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It's Dangerous

March 17, 1988

The plan to deploy additional U.S. troops in Honduras is a dangerous overreaction by President Reagan to events already being satisfactorily addressed by the leaders of Central America themselves through diplomatic channels.

This is not the first time that Nicaraguan forces have mounted a major offensive against the Contras and have carried their hot pursuit across the frontier into Honduras, where the Contras have their principal bases. This Sandinista offensive is all the more ill advised because it comes just six days before the scheduled resumption of cease-fire negotiations. For all concerned, but most of all for the Nicaraguan civilians who have been so cruelly victimized in this civil war, this should have been a time for holding the line, preparing for talks, minimizing the risk of more casualties.

Nevertheless, the events of the last 48 hours hardly justify the White House panic. There is certainly no evidence to justify Secretary of State George P. Shultz's assertion that this is "a genuine national-security problem for the United States of America." In fact, the White House hyperbole seems a transparent maneuver to bring new pressure on Congress to support further assistance for the Contras to prolong their desultory war. That would serve no good purpose. It would only invite more suffering by a people who have already suffered too much.

Reagan is said to have ordered the deployment of U.S. troops in response to a request from Honduran President Jose Azcona Hoyo. It is not clear, however, who asked whom. The White House announcement came even as the Honduran foreign minister and ambassador were making reassuring announcements suggesting that the emergency was being handled effectively by the Central American presidents in conformity with the Aug. 7 Central American peace agreement. There were reports that the Nicaraguans already were pulling back when Shultz made his extravagant characterization of the threat that they posed. In any event it is obvious that the diplomatic options should have been exhausted before any military escalation was considered.

That, however, would not have been consistent with Reagan's strategy. The President has long sought to derail diplomatic alternatives while supporting a military solution. He has long sought to impose his perception of this as a Cold War issue with a made-in-Washington solution rather than to respect the efforts of the Central Americans themselves to work out a solution to their problem. Now the President must see in the Sandinista offensive new leverage to pry from Congress aid to prolong the Contra guerrilla war in Nicaragua. That would be as wrong today as it was when Congress wisely defeated two other Contra aid proposals in recent weeks.

The risks of any deployment of U.S. military forces are manifold. Such an action confirms Managua's propaganda about the menace of a Yankee invasion, and is likely to engender sympathy for Nicaragua among the people of Latin America. U.S. troops can serve no military purpose in the present circumstances in Central America. But their presence will raise across the hemisphere the specter of more than a century of dreaded Yankee interventions in that pathetic, impoverished region of the world.

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