THE bumper sticker on the car ahead of me proclaimed ``U.S. get out of El Salvador.'' I found the entreaty puzzling. Beyond a few trainers, there are no American military personnel in El Salvador.
There is a Congress-approved aid program, both military and economic, designed to bolster the constitutionally elected government of El Salvador.
The United States has favored the centrist government of President Duarte. It has used its influence to hobble right-wing extremism. It certainly is opposed to a left-wing takeover by the Marxist guerrillas who are now busily wiping out elected mayors in El Salvador.
Surely the protesting owner of the bumper sticker could not be against this American policy?
Perhaps the geography of the bumper-sticker owner was a little shaky. Maybe his ire should be directed at American policy in Nicaragua?
There a totalitarian regime, with ready support from Moscow, is preaching Marxist revolution at home and attempting to spread it elsewhere in Central America. The Reagan administration abhors this, but its policy for handling Nicaragua is controversial because it still isn't clear whether President Reagan wants to tame the Ortega regime or topple it.
But as I pondered what it was the bumper-sticker owner was protesting, I could not help feeling there is a serious gap in the bumper-sticker business.
Where, for example, are the bumper stickers urging Cuba to get out of Angola? Where are the ones urging the Vietnamese to get out of Kampuchea? Where are the bumper stickers urging the Vietnamese to free their thousands of political prisoners held without trial? And perhaps the most glaring omission of all: Where are the bumper stickers urging the Soviets to get out of Afghanistan?
Why are the illegalities, the atrocities, the misdeeds, of Communist regimes never the subject of the bumper-sticker campaign?
Is there a double standard? Is it because bumper-sticker purchasers think Communists are beyond the pale, and they have no influence with them? Is it because bumper-sticker printers sense no market for criticism of governments other than their own? Do they think criticism of Soviet actions, for instance, should derive only from Soviet citizens? If so, much will have to change in Soviet society before Moscow's little autos carry bumper stickers protesting Mr. Gorbachev's nuclear buildup, or his continuing occupation of Eastern Europe, or his pillage of Afghanistan.
I have looked in vain, but I think I will have to end up hand-lettering a home-made ``Soviets get out of Afghanistan'' sticker, for there is no printed one I can find.
This is a tragedy, for while Americans pay little attention, the Soviets are continuing to behave with massive cruelty there. In December 1979 the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, installed their own government, and have occupied the country since, terrorizing those Afghans who question and resist Soviet rule.
There is very strong evidence that in earlier days the Soviets used chemical weapons in Afghanistan.
Today there are grounds for believing that the Soviets are systematically destroying the agricultural system in order to bring balky peasants to heel. Starvation may be around the corner. Remember Ethiopia? Well, keep your eye on Afghanistan.
The story of Soviet torture has been well-chronicled. Moreover, thousands of Afghan children have been sent to the Soviet Union for ``education.''
New leadership in Moscow has not mitigated the sufferings of the Afghans. Indeed, Mr. Gorbachev has warned Pakistan, haven for many Afghan refugees, that it may next feel the heat of Soviet aggression unless it curbs its aid to the freedom fighters. Already there has been a string of incidents in which Pakistani border territory has been shelled and bombed by the Soviets.
But still I look for that bumper sticker: ``Soviets get out of Afghanistan.''