AN AMERICAN VIEW

Forgive us if we feel like gloating

The East-West classic is over, and our side prevailed. Commemorative T-shirts available at all concession stands

FRED BRUNING December 4 1989
AN AMERICAN VIEW

Forgive us if we feel like gloating

The East-West classic is over, and our side prevailed. Commemorative T-shirts available at all concession stands

FRED BRUNING December 4 1989

Forgive us if we feel like gloating

The East-West classic is over, and our side prevailed. Commemorative T-shirts available at all concession stands

AN AMERICAN VIEW

FRED BRUNING

The decade is ending in superlative fashion, what with the Berlin Wall now friendly as a garden gate and Solidarity taking charge in Poland and even hard-liners in Czechoslovakia abruptly choosing early retirement at the behest of a rambunctious citizenry. Gorby has lasted longer than skeptics thought possible, and who knows what the Soviet chief will pull next from his well-tailored sleeve? Yes, China was a bust, but, as fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers declared after every season of heartbreak, wait till next year.

A sense of triumph prevails in the free world and perhaps nowhere more strongly than in the United States where, indeed, we are apt to view most everything—international affairs included—as a contest to be settled in a soldout stadium, the crowd gone wild, the Goodyear blimp drifting overhead. Forgive us then if we gloat as the results are announced. The East-West classic is over, and our side prevailed. Commemorative T-shirts available at all concession stands.

American politicians are sure to claim credit for the swift and extraordinary swoon of Marxism, and already we are being instructed that recent developments never would have occurred if not for the visionary leadership of who? Why, of Ronald Reagan. “I really believe that history will record that you, more than any individual, helped stimulate the changes that are taking place all around the world today— changes for the democracy that you spoke about over and over again,” said George Bush recently in tribute to his predecessor.

So there we have it, as far as the President is concerned. More than Lech Walesa and Soviet refuseniks and the people of East Germany and the students in Tiananmen Square—more than any of those, Ronald Reagan is the agent by which so much has happened so quickly. Talk tough, feed the popular frenzy, dismiss the opposition as oafs and outcasts, unfurl the flag,

enlist the most convenient deity, say good night and God bless to the television audience, repair to the locker room and await the trophy. Honey of a game plan, hey?

Others will read the signs differently—that is, they will say Communist orthodoxy fell of its own incalculable weight and that history needed no help, thank you, from the ruddy-faced Gipper, or the Gipper’s wife, or his wife’s astrologer, or Ollie North, or any of the odd lot that held forth in the White House—or basement of the White House—for nearly a decade. They may say, too, that rhetoric vanquished reason during the Reagan years and that our country, and others, will suffer with the results for some time.

What better example than Nicaragua? For inexplicable reasons, that woebegone nation disturbed Reagan’s slumber state, and while the President has retired from public service, his Latin obsession endures. Remember, now, the general scenario was that the Sandinistas would roar through Central America and into Mexico and, urging their mules and packhorses along Interstate-95, proceed directly to Georgetown for an attack on the ruling class just as dinner was served.

So it is understandable that when Daniel

Ortega announced that he no longer would observe a ceasefire with contra rebels, the American right wing let out a groan mighty enough to have jittered pavements in Managua. The Nicaraguan president said contra forces had left bases in Honduras and begun terrorizing the countryside again. He said the United States had failed to proceed with demobilization of the rebel army and reasoned, foolish man, that if insurgents were going to shoot at people, he would have to shoot back. Ortega’s resolute critics were not persuaded: it was just that infernal commie again and more of his wicked tricks.

George Bush, who says he favors a civilized approach to government, who exalts the Kind and Gentle, and who peers into the void and sees before him not darkness, at all, but a LiteBrite board with the acreage of infinity— George Bush could barely contain himself in the face of Ortega’s outrageous insolence. The Nicaraguan leader, said Bush, was akin to an “animal at a garden party” and had better watch out lest he be taken by the tail and tossed over the manor wall.

The U.S. President went on to suggest that, in view of Ortega’s unseemly refusal to lean back in a barber’s chair and offer the enemy his neck, we might have to bring the contras to full speed again—words that echo joyfully in the airless cavern of conservatism, perhaps, but must make the poor souls in the outback of Nicaragua pray for deliverance. They know that contra victories are more often over schools and clinics than the Sandinista army— such is the nature of what our Pentagon people call “low intensity” warfare.

The nub of it all is that recent events—those same stunning developments that have us cheering like maniacs—are revealing the administration’s Latin America strategy as inept and badly outdated. If Ortega still favors a strict Marxist solution, he is among the last on earth so afflicted. Dogmatic state socialism has no more future than a hand-cranked Victrola. Our best bet in Nicaragua, and throughout Central America, is to provide balm, not bombs, and for once exercise a little patience. Domino’s is already selling pizza in Honduras. Can Nicaragua be far behind?

For the moment, though, the news hardly is promising. No sooner had Ortega momentarily excused himself from page 1 than left-wing guerrillas opened a major offensive in El Salvador. The matter is of particular interest to Americans, since we have contributed $4 billion during the last decade, despite a record of murder and torture that makes Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger seem a Red Cross volunteer.

Among the victims this time were six Jesuit priests—considered dangerous by the right for their work among the poor—and a housekeeper and her 15-year-old daughter unfortunate enough to have been on duty when the killers came a-calling. Bush administration officials denounced the murders and demanded justice. But U.S. money keeps pouring into El Salvador, and no one in the White House is suggesting it should stop. Gazing upon those thousand points of light, it is perhaps difficult to notice when a few suddenly are extinguished.

Fred Bruning is a writer with Newsday in New York.