Whether Central America follows Southeast Asia, Afghanistan and Angola as the next appendage of Soviet Empire is a question to which the Democratic Party in Congress now holds the answer.
The president's position is clear, and Moscow has shoved its stack in. To the routinized liberal piety, "This conflict does not lend itself to a military solution," Moscow responded in 1985 with $350 million in tanks, armored vehicles and helicopter gunships. Daniel Ortega and Fidel Castro are going for "a military solution."
Denied U.S. weapons, the Nicaraguan democratic resistance is bleeding badly. Bedrolls and bandages are inadequate substitutes for surface-to-air missiles in combating the same Hind helicopters that have made a slaughterhouse of Afghanistan.
Emerging from Nicaragua with 1,200 dead and wounded, one contra commander bitterly echoed President Reagan: We will not go back to fight and die for freedom unless America -- sometime Arsenal of Democracy -- gives us the weapons to fight and win.
The strategic issue is a simple one: Who wants Central America more -- the West or the Warsaw Pact? Fidel Castro, who has sent in 3,500 combat advisers to keep Nicaragua communist, or the United States, which restricts to 55 the number of advisers it sends to keep Salvador free?
With military aid, the democratic resistance could immediately field 25,000 volunteers. Without it, Nicaragua's freedom fighters will fall beneath Soviet gunships just as the Hungarian freedom fighters fell before Soviet tanks. In 1956, we argued that Hungary was on the doorstep of the Soviet Union; to rescue Budapest was to risk war. What is the excuse now?
About the character of the Sandinista regime, doubt no longer remains. Even the "useful idiots" of Lenin's depiction -- the liberated nuns and Marxist Maryknolls, the journalistic camp followers and tenured professors anxious to wow the coeds with how they picked coffee beans for the revolution -- seem defensive. The censored press, the bogus "People's Church," the obliteration of Indian culture, the mob assaults on priests, the schools given over to class hatred, the smashed unions, the secret police, the neighborhood "block committees" of informants, the harassment, exile and murder of dissidents -- all the unmistakable hallmarks of the modern fascism that travels under the passport of Marxist socialism are now apparent.
Desertion of the democratic resistance by Congress would lead, as night follows day, to loss of Central America. A Congress that will not send Redeye missiles to save Nicaragua will not send American boys to save Guatemala.
With the most powerful army Central America has ever seen, Nicaragua would become a second Cuba, a privileged sanctuary for the export of revolution on the mainland of North America. As Cuba is base for reconnaissance bombers patrolling off Norfolk and Charleston, so Nicaragua would soon play host to Bear bombers patrolling off San Diego and Seattle.
Guerrilla wars would be re-ignited in Guatemala -- and instigated in Costa Rica and Honduras. While the Central American middle class could fly to Miami, for the 20 million poor the only way out would be the long trek north to the United States. And as Castro seeded the Mariel boatlift with psychotics and rapists and murders -- emptying out his asylums and jails -- so Ortega and Borge would surely guarantee that the flood tide of desperate refugees fleeing north contained a flotsam of spies, saboteurs, terrorists and assassins.
The Iranian, PLO, Libyan and Red Brigade elements turning up in Managua have not arrived to help with the banana harvest but to carry the revolution home to the belly of the beast. As Col. Qaddafi exulted: We support the Sandinistas "because they are fighting America at its doorstep."
During Vietnam, the mocking taunt of the anti- war movement was "Are you saying that if we don't stop the Viet Cong here, they'll be in San Diego!" Well, if Central America goes the way of Nicaragua, they will be in San Diego.
Having voted to abandon Southeast Asia to Hanoi and Moscow, the Democratic Party would not likely survive the ceding of Central America to the Warsaw Pact. But political demise of the San Francisco Democrats would be small consolation for an America that could, before the century's close, find its Rapid Deployment Force stretched out along the Rio Grande.
Two decades ago, the Democratic Party began its withdrawal from the great Western coalition to contain communist expansion, which it once led. It voted, first, to scuttle Southeast Asia, then, with the Clark Amendment, not to interfere with the Soviet conquest of Angola. By cutting arms shipments to Nicaragua's freedom fighters, by tying the president's hands with the Boland amendment, the national Democratic Party has now become, with Moscow, co-guarantor of the Brezhnev doctrine in Central America.
Whose side are you on? That was Dean Rusk's pointed question. With the vote on contra aid, the Democratic Party will reveal whether it stands with Ronald Reagan and the resistance -- or Daniel Ortega and the communists. The time for debate having expired, let us have a division of the House.