WALL STREET JOURNAL
APRIL 24, 2000
Why Did They Do It?
From the beginning it was a story marked by the miraculous. It was a miracle a
six-year-old boy survived the storm at sea and floated safely in an inner tube
for two days and nights toward shore; a miracle that when he tired and began to
slip, the dolphins who surrounded him like a contingent of angels pushed him
upward; a miracle that a fisherman saw him bobbing in the shark-infested waters
and scooped him aboard on the morning of Nov. 25, 1999, the day celebrated in
America, the country his mother died bringing him to, as Thanksgiving.
And of course this Saturday, in the darkness, came the nightmare: the battering
ram, the gas, the masks, the guns, the threats, the shattered glass and smashed
statue of the Blessed Mother, the blanket thrown over the sobbing child's head
as they tore him from the house like a hostage. And the last one in the house to
hold him, trying desperately to protect him, was the fisherman who'd saved him
from the sea -- which seemed fitting as it was Eastertide, the time that marks
the sacrifice and resurrection of the Big Fisherman.
It is interesting that this White House, which feared moving on Iraq during
Ramadan, had no fear of moving on Americans during the holiest time of the
Christian calendar. The mayor of Miami, Joe Carollo, blurted in shock,
"They are atheists. They don't believe in God." Well, they certainly
don't believe the fact that it was Easter was prohibitive of the use of force;
they thought it a practical time to move. The quaint Catholics of Little Havana
would be lulled into a feeling of safety; most of the country would be
distracted by family get-togethers and feasts. It was, to the Clinton
administration, a sensible time to break down doors.
Which really, once again, tells you a lot about who they are. But then their
actions always have a saving obviousness: From Waco to the FBI files to the
bombing of a pharmaceutical factory during impeachment to taking money from
Chinese agents, through every scandal and corruption, they always tell you who
they are by what they do. It's almost honest.
All weekend you could hear the calls to radio stations, to television, from
commentators, from the 40% who are wounded, grieving and alive to the
implications of what this act tells us about what is allowed in our country now.
"This couldn't happen in America," they say, and "This isn't the
America we know."
This is the America of Bill Clinton's cynicism and cowardice, and Janet Reno's
desperate confusion about right and wrong, as she continues in her great
schmaltzy dither to prove how sensitive she is, how concerned for the best
interests of the child, as she sends in armed troops who point guns at the child
sobbing in the closet. So removed from reality is she that she claims the famous
picture of the agent pointing the gun at the fisherman and the child did not in
fact show that.
The great unanswered question of course is: What was driving Mr. Clinton? What
made him do such a thing? What accounts for his commitment in this case? Concern
for the father? But such concern is wholly out of character for this president;
he showed no such concern for parents at Waco or when he freed the Puerto Rican
terrorists. Concern for his vision of the rule of law? But Mr. Clinton views the
law as a thing to suit his purposes or a thing to get around.
Why did he do this thing? He will no doubt never say, a pliant press will never
push him on it, and in any case if they did who would expect him to speak with
candor and honesty? Absent the knowledge of what happened in this great public
policy question, the mind inevitably wonders.
Was it fear of Fidel Castro -- fear that the dictator will unleash another flood
of refugees, like the Mariel boatlift of 1980? Mr. Clinton would take that
seriously, because he lost his gubernatorial election that year after he agreed
to house some of the Cubans. In Bill Clinton's universe anything that ever hurt
Bill Clinton is bad, and must not be repeated. But such a threat, if it was
made, is not a child custody matter but a national security matter, and should
be dealt with in national security terms.
Was it another threat from Havana? Was it normalization with Cuba -- Mr.
Clinton's lust for a legacy, and Mr. Castro's insistence that the gift come at a
price? If the price was a child, well, that's a price Mr. Clinton would likely
pay. What is a mere child compared with this president's need to be considered
important by history?
Was Mr. Clinton being blackmailed? The Starr report tells us of what the
president said to Monica Lewinsky about their telephone sex: that there was
reason to believe that they were monitored by a foreign intelligence service.
Naturally the service would have taped the calls, to use in the blackmail of the
president. Maybe it was Mr. Castro's intelligence service, or that of a Castro
Is it irresponsible to speculate? It is irresponsible not to. A great and
searing tragedy has occurred, and none of us knows what drove it, or why the
president did what he did. Maybe Congress will investigate. Maybe a few years
from now we'll find out what really happened.
For now we're left with the famous photo, the picture of the agent pointing his
gun at the sobbing child and fisherman, the one that is already as famous as the
picture taken 30 Easters ago, during another tragedy, as a student cried over
the prone body of a dead fellow student at Kent State. It is an inconvenient
photo for the administration. One wonders if it will be reproduced, or forced
down the memory hole.
We are left with Elian's courageous cousin, Marisleysis, who Easter morning told
truth to power, an American citizen speaking to the nation about the actions of
the American government. We are left with the hoarse-voiced fisherman, who
continues trying to save the child. We are left wondering if there was a single
federal law-enforcement official who, ordered to go in and put guns at the heads
of children, said no. Was there a single agent or policeman who said, "I
can't be part of this"? Are they all just following orders?
We are left wondering if Mr. Clinton will, once again, get what he seems to
want. Having failed to become FDR over health care, or anything else for that
matter, he will now "be" JFK, finishing the business of 1961 and the
missile crisis. Maybe he will make a speech in Havana. One can imagine Strobe
Talbot taking Walter Isaacson aside, and Time magazine reporting the words of a
high State Department source: "In an odd way Elian helped us -- the
intensity of the experience, the talks and negotiations, were the most intense
byplay our two countries have had since JFK. The trauma brought us
And some of us, in our sadness, wonder what Ronald Reagan, our last great
president, would have done. I think I know. The burden of proof would have been
on the communists, not the Americans; he would have sent someone he trusted to
the family and found out the facts; seeing the boy had bonded with the cousin he
would have negotiated with Mr. Castro to get the father here, and given him
whatever he could that would not harm our country. Mr. Reagan would not have
dismissed the story of the dolphins as Christian kitsch, but seen it as possible
evidence of the reasonable assumption that God's creatures had been commanded to
protect one of God's children. And most important, the idea that he would fear
Mr. Castro, that he would be afraid of a tired old tyrant in faded fatigues,
would actually have made him laugh. Mr. Reagan would fear only what kind of
country we would be if we took the little boy and threw him over the side, into
the rough sea of history.
He would have made a statement laying out the facts and ended it, "The boy
stays, the dream endures, the American story continues. And if Mr. Castro
doesn't like it, well, I'm afraid that's really too bad."
But then he was a man.
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