July 26, 2004


Constantine Menges: A Tribute

By KennethR. Timmerman


With the passing on Sunday of Constantine Menges, whosehauntingly-prescient columns on foreign affairs have graced thesepages for many years, the free world has lost a revolutionarystrategist.

An academic by training, Dr. Menges was recruited by incoming CIAdirector William Casey in May 1981 to become his NationalIntelligence Officer for Latin America. It was not just Constantine'simpressive intellectual firepower that attracted Casey, but hisfierce independence, his tenaciousness, and his over-riding visionthat it was America's destiny among nations to serve as the standardbearer of freedom to the oppressed of the world. Casey wanted tochallenge the corporate views of Agency insiders, and saw in Mengesthe right man for the job.

Constantine's goal in life was to devise strategies for defeatingtyrannies, just as V.I. Lenin and Trotsky had devised strategies tocreate them. He was a professional revolutionary on the side offreedom.

Just before joining the CIA, Menges proposed that the U.S.government establish a "National Foundation for Democracy" to promotenascent democratic movements in countries living under communism andother forms of tyranny. President Reagan embraced the idea, and twoyears later convinced Congress to fund the National Endowment forDemocracy.

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 movementswith the selective use of force. When he moved to the White House in1983 to become a Special Assistant to the President for NationalSecurity Affairs, his very first assignment was to draw up plans torestore democracy in Grenada after a Communist coup. It was this partof the Grenada mission, more than the military intervention alone,that marked the definitive end of the Carter era and demonstratedthat it was possible to "roll back" Communism, surely Ronald Reagan'sgreatest legacy.

When I met Constantine four years ago, I never would have imaginedit would be in the "sunset" of his life. He had just turned sixty; heand Nancy, his wife of twenty-five years, were enjoying Georgetownlike a young married couple. Dining with them at restaurants, or intheir home or in mine invariably became an intellectual fireworksdisplay. Constantine was not only bursting with his own ideas, butknew how to inspire others.

Indeed, over the past two years, Menges has been more active thanever in warning of new threats looming just over the horizon. He haswarned the Bush administration repeatedly about the activeinfiltration of Iraq by thousands of Iranian government thugs andintelligence operatives. Even as the U.S. was celebrating the end ofmajor combat activities in May 2003, Constantine predicted that thelull in violence would be only a respite. The Iranians hadestablished no fewer than 42 Arabic-language radio and televisionstations beaming anti-American propaganda into Iraq, he said, withoutan effective U.S. response. The results were predictable, and deadly.

In Iran itself, Constantine urged the Bush administration to aidpro-democracy groups to build a broad-based national movement capableof challenging the tyrannical rule of Iran's clerics. As a strategistof freedom, who knew that dictators could be defeated - but that itrequired hard work, good planning, training, and dedication. Armchair revolutionaries, who ran for cover at the first shots, wouldnever do the trick, he knew. But equally dangerous were armedMarxist-Islamic groups who sought to replace one dictatorship withanother.

The son of German refugees from World War II, he had a specialunderstanding of appeasement, and blasted the Clinton administrationfor caving in to Communist China. But in a just-completed book-lengthmanuscript called 2008: The Preventable War, he was scarcelymore tender toward the Bush administration for its failure torecognize the threat of the growing military and strategiccooperation between Russia and Communist China.

Those whose loss is arguably the greatest, however, are those whohave never met him and who don't even know his name: freedom-loversin countries such as Iran, who aspire to break the yolks of tyranny.They have lost not only a friend, but a revolutionary thinker andstrategist who understood that if you failed to fight for freedom youinevitably die in chains.


Kenneth R. Timmerman is a seniorwriter for Insight and author of TheFrench Betrayal of America,just released from Crown Forum.