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An Appreciation of Constantine Menges

Max Singer

I first met Constantine over 40 years ago when during his graduate studies at Columbia he worked at Hudson during our days in Croton. When Sue and I returned to Washington in 1977 we became friends with Constantine and Nancy, and we worked together informally during the height of the struggles in Central America in the early 80s while Constantine was first National Intelligence Officer for Latin America at the CIA and then Special Assistant to the President for National Security with the Latin American desk at the NSC.

He had an extraordinary career, working in domestic policy on education and civil rights, and on moving toward competition in air fares, and across the full range of foreign policy issues. He was a serious academic, teaching and publishing scholarly books and articles. He worked in the think-tank world at Hudson and RAND. And he was extremely effective in the bureaucratic wars as a civil servant, at CAB, HEW, CIA, and NSC.

Although he left the government in 1986, he continued to devote his creative efforts to fighting his countrys political battles to his last days. He had very little time or will to pursue his own interests either financial or bureaucratic; all his immense energy went to trying to wake people to the political maneuvers of those who wanted to defeat the U.S.

Constantine’s devotion to noble purposes was matched by his high standards of personal behavior. He was absolutely loyal to his offices, honest and careful in all that he said and wrote, and sensitive to all the personal responsibilities of his professional and private lives. He was also a warm friend and a person who tried to help all people with whom he came in contact.

A few days after Constantine came to the NSC—Judge Clark, the man who brought him there, just having left to become Secretary of the Interior—Constantine responded to a bloody Communist coup in Grenada by writing a draft plan, at his own initiative, for the U.S. to respond not by just protecting the American students there, but by restoring democracy.

He was advised that if he put forward this bold proposal it was likely to cost him his new job, but he went ahead and his idea was adopted and implemented and became the first small step backward for Communism after its advances in the 1970s.

Despite that first success, and the unity of the administration on Grenada, most of Constantine’s tenure at the NSC became a lonely effort to protect President Reagan’s policy concerning Nicaragua.

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