President Reagan has taken umbrage. President Reagan feels abused. President Reagan thinks people are picking on him, saying he's going to start a war. And he's been so nice.
He cried "foul" in an interview with The New York Times, because the Democrats say his policy on the Nicaraguan contras would lead to the sending of U.S. troops to a jungle war.
Two weeks ago, he unleashed his contra attack dog, Patrick Buchanan, who is, by the way, his "communications director," a title which at least suggests that he speaks for the White House. Buchanan said the issue would determine whether Democrats stood with Daniel Ortega or Ronald Reagan, with communism or democracy. As House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) said in the debate, "Oppose the $100 million and you are somehow un-American: You are acting to help our country's enemies."
Reagan never disavowed the deadly statement. He apparently regarded it as fair comment.
But let anyone fault his policy and compare it to Vietnam, and it's "a scurrilous personal attack."
Questioning someone's patriotism is, however, not.
Anyone hesitating to fund a band of mercenaries led by a former Somoza colonel is clearing the way for the Sandinistas to invade San Diego, according to Buchanan. The president says he never questioned anyone's motives. No, he let Buchanan do it for him. Unfortunately, congressmen have to speak for themselves on the House floor and those who pointed out a resemblance to Vietnam did not sound as if they were casting aspersions on Reagan. They were simply saying that we have done this before.
But Reagan will not have it. He never says what he will do if the mercenaries, even with $100 million and U.S. trainers, fail to overthrow the Sandinista government. Reagan now says that is not his aim. He merely wishes to force Ortega to the bargaining table at gunpoint. Reagan wants the Sandinistas to negotiate themselves out of power. Why he thinks they would want to do this, he has never explained.
We must, it seems, send helicopters, antiaircraft missiles, cause the death of thousand of peasants -- some of whom think Somoza is still in charge -- alienate our allies in Central America and Europe, and in due course create a situation that is ripe for an incident that will prove our "national honor" is at stake.
To all this, the president blithely says that he would never send American troops because of our image as the "great colossus of the north." He seems to think there is such a thing as a small colossus.
Reagan should have lost the vote in the House by a 2-to-1 margin on the merits and the tactics. Instead, it was by a mere 12 votes.
And when a "compromise" comes back to the House floor, it is expected to carry without difficulty, and moderate Senate Republicans are earnestly carpentering a program to introduce the contras to ways of "democratizing" the country other than rape and pillage.
Why? Reagan's illogic is catching. Members feel they must vote for a dangerous and provocative escalation "because it is an election year." If they don't, they tell themselves, they will be in trouble with voters. The polls tell them that voters do not want an involvement in Nicaragua. Their constituents are unequivocally opposed to military intervention. And why, you may ask, do they say "uncle" to Reagan in the teeth of these realities?
They don't want to be blamed for the "loss" of Nicaragua -- although we own it no more than crazy Qaddafi has the deed on the Gulf of Sidra, and his "line of death" which Reagan had to cross.
What they mean is that if they dare to vote with their constituents, the right-wing will fall on them, will finance some hot-eyed full-mooner to run against them, generate huge newspaper and television ads blaring of their disloyalty and lack of spine. Rep. Buddy MacKay (D-Fla.) voted against the military aid. His district was flooded with ads, asking, "Whose buddy is he?"
Reagan's actions of late have been much in the martial mode. It's not only Nicaragua. While the Soviets have been observing a unilateral nuclear weapons test ban, he blew up a big one underneath the Nevada desert. Dispatching three aircraft carriers near the Gulf of Sidra north of Libya was hardly Gandhian, either.
But he gets sore when anyone says he is looking for a fight.
Smile when you say he wants to start a war. He's only trying to prove that nobody can mess with Uncle Sam in the three years he has left, as he said in his melodramatic televised blast against Nicaragua, "to work for peace."