MORE AID for El Salvador, as the Reagan administration requests? Of course. It is an $80- million-a-year war--that's the amount sent last year and sought next year. This year, the foreign aid bill collapsed, leaving El Salvador short $60 million. Not to pony it up would probably finish off the government. Is that what the Congress wants, or is ready to take the responsibility for?
The trouble is that the administration and its critics are drawing divergent conclusions from the condition that has launched this latest argument, the sagging of the Salvadoran war effort. The administration would bull through its program of financing the war (while sending more advisers), trying to edge forward reforms and human rights, and cosponsoring the local government's plan to draw the opposition into its electoral scheme. The doubters fear the bottom is dropping out. They urge an effort to save the American investment by promoting negotiations, talks, "dialogue."
They are right. The administration equates talks with letting the guerrillas "shoot their way into power." But a little perspective is in order. The generals who are now on top shot their way in. Granted, at American prodding they have devolved uncertain power on a body elected since. If full power had actually been taken by that body elected a year ago, the administration would have had fits, since a feudal party won. The point of government-guerrilla talks, their State Department advocates say, is not to distribute power arbitrarily but to shape democratic political processes. It's certainly risky. Increasingly, it looks like the only alternative.
Secretary of State George Shultz's attitude is puzzling. He was questioned in the Senate on the calls for dialogue emanating from Salvador's acting archbishop and from Pope John Paul II, whose visit to Salvador next Sunday is eagerly anticipated by partisans of reconciliation. Mr. Shultz replied with a reference to "churchmen who want to see Soviet influence in El Salvador improved." Separately, he was asked if the United States would actively oppose government-guerrilla negotiations even if the Salvadoran government were interested. "I wouldn't think it would be a good idea," the secretary said.
President Reagan pledged, in his recent American Legion speech, "to explore all possibilities for reconciliation and peace in Central America." It is a tall order, and he has yet to deliver on it.