It is no accident that President Daniel Ortega's 11-point program to achieve a peaceful settlement in Nicaragua has a striking resemblance to General Secretary Najib's proposals for "national reconciliation" in his native Afghanistan. Both initiatives have the stamp "made in Moscow" on them. Both reflect the Kremlin's effort to achieve through creative diplomacy what cannot be won on the battlefield.
There is, of course, some difference between Ortega and Najib. Unlike his Afghan counterpart, the Nicaraguan leader is a Soviet client rather than an outright puppet. He does not depend on Soviet combat troops to keep him in power and enjoys more authentic support.
Yet, even if in talking to the Sandinistas the Soviets make recommendations rather than issue orders, Ortega and his colleagues are sensible enough to follow their Soviet big brother's guidance. They are aware that without Soviet economic and security assistance their revolution is doomed. And they also have learned that Mikhail S. Gorbachev is a tough boss who does not gladly suffer disobedience from Soviet dependencies.
Nicaraguan officials indignantly deny that Ortega received his marching orders from the Kremlin. And, indeed, dressing down Soviet vassals is not Gorbachev's style. Still, while paying tribute to equality among communist regimes, the General Secretary knows how to communicate his preferences in a forceful and convincing manner. That is exactly what he did during Ortega's recent brief visit to Moscow.
Soviet insiders familiar with the U.S.S.R-Sandinista negotiations say Ortega was told about Soviet concerns with Nicaragua's situation. The economy is in shambles. The Contras, despite Managua's assurances to the contrary, have managed to infiltrate thousands of fighters in almost all regions of the country. And Nicaragua's neighbors had begun to express some gentle irritation with the stubborn refusal of the Sandinistas to negotiate with the U.S.-supported resistance.
Ortega was advised that, in accordance with the Soviet "new way of thinking," regional conflicts should be handled with well-packaged flexibility. Moscow was tired of constantly subsidizing the Sandinista experiment and it was time for Managua to look for other donors--at the top of the list, oil-rich Mexico and Venezuela.
The trouble is that both of these countries already had been approached by Nicaragua with most disappointing results. Ortega and company, replied Moscow, should be prepared to walk an extra mile to impress Mexico, Venezuela and other Latin-American nations with a new Sandinista spirit of good will.
Soviet foreign policy-makers have no doubt that the place to defeat the Contras is in the U.S. Congress--not the jungles of Nicaragua. To them, it makes perfect sense for the Sandinistas to adopt a "peace-loving" posture that guarantees that resistance forces would be deprived of their American lifeline.
There have been no threats to Ortega regarding penalties for ignoring Moscow's advice. But he surely remembers how difficult it was to persuade the Kremlin to reverse its initial decision reducing the Eastern bloc oil subsidy to Managua in 1987. Soviet leverage over the Sandinistas is tremendous. And Moscow's propensity for disciplining arrogant clients is a matter of record. No threats were needed for Ortega to get the Soviet message and to bring it to Washington translated into an 11-point peace proposal.
Reasonable people are entitled to disagree about the merits of Managua's approach. Maybe this is the best we realistically can get from the Sandinstas. Maybe the Contras do not have a chance anyway. Maybe Nicaragua is not terribly important to U.S. security.
But reasonable people should be able to accept two fairly self-evident propositions. First, the Ortega initiative is a demand for Contra surrender. Managua has promised the Contras participation in the political life of the country only after their military muscle is eliminated and they are at the complete mercy of the Sandinistas. Camouflaged--even honorable--it may be, but a surrender nonetheless.
Second, like their brethren in Afghanistan, the Sandinistas--at Soviet prodding --are willing to compromise on everything except what truly matters to them: power. Keeping La Prensa open, releasing political prisoners and even allowing some Contra leaders to return to Managua is a small price to pay for winning the civil war.
Moscow, meanwhile, would once again outmaneuver Ronald Reagan. A diplomatic victory in Nicaragua will leave a big hole in the U.S. effort to increase the political and economic costs of maintaining the Soviet empire. A safe prediction: the next stop in the Soviet "peace offensive" will be Afghanistan.