On the opening day of the Oliver North trial, the New York Times editorialized on why the trial should proceed: `It is the need to uphold anew the principle that even the Commander in Chief has a commander in chief: the law.'
A Washington Post editorial the same day said, `If Congress can be defied with impunity by selected parts of the executive branch, then the system does break down.'
This was the same New York Times that reported in June, 1979, on the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, `A doctor . . . praised the young rebels. `They're not Communists,' he said. `That's a fairy tale that Somoza invented and only the National Guard believes.'
This was the same Washington Post which wrote just days after the Sandinista-led government took power July 19, 1979, `The new (Sandinista laws) project the new government as highly moralistic, concerned about state security, politically liberal in a social democratic mold.'
The Post and the Times turned out to be wrong about the Sandinistas, just as they are wrong in their conclusion about the North trial.
As former Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Constantine Menges has written in his powerful new book, `Inside the National Security Council,' it was the State Department, assisted by several spineless people in key positions at the White House, that opened the door to the Iran-Contra affair, for which Oliver North is now the primary fall guy.
In the military, if one defies an order from a superior, one may be court-martialed. In civilian life, disobedience to the boss's instruction can get you fired. But in government, the State Department may disregard, circumvent and countermand the foreign policy of the elected Commander in Chief and suffer no consequences, save the weakening of the presidency and the auctioning of freedom to Communist tyrants in exchange for unfulfilled dreams of `peace.'
Naming names, places and dates, Menges documents the cunning and dishonest methods used by everyone from former Secretary of State George Shultz and others on down and indicts them (no one else will) for pursuing a policy of their own in direct violation of specific instructions to the contrary from Ronald Reagan. Menges shows clearly that the foreign policy establishment at State believes no one else better understands how the world should work than they do, and that some career foreign service officers view the president of the United States as simply a caretaker, while State has been endowed with the unalienable right to shape the world as it desires.
Menges reveals how then-U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick had her credibility cut from under her when, in early 1983, she carried a personal letter from President Reagan to each of the friendly heads of state in Central America. Upon returning to Washington, Kirkpatrick learned that Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America Thomas Enders had sent an `eyes only' cable to all the U.S. ambassadors in the region, instructing them to ignore Kirkpatrick (and by implication, the president), because a new Central American strategy was being prepared and would be passed along as soon as Shultz returned from a trip to China.
There were secret meetings between officials at State and Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega, in violation of procedures that required a review of all such meetings by the president and National Security Council.
Menges tells of elaborate schemes to block meetings of the NSC which, when held, almost always resulted in the president rejecting the policy initiatives of Shultz and the State Department and opting for policies that would advance the cause of freedom and democracy in Central America.
The Menges book is by far more important than the North trial. It provides prima facie evidence that the State Department has been, and is, running and ruining the foreign policy of the United States. It is bad enough that severe damage was done to that policy during the Reagan years. It is even worse that some of those responsible for this shameless and what would in wartime be considered treasonous behavior are now, or will soon be, at the highest levels of the Department of State.