It is possible, although not likely, that someone who speaks English could explain "Project Democracy," President Reagan's murky and expensive scheme for promoting the "infrastructure of democracy" around the world.
But the first-draft language of Charles Z. Wick, director of the U.S. Information Agency, who would run it, is gobbledygook. The foggy, foggy dew of his prose about what "PD" is and isn't left the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as confused--and suspicious--as when he began.
"I should like to apologize for any ambiguities that have been introduced here," he said after several particularly befuddling passages about "coordinating the information and sensitivities . . . to implement various communications and approaches to assist the infrastructure of the legal, business and religious communities."
The members were friendly to Wick, who is a person of obvious good will and good nature, but school was out when he wheeled out some huge organization charts, which Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said "made Rube Goldberg look like a computer chip."
They were supposed to lay to rest widespread fears that the $85 million will be used for the promotion of what Sen. Paul E. Tsongas (D-Mass.) labeled "Project Right-Wing Democracy."
One, headed "National Security Decision Directive on Public Diplomacy," seemed particularly ominous. It showed an International Political Committee, which sounded as if its chairman would be Yuri V. Andropov--against whom the whole effort is directed.
"In God's name," said the usually long-suffering chairman, Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.), "who is really in charge?"
"Frankly," said Wick with becoming humility, "there is a lot of confusion in the government . . . . Perhaps I should not have brought those charts with me."
But, he insisted, the table of organization had nothing to do with "Project Democracy."
Dodd pointed out that right under "The International Political Committee," in the lower left-hand corner, the words "Project Democracy" appeared.
Wick said, "You will have to forgive me, I didn't know you were listening so carefully."
"I wasn't, said Dodd. "I was looking."
Wick obligingly referred to them thereafter as "Rube Goldberg maps." He also said he didn't think some of the projects should be funded "in the way I have seen," and said of one that it would "illustrate and flesh out what the symbolism is."
Tsongas took Wick on a tour of the minefields he must tread. He asked if the CIA is "still involved."
Wick assured him that "they will never be involved"--and then volunteered that CIA Director William J. Casey had sat in on early discussions, "because he has a very important job to do just as you and your colleagues in Congress do."
Wick admitted that the USIA has contributed, through third parties, to various organizations, such as the Inter-American Press Association, which under its charter does not take government money but got $50,000 from the federals through an intermediate group.
"It is not laundering," he said. "They have greater expertise."
Tsongas also asked about a USIA grant of $192,000 to Ernest W. Lefever, the hard-right conservative who was Reagan's doomed choice as chief of our human rights policy. Wick said that rejecting Lefever would have been "reverse McCarthyism."
Nonetheless, on reading about it in the paper he asked the GAO to investigate. He said he hopes the probe will "evolve into nothing more than a dispute about judgment."
"I don't believe," he added, although no one had suggested that it was, "that there is anything illegal in that."
Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.) said that a trip to Africa had persuaded her that the natives need health care and basic education more than the English lessons that Project Democracy would offer. Wick said he, too, had been in Africa, and artlessly observed that "some of them have marvelous minds, those black people over there."
Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R-Md.) said the best way to sell democracy is to bring foreign students here and "turn them loose" to see for themselves. Project Democracy, in its attempt to achieve acceptance, is co-opting such proven programs as the spectacularly successful Fulbright Scholarships, which have yielded the matchless political dividend of a number of highly placed alumni who are now running their countries.
Wick agrees with them about the importance of educational exchanges. The father of the Fulbrights, former senator J.W. Fulbright, was invited to the stand. In totally intelligible terms, he warned that foreign governments which now contribute to the program will cut their donations if it becomes part of a U.S. propaganda campaign.
Wick declined Percy's offer of a shredder for his charts. But Project Democracy, unless someone can explain it better, seems headed in that direction.