Some hypothetical questions on human rights:
* What if Lech Walesa of Poland were Lech Walesa of Guatemala, a union leader risking his life to free Guatemalan workers from government death squads? Would the Reagan administration be hailing Walesa of Guatemala as a champion of freedom?
* What if he were Walesa of the Philippines, held in jail since 1972 when martial law made union organizers defenseless against government charges that they were "public order violators"? Would his cause prompt the Reagan administration to impose economic sanctions against the Marcos government?
* What if he were Walesa of El Salvador (where murders of two American labor organizers remain unsolved), or Chile, or Brazil, or Turkey? Would his calls for the rights of workers be heard in high places in Washington?
These are not questions that strain for answers. The spirit of terror and violence by which a Gen. Jaruzelski of Poland locks up a Lech Walesa is shared by a Gen. Garcia of Guatemala and President Marcos of the Philippines. The difference is that the Polish government's war against its people is denounced by the Reagan administration while the other governments find that their brutality is supported.
The support can get ludicrous, as in the now-famous toast that George Bush gave to Marcos last July: "We love your adherence to democratic principle -- and to the democratic processes . . . ." This to a corrupt, gangsterish tyrant who only a few days before the Bush toast was condemned by the Roman Catholic cardinal of Manila for conducting "a deliberate, finely orchestrated campaign to throttle the freedom of the church to speak on matters of Catholic morality."
The Philippine labor organizers, labeled subversives by Marcos, could have tutored Lech Walesa. In 1975, which was the third year of martial law, the government's ban against strikes was defied by thousands of Philippine workers. Repression followed. A Philippine secretary of defense defined subversion in terms that would find no dissent among fellow dictators in Poland or Moscow: "Anybody who goes against the government or who tries to convince the people to go against the government, that is subversion."
With no martial law for a year, after eight years of it, Marcos warned three months ago that he might return to his iron rule. "Labor is getting restive," he said. "I'm going to pick them up if they keep on causing trouble."
In the absence of moral consistency, the Reagan protests against Jaruzelski are hollow. Who is Reagan to be condemning one repressor while supporting so many others?
The administration runs low on political consistency too. With Poland, quiet diplomacy has been pushed aside for the moment. No Gen. Vernon Walters, the former CIA official turned ambassador-at-large, has been quietly dispatched to talk general-to-general with Jaruzelski, as he was sent last May to the murderous Gen. Garcia of Guatemala.
The administration's siding with Lech Walesa might be more inspiring if the world's other jailed labor leaders were to find themselves befriended by Reagan. But it won't happen. The president said on public television the other night that his foreign policy is retaining "quiet diplomacy -- getting things done, not by challenging someone and then putting his back up in the other country because politically he'll look like a weakling if he agrees with you."
This is the sharpest definition of quiet diplomacy to date. It's the delicate feelings of torturers and bullies that Reagan is worried about: What if Gen. Garcia decides to stop sending out death squads to gun down priests and word spreads among the peasants that he is a weakling? How could Marcos see himself as the strong man of the Pacific if it were known that George Bush was pushing him around with cumbrous talk of democratic freedom?
For human rights advocates, it's a low moment when an American president says that he must be silent about freedom and justice lest he create weaklings. But the victims of the Marcoses, Garcias and Jaruzelskis know the truth: The weakest leaders are those who coweringly hide behind martial laws and death squads. 1982, The Washington Post Company