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Missiles or Spaghetti?

February 18, 1988

As if we didn't have enough to worry about, Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson now claims to have discovered the existence of Soviet missiles in Cuba, presumably pointed--where else?--at the American heartland and presumably awaiting only the day when Fidel Castro and/or Mikhail Gorbachev will shout "Surprise!" and trot them out to force this nation to its knees.

How does Robertson come by this startling intelligence? He says that he got it from someone named David Sullivan, an aide to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). Sullivan on his part will say only that "we do not know whether nuclear weapons are in Cuba or not." Such a safely agnostic view can of course be applied with equal certainty to a variety of possibilities--as, for example, "we do not know whether we will want spaghetti for dinner tomorrow tonight or not." Perhaps on the basis of Sullivan's somewhat less than supportive comment Robertson has moved to downgrade his flat assertion about the Soviet missiles merely to "strong suspicions" that they may be there.

And on what basis does Sullivan even raise the possibility that Russian missiles, in defiance of the agreement that ended the 1962 missile crisis, may stll be in Cuba? The best that he can do is point to a 1963 congressional committee report noting that Cuban refugees and others "insist that strategic missiles and bombers were not removed, but hidden in caves." So there it is. For 26 years, to hear Robertson tell it, an unknown number of Soviet missiles have been sitting in Cuban caves, getting older and moldier and awaiting only the right moment--the New Hampshire primary, as it happened--when their existence could be revealed to a shocked nation.

The White House and the Pentagon both say flatly, in so many words, that Robertson is talking through his hat. A lot of candidates do that, of course, but those who engage in deliberate scare-mongering based on the most flimsy third-rate hearsay deserve special condemnation. Robertson ran last among all Republicans in the New Hampshire primary. It will be interesting to see if he keeps his shoddy missile story alive, and equally interesting to see if he gets anyone to bite, as he pursues his presidential campaign.

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