The creation of a commission to develop U.S. policies on Central America is a mistake compounded by the appointment of Henry Kissinger as its chairman.
It is the responsibility of the president to develop the foreign policy of the United States. He should not pass the buck to a "blue-ribbon panel" or subcontract the job to someone else.
This president in particular should not give even the appearance of delegating this important duty, because it gives ammunition to his opponents who say that he delegates too much to his staff and that he is not knowledgeable in foreign affairs. It gives Americans the impression that he is in a jam and has to call in the old pro for help.
But even allowing that this commission should be established, it's essential its members be credible experts, to ensure that its findings are taken seriously. However, it appears the members of this commission were selected for their ability to deliver certain interest groups (Catholics, Democrats, labor, business, etc.) or to silence anticipated opposition, not for their experience and knowledge of Latin America.
A high-powered, charismatic chairman will almost certainly dominate such a group. It is unlikely that the panel's final product will differ in any substantial way from a report produced by Kissinger working alone in his office.
His presence on this commission virtually ensures the lack of a bipartisan consensus on the final report. Ironically, news of Kissinger's return to power came just as conservative leaders and organizations were planning a major campaign devoting their energy and resources in support of the president's Central American policies. These conservatives, who used to be called "Reaganites" when the term meant something, had put other issues aside to prepare to work hard for continued U.S. support of freedom and democracy in El Salvador and for the right of self-determination throughout the region.
Now it appears that Ronald Reagan's policies will be developed by one of those responsible for the "no-win war" approach that drained American resources and spilled American blood but failed to prevent the conquest of South Vietnam by the North Vietnamese.
Kissinger was America's top foreign policy official when our foreign policy virtually collapsed, leading to the loss of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Angola and, within a few years, Afghanistan, Iran, Rhodesia, Nicaragua and others. He bears much of the responsibility for the giveaway of the Panama Canal and for policies that winked at the continued Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.
Considering the fate of nations that received the Kissinger treatment, Salvadorans, Costa Ricans and Hondurans would be well-advised to pack their bags and check the bus schedules heading north.
The American people in general and the Republican Party in particular have rejected Kissinger's view of American interests in the world.
In March 1976, Ronald Reagan's campaign for the GOP presidential nomination was dead in the water until he began strongly attacking the policies of Henry Kissinger, particularly d,etente. Reagan said the secretary of state and his boss, President Ford, "must be held accountable to history" for permitting the nation to fall behind the Soviets in military strength. Reagan said that Kissinger's stewardship of foreign policy "has coincided precisely with the loss of U.S. military supremacy." He charged Kissinger with being a sucker for the Soviet con game at Helsinki, with stabbing Nationalist China in the back, with throwing Angola to the wolves. The attacks revitalized Reagan's campaign and won him his first victory (in the North Carolina primary).
In 1980, millions of disillusioned Americans voted for Ronald Reagan because he said he would reverse the decline in America's position that occurred during recent administrations. Once again, the people voted for change, and once again they were disappointed.
That is not to say that Reagan has failed to make progress in restoring our military strength and America's position of leadership in the Free World. But an appointment such as this one, of so clear a representative of the discredited "establishment" view of America's role, is discouraging.
In 1982, the president's abandonment of many of his most important explicit or implied campaign promises--to abolish the Departments of Energy and Education, to bring the issues of school prayer and abortion to the forefront, not to raise taxes--turned off many populist/conservative voters. They stayed home on Election Day. The Democrats gained 27 seats in the House.
If Reagan keeps trying to appease the Eastern establishment with actions like the Kissinger appointment, he will take the heart and soul from his hardest-working supporters. He will disillusion and discourage hundreds of thousands of dedicated volunteers who make the telephone calls and ring the doorbells, not only for the presidential candidate but for congressional, state and local candidates.
The Kissinger appointment may play well in Washington, but at the grass-roots level it plays havoc with the coalition that elected Reagan and a Republican Senate. It reinforces the impression that the president is just another politician.
And, in the end, the appointment of this commission will allow the U.S. government to speak with one voice: Henry Kissinger's.