The title of the editorial on El Salvador, "End the Aid and the War" {Sept. 30}, was right on target, but the text was more of the muddled thinking that has come to characterize The Post's opinions on Central America.

The Post's endorsement of President Alfredo Cristiani's proposal to condition an aid cut on the FMLN's first agreeing to a cease-fire would have the effect, however unintended, of guaranteeing the Salvadoran army the full $85 million military aid request. This is a sure formula to derail the nascent peace negotiations and perpetuate the cycle of violence in El Salvador.

The Senate is scheduled to vote today on legislation introduced by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) that would cut the military aid request in half, an approach already accepted by the House. If the proposed cut were coupled with a clear bipartisan message, it could provide the pressure the army needs to take the United Nations-sponsored peace negotiations seriously. In the five negotiating sessions held this year, the army has stonewalled, refusing to agree to any reforms that might purge its ranks of officers involved in human rights abuses and make it accountable to civilian authority.

The FMLN negotiators, on the other hand, have made major concessions. They have long abandoned their demand for power-sharing and integration of the two armies and have made it clear that they will allow power to be distributed according to the outcome of free and fair elections. As a precondition, however, they insist on a guarantee that they and their supporters will not be gunned down by the army and death squads the moment they lay down their arms. As last fall's murder of the Jesuits and the ongoing cover-up so clearly demonstrate, the army is as brutal and corrupt as it was 10 years ago, when the FMLN first took up arms.

When President Cristiani was in Washington recently, he floated the idea of an aid cut linked to an immediate cease-fire, an approach endorsed in The Post's editorial and now championed by the administration. As appealing as this might sound, it would doom the negotiations by removing any incentive that might exist for the army to make concessions at the negotiating table. Indeed, a cease-fire, rather than a democratic society, is the army's primary objective, and if they can get it for free, why should they make concessions?

By endorsing a proposal certain to be rejected, the Salvadoran government and its allies in Washington all but guarantee another military offensive. Recently an FMLN commander said the decision will be made after the next negotiating session, scheduled for early November in Mexico. On the other hand, if Washington cuts the aid and delivers an ungarbled message, and government negotiators present a proposal for a purge of the 200 most brutal officers and for an end to the impunity the army has enjoyed, the FMLN will stay at the table and El Salvador will be spared another round of violence. WILLIAM C. GOODFELLOW Director, Center for International Policy Washington