Q: Start with Central America. We have a dilemma shaping fast. Take us through that as if you were in the White House.
A: My own view, about El Salvador particularly, is essentially what I think I understand President Kennedy's to have been about South Vietnam before he died, and that was: In the final analysis, it's their war and they'll have to win it. I would not go so far as we have gone already and as Kennedy went in South Vietnam in terms of American personnel. I think we can, in the effort to resist hegemony, provide military assistance and some economic aid to the junta. My understanding is the military forces in the country are still -- or at least some senior elements of those military forces are still -- too closely allied with the escaped oligarchy, that certainly they're brutally repressive to a degree that even we can't accept. And I would, and have, supported the proposals put forward by Sen. (Christopher) Dodd and others to in fact dictate to the junta that they must begin unconditional negotiations with all the elements in the country to try to work out some sort of a peaceful coalition government. I understand the difficulties of that. I'm not naive or wildly optimistic about the chances. But at least I think that is a policy we ought to be pursuing for the time being.
Q: When you mentioned hegemony, whose hegemony are we resisting?
A: I would say any power, and I don't know. I don't see the evidence that Secretary Haig sees for Soviet efforts to seek hegemony in that region. I think Castro is playing some limited role in some way, certainly.
Q: I'm just wondering why you think we should be in it at all. I mean, what does it matter to us? Or is there some American stake?
A: I think there is an American stake in many cases -- not every case, but many cases -- for the establishment of governments, regardless of what their economic policies are, that pursue democratic interests and political and civil rights. But we should not go to any extremes to try to force those principles on a government.
Q: What is your interpretation or appraisal of the rebel force there?
A: I think it's a combination of political ideologues, with land reformers, with people who want some form of socialism, with ... I don't think it's a monolith by any means.
Q: Do you think it matters, do you think it is against our interest for that side to win?
A: Not necessarily, no. But ...
Q: Do you think the national security of the United States could conceivably be affected by any outcome in El Salvador?
A: Not in and of itself, no. Only if it signals some trend for the entire region that was totally undemocratic in that it might be used as a base for some totalitarian principles throughout the area.
Q: Are you suggesting, though, that we send some sort of aid to the Duarte (government) side?
Q: But what for? Why should it matter to us?
A: Because I don't think we can isolate El Salvador. I don't think it is a discrete country in that respect. Obviously there are political and military overlaps with its neighbors up and down the Central American region.
Q: Where would you cut it off?
A: I don't know, probably about where it is now. Certainly not a lot more.
Q: Why do that at all? I mean, if the rebels are as you describe them, and if we don't have an interest ...
A: First of all, the question was raised in the context that El Salvador taken by itself, whatever happens to it, and I said the answer is no. On the other hand, an entire region ...
Q:How would you know?
A:Well, I suppose a combination of a lot better intelligence than we have now, probably direct contact with the rebels themselves. A lot more sophisticated analysis by people on the scene, certainly not the kind of knee-jerk reaction by the administration.
Q: Well, the question is generally asked, though, to what extent does the United States go to resist the formation of a Marxist government in any place, but particularly in the Western Hemisphere. That's the way the question was posed.
A: Again, you have to deal country by country, I think, in determining what the United States' interests are. I don't think we ought to automatically assume that a self- determined Marxist government is something we can't stand.
Q: What kind of a positive statement would you make about the American security interest in Central America?
A: It's hard to make a positive statement, with the possible exception of Panama. I think our interest lies in seeing the entire region is not totalitarian or totally anti- American.
Q: Do you think the Nicaraguan government is totalitarian?
A: No, not so far as I know. And I'm no Central America ...
Q: Would you say the Castro government is totalitarian?
A: It's not a government I'd want to live under; it's certainly not democratic.
Q: I'm trying to find a real definition of what you feel is totalitarian. Can you give me an example somewhere?
A: Sure. Extremes of the right and the left all over Latin America.
Q: That would be the right. What about the left?
A: Well, Cuba is not totalitarian and it's not democratic.
Q: Go back to the next question: Why would you send $55 million worth of equipment and no more? What possible useful service does that perform other than to say, "I've done all I can?"
A: Well, essentially what I said was that I would probably supply the military assistance they'd gotten right now and no more. But, at the same time, had I started at the beginning I would have insisted, with the equipment, that some effort be made at political negotiation. That has not been insisted on, apparently, by this administration.
Q: If Cuba is not a totalitarian government, what is it?
A: I don't know.
Q: Why would you say it was not totalitarian?
A: Because I'm trying to figure out a common or agreed definition of what totalitarianism is, and I probably regret using the term to begin with since it's gotten to be ...
Q: Well, would you say it's more democratic than the Soviet Union? Or would you say that the Soviet Union isn't totalitarian?
A: Countries whose forms of government are not democratic, that is what I was trying to say. Totalitarian is probably a word that I should not have used.
Q: But you don't make distinctions among them?
A: Oh, sure. Some are of the right, some are of the left.
Q: We've gone a long way from your original premise, which was that American policy should consist of trying to keep the entire region from developing a totalitarian cast.
A: And to encourage governments, as they are evolving in the region, to adopt democratic principles and principles of social justice and so on to the degree possible, but not impose these.
Q: Take the Central American recapitulation of the domino theory. People were saying, in essence: If Nicaragua goes to the Sandinistas, then they will try to encourage the guerrillas in Salvador, and if they succeed there ... Is there something in that process where it does become wise for the United States to do more than send $55 million in aid to El Salvador?
A: If you want to talk in pragmatic terms, it's very, very difficult, even in our hemisphere, to militarily change that kind of force. The policy that interests me is one that says we will resist any other power or superpower imposing its will on the region, but we will not try to impose our will on the region either. We will assist those democratic elements in those evolving governments to try to achieve some sort of stability and negotiate with all political extremes to the degree that establishment of democratic governments can be sought.
Q: Can you give an example of where that kind of policy has been successfully implemented by the United States?
A: I'm not a diplomatic historian ... No, I don't think that's ever been our policy. I think our policy, by and large, in the mid-'60s to the late '70s -- with the possible exception of some aspects of the Carter administration -- has been to overtly impose our will almost everywhere.
Q: Supposing that the Cubans are thought to help in a very aggressive way, to establish whatever kind of government it is, and that this is viewed as a threat to the region, which is not implausible. Doesn't your theory break down at leaving it all alone? I mean, when you have one side doing something, does that change the philosophy ...
A: I think I'm being misunderstood. One school of questions seems to suggest that I'm much too willing to get involved, and your question suggests that I'm not willing to get involved enough.
Q: I'm not suggesting anything. I'm trying to ask, how do you react to a situation like that?
A: Well, I certainly am less concerned about Cuban support for an element in that country or in neighboring countries than I am with the Russians. I think there's not been very much proof on the part of the administration that the Russians have been that directly involved. Now the arms that they may have provided to Castro may have made their way to Nicaragua and then made their way to El Salvador, but I don't know in what quantities or what types or the degree to which that was a pass-through policy that everybody agreed to. I'm not saying, on the one hand, that we ought to stick our fingers in just because something looks "totalitarian" to us. On the other hand, I'm certainly not saying that we should leave every situation alone if we feel, legitimately, that we have an interest in the region. And I think we do have an interest in Central America -- economic interest, if nothing else. But, obviously, if the Russians wanted to put some submarine bases down there that would be a strategic interest to us. We don't want that to happen. But there are a variety of ways you can try to prevent that from happening and I think you want to try, short of sending armed advisers, helicopters and a whole lot of things like that. Economically, there are a variety of ... We have lending agreements with various governments in that region. We stimulate private investment in that region, and I think we can deal on a very strong footing in terms of our democratic interest in seeing how that region goes.