ON FOREIGN POLICY, George Bush said a good deal that could be argued with -- the administration's standard, defensive positions on the multiple Lebanon bombings and on the stalemate in arms control with the Soviet Union, for instance -- but he said it in a way indicating an easy familiarity with the material and a competence befitting his long experience in international affairs. There was not much that falls into the category of factually questionable. The likeliest item was his placement of blame for the collapse of the "walk in the woods" formula for reducing nuclear missiles in Europe. The Russians, said Mr. Bush, "gunned it down first." There is expert contention on that.
He asserted that it's "night and day" between Nicaragua and El Salvador on human rights, saying the one is "devoid of human rights" and the other is "struggling to perfect (its) democracy." This is the rationale for the administration's hard line on Managua and its favor for President Duarte, but the Bush formulation surely overstates the case.
Rep. Ferraro was not compelling in this area. There was a moment of suspense when the Democratic vice presidential candidate, whose knowledge in foreign affairs comes mostly from briefings, set herself the task of listing the members of the Contadora group. She got it right, but otherwise, she did not handle Central America in a reassuring manner. She was factually wrong when she said the administration "has not been pushing" El Salvador on rights. You could argue it hasn't been pushing hard enough, but it's been pushing. Nor did she seem to understand that, unlike El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica are not countries that Washington must "put all kinds of pressure on" to shape them up. Neither is menacing, and Costa Rica is a model democracy.
Rep. Ferraro was tough and sure in attacking the administration on the Lebanon bombings. Generally speaking, she was ready on war and peace, but provided a telling glimpse of her inexperience. Asked whether the Soviets might try to take advantage of her as a woman, she gave a jarring, unnecessarily explicit reply, posing (her questioner had not) the question of a nuclear challenge and saying she would meet it "with swift, concise and certain retaliation." Ronald Reagan would have been lynched for saying that.
She erred in saying that Walter Mondale as president would challenge Moscow to halt nuclear testing "in the atmosphere." Tests in that environment were banned in 1963. She did return to the point and got it right on the second pass. In the area Rep. Ferraro describes as her main concern, she is not yet up to the speed that she rightly demands of a president.