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Reagan Is Wrong

February 24, 1985

President Reagan has affirmed an intention to "remove" the government of Nicaragua unless "they'd say uncle." He is wrong.

He is wrong in asserting his presidential authority in such a pursuit, for there is no provision in American law to support his endeavor, and no dominant national interest to justify such action. Indeed, he risks defying the will of Congress and undermining important national interests in the hemisphere.

He is wrong in cloaking his action in the legitimacy of international law. He has argued that what he proposes is fully sanctioned by the charters of both the United Nations and the Organization of American States, but the contrary is true. If he were as confident of the legitimacy of seeking the overthrow of another government, he surely would have accepted the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice.

The President's chief of staff has articulated a new doctrine that combines the militant ideological aggressiveness of the Brezhnev Doctrine with the exclusive defensiveness of the Monroe Doctrine: The United States will tolerate no Marxist regime north of the Panama Canal. But the President hastened to explain that this does not mean that he intends to deploy U.S. troops to enforce his wishes. Instead, he intends to rely on "the freedom fighters of Nicaragua," inviting ugly comparisons to the Soviet Union's use of Cuban proxies on Third World battlegrounds.

There has been, as the President said, a betrayal of the revolution in Nicaragua. The repression evident there is a tragedy that compounds the tragedy of the Somoza dictatorship. But the promises that the Sandinistas made when they prevailed in that bitter revolution were made to the Organization of American States, not to Washington alone. And if redress is to be sought, it must be sought in that forum, before all the nations of the Americas. If there is a threat to security, it is the security of all, not just the United States, that is at peril. The OAS itself exists to provide an alternative to the years when the United States appointed itself sheriff for the hemisphere and laid down the law as written and interpreted in the White House.

The "freedom fighters" idealized by the President are not all heroes of a democratic resistance. Another generation of Somocistas leads and staffs some of the fighting elements. Hundreds of their victims have been innocent citizens deprived of property, homes and sometimes their lives by this war fed by the Central Intelligence Agency. Any claim of popular support that the guerrillas may make is tarnished by the results of the November election--fair by regional standards--unmistakably a broad-based vote of support for the Sandinistas, however flawed their rule may be.

This is not to argue that there is nothing to be done. There is much to be done. Not through more death and devastation in that pathetic, brutalized country. Not in arraying the resources of the world's strongest power against one of its weakest. But in using, not abusing, the law, and the international organizations so painfully constructed for this very purpose, unleashing the legal means of diplomacy and economic pressure to return the Nicaraguan revolution to its promised course.

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