “in a world of lies,” and for correctly deducing that the Nixon-Kissinger policy of detente was “a form of disguised retreat.” His truth-telling in 1975 and 1976 was an inspiration to many Americans, not least of whom was a certain Republican presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan.
What can be the explanation of Moynihan’s presence among those denouncing the President’s use of U.S. military force? Many, even some of Moynihan’s neoconservative friends, would dismiss his remarks by not taking them seriously. They would want to explain much of his conduct by a New York Democrat’s need to keep a distance from Ronald Reagan, by an ambition for still higher office, or by simple political partisanship. Such explanations contain some truth. New York politics has its imperatives: In gaining the opportunity to defeat incumbent Senator James Buckley in 1976, Moynihan squeezed by Bella Abzug in the Democratic primary with a margin of 10,000 votes. These days a New York Democrat must be looking over his left shoulder. Partisanship also comes naturally to a man of his temperament. Senator Moynihan has been one of the chief Senate critics of President Reagan’s economic and social policies, but differences over foreign policy predated Reagan’s election. Probably few remember Moynihan’s endorsement of President Carter’s foreign policy at the 1980 Democratic National Convention or, still earlier, the discomfort he confessed to feeling at Ronald Reagan’s use of his UN speeches in the 1976 presidential campaign.
These observations, however, and there are many more like them, do not in the end give Senator Moynihan enough credit for being a serious man. It is wrong to explain away Moynihan’s criticism of the Grenada invasion, for his criticism has its roots in his understanding of liberalism and its effort to establish international law. His regard for the primacy of international law explains why his voting record and his commentary on foreign affairs appear inconsistent with a thorough-going anti-Communism.
If we are to understand a man, we should pay him the tribute, as Patton did Rommel, of reading his book. Certain themes recur throughout A Dangerous Place (e.g., pp. 23-4, 269-70). Moynihan says that Kissinger fundamentally believed only in cold power relations among states. This led Kissinger to regard such institutions as the United Nations as arenas for mere words. It also led him to tolerate, even welcome, a stable and secure Soviet empire, for it offered the possibility of a true balance of power with the United States and real peace in the world. Moynihan, by contrast, saw the first task of liberalism as the defense of its own language, the language of human rights. Senator Moynihan clearly defines human rights as natural rights, the same three trumpeted by the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In Moynihan’s view, the attempt to defend liberal institutions and free countries such as our own can only be made by reasserting and elaborating our own liberal principles. As he puts it toward the end of A Dangerous Place, “The electorate was quite capable of confronting the dangers of the time, so long as this was accompanied by some assertions of our strengths, some insistence that the political culture of the democracies was superior to that of the despotisms, left and right, all around us.”
What leads a man with so sensible a view to take issue with Ronald Reagan on Grenada is the other side of this liberalism. In Moynihan’s view, the Wilsonian vision of a League of Nations and the international organizations and arrangements that flow from such a vision are the logical outcome of democratic liberalism, the logical outcome of the principles of the Declaration. This view fortifies him in his opposition to the cold and calculating view that only might matters. In attacking despotism right and left, he draws on what Americans know in their bones: “We must play the hand dealt us: we stand for liberty, for the expansion of liberty. Anything less risks the contraction of liberty: our own included.” At the same time, he insists on careful adherence to international law in the conduct of United States foreign policy, for only our adherence to such strictures gives us that superiority to despotism. If we are not to lose our moorings in this world, we must hold fast to the myriad international arrangements that we Americans and the British have built. Loosed from them, there is only tyranny of one brand or another.
Senator Moynihan’s specific complaint about the Grenada invasion, voiced in an October 28 debate on the Senate floor, is that it violated Articles 18 and 20 of the Charter of the Organization of American States, to which we are a signatory nation. Article 18, paraphrased, says that no state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of any other. Article 20, also paraphrased, says that the territory of a state is inviolable and that it may not be the object ofmilitary occupation by another. Moynihan does not object to the rescue of American students who were on Grenada if, in fact, rescue was needed. But he senses, as others of us do, and objects to, while others of us applaud, the key reason the U.S. used force in Grenada: to shut down the Soviet-Cuban takeover of that island and to blunt Soviet efforts at spreading Marxist revolution all across Central America.
The State Department and a few legal scholars are busy arguing that the Grenada invasion was in strict accord with international law because we were invited in by the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. To engage too much in this argument is to fail seeing the more essential point: that the Grenada invasion would have been justified with or without that invitation.
Moynihan’s October 28 speech, as reported in the Congressional Record three days after the invasion began, is instructive for its tone as much as its substance. It follows upon the comments of Senator Mitchell of Maine, who suggests simply that the U.S. Senate and even the Constitution itself are worth nothing if we fail to live up to the O.A.S. Charter. While basically agreeing with Mitchell in principle, Moynihan’s speech, by contrast, is full of careful distinctions. It is distinctly professional. It is nice. Moynihan here falls prey to his own criticism of Gerald Ford: He is not enough of a butcher. The speech does not respond at all to what was found on Grenada: huge caches of small arms, anti-aircraft guns, armored personnel carriers, 1,100 professionally trained Cuban soldiers, North Koreans, East Germans, and Bulgarians.
Moynihan believes that the ideological force of Marxism has been spent, because Marxism has revealed itself as inseparable from the Gulag. Perhaps it has been so revealed to a few clear-eyed souls, but not to the world at large. One cannot read Marx or listen to Marxists without appreciating the strong appeal that Marxism makes to justice. Marxists do a far better job of promoting their own vision of a just world than Americans do. And yet, as one wise commentator has shown forcefully in essays dating back a generation, it is exactly the Marxist view of justice and the revolution that requires all pre-Marxist existence to be swept away as in a cataclysm and that necessarily employs gulags to eliminate any opposition. Joseph Cropsey observed, “Marxism is not simply another political system or one more ideology. It proposes nothing less than the end of the West-of political life, philosophy and religion.”
Those are strong words, and the implications of them are regarded as too severe by the American left. But no one who is convinced of the truth of those words thinks President Reagan is exaggerating when he labels the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” Such believers applaud the reassertion of American military power by President Reagan and would not be alarmed to see it used elsewhere than Grenada. This kind of thinking worries a post-Vietnam liberal Democrat, a different creature than Truman-(John) Kennedy Democrats, a few of whom live on. First and foremost, in his view such thinking would lead to nuclear Armageddon. Second, in his view such thinking would turn the United States into an imperial power that simply works its will on the world as it sees fit. This is why some liberals equate our invasion of Grenada with the Soviet takeover of Afghanistan. Disoriented by ideology, they fail to see that the United States stands for the advancement of the rights of man, while the Soviets stand for their abolition.
A liberal of this kind also is skeptical of the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency, especially covert action. The most important check on the CIA is, of course, the Congress. One is not surprised, then, to find Senator Moynihan serving as Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, a post well suited to his interests. He is certainly more sympathetic to American interests than one of his recent predecessors, Senator Frank Church. (It is worth remembering, however, that while Church and company in the Senate did their best to undermine U.S. efforts in Vietnam, Moynihan, between posts in the government, was serving as national chairman of Negotiation Now.)
To be sure, there are times when the American right speaks and acts imprudently. Still, the United States must, in the final analysis, be its own arbiter of what is moral in foreign policy. To quote Joseph Cropsey again, “The teaching of morality may be reduced to this: We must do everything that needs to be done to insure the survival of ourselves, our friends, and our free principles, indulging neither ourselves, nor others, avoiding sentimentality no less than brutality, and mindful that if we weakly hang back, we will ignominiously hang alone.”
International law, to which, Senator Moynihan and other late-twentieth century Wilsonian liberals look, too often presupposes a world in which dutiful and well-intentioned nations aspire to work out their differences for the common good. At least, it presupposes nations which acknowledge the existence of a common good. Such men and women can be blind to the fact that in the latter part of this century America finds herself facing a totalitarian adversary which is convinced that it, and only it, is the way of the future. I do not for a moment suggest that Senator Moynihan shares this blindness. But I do believe that his understanding of liberalism is the central fact behind his unwillingness to praise Reagan’s success-moral as much as military-in Grenada.
Finally, let us not lose sight of Moynihan’s career and its seemingly unlikely turns. He is wont to brag that before winning election to the Senate he had served in the cabinet or sub-cabinet of four American presidents: Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. There is an important lesson here. In politics, time and circumstance matter. Given the right turn of events, today’s faultfinder may be tomorrow’s advocate. A major confrontation with the Soviets or their proxies in the Middle East, for example, would almost certainly provoke a far different response from Moynihan than the Grenada invasion. Still, those who are looking for unflinching resolve in opposition to the Soviets should stop thinking of him as one of their number.