If he follows the Vietnam precedent, Henry A. Kissinger will advocate bombing. If he follows the pattern of Chile, he will unleash the CIA on any country that has the effrontery to elect a leftist government.
By naming the celebrated former secretary of state chairman of the new national bipartisan commission on Central America, President Reagan has managed to offend both the right, which will never forgive Kissinger for detente, and the left, to whom he recalls the prolonging of the Vietnam war, the secret bombing of Cambodia and other shameful events. Reagan has also sent a message as crude as a ransom note to our Latin neighbors: you better watch out.
Kissinger has little history in Latin America, except for his leading role in the destabilization of the Marxist government of Salvador Allende, one of the darkest pages in our dealings with Latin America. His resistance to human rights, a consideration in the area, is well documented. In 1974, when our ambassador to Chile, David H. Popper, publicly reproved the Pinochet regime for torturing its citizens, Kissinger cabled a sharp rebuke: "Tell Popper to stop the political science lectures."
Its composition does nothing to allay suspicion that the commission, the brainchild of Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.)--who gave up on Vietnam about when the helicopters hovered over the U.S. Embassy roof--will do nothing but ratify the increased military measures that Reagan favors. AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland, a gung-ho anti-Communist; Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York, one of the most conservative U.S. churchmen; John Silber, president of Boston University; Nicholas Brady, an alumnus of the MX commission; Robert S. Strauss, the Democrat for all seasons, and former Texas governor Bill Clements offer no threat to the "consensus" being sought.
Rep. Michael D. Barnes (D.-Md.), the chairman of the House subcommittee on Western Hemisphere affairs, was wan about the Kissinger choice.
"It's very worrisome; it's not helpful," he said. "I was not consulted."
Barnes and Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R-Md.) were both swept away by Jackson's vision of "a Marshall Plan" for the region, supposedly to help peasants economically while they are dodging bullets.
Mathias, who was not consulted either, said gamely that Kissinger could be "independent." Mathias had suggested the humanist president of Notre Dame, the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, and Archbishop James V. Hickey of Washington, dissident names that must have made the White House smile.
On hearing the startling news, Barnes and Mathias had a telephone conversation in which they exchanged expressions of dismay but agreed that they would not jump ship nor yet confess that they had been used.
For Reagan and Kissinger, it was a matter of mutual, desperate need.
Reagan requires a salesman for an unpopular policy.
Kissinger requires rehabilitation.
Seymour Hersh's massive and unrelenting biography, "The Price of Power," has severely damaged Kissinger's ego and reputation. The statesman of carefully nurtured legend is lost in a dense account of toadying, back-stabbing, double dealing and deceit in the dank confines of the Nixon White House.
Kissinger, who says he has not read the book, issued a statement calling it "slimy lies." Slavish admirers, who include people whose telephones he caused to be tapped, loyally have not read it either, a fact that has not prevent them from scrambling for the cameras to denounce Hersh for "savagery" and worse.
Somebody, however, is reading it. More than 100,000 copies have been sold.
If Reagan read it, he would see that Kissinger is the past master of merchandising dubious foreign policy goods.
Throughout the Vietnam years, Kissinger managed to hold Congress and the press at bay. According to Hersh, on the inside Kissinger eagerly joined in--or initiated--every scheme for escalating the war, including, it seems, the use of tactical nuclear weapons. On the outside, he told critical reporters how much he admired their "passion" and "courage," and mournfully hinted that only he stood between them and terrible reprisals from the madmen in the White House.
He never underestimated the local mania for secrets. Behind closed doors, he would tell Congress marvelous things about what was really going on.
Former senator J.W. Fulbright, a war critic mesmerized by Kissinger, compared him favorably with his one of his predecessors, Dean Rusk.
"Rusk always said the same thing in closed and open session," Fulbright complained.
It was a mistake that Kissinger never made.