Presidential contenders split on Reagan's Grenada tactics

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The United States military sweep into Grenada has revealed significant differences between the seven men vying for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984.

Most of the candidates, stunned by the one-two punch of Lebanon and then Grenada, were initially cautious in their responses to Reagan White House policies in both areas.

However, over the weekend all seven spoke out with reactions that appeared to fall into three broad categories - support for Reagan policies in Grenada, open hostility toward those policies, and cautious criticism.

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Strongly hostile to what the President had done were Sens. Gary Hart, Alan Cranston, Ernest Hollings, and former Sen. George McGovern.

Supporting the military action in Grenada was former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew, who comes from a state with strong anti-Castro sentiments.

Cautiously critical were the two front-runners, former Vice-President Walter Mondale and Sen. John Glenn.

The caution on the part of Mr. Mondale and Mr. Glenn - who have the most to lose by a misstep - was understandable.

Public-opinion polls and call-ins both indicate that President Reagan's action in Grenada is drawing support from the man in the street.

On Sunday, for example, the Washington Post-ABC News poll reported that American voters backed the military action in Grenada by a 53 percent to 37 percent margin before the President made his nationwide speech explaining the decision. After his speech, that margin of support grew to 63 to 31.

Also, on Friday night, the ABC-TV late-night news program ''Nightline'' conducted an unscientific straw poll in which viewers favored the military landing in Grenada by an 8-to-1 margin. A near-record 565,000 callers jammed the network's telephone lines during the show.

Walter Mondale's careful approach to the Grenada issue was shown when a Monitor reporter asked him whether he supported the President's action shortly after US marines and Army rangers had landed on the Caribbean island. Mondale begged off, saying he didn't have enough information to make an intelligent comment.

Later, his office issued a statement hedged with ''ifs'':

''If in fact American citizens in Grenada were in serious danger, or if Grenada was on the verge of becoming a base for Soviet or Cuban subversion in this hemisphere, then as President I would act decisively to meet these threats. ''Unfortunately, we are unable to reach an informed judgment (on Grenada) because, possibly for the first time in our history, and without adequate justification, the Reagan administration deliberately blacked out news of its action. . . .

''It's clear that Mr. Reagan did not adequately consult with our friends and allies,'' Mondale continued.

John Glenn - himself a 23-year Marine veteran - also moved gingerly on Grenada. His initial response was limited to a 65-word press release viewing the situation with ''concern.''

Later, Glenn expressed pleasure that American citizens on the island had been returned safely to the United States. But he took a jab at the President for appearing to rely on military might as a tool of ''first resort'' rather than ''last resort.''

''There is an important distinction between protecting our vital interests - in this case, rescuing Americans in jeopardy - and an overreliance on force to settle our many differences with the Soviet Union and Cuba. Unfortunately, there are Soviets and Cubans all over the world.''

If there is anyone who has managed to separate himself from the crowd in this last week it is former Governor Askew. At the New Hampshire State Democratic Convention over the weekend, where all the candidates appeared, it was Askew who drew more boos than cheers when he said Reagan's action in Grenada was ''justified.''

Askew said several factors supported the rescue mission. First, the safety of US citizens was at stake. Second, the US had been asked in by other countries in the region. Third, the strategic importance of sending ''a strong message to Fidel Castro.''

The President didn't fare so well with the other candidates.

Senator Hollings statement was typical. ''The administration says it went in to protect American students - which I support,'' he said. But what Reagan really did was go in ''to set up a new government.''

Senator Cranston chided the President: ''If we are going to attack every country where hostages might be taken, there will be a lot of invasions.''

Senator Hart asked what Reagan was going to do for a foreign policy when he ''runs out of marines.''

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