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Writing in the Washington Post, the liberal editor of Foreign Policy, Charles Maynes, sees the main problem in Central America in a similar light.18 "The issue is no longer whether Nicaragua can be regained as an American pawn on the geopolitical chessboard but whether it can be tamed and contained." "There remains at least an outside chance that Nicaragua's relative isolation both economically and politically will persuade its leaders that the main hope for the country lies in cooperation with its neighbors," who should "set as a price for cooperation a relative democratization of life inside Nicaragua." "For Nicaragua to be contained, the administration would have to end its opposition to direct U.S. negotiations with Managua." We should at least attempt the diplomatic path to determine whether Nicaragua will be willing "to meet U.S. security concerns" and provide us with "relevant commitments." Nicaraguan security concerns, and "a relative democratization of life" in the U.S. death squad democracies, are not a problem.
The editors of the Washington Post, ruminating on "the Central American mess" under the proud slogan "An Independent Newspaper," ask "what went wrong" during the Reagan years. "Each country is different," they observe, "but the common aggravation of their difficulties can be traced to the onset of leftist revolutions -- built of local tinder, blown to fire by Soviet-bloc support -- in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua," with "spillovers...in Honduras, which in fear of Nicaragua lent itself to an anti-Sandinista insurgency sponsored by the United States, and in Panama, whose strong man's usefulness to the anti-Sandinista cause long blinded Washington to his corruption and unreliability." The strong man's defects are now happily recognized -- crucially, his unreliability, which compelled a reassessment of policy and a somewhat belated discovery of his corruption by the Independent Newspapers.
"Inevitably," the editors continue, "the revolutions evoked an American response." Finally, "the policy broke down," and now "American frailties compound Central America's," particularly, the failure to address properly "the lingering and unresolved post-Vietnam issue of intervention in the cause of anticommunism." The "formula for enlightened engagement" that the editors have recommended "has its own flaw": "It does not adequately address the change brought about by Soviet power in making Moscow-oriented revolution possible in Central America and the Caribbean." We should try to engage Latin Americans in our quest for democracy and self-determination, and thus "to spare the United States the political loneliness that comes from being an activist and interventionist in the region." But this is difficult, because "the cast built into democratic Latin politics by leftism and resentment of American intervention has hindered Latins in dealing with these revolutions themselves and in delegating the task to Washington."
The editors are deeply sensitive to "the wounds American policy has suffered in Central America," so "fresh" as to impede a constructive course; no other "wounds" are identified. We should somehow steer a path between two extremes: "an engagement that in its carelessness took policy beyond the reach of feasibility in the field and support at home"; and "detachment in frustration and disgust." Such detachment on our part would threaten the very survival of Central America, the editors warn.19
Strikingly absent from these ruminations is any consideration of what Central Americans might think about the course the U.S. should follow. Evidence on the matter is not too hard to find. For El Salvador, one might, for example, turn to the published records of the National Debate for Peace, bringing together under Church auspices virtually all organized groups in the country. These records, readily available not far from the editorial offices, provide some useful insights into the attitudes of Salvadorans towards the issues addressed by the Post editors. On the danger that U.S. "detachment" might threaten the survival of Central America, there was near unanimous condemnation of "the enormous interference of the U.S. in El Salvador's national affairs," of U.S. military aid, of military interference in state and society "in support of the oligarchy and dominant sectors, and thus in support of North American interests" as the country is "subjugated to the interests of international capital," and so on. Such conclusions being unacceptable to U.S. elite opinion, the entire enterprise has been expunged from the record, ignored by the media and other commentary, a clear sign of how important the opinions of Salvadorans are to their benefactors. If our little brown brothers reveal their stupidity in such ways, it is hardly to be expected that we will humor them by paying attention.20
The return to forceful intervention during the Reagan years, and the Iran-contra affair, prompted reassessment of the resort to covert action more generally. Reviewing books by Gregory Treverton on covert action and Trumbull Higgins on the Bay of Pigs affair, Stanley Hoffmann of Harvard University, who stretches critical dissent to its outer limits within mainstream scholarship, considers the "risks and costs" of these ventures.21 He notes that "both men show how much euphoria about covert action was created by two early successes of the CIA": restoring the Shah to power in Iran in 1953 and overthrowing the Arbenz government in Guatemala a year later. But the lessons of history "are stark." "As the targets of United States action became more formidable (Castro learned from Arbenz's fate), the chances of success decreased." Furthermore, "the fine-tuning of covert actions is difficult," and more generally, "covert action raises formidable issues in an open society." Taking the position of "the idealists," Treverton "recognizes that covert operations may be necessary at times" but "he doubts they'll remain secret, warns about their unintended effects and long-term costs" (to us, that is), and urges better procedures. His study is "enlightening, thoughtful and wise," particularly his conclusion that "most covert-action successes have been small, ambiguous and transitory (Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s, for example)."
These are the only words of evaluation; further thoughts that might be suggested by the fate of Iran, Guatemala, Laos, and other targets of our initiatives remain unmentioned, apart from the limits and "ambiguity" of these successes. Only an irresponsible fanatic would recall the hundreds of thousands of corpses, the disappeared, the countless victims of torture, starvation, disease and semi-slave labor. The victims of official enemies do warrant such concern in an enlightened society, but not the dregs of the world that we have to kick out of our way, in self-defense.
Further insights into the foreign policy agenda are provided in a study of "bipartisan objectives for foreign policy" in Foreign Affairs by the Secretaries of State of the 1970s, Henry Kissinger and Cyrus Vance, who span the spectrum of thinking among the specialized class.22 They are concerned that many Americans appear less willing than before to accept "the global responsibilities thrust on the United States," in a national mood of "frustration" over the failure of other nations to "assume greater risks, responsibilities and financial burdens for the maintenance of world order and international prosperity" and for "the cause of freedom" to which we have been dedicated. But the United States must continue "to play a major and often vital role," and can do so because of its economic and military strength, and because it is "a model democracy and a society that provides exceptionally well for the needs of its citizens"; no comparative statistics on such matters as infant mortality, homelessness, and other indices of quality of life are provided to buttress this judgment.
Keeping just to Central America, Vance and Kissinger see one essential problem: Nicaragua. We must "obtain the withdrawal of Cuban and Soviet military advisers from Nicaragua, significant reductions in the armies and armaments in the region (especially in Nicaragua), a total ban on Sandinista help to guerrillas elsewhere, and the internal democratization of Nicaragua." "The situation in Central America," they observe, "can be one measure of U.S.-Soviet relations: whether the Soviet Union is willing to suspend arms shipments into this area of our most traditional relationships." Nothing is said about the consequences for Nicaragua, deprived of any other support by U.S. edict. The U.S. must also "continue to support democracy within Nicaragua," providing "diplomatic and material aid to those who work for pluralistic economy and representative political process." No problems are perceived in the terror states, already within the reach of our benevolence.
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18 WP-Manchester Guardian Weekly, Nov. 29, 1987.
19 Editorial, WP, June 20, 1988.
20 See Necessary Illusions, 243-4.
21 NYT Book Review, Nov. 29, 1987.
22 Foreign Affairs, Summer, 1988.