In weighing the alternatives confronting American foreign policy in Central America -- that is, supporting the Central American peace plan or continuing to fuel the Nicaraguan civil war by supplying arms and money to the contras -- a consideration of the historical record may offer some insight as to which path offers the best prospects for a democratic, peaceful outcome.

In both the French and the Russian revolutions, the direct result of outside military aid to domestic counterrevolutionary forces was terror, the guillotine and the suspension of civil rights and liberties. External intervention propelled the revolutions toward more extreme solutions, narrowed the limits of permissible political discourse, produced a pervasive sense of threat and increased internal repression. It also galvanized the masses of the population to rally behind "their" leaders against "foreign" forces. The domestic political scene became increasingly polarized, and the moderate voices speaking for tolerance, reform and conciliation became identified with domestic reactionaries and foreign manipulation.

As President Woodrow Wilson so cogently argued in 1919 against the proponents of continued Allied intervention in Russia, external aid to the forces of the counterrevolution offered little hope for the establishment of a democratic system; at best, the result would be a military dictatorship and, at worst, a return to the old regime. In contrast, the prospect of an end to hostilities and the initiation of peace negotiations would ease internal tensions, broaden the political spectrum and strengthen the standing of those internal forces seeking democracy at home and accommodation abroad.

If the Reagan administration were truly committed to a democratic outcome in Central America, the choice would be clear.