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Perhaps the kindest comment was that Ortega had again shown himself to be a bad politician.12 The conclusion has merit. In the same sense, a therapist who tries to persuade psychotics by rational argument that the world is not as they see it might be criticized as a "bad psychologist." Like many others in the Third World, Ortega probably does not comprehend the psychotic streak in the dominant intellectual culture, in particular, the doctrine that no one has a right to defend themselves from U.S. attack. The doctrine has deep roots in American history. It explains why the U.S. can regularly be depicted as the victim of the evil deeds of Vietnam. And why for 200 years few shuddered, or even noticed, when reading with due reverence the words of the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence condemning King George III for having unleashed "the merciless Indian savages" against the innocent colonists. There is no shortage of illustrations.
This fundamental doctrine was operative throughout the war against Nicaragua. In August 1988, with passionate supporting speeches by leading doves the Senate passed the Byrd amendment calling for military aid to the contras if the Sandinistas carry out any "hostile action" against them. Three days before, contras had attacked the crowded passenger vessel Mission of Peace, killing two and wounding 27, including a Baptist minister from New Jersey heading a U.S. religious delegation. Senators Byrd, Dodd, and others made no mention of the event, but their logic is clear: if the treacherous Sandinistas resort to "hostile action" to prevent such "pinpricks," plainly we have the right to punish them for the crime by sending arms to our proxy forces terrorizing Nicaragua. Since this position is considered righteous and principled, it evoked no comment whatsoever.13
The same reasoning was displayed during the periodic MiG scares concocted by Reaganite Agitprop. When the Reagan administration floated the story in 1984 as part of its successful campaign to eliminate the Nicaraguan elections from history, the doves responded that if the charge were accurate, the U.S. would have to bomb Nicaragua because these vintage 1950s jets are "also capable against the United States," hence a threat to our security (Senator Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, with the support of other leading doves).14 When the disinformation was exposed after having served its purpose, there was was some criticism of the media for uncritically swallowing government propaganda, but the really significant fact was ignored: the general agreement that such behavior on the part of Nicaragua would be entirely unacceptable. The reason for this oversight is simple: by the norms of the political culture, it would be an unspeakable scandal for Nicaragua to attempt to defend itself from U.S.-run terrorist operations.
Nicaragua, of course, had no special interest in MiGs. The Sandinista leadership was happy to tell anyone who asked that they would have been pleased to be able to obtain jet planes from France. But their efforts to obtain arms from France were blocked by pressure from Washington, which insisted that Nicaragua be armed solely by the Russians, so that commentators could refer in suitably ominous tones to "the Soviet-supplied Sandinistas" as the farce was replayed week after week; "French-supplied" just doesn't have the same ring. All of this was well known, but, running counter to doctrinal requirements, it remained unreported and undiscussed.
It was also understood throughout that the aging MiGs that Nicaragua was accused of trying to sneak into its territory could have only one purpose: to protect Nicaraguan airspace from the CIA supply flights that were required to keep the U.S. proxy forces in the field and the regular surveillance flights that provide them with up-to-the-minute information on the disposition of Nicaraguan troops, so that they can safely attack civilian targets in accordance with their instructions and training. Understood, but scarcely mentioned. A search of the liberal Boston Globe, perhaps the least antagonistic to the Sandinistas among major U.S. journals, revealed one editorial reference to the fact that Nicaragua needs air power "to repel attacks by the CIA-run contras, and to stop or deter supply flights" (Nov. 9, 1986). Again, the conclusion is clear and unmistakeable: no one has the right of self-defense against U.S. attack.
Failure to comprehend these facets of U.S. political culture is common. In late December 1987, Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel d'Escoto privately expressed great hopes for the scheduled presidential meeting in January at which the International Verification and Control Commission was to present its report on the compliance of the Central American countries with the August 1987 Central American accords. He was convinced that the report would be favorable to Nicaragua, and that the impact would advance the process of achieving the goals of the accords. His expectations with regard to the report were confirmed; on the impact, he was quite wrong. He failed to understand some elementary facts about Western democracy. The U.S. government was committed to demolition of the accords; the Free Press would therefore loyally perform its duty, and the distribution of power would render the facts null and void. These are, again, the rules of the game.
The rules apply quite generally; the present case is no aberration. Thus in March 1964, when Times Executive Editor Max Frankel was learning his trade as a war correspondent in Indochina, Saigon army forces accompanied by U.S. advisers attacked a Cambodian village, leaving many villagers killed and wounded. Since a U.S. army pilot was captured, the incident could not be ignored or denied in the usual manner. Frankel reported it with great indignation -- against Prince Sihanouk, who was "stomping on U.S. toes," "leading the pack in big-power baiting," and borrowing "a page from Fidel Castro's book" by daring to request reparations for this U.S. atrocity. We were the injured innocents.15
As in this case, our clients regularly inherit the same rights. Times chief diplomatic correspondent Thomas Friedman writes that in 1982 the Israeli army "arrived in Beirut like innocents abroad and they left three years later like angry tourists who had been mugged, cheated, and had all their luggage stolen with their traveler's checks inside." As he knows well, the invading innocents murdered, destroyed, brutally mistreated prisoners and civilians, and generally laid waste whatever stood in their path; and they left Lebanon, apart from the 10 percent they virtually annexed, because unanticipated resistance caused them more casualties than they were willing to accept. This statement is selected as the prime example of Friedman's "sharp perceptions" by Roger Rosenblatt in a laudatory front-page review in the Times Book Review.16
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12 Pertman, BG, Nov. 2, quoting peace activist Jim Morrell.
13 See Necessary Illusions, 57f., 251.
14 BG, Nov. 9, 1984, citing also similar comments by Democratic dove Christopher Dodd.
15 For more details, see Manufacturing Consent, 269-70.
16 Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem (Farrar Strauss Giroux, 1989), 128; Rosenblatt, NYT Book Review, July 9, 1989.