Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix IV Segment 11/23
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Given the policies it advocates in the Third World, the United States often finds itself politically weak though militarily strong, as commonly conceded on all sides in internal documents. The result is regular opposition to diplomacy and political settlement. Since the facts do not conform to the required image, considerable talent in historical engineering is required.58 The problem has been a persistent one during the Central American conflicts of recent years.
The United States systematically blocked all efforts to use peaceful means to resolve what Times correspondent Shirley Christian calls "our Nicaraguan agony," describing our suffering in the course of our "basically idealistic efforts to deal with the situation," in which, "on balance, we may have had the best intentions of all the players."59 The United States succeeded in blocking the Contadora initiatives, eliminating any recourse to the World Court and United Nations as required by international law and the supreme law of the land, and evading repeated Nicaraguan efforts to satisfy legitimate interests of the Central American countries -- even the alleged U.S. security concerns, ludicrous as they are. The U.S. attempted to block the Arias proposals in 1987, succeeding through July with the cooperation of Salvadoran president Duarte. (See chapter 5.)
The Reagan-Wright proposals of August 5 were a final effort to sabotage any meaningful agreement that might result from the planned meeting of Central American presidents the next day. But this proved "an incredible tactical error," a Guatemalan diplomat observed, arousing "the nationalistic instincts of the Costa Rican and Guatemalan delegations," which felt "insulted" by these strong-arm methods.60 On August 7, to the dismay of the U.S. administration, the Central American presidents agreed on the Esquipulas II Accord, "inspired by the visionary and permanent desire of the Contadora and the [Latin American] Support Groups."61
The unexpected August 7 agreement compelled the media to backtrack quickly from their advocacy of the Reagan-Wright plan as a forthcoming gesture for peace. On August 6, James LeMoyne had reported falsely that apart from Nicaragua, which risked isolation for its intransigence, the Central American presidents "were gratified" by the Reagan-Wright proposal -- which Guatemala and Costa Rica dismissed with considerable irritation as an "insult." A day later, Washington now being isolated by the peace agreement of the Central American presidents, LeMoyne presented their accord as sharing "the central intent of Mr. Reagan's plan, which is to demand internal political changes in Nicaragua"; the Esquipulas Accord made no mention of Nicaragua, but was rather designed to apply simultaneously and comparably to all the Central American countries. The media proceeded to construct an interpretation which gave the United States the credit for having driven Nicaragua to negotiations by the use of force and the Reagan-Wright initiative. The purpose, apart from serving to conceal the consistent U.S. opposition to a peaceful settlement, was to legimitate state violence and thus prepare the ground for its renewal when needed, here or elsewhere.62
Some were unable to conceal their dismay with the developments. Former New York Times executive editor A.M. Rosenthal, whose regular columns since his retirement provide much insight into the thinking that animated the Times during his tenure, denounced "the pro-Sandinistas in press and politics" -- a group that one might detect with a sufficiently powerful microscope -- for their failure to stand by the Reagan-Wright plan after the Esquipulas Accord was signed. He assured the reader that the Central American presidents were "astonished" by this failure to pursue the proposal, which in Rosenthal's world they welcomed, while in the real world they had rejected it with contempt. Opponents of the Reagan-Wright plan, he wrote, are helping to kill "the peace proposals for Nicaragua" -- that is, the Reagan-Wright plan, which, unlike the Esquipulas Accord, applied only to Nicaragua and therefore alone qualifies as a peace proposal for an American jingoist. Extolling the reliance on violence, Rosenthal wrote that "Secretary Shultz and Howard Baker, believing that the Sandinistas had been hurt severely enough to make negotiations feasible, got the President to agree." But now "the pro-Sandinistas in this country" are undercutting the Shultz-Baker achievements by advocacy of the Esquipulas Accord, and even "acted as if it were a damnable sin to suggest that the United States should not immediately destroy the contras, whose existence brought about the opportunity for negotiations."63
Most, however, preferred less crude means to convert the peace agreement to the basic structure of the Reagan-Wright plan. The Esquipulas Accord set in motion a U.S. government campaign to dismantle it and maintain the option of further attacks against Nicaragua accompanied with such state terror as might be required to keep the "fledgling democracies" in line. The enthusiastic cooperation of the media ensured the success of this endeavor. The desired result was achieved by January 1988, in a brilliantly executed government-media operation.
As discussed in chapter 4, the first task was to eliminate the provisions applying to the United States, namely, the one "indispensable element" for peace: the termination of any form of aid for indigenous guerrillas or the contras. U.S. aid for the contras attacking Nicaragua from Honduras and Costa Rica was already criminal, even in the technical legal sense, but the Esquipulas Accord raised a new barrier. By August 1987, supply flights to the contras had reached a level of one a day, in addition to the constant surveillance required to assure that barely defended targets can be safely attacked. The U.S. responded to the call for termination of such aid by escalating it. Supply flights doubled in September and virtually tripled in the following months. In late August, the CIA attempted to bribe Miskito leaders to reject Nicaraguan attempts at peaceful reconciliation and continue the war.64
These flagrant violations of the "indispensable element" for peace undermined the basis for the Esquipulas Accord. To assess the role of the media, we therefore ask how they dealt with these crucial facts. I will continue to keep largely to the New York Times, the most important newspaper and the one that provides the quasi-official record for history; the pattern elsewhere is generally similar.65
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57 Addendum to p. 90.
58 For discussion of how the problem was addressed in the case of Indochina from 1950 until today, see Manufacturing Consent, chapters 5, 6. On similar problems with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict, see appendix V, section 4.
59 New Republic, Aug. 29, 1988; my emphasis. Christian, regarded as a specialist on Nicaragua, goes on to argue that the contras are a typical Latin American guerrilla movement, "largely a Central American creation," since "aside from a few individual Americans with nebulous government ties the key players were the Argentine colonels" (transmuted into Central Americans), the Honduran military chief Gustavo Alvarez, a noted killer, "and an assortment of former Nicaraguan National Guardsmen." Plainly, "the classic pattern of guerrilla armies in Latin America," even putting aside a few notable omissions. She does not elaborate on the significance of this interesting collection of "key players." Such contributions are apparently taken seriously.
60 Michael Allen, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 10; Central America Report (Guatemala City), Aug. 14, 1987. See Culture of Terrorism, 141f., 18-19, on the events and the media reaction.
61 Here and below, I will use the Guatemalan version of the English translation; Special Document, Esquipulas II Accord, Central America Report, August 14, 1987.
62 LeMoyne, NYT, Aug. 6, 7. On the actual reaction of Presidents Cerezo and Arias, see Central America Report, Aug. 14. See Culture of Terrorism, 141f., for further details.
63 Rosenthal, NYT, Aug. 21, 1987.
64 Brian Barger, UPI, Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 22, 1987; Excelsior (Mexico City), Oct. 22, 1987. On the supply flights and other matters, see the footnoted versions of my articles in Z Magazine, January, March, 1988.
65 For some exceptions, see chapter 4, notes 34, 37.