The poverty of this administration's policy toward El Salvador becomes clear every day. The government of El Salvador is going nowhere. The violence continues. The reforms have stopped. The economy is foundering. The exremes are gathering strength. Yet the only response from this administration has been to discourage diplomatic initiatives from friendly governments, to spin tall tales about massive arms shipments from Nicaragua and to point the Salvadoran military toward search and destroy missions against campesino towns suspected of containing guerrillas.

To a government pleading for economic assistance to carry out its reform programs, we have provided unneeded armaments. To a people crying out for an end to the violence, we have furnished unwanted military advisers. To moderate civilian and military leaders trying desperately to contain the slaughter practiced by the security forces, we have given an abandoment of our human rights policy and a justification for government-sponsored terrorism. To friendly goverments seeking to encourage a negotiated solution, we have trumpeted unsupportable charges of a "textbook case of the indirect armed agression by communist powers." And to world leaders who believed that the United States had finally learned that counterrevolution is not an adequate response to a people determined to transform their country, we have responded with Cold War rhetoric.

If U.S. policy toward El Salvador continues to exclude a political solution to that country's tragic civil war, the inexorable result will be to drive the moderate element -- the Christian Democrats -- from the government. This has long been the objective of the economic elites that regard the commitment of the Christian Democrats to profound reform as far more dangerous than the threat posed by the guerrillas of the far left.

The Reagan administration has thrown its weight behind a military solution to the Salvodran tragedy. This has forced the Christian Democrats to equivocate regarding their long and strongly held position in favor of a negotiated solution to the conflict, and threatens their ability to govern. Two public examples that bear witness to the Christian Democrats' commitment to negotiation come to mind.

In October 1980, the bishop of San Salvador, Arturo Rivera y Damas, speaking in the name of the entire episcopate, offered to mediate between the government and the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR). While the FDR turned its back on the bishops' initiative, the government immediately accepted the mediation offer. A few weeks later, at a ceremony in the headquarters of the Organization of American States, Foreign Minister Fidel Chavez Mena stated unequivocally the government's willingness to "meet with all groups and sectors at the negotiating table."

It is important to be clear on this essential point. The Christian Democrats want to enter into negotiations with the FDR. It is the Salvadoran military that opposes any accommodation with the left, preferring instead to kill them with the assistance of our arms and our military advisers. Unless the United States uses its influence in favor of negotiation, the Christian Democrats have no choice but to temporize. They are not powerful enough to move the military toward a political solution without the solid backing of the United States. The Christian Democrats' only hope is that the nations of Western Europe and this hemisphere will persuade the United States to adopt a more responsible and humane course.

It is not only the Reagan administration that treats the Christian Democrats as expendable. Leaders of the FDR have persistently underestimated the importance of the Christian Democrats. FDR President Guillermo Ungo has spoken contemptuously of President Napoleon Duarte and other party leaders, describing them as nothing more than a facade for repression. This is both factually wrong amd morally unfair. Men such as junta member Jose Antonio Morales Erhlich and Minister of Planning Atilio Vieytez, as well as Duarte and Chavez Mena are authentic democrats committed to a new deal for their country. More than the others, perhaps, Duarte may be tempted to use every device available to stay in office even after any real hope of transferring power from the military to the civilian institutions of the country has disappeared.

Ultimately, however, Duarte is a disciplined Christian Democrat. Should the party decide to leave the government, he will comply. And there is solid evidence of a sentiment building within Christian Democracy that the party can expect no support from the Reagan administration and would do well to leave the government in order to salvage what they can of its reputation. When Minister Atilio Vieytez said publicity that, while he did not dress in olive drab, he was an much a revolutionary as any guerrilla, he spoke for the great majority of the party.

The government of El Salvador contains worthy people, both uniformed and civilian. It also contains some of the most brutally repressive military in the world. Although the FDR counts many committed democrats in its ranks, it also contains armed guerrillas led by Marxist-Leninists who are guilty of unacceptable violence. It may be that any negotiation would both drive hard-line military elements into opposition to the government and induce some Marxist-led guerrilla groups to break away from the FDR. Both results should be welcomed. The repressive elements of the military, which regularly torture and kill, constitute a fatal weight around the neck of the government. The FDR must also decide which route it favors -- negotiations, guarantees and elections, or a continuation of armed struggle. Each side must face the reality that it contains extremist elements which cannot be assimilated.

In a recent message to his confreres, the director general of the Jesuits, Pedro Arrupe, said, "Even when Christian recognize the legitimacy of certain struggles and do not exclude revolution in situations of extreme tryanny that have no other solution, they cannot accept that the privileged method for ending struggle is struggle itself. They will rather seek to promote other methods of social transformation calling for persuasion witness, reconciliation."

Profound words. World leaders who profess Western values should indeed prefer negotiation over violence. It is therefore discouraging that the Reagan administration has set its face against a political solution for El Salvador. If it continues to follow this course it will alienate not only the Western community of nations but also the crucial civilian component of the government of El Salvador. For the Christian Democrats are not only tough, pragmatic politicians, they are also idealists who have more in common with much of the FDR leadership than they do with those whom professor Thomas J. Farer eloquently and correctly condemned as "an alliance of corrupted soldiers, industrialists and landowners [who] would rather fight to the last worker, peasant, politican and priest than accept reform."