EDWIN NEWMAN : Dorothy Ridings, thank you. A brief word about our procedure tonight. The first question will go to Mr. Mondale. He'll have two and a half minutes to reply. Then the panel member who put the question will ask the followup. The answer to that will be limited to one minute. After that, the same question will be put to President Reagan. Again, there will be a followup and then each man will have one minute for rebuttal. The second question will go to President Reagan first. After, the alternating will continue. At the end there will be four-minute summations with President Reagan going last. We have asked the questioners to be brief. Let's begin. Miss Geyer, your question to Mr. Mondale.
REPORTER: Mr. Mondale, two related questions on the crucial issue of Central America. You and the Democratic Party have said that the only policy toward the horrendous civil wars in Central America should be on the economic developments and negotiations with, perhaps a quarantine of, Marxist Nicaragua. Do you believe that these answers would in any way solve the bitter conflicts there? Do you really believe that there is no need to resort to force at all? Are not these solutions to Central America's gnawing problems simply again too weak and too late?
MONDALE : I believe that the question oversimplifies the difficulties of what we must do in Central America. Our objectives ought to be to strengthen the democracy, to stop Communist and other extremist influences and stabilize the community in that area. To do that, we need a three-pronged attack. One is military assistance to our friends who are being pressured. Secondly, a strong and sophisticated economic aid program and human rights program that offers a better life and a sharper alternative to the alternative offered by the totalitarians who oppose us. And finally, a strong diplomatic effort that pursues the possibilities of peace in the area. That's one of the big disagreements that we have with the President, that they have not pursued the diplomatic opportunities either within El Salvador or as between the country and have lost time during which we might have been able to achieve peace. This brings up the whole question of what Presidential leadership is all about. I think the lesson in Central America, this recent embarrassment in Nicaragua where we are giving instructions for hired assassins, hiring criminals and the rest - all of this has strenthened our opponent. A President must not only assure that we're tough. But we must also be wise and smart in the exercise of that power. We saw the same thing in Lebanon where we spent a good deal of America's assets but because the leadership of this government did not pursue wise policies, we have been humiliated and our opponents are stronger. The bottom line of national strength is that the President must be command. He must lead. And when a President doesn't know that submarine missiles are recallable, says that 70 percent of our strategic forces are conventional, discovers three years into his Administration that our arms control efforts have failed because he didn't know that most Soviet missiles were on land - these are things a President must know to command. A President is called the Commander-in-Chief. And he's called that because he's supposed to be in charge of facts and run our government and strengthen our nation.
REPORTER: Mr, Mondale, if I could broaden the question just a little bit. Since World War II, every conflict that we as Americans have been involved with has been in nonconventional or irregular terms and yet we keep fighting in conventional or traditional military terms. The Central American wars are very much in the same pattern as China, as Lebanon, as Iran, as Cuba in the early days. Do you see any possibility that we are going to realize the change in warfare in our time or react to it in those terms?
MONDALE: We absolutely must, which is why I responded to your first question the way I did. It's much more complex. You must understand the region, you must understand the politics in the area, you must provide a strong alternative and you must show strength - and all at the same time. That's why I object to the covert action in Nicaragua. That's a classic example of a strategy that's embarrassed us, strengthened our opposition and undermined the moral authority of our people and our country in the region. Strength requires knowledge, command. We've seen in the Nicaraguan example a policy that has actually hurt us, strengthened our opposition and undermined the moral authority of our country in that region.
REPORTER: Mr. President, in the last few months it has seemed more and more that your policies in Central America were beginning to work. Yet just at this moment we are confronted with the extraordinary story of the C.I.A. guerrilla manual for the anti-Sandinista Contras, whom we are backing, which advocates not only assassinations of Sandinistas but the hiring of criminals to assassinate the guerrillas we are supporting in order to create martyrs. Is this not in effect our own state-supported terrorism?
REAGAN: No, but I'm glad you asked that question because I know it's on many people's minds. I have ordered an investigation; I know that the C.I.A. is already going forward with one. We have a gentleman down in Nicaragua who is on contract to the C.I.A., advising supposedly on military tactics, the Contras. And he drew up this manual. It was turned over to the agency head of the C.I.A. in Nicaragua to be printed, and a number of pages were excised by that agency head there, the man in charge, and he sent it on up here to C.I.A., where more pages were excised before it was printed. But some way or other, there were 12 of the original copies that got out down there and were not submitted for this printing process by the C.I.A. Now those are the details as we have them, and as soon as we have an investigation and find out where any blame lies for the few that did not get excised or changed, we certainly are going to do something about that. We'll take the proper action at the proper time. I was very interested to hear about Central America and our process down there, and I thought for a moment that instead of a debate I was going to find Mr. Mondale in complete agreement with what we're doing because the plan that he has outlined is the one we've been following for quite some time, including diplomatic processes throughout Central America and working closely with the Contadora Group. So I can only tell you, about the manual, that we're not in the habit of assigning guilt before there has been proper evidence produced in proof of that guilt; but if guilt is established, whoever is guilty, we will treat with that situation then and they will be removed.
REPORTER: Well, Mr. President, you are implying then that the C.I.A. in Nicaragua is directing the Contras there. I'd also like to ask whether having the C.I.A. investigate its own manual in such a sensitive area is not sort of like sending the fox into the chicken coop a second time.
REAGAN: I'm afraid I misspoke when I said a C.I.A. head in Nicaragua. There's not someone there directing all of this activity. There are, as you know, C.I.A. men stationed in other countries in the world, and certainly in Central America, and so it was a man down there in that area that this was delivered to. And he recognized that what was in that manual was a direct contravention of my own executive order in December of 1981, that we would have nothing to do with regard to political assassinations.
MODERATOR: Mr. Mondale, your rebuttal?
MONDALE: What is a President charged with doing when he takes his oath of office? He raises his right hand and takes an oath of, oath of office to take care, to faithfully execute the laws of the land. Presidents can't know everything but a President has to know those things that are essential to his leadership and the enforcement of our laws. This manual, several thousands of which were produced, was distributed ordering political assassination, hiring of criminals and other forms of terrorism. Some of it was excised but the part dealing with political terrorism was continued. How can this happen? How can something this serious occur in an Administration and have a President of the United States in a situation like this say he didn't know. A President must know these things. I don't know which is worse - not knowing or knowing and not stopping it. And what about the mining of the harbors in Nicaragua, which violated international law? This has hurt this country and a President's supposed to command.
MODERATOR: Mr. President, your rebuttal.
REAGAN: Yes. I have so many things there to respond to I'm going to pick out something you said earlier. You've been all over the country repeating something that I will admit the press has also been repeating - that I believe that nuclear missiles could be fired and then called back. I never conceived of such a thing. I never said any such thing. In a discussion of our strategic arms negotiations, I said that submarines carrying missiles and airplanes carrying missiles were more conventional-type weapons, not as destabilizing as the land-based missiles and that they were also weapons that, or carriers, that, if they were sent out and there was a change, you could call them back before they had launched their missiles. But I hope that from here on, you will no longer be saying that particular thing, which is absolutely false. How anyone could think that any sane person would believe you could call back a nuclear missile I think is as ridiculous as the, as the whole concept has been. So, thank you for giving me a chance to straighten the record. I'm sure that you appreciate that.
MODERATOR: Mr. Kalb, your question to President Reagan.
REPORTER: Mr. President, you have often described the Soviet Union as a powerful evil empire intent on world domination. But this year, you have said, and I quote: "If they want to keep their Mickey Mouse system, that's O.K. with me." Which is it, Mr. President - Do you want to contain them within their present borders and perhaps try to reestablish detente or what goes for detente or do you really want to roll back their empire?
REAGAN: I have said, on a number of occasions, exactly what I believe about the Soviet Union. I retract nothing that I have said. I believe that many of the things they have done are evil in any concept of morality that we have. But I also recognize that as the two great superpowers in the world, we have to live with each other. And I told Mr. Gromyko we don't like their system. They don't like ours. And we're not gonna change their system and they sure better not try to change ours. But, between us, we can either destroy the world or we can save it. And I suggested that certainly it was to their common interest, along with ours, to avoid a conflict and to attempt to save the world and remove the nuclear weapons. And I think that perhaps we established a little better understanding. I think that in dealing with the Soviet Union, one has to be realistic. I know that Mr. Mondale, in the past, has made statements as if they were just people like ourselves and if we were kind and good and did something nice, they would respond accordingly. And the result was unilateral disarmament. We canceled the B-1 under the previous Administration. What did we get for it? Nothing. The Soviet Union has been engaged in the biggest military buildup in the history of man at the same time that we tried the policy of unilateral disarmament, of weakness, if you will. And now, we are putting up a defense of our own. And I've made it very plain to them. We seek no superiority. We simply are going to provide a deterrent so that it will be too costly for them if they are nursing any ideas of aggression against us. Now they claim they're not. And I made it plain to them that we're not. But, this, there's been no change in my attitude at all. I just thought when I came into office it was time that there was some realistic talk to and about the Soviet Union. And we did get their attention.
REPORTER: Mr. President, on perhaps the other side of the coin, a related question, sir. Since World War II, the vital interests of the United States have always been defined by treaty commitments and by Presidential proclamations. Aside from what is obvious, such as NATO, for example, which countries, which regions in the world do you regard as vital national interests of this country, meaning that you would send American troops to fight there if they were in danger?
REAGAN: Ah, well now you've added a hypothetical there at the end, Mr. Kalb, about that where we would send troops in to fight. I am not going to make the decision as to what the tactics could be, but obviously there are a number of areas in the world that are of importance to us. One is the Middle East. And that is of interest to the whole Western world and the industrialized nations, because of the great supply of energy upon which so many depend there. The - our neighbors here in America are vital to us. We're working right now in trying to be of help in southern Africa with regard to the independence of Namibia and the removal of the Cuban surrogates, the thousands of them, from Angola. So, I can say there are a great many interests. I believe that we have a great interest in the Pacific basin. That is where I think the future of the world lies. But I am not going to pick out one and in advance and hypothetically say, oh, yes, we would send troops there. I don't -
MODERATOR: Sorry, Mr. President. Sorry, your time was up.
REPORTER: Mr. Mondale, you have described the Soviet leaders as, and I'm quoting, cynical, ruthless and dangerous, suggesting an almost total lack of trust in them. In that case, what makes you think that the annual summit meetings with them that you've proposed will result in agreements that would satisfy the interests of this country?
MONDALE: Because the only type of agreements to reach with the Soviet Union are the types that are specifically defined, so we know exactly what they must do, subject to full verification. Which means we know every day whether they're living up to it, and follow-ups wherever we find suggestions that they're violating it, and the strongest possible terms. I have no illusions about the Soviet Union leadership or the nature of that state. They are a tough and a ruthless adversary, and we must be prepared to meet that challenge. And I would.
Where I part with the President is that despite all of those differences, we must, as past Presidents before this one have done, meet on the common ground of survival. And that's where the President has opposed practically every arms control agreement, by every President of both political parties, since the bomb went off. And he now completes this term with no progress toward arms control at all, but with a very dangerous arms race underway instead. There are now over 2,000 more warheads pointed at us today than there were when he was sworn in, and that does not strengthen us. We must be very, very realistic in the nature of that leadership, but we must grind away and talk to find ways to reducing these differences, particularly where arms races are concerned and other dangerous exercises of Soviet power. There will be no unilateral disarmament under my Administration. I will keep this nation strong. I understand exactly what the Soviets are up to. But that, too, is a part of national strength. To do that, a President must know what is essential to command and to leadership and to strength. And that's where the President's failure to master, in my opinion, the essential elements of arms control has cost us dearly. These four years - three years into this Administration he said he just discovered that most Soviet missiles are on land and that's why his proposal didn't work. I invite the American people tomorrow, because I will issue the statement quoting President Reagan. He said exactly what I said he said. He said that these missiles were less dangerous than ballistic missiles because you could fire them and you could recall them if you decided there'd been a miscalculation. A President must know those things.
MODERATOR: I'm sorry.
REPORTER: A related question, Mr. Mondale, on Eastern Europe: Do you accept the conventional diplomatic wisdom that Eastern Europe is a Soviet sphere of influence, and if you do, what could a Mondale Administration realistically do to help the people of Eastern Europe achieve the human rights that were guaranteed to them as a result of the Helsinki accords.
MONDALE: I think the essential strategy of the United States ought not accept any Soviet control over Eastern Europe. We ought to deal with each of these countries separately, we ought to pursue strategies with each of them - economic and the rest - that help them pull away from their dependence upon the Soviet Union. Where the Soviet Union has acted irresponsibly, as they have in many of those countries - especially recently in Poland - I believe we ought to insist that Western credits extended to the Soviet Union bear the market rate, make the Soviets pay for their irresponsibility. That is a very important objective to make certain that we continue to look forward to progress toward greater independence by these nations and work with each of them separately.
MODERATOR: Mr. President, your rebuttal.
REAGAN: Yes, I'm not going to continue trying to respond to these repetitions of the falsehoods that have already been stated here, but with regard to whether Mr. Mondale would be strong, as he said he would be, I know that he has a commercial out where he is appearing on the deck of the Nimitz and watching the F-14's take off, and that's an image of strength - except that if he had had his way when the Nimitz was being planned he would have been deep in the water out there because there wouldn't have been any Nimitz to stand on. He was against it. He was against the F-14 fighter, he was against the M-1 tank, he was against the B-1 bomber, he wanted to cut the salary of all of the military, he wanted to bring home half of the American forces in Europe, and he has a record of weakness with regard to our national defense that is second to none. Indeed, he was on that side virtually throughout all his years in the Senate and he opposed even President Carter when toward the end of his term President Carter wanted to increase the defense budget.
MODERATOR: Mr. Mondale, your rebuttal.
MONDALE: Mr. President, I accept your commmitment to peace, but I want you to accept my commitment to a strong national defense. I propose a budget, I have proposed a budget, which would increase our nation's strength by, in real terms, by double that of the Soviet Union. I tell you where we disagree. It is true, over 10 years ago I voted to delay production of the F14 and I'll tell you why. The plane wasn't flying the way it was supposed to be, it was a waste of money. Your definition of national stength is to throw money at the Defense Department. My definition of national strength is to make certain that a dollar spent buys us a dollar's worth of defense. There's a big difference between the two of us. A President must manage that budget. I will keep us strong, but you'll not do that unless you command that budget and make certain we get the strength that we need. When you pay $500 for a $5 hammer, you're not buying strength.
MODERATOR: I would ask the audience not to applaud. All it does is take up time that we would like to devote to the debate. Mr. Kondracke, your question to Mr. Mondale.
REPORTER: Mr. Mondale, in an address earlier this year you said that before this country resorts to military force, and I'm quoting, American interests should be sharply defined, publicly supported, Congressionally sanctioned, militarily feasible, internationally defensible, open to independent scrutiny and alert to regional history. Now aren't you setting up such a gauntlet of tests here that adversaries could easily suspect that as President you would never use force to protect American interests?
MONDALE: No; as a matter of fact, I believe every one of those standards is essential to the exercise of power by this country. And we can see that in both Lebanon and in Central America. In Lebanon this President exercised American power all right, but the management of it was such that our marines were killed, we had to leave in humiliation, the Soviet Union became stronger, terrorists became emboldened, and it was because they did not think through how power should be exercised, did not have the American public with them on a plan that worked, that we ended up the way we did. Similarly, in Central America, what we're doing in Nicaragua with this covert war which the Congress, including many Republicans, have tried to stop is finally end up with the public definition of American power that hurts us, where we get associated with political assassins and the rest. We have to decline for the first time in modern history jurisdiction of the World Court because they'll find us guilty of illegal actions, and our enemies are strengthened from all of this. We need to be strong. We need to be prepared to use that strength, but we must understand that we are a democracy; we are a government by the people, and when we move, it should be for very severe and extreme reasons that serve our national interest and end up with a stronger country behind us. It is only in that way that we can persevere.
REPORTER: You've been quoted as saying that you might quarantine Nicaragua. I'd like to know what that means. Would you stop Soviet ships as President Kennedy did in 1962 and wouldn't that be more dangerous than President Reagan's covert war?
MONDALE: What I'm referring to there is the mutual self-defense provisions that exist in the inter-American treaty, the so-called Rio Pact, that permits the nations, our friends in that region, to combine to take steps, diplomatic and otherwise, to prevent Nicaragua when she acts irresponsibly in asserting power in other parts outside of her border, to take those steps, whatever they might be, to stop it. The Nicaraguans must know that it is the policy of our Government that those people, that that leadership must stay behind the boundaries of their nation, not interfere in other nations. And by working with all of the nations in the region, unlike the policies of this Administration and unlike the President said they have not supported negotiations in that region, we will be much stronger because we'll have the moral authority that goes with those efforts.
REPORTER: President Reagan, you introduced U.S. forces into Lebanon as neutral peacekeepers but then you made them combatants on the side of the Lebanese Government. Eventually you were forced to withdraw them under fire and now Syria, a Soviet ally, is dominant in the country. Doesn't Lebanon represent a major failure on the part of your Administration and raise serious questions about your capacity as a foreign policy strategist and as Commander in Chief?
REAGAN: No, Morton, I don't agree to all of those things. First of all, when we and our allies, the Italians, the French and the United Kingdom, went into Lebanon, we went in there at the request of what was left of the Lebanese Government, to be a stabilizing force while they tried to establish a government. But first, pardon me, the first time we went in, we went in at their request because the war was going on right in Beirut between Israel and the P.L.O. terrorists. Israel could not be blamed for that. Those terrorists had been violating their northern border consistently and Israel chased them all the way to there.
Then, we went in, with the multinational force, to help remove and did remove more than 13,000 of those terrorists from Lebanon. We departed and then the Government of Lebanon asked us back in as a stabilizing force while they established a government and sought to get the foreign forces all the way out of Lebanon and that they could then take care of their own borders. And we were succeeding. We were there for the better part of a year. Our position happened to be at the airport or there were occasional snipings and sometimes some artillery fire, but we did not engage in conflict that was out of line with our mission. I will never send troops anywhere on a mission of that kind without telling them that if somebody shoots at them they can darn well shoot back. And this is what we did. We never initiated any kind of action, we defended ourselves there. But, we were succeeding to the point that the Lebanese Government had been organized, if you will remember there were the meetings in Geneva in which they began to meet with the hostile factional forces and try to put together some kind of a peace plan. We were succeeding and that was why the terrorist acts began. There are forces there - and that includes Syria, in my mind - who don't want us to succeed, who don't want that kind of a peace with a dominant Lebanon, dominant over its own territory. And so the terrorist acts began and led to the one great tragedy when they were killed in that suicide bombing of the building. Then the multi-lateral force withdrew for only one reason. We withdrew because we were no longer able to carry out the mission for which we had been sent in. But we went in in the interest of peace and to keep Israel and Syria from getting into the sixth war between them. And I have no apologies for our going on a peace mission.
REPORTER: Mr. President, four years ago you criticized President Carter for ignoring ample warning that our diplomats in Iran might be taken hostage. Haven't you done exactly the same thing in Lebanon, not once, but three times, with 300 Americans, not hostages, but dead? And you vowed swift retaliation against terrorists but doesn't our lack of response suggest that you're just bluffing?
REAGAN: Morton, no. I think there's a great difference between the Government of Iran threatening our diplomatic personnel and there is a Government that you can see and can put your hand on. In the terrorist situation there are terrorist factions all over - in a recent 30 day period 37 terrorist actions in 20 countries have been committed. The most recent has been the one in Brighton. In dealing with terrorists, yes, we want to retaliate, but only if we can put our finger on the people responsible and not endanger the lives of innocent civilians there in the various communities and in the city of Beirut where these terrorists are operating. I have just signed legislation to add to our ability to deal, along with our allies, with this terrorist problem, and it's going to take all the nations together, just as when we banded together we pretty much resolved the problem of skyjackings some time ago. Well, the red light went on - I could have gone on forever.
MODERATOR: Mr. Mondale, your rebuttal?
MONDALE: Groucho Marx said, who do you believe, me or your own eyes? And what we have in Lebanon is somethng that the American people have seen. The Joint Chiefs urged the President not to put our troops in that barracks because they were undefensible. They urged - they went to five days before they were killed and said please take them out of there. The Secretary of State admitted that this morning. He did not do so. The report following the explosion in the barracks disclosed that we had not taken any of the steps that we should have taken. That was the second time. Then the embassy was blown up a few weeks ago and once again none of the steps that should have been taken were taken and we were warned five days before that explosives were on their way and they weren't taken. The terrorists have won each time. The President told the terrorists he was going to retaliate. He didn't. They called their bluff. And the bottom line is the United States left in humiliation and our enemies are stronger.
MODERATOR: Mr. President, your rebuttal?
REAGAN: Yes, first of all, Mr. Mondale should know that the President of the United States did not order the Marines into that barracks. That was a command decision made by the commanders on the spot and based with what they thought was best for the men there. That is one. On the other things that you've just said about the terrorists - I'm tempted to ask you what you would do. These are unidentified people, and after the bomb goes off they're blown to bits because they are suicidal individuals who think that they're going to go to paradise if they perpetrate such an act and lose their life in doing it. We are going to, as I say - we are busy trying to find the centers where these operations stem from and retaliation will be taken, but we are not going to simply kill some people to say, oh look, we got even. We want to know when we retaliate that we're retaliating with those who are responsible for the terrorist acts. And terrorist acts are such that our own United States Capitol in Washington has been bombed twice.
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