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The Central American crisis reader.


Edited by Robert S. Leikenand Barry Rubin. Summit. 717 pp. $24.95. Paper $12.95.

The Central American CrisisReader purports to be a balanced and comprehensive collection of documents for the enlightenment of the American public-- an "essential guide,' as the cover puts it, to "help you make up your mind' about "the most controversial foreign policy issue today.' More than 700 pages long, it is emblazoned with the longest list of endorsements from the Washington establishment in living memory. Among those who have put their seal ("magnificent,' "impressive,' "invaluable,' etc.) on the enterprise are Robert McFarlane, William Rogers, Sam Nunn, Les Aspin, Richard Lugar, Stephen Solarz and Elliott Abrams. Other, less exalted figures are also there: ensconced on the sponsors' sofa between McFarlane and Abrams, the historian Walter LaFeber chimes in. His word for the book is "indispensable.'

In fact, as even a cursory inspectionof the volume should have made clear to LaFeber, the Reader is indispensable only for the prosecution of the cold war. Its purpose is to soften up public opinion--perhaps especially student opinion --for the right answer to the question that its jacket headlines: "Should the U.S. intervene in Central America?' Its main architect, Robert Leiken, is the Michael Ledeen of the region, a familiar haunting the underworld of contra intrigue and Central Intelligence Agency consultation. He has been a loyal mechanic in the contras' cause, preparing propaganda for Arturo Cruz, carrying water for him in the media, and lobbying in Congress for a forward U.S. policy in Central America.

LaFeber's affidavit for the booksingles out as "especially significant' what he describes as "never before translated internal documents' from political forces in Central America. What is actually significant about many of these, however, is that Leiken does not reveal where he got them from. He speaks of "items found on captured FMLN leaders, authenticated by leading experts and journalists' (nameless functionaries expert, perhaps, in torture too); produces traceless "secret letters'; cites undisclosed "private sources.' What kind of historian certifies documents of no confessable source? (The last one to do so was Hugh Trevor-Roper.) It is astonishing that LaFeber, author of an eminently honorable oeuvre on the American Empire, should not have realized he was stumbling into the intellectual perimeter of the universe of Carl Channell and Lieut. Col. Oliver North--whose bagman, Robert Owen, recently recounted on national television his meeting with legal prodigy Bretton G. Sciaroni in the company of Bruce Cameron, Leiken's alter ego.

The inappropriateness of the Reader'stitle immediately signals its editors' agenda. For apart from a perfunctory retrospect from Bartolome de Las Casas to the World Bank, the entire compendium is devoted to just two countries, Nicaragua and El Salvador. For Leiken and his ilk there is no "crisis' worth notice in Guatemala, where the toll of three decades of U.S.-sponsored terror surpasses that of any other country in the region; in Honduras, which has been deformed and corrupted into a U.S. military staging post; in Costa Rica, whose neutrality has been twisted to pieces by the C.I.A. and N.S.C. Crises exist only when matters are not under U.S. control, and can be resolved only once that control is re-established. As Leiken puts it, after a delicate allusion to "the reported diversion to a rebel supply network of money from U.S. arms sales to Iran' and the regrettable ripples that has caused, it is the revival of North American "bipartisanship' that is a "prerequisite to any solution of the Central American crisis.' Let the locals talk--there is much cant about "hearing Central American voices' here--it is we who can act.

The bulk of the Reader is devoted tothe documents Leiken and his co-editor, Barry Rubin, have filleted and assembled. Much effort has been expended to give the collection an air of amplitude and judicious impartiality. There are items that indict Somoza or the Salvadoran death squads, or convey something of Contadora attitudes. But their main function is to lend credibility to the package as a whole, whose purpose is not "balance,' as the jacket copy claims, but blatant bias. The Sandinistas in struggle against Somoza are introduced by way of Carlos Fonseca Amador's reflections on a trip to Moscow in the late 1950s (get it?), and finished off with a spray of documents concerning their internal disputes. Once in power they are given twenty-eight pages for their policies and programs: the "Rise of the Opposition' gets forty-eight. Fragments bearing on the divisions and conflicts among the Salvadoran guerrillas are multiplied; information on the contras' internecine feuds, in which Leiken himself has been a tawdry actor, is minimized. Arturo Cruz naturally gets pride of place, as the author of the longest single text in the volume. Jose Napoleon Duarte wraps up the section on El Salvador; Jeane Kirkpatrick has the last word on the Carter Administration; the ineffable Representative Dave McCurdy, who got contra aid flowing again, signs off on that. There is not a line about the frantic endeavors of Jimmy Carter and Cyrus Vance to preserve Somoza's National Guard yesterday, just as there is not a word about the operations of the National Security Council today. The appendices to the Tower Commission report alone are enough to make this "reader,' in which the names of Casey, McFarlane and Secord never appear, ridiculous as documentation.

The principal thrust of the volume ismost clearly visible in Leiken's editorializing. A few illiterate paragraphs introduce the main burden of the enterprise. Leiken is in this respect no Ledeen, who could once write competently about Gabriele D'Annunzio. Central America, we are assured, won its independence from Spain with the aid of the United States: in fact, it gained independence from Mexico, and neither needed nor received any help from North America. After independence, it remained sunk in both the "middle ages' and the "dark ages' (they're all the same to Leiken), a "heart of darkness,' a "darkened sea' that "flowed in obscurity'--until "the Nicaraguan revolution disclosed unsuspected and deep turbulence.' In this lumpen chiaroscuro, the Guatemalan revolution and its fate recede below the threshold of visibility: no turbulence could be suspected there. That revolution is later dispatched in a page, under the pudic rubric of an "episode.'

But these meditations are a mere prologuefor the main drama Leiken ushers on: The Tragedy of the Nicaraguan Revolution. In 1978, Leiken tells us, there was a popular insurrection against Somoza's tyranny, "detonated by the assassination of Pedro Joaquin Chamorro --not by the Sandinistas, most of whose forces had langushied for years in the northern mountains.' Indeed, Chamorro himself had been sharply critical of the Sandinistas and, citing Chamorro's dislike for the F.S.L.N.'s ""irrational outcry against the bourgeoisie,'' Leiken goes on to hint that his death may have been their revenge: "The murder of Chamorro in January 1978, which has never been solved, was widely attributed at the time to the dictatorship.' In other words, we know better now.

From here on, Leiken has no troublegiving the reader to understand that the Sandinistas were interlopers, who hijacked the revolution for their own totalitarian and anti-Nicaraguan goals: "After the Sandinistas took power, Nicaraguans noticed that some leading members spoke with Cuban accents and used Cuban phrases. Some Nicaraguans were reminded of Somoza, who spoke English better than Spanish.' Sure enough, "within four short years . . . the nation was badly divided and facing civil war. It had become a focal point of conflict between the United States and the Soviet bloc. Many Nicaraguans felt that a new dictatorship had taken the place of the old.' Who was responsible for these "tragic events'? The Sandinistas, naturally, bent on a "monopoly of political power' at home and determined to "spread their revolution to neighboring countries.' These are the two fundamental causes of the present crisis in Central America. The leitmotif of the book thus parrots the speeches of Reagan and his minions. No wonder Elliott Abrams is so pleased with it.

Nevertheless, within the extended labyrinthof latter-day anticommunism, Leiken's politics are not unconditionally those of the White House. The intention of his book is, rather, to bring together a new cold war front that would embrace Democrats and Republicans alike. He speaks with concern of "the profound division of the U.S. elite' that has prevented it from mobilizing "the American public' fully behind the cause of freedom in Nicaragua, and deplores "the weakening of the conservative wing of the Democratic Party and the liberal wing of the Republican Party' today. What he would like to re-create is the unity of the Pax Americana, when "the elites which formed the Marshall Plan and the major tenets and policies of postwar internationalism had a popular consensus'-- the kind that allowed the counterrevolutionary interventions in Guatemala and Iran, the invasions of the Dominican Republic and Vietnam. The Republican right, whatever its other merits, has too narrow an outlook and base for that role. Hence, Leiken looks longingly to the Kissinger Commission as the kind of forum in which a new "bipartisan' resolve to defend the Free World can be forged. For that is, of course, the paramount concern of the 1980s contra mentality: Central America must be rendered secure so that the United States can strike untroubled and at will elsewhere. Leiken approvingly quotes the Kissinger Commission: "The ability of the United States to sustain a tolerable balance of power on the global scene at a manageable cost depends on the inherent security of its land borders.' He himself goes further, to underline the "internationalist' inspiration of U.S. preoccupations: "The prospective entrenchment of a Soviet naval force able to attack convoys from Gulf ports or the Panama Canal would jeopardize the Western Alliance.'

To bring home the menace of the Sovietpenetration of our hemisphere, Leiken --in the most grotesque section of his introduction, titled "The Superpowers in Central America'--devotes as much space to the role of the Soviet Union in the region as to that of the United States. Not a word is let slip about the U.S. military manufacture of the Nicaraguan counterrevolution, which might as well have happened on another planet. Rather, we are told with pathos of the "legitimate national security concerns' of the United States in Central America, and its plight as the Soviet Union steadily encroaches on them: "Today the United States finds itself in the situation of the legendary boy who cried wolf.' The effrontery of this image of the American imperial state as a defenseless child in Central America should be a reminder to us all that Contragate is not the end of the mentality that created it. Hic sunt lupi.
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Author:Anderson, Perry
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 20, 1987
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