THE CRASH OF A U.S. military reconnaissance plane with seven aboard in the jungle of southern Colombia has produced the first American casualties in the violence there. The loss is bound to exacerbate the struggle for the control of anti-drug and anti-guerrilla policy that is going on between the American and Colombian governments on one side and the House on the other.
The Colombian government, supported by Washington, takes as its first goal domestic peace -- a resolution of a 40-year-old government-guerrilla struggle that has a latter-day anti-drug edge but that exists apart from it. To the House, however, the first goal is the war against drugs. House Republicans have used their power to reach into Colombia and to select a particular official, the commander of the national police, as the favored recipient of American military aid and to give it to him for policy purposes apart from what has been approved by the U.S. government, for different hardware and in larger sums.
The House policy does not lack appeal. It addresses what most troubles Americans about Colombia: its anarchic state in which the government cannot contain the flow of cocaine and heroin to the United States. The Clinton administration addresses that anti-drug purpose but by way of first addressing the peace purpose of the Colombian government.
But it is bizarre, even interventionist and offensive, to exploit another country's distress in order to snatch from it a sensitive part of its internal apparatus and then to apply that part to a strategy that is not shared by the host government. The policy is almost certainly bound to fail as Colombians resist this provocative theft of their sovereignty from the inside.
There is no sure good policy for Colombia: That is what prompts impatient drug fighters in the House to reach out in this rash manner. But there is a policy that is perhaps a little better, and it is a variant of President Andres Pastrana's attempt to temper military action with political reconciliation and to move beyond crop eradication to crop substitution. That policy goes poorly at the moment, thanks particularly to the bad faith of the drug-trafficking guerrillas, who recently used a government-granted "demilitarized zone" to launch an offensive. But such a policy, capably conducted, promises to earn from international as well as Colombian sources the kind of support a workable policy must enjoy.