In their April 2 column ("ment' in Nicaragua?"), Rowland Evans and Robert Novak wrap themselves in the American flag and moralize about fighting communism as if they were the only ones concerned about safeguarding the security of the United States. In the process, they misrepresent both the thrust of the report of the Democratic Caucus Task Force on Central America, a group which I chaired, and my own voting record on El Salvador.
The caucus report, which was publicly released March 5, is the product of 10 months' work by 30 Democratic members of the House. We did not "stack the cards," as Evans and Novak charge, in order to produce a report reflecting only the preferences of one wing of our party. On the contrary, the task force was broadly representative of the diversity of views among Democrats; it included members who have supported assistance to the contras, as well as opponents of it. For precisely this reason, it was not easy to build a consensus, but in the end we were able to write a report that the members of the task force endorsed unanimously.
The heart of the report was our agreement on four principles. First, we agreed that U.S. policy toward Central America must prevent the region from becoming a pawn in the East-West conflict and prevent the Soviet Union or its allies from exploiting the regional crisis in ways that threaten our security.
Second, we agreed that the most realistic way to safeguard our security interests was to put diplomacy and the search for negotiated political solutions to the region's problems at the center of our policy, rather than rely, as President Reagan has, on military force and a vain quest for military victory. Most of the problems of Central America are social, economic and political rather than military. They cannot be solved by military means.
Third, our policy must include a commitment to economic development, social justice and democracy, even in the face of resistance from traditional elites. Poverty, inequality and dictatorship, far more than externally based subversion, have caused the region's turmoil. Long- term stability can only be achieved when these problems are addressed.
Finally, we agreed that our Central American policy must seek partnership and cooperation with our allies in the area. Our closest friends in Latin America have as much at stake in Central America as we do. They share our desire to halt the growth of Cuban and Soviet influence and to avert a wider war. We need to cooperate with these allies, especially through the Contadora process. Instead, the Reagan administration has acted unilaterally and at odds with them. This makes it more difficult to resolve the Central American crisis and damages our long-term interests in the hemisphere as a whole.
The task force recommended that aid to El Salvador continue to be conditioned upon progress in the areas of human rights, social reform and a negotiated end to the civil war. Neither the task force nor I have argued for ending assistance to El Salvador, as Evans and Novak suggest.
On Nicaragua, the task force opposed military aid for the contras, urging instead that the administration resume bilateral negotiations with Nicaragua as the president promised Congress he would. And we warned against the growing danger that the war against Nicaragua might escalate, engulfing Nicaragua's neighbors and eventually drawing U.S. forces directly into the conflict, with disastrous consequences.
Evans and Novak are right when they describe the Democrats' policy as one of containment. From Truman to Carter, from cold war to d,etente, every American president has built his foreign policy around the containment doctrine first enunciated by George Kennan. Echoing senior administration officials such as Pat Buchanan, Evans and Novak paint this policy as tantamount to surrender.
Their hyberbole is meant to distract attention from the implications of what they propose as an alternative. They would have the United States commit itself to overthrowing the Nicaraguan government by the aggressive use of military force. That is a radical departure from the containment doctrine that has been the mainstream of post- World War II American foreign policy.
It is reckless and dangerous because it embroils the United States ever more deeply and inextricably in a war-by- proxy that has no chance of success. Evans and Novak know full well that the contras cannot remove the Sandinistas from power. That can only be accomplished by the direct intervention of U.S. ground forces. If Evans and Novak are ready to go to war, they ought to have the courage and honesty to say so.