We welcome the report of the Kissinger Commission on Central America. We question, however, how fully it will be embraced as US policy. First the report itself: It offers a perspective on the underlying causes of unrest in the region, including the war in El Salvador. It combines the basic views of liberals and conservatives: that indigenous discontent of inhabitants with their poor living conditions is exploited by outside, Soviet-backed Cuban forces.Skip to next paragraph
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The report recommends a US policy toward El Salvador which follows from these contrasting views - increased economic and military aid but with insistence on substantial reforms. It points out that progress must be made simultaneously on social, political, economic, and military fronts: None can be considered independently.
Part of the strength of the report derives from the commission's composition. Its members are broadly representative of the ideological spectrum of both political parties, from conservative to liberal.
President Reagan was on the mark in saying, as he accepted the document Wednesday, that now ''it is time to go to work'' on dealing with Central America's needs. The President should embrace the report's findings, which in effect endorse his administration's heavy security emphasis, while adding human rights and other priorities. He should try to promote it to a skeptical Congress and public so that it may be put into effect.
This said, as the initial Capitol Hill reaction showed, it is questionable whether the full report will become US policy. For one thing, this is a presidential election year. If Mr. Reagan wins, he can be expected to pursue continued military aid. If the Democratic nominee should be elected in November, it is not at all certain that he would continue policy set in motion by a Republican-nominated commission. A Democratic emphasis could fall on the economic or human rights side of the equation. The commission report, of itself, cannot resolve this basic political uncertainty.
Many liberals in and out of Congress are wary. They fear the document may be a Trojan horse, with its call for increased economic and governmental reform merely encasing what they consider the conservatives' real aim: much greater military assistance. They will be watching to see whether the Reagan administration endorses the full panoply of nonmilitary assistance, from doubled economic aid to a fivefold increase in Peace Corps presence - and, if it does, the vigor with which the President pushes the plan.
For his part, President Reagan has gained time from the project. He will now have to decide whether to accept the complex package the commission proposes. Any attempt to increase military aid but not economic assistance would probably be defeated by Congress. So would any proposal that did not firmly tie aid to much-improved human rights conditions in El Salvador. Finally, the President must decide whether he wishes to fund US aid at the levels recommended, which would probably require revision of his soon-to-be-proposed federal budget.
Beyond this is the question of whether the United States, under this or any other president, is willing to push the government of El Salvador hard enough for reform in many areas - governmental, economic, and human rights - to achieve major results and gain the support of its citizens, many of whom are now being alienated by right-wing terrorism. Major reform in all areas is both necessary and difficult, given the well-entrenched oligarchy which controls so many areas of the nation's life.
Critics of the commission findings point out the difficulty for the US to be credible with the Salvadorean government, when simultaneously it would greatly increase aid to prevent a communist-led takeover while admonishing Salvadorean officials that it would withdraw all aid unless major reforms were made.
Further, peacefully changing the form of a government in a land with a history of oligarchic rule is difficult under the best of circumstances: Success is rare. In this case the effort is immensely complicated by the military struggle being waged by well-organized guerrillas.
Much of the study commends itself, such as looking at the region in a five-year program rather than annually. Clearly the President and Congress have their work cut out, given the inherent differences in approach to Central America, and the pressures of the political year.