WASHINGTON — President Reagan described the rebels fighting Nicaragua's leftist government as "the moral equal of our Founding Fathers" Friday night but emphasized that he is against sending U.S. troops to fight alongside them.
Addressing a dinner of the Conservative Political Action Conference in a Washington hotel, Reagan said "freedom fighters" battling Communists anywhere in the world are "our brothers. And we owe them our help." But he particularly singled out the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan rebels, known as contras, who are trying to overthrow the Sandinista regime.
"They are the moral equal of our Founding Fathers and the brave men and women of the (World War II) French Resistance," Reagan said. "We cannot turn away from them. For the struggle here is not right versus left, but right versus wrong."
But while he is pressing Congress to approve $14 million in U.S. aid for the contras, Reagan said, "I am against sending troops to Central America. They are simply not needed. Given a chance and the resources, the people of the area can fight their own fight.
"All they need is proof that we care as much about the fight for freedom 700 miles from our shores as the Soviets care about the fight against freedom 5,000 miles from theirs," he said, referring to Kremlin support of the Sandinista regime. "And they need to know that the U.S. supports them with more than just pretty words and good wishes."
Reagan stopped at one point during his extolling of freedom fighters around the globe to introduce a commander of Afghanistan rebels engaged in the guerrilla war against Soviet troops. The commander, Abdal Haq, received a long, standing ovation.
Reagan also told 2,000 frequently cheering fellow conservatives that "we have captured the imagination of the American people."
The political left, he said, "has spent its intellectual capital, such as it was" and now has become reactionary, finding "it difficult to embrace any idea that breaks with the past."
He denounced critics who "belittle" his research program on a space-based missile defense system--known as "Star Wars"--"with nicknames or demagogue it with charges that it will bring war to the heavens." Convincing Americans of the wisdom of "Star Wars"--known in the Administration as the Strategic Defense Initiative--"may well be the most important work we do in the next few years," Reagan said.
Reagan also made it clear that he is still determined to resist all efforts to increase taxes.
"We conservatives were brought up to hate deficits and justifiably so," he said. "We have long thought there were two things in Washington that are unbalanced: the budget and the liberals. But we cannot reduce the deficit by raising taxes. And just so that every 'i' is dotted and every 't' crossed, let me repeat for the benefit of those who never seem to get the message: We will not reduce the deficit by raising taxes."