A Law unto Themselves

In the spring of 1984, in the nation whose leaders considered it the defender of the free world, a great controversy developed. It seems that this nation's president and a few of his friends had done a terrible thing without anyone knowing.

Tired of a lack of success in their little war against Nicaragua—after all, the contra force they were backing had increased to 15,000 men but still couldn't grab a piece of land and hold it for a provisional territory—they resorted to ordering the placement of several hundred advanced acoustical mines in three of Nicaragua's harbors. They solicited the involvement of an elite group of Latin American commandos in small, high-speed boats to do the dirty work, while CIA officials directed them from a boat beyond territorial waters.

European allies of the United States condemned its actions, and France even offered its mine sweepers to help the Nicaraguan government remove the mines. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick, responded in a television interview in London, the capital of one of the protesting nations, "The Europeans have never been very expert in ... Central America. That they shouldn't share our perceptions doesn't bother me, doesn't surprise me."

In the United States, critics of the president's action, from opposition presidential candidates to some of the president's staunchest supporters, called the action "a clear violation of international law," "state terrorism," "an act of war." Astute observers noted that the critics were very upset.

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