The Kissinger Commission's report is a dangerous document that endorses the power politics of the Reagan administration. Should it be taken seriously as a blueprint for policy, it would have the effect of opposing not only the people of Central America, but also the real interests of the United States. This is because it encourages our continuing support of retrograde regimes that will inevitably fail.
We can no longer abide the lure of a ''pragmatic'' approach to human rights. These rights, which lie at the very heart and soul of the American political tradition, are important in themselves. Used as a weapon of the cold war, they harm our interest and our ideals at the same time.
Our geopolitical problems in Central America are not the creation of foreign-directed insurgencies, but of the unwillingness of the US to act upon its own highest principles. In making anti-Sovietism the centerpiece of its foreign policy, the Reagan administration betrays any remaining hopes for alliance with the forces of human dignity. As a result, every defeated client of the US will be replaced by a regime that is bitterly anti-American.
It will not help US objectives to throw billions of dollars at tyrants and expect them to promote human rights. We would do much better to dissociate ourselves from authoritarian regimes altogether, allowing particular insurgencies to exercise their lawful right of rebellion. Although such a policy could carry no guarantees that successor revolutionary governments would be partial to the US, there is no other way. To do otherwise, to continue the policy of succoring despots, is to ensure failure.
Before our policy toward Central America can advance our national interests, we will need to recognize that the right to revolution contained in the Declaration of Independence must be extended to all suffering peoples. Rather than support oligarchies that can never improve human rights and can never be sustained, we must learn to accept the right of Salvadoreans and others to throw off ''a long train of abuses and usurpations.'' Only then can we look forward to legitimate, stable, and pro-American governments in the region.
The enemy lies not in the guerrilla camps of Central America or in the machinations of an ''evil empire,'' but in ourselves. By tolerating virtually every breach of human dignity in pursuit of cooperative anti-Sovietism, we have created the image of America as an affliction.
Fearful that goodness will be taken as a sign of weakness, the Kissinger Commission attaches a ''limiting condition'' to the human rights imperative. This condition, said Dr. Kissinger at his news conference on the issuance of the report, ''is that it is absurd in the name of human rights to bring into power a Marxist-Leninist group who wherever they have governed systematically suppressed human rights.''
In other words, it is all right for us to do evil in a good cause.
But Kissinger and company are wrong. Our only real hopes for long-term security and influence in Central America rest with the self-evident truths of the American republic. Accepting these principles, we could progress as a nation beyond the self-defeating competition of the cold war to a promising ethic of national and planetary renewal. Restored to our capacity to bear witness as a righteous people, we could begin to advance beyond the grim cliches of Realpolitik to the genuine power of decency and self-determination.
This country hasn't always existed at cross-purposes with its own best traditions. We have not always advanced an inscrutably perverse logic whereby support for barbarous regimes is reconciled with what President Reagan once called ''our nation's self-expression.'' Rather, in its beginnings, the US was committed to the idea of a higher law. Codified in both the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution, this idea is based upon the acceptance of certain ''inalienable rights'' that must prevail because of their own obvious merit. Eternal and unchangeable, these rights are external to all acts of government and interpenetrate all human reason.
Gabriela Mistral, the Chilean poet who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1945, once wrote that crimes against humanity carry within themselves ''a moral judgment over an evil in which every feeling man and woman concurs.'' At this time in our national history, the last real hope for preventing such evil lies in US compliance with its own revolutionary traditions. With such compliance, the US could replace its still growing incapacity for purposeful involvement in Central America with a timely ethos of dignity and survival.