July 26, 2004
With the passing on Sunday of Constantine Menges, whose hauntingly-prescient columns on foreign affairs have graced these pages for many years, the free world has lost a revolutionary strategist.
An academic by training, Dr. Menges was recruited by incoming CIA director William Casey in May 1981 to become his National Intelligence Officer for Latin America. It was not just Constantine's impressive intellectual firepower that attracted Casey, but his fierce independence, his tenaciousness, and his over-riding vision that it was America's destiny among nations to serve as the standard bearer of freedom to the oppressed of the world. Casey wanted to challenge the corporate views of Agency insiders, and saw in Menges the right man for the job.
Constantine's goal in life was to devise strategies for defeating tyrannies, just as V.I. Lenin and Trotsky had devised strategies to create them. He was a professional revolutionary on the side of freedom.
Just before joining the CIA, Menges proposed that the U.S. government establish a "National Foundation for Democracy" to promote nascent democratic movements in countries living under communism and other forms of tyranny. President Reagan embraced the idea, and two years later convinced Congress to fund the National Endowment for Democracy.
While working for Casey, Dr. Menges urged the CIA to adopt a "pro-democracy" approach toward defeating communism in Latin America, that skillfully blended support for pro-democracy political movements with the selective use of force. When he moved to the White House in 1983 to become a Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, his very first assignment was to draw up plans to restore democracy in Grenada after a Communist coup. It was this part of the Grenada mission, more than the military intervention alone, that marked the definitive end of the Carter era and demonstrated that it was possible to "roll back" Communism, surely Ronald Reagan's greatest legacy.
When I met Constantine four years ago, I never would have imagined it would be in the "sunset" of his life. He had just turned sixty; he and Nancy, his wife of twenty-five years, were enjoying Georgetown like a young married couple. Dining with them at restaurants, or in their home or in mine invariably became an intellectual fireworks display. Constantine was not only bursting with his own ideas, but knew how to inspire others.
Indeed, over the past two years, Menges has been more active than ever in warning of new threats looming just over the horizon. He has warned the Bush administration repeatedly about the active infiltration of Iraq by thousands of Iranian government thugs and intelligence operatives. Even as the U.S. was celebrating the end of major combat activities in May 2003, Constantine predicted that the lull in violence would be only a respite. The Iranians had established no fewer than 42 Arabic-language radio and television stations beaming anti-American propaganda into Iraq, he said, without an effective U.S. response. The results were predictable, and deadly.
In Iran itself, Constantine urged the Bush administration to aid pro-democracy groups to build a broad-based national movement capable of challenging the tyrannical rule of Iran's clerics. As a strategist of freedom, who knew that dictators could be defeated - but that it required hard work, good planning, training, and dedication. Arm chair revolutionaries, who ran for cover at the first shots, would never do the trick, he knew. But equally dangerous were armed Marxist-Islamic groups who sought to replace one dictatorship with another.
The son of German refugees from World War II, he had a special understanding of appeasement, and blasted the Clinton administration for caving in to Communist China. But in a just-completed book-length manuscript called 2008: The Preventable War, he was scarcely more tender toward the Bush administration for its failure to recognize the threat of the growing military and strategic cooperation between Russia and Communist China.
Those whose loss is arguably the greatest, however, are those who have never met him and who don't even know his name: freedom-lovers in countries such as Iran, who aspire to break the yolks of tyranny. They have lost not only a friend, but a revolutionary thinker and strategist who understood that if you failed to fight for freedom you inevitably die in chains.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight and author of The French Betrayal of America, just released from Crown Forum.