Consistent Immorality

WITH THE SELECTION of Jeanne Kirkpatrick as his choice for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, president-elect Ronald Reagan has realized the worst fears about his foreign policy towards the Third World and especially towards Latin American countries. Kirkpatrick, a Georgetown professor and harsh critic of President Carter's human rights policy, perhaps best encapsulated her attitudes when, in December, she said she strongly believes the U.S. should, in the name of stability, support "mildly repressive" governments. Revolutionaries, Kirkpatrick contends, only appeal to liberals because their rhetoric masks their real intentions: furthering Soviet ambitions for global domination and imposing regimes more tyrannical than their right-wing predecessors.

And so, in an article in Commentary last November that caught Reagan's eye, Kirkpatrick argues that the U.S. should consistently support those governments that are its friends--that is, those governments lucky enough to be perceived as working "in America's best interests." Mocking the evidence that led many Americans to understand why continued American support of repressive regimes in South Vietnam, Iran and Nicaragua was immoral, Kirkpatrick believes instead that the U.S. should have continued backing the Shah even after the details of his 20-year reign of terror became public. After all, she says in perhaps the most ironic and alarming part of her article, Argentina is closer to progressive liberalization than Cuba or China. Her comparison of these countries in terms of human rights is as absurd as her suggestion that Argentina, suffering under a lethal stability imposed by the right, will soon be democratized.

Perhaps Kirkpatrick is so appealing to Reagan because she offers him what he promised the people--a consistent foreign policy. But to persevere in the errors of the past for the sake of consistency alone is wrongheaded and ineffective policy; and a more enlightened approach does not have to be inconsistent, even if Carter's faltering efforts towards one seemed so.

This week, Reagan is meeting with Jose Lopez Portillo, Mexico's president. Portillo is bound to repeat to Reagan what he has said about Latin America in the past: don't interfere. Time after time, in Cuba, Nicaragua, and now El Salvador, American support for right-wing autocracies has turned the popular revolutionary groups in these countries--who achieve power in the long run if not in the short--against the U.S. and driven them into the arms of the Soviet Union. Moreover, continuing to support "mildly repressive" regimes in the name of stability, as Kirkpatrick suggests, will bring the United States into direct opposition with the Soviet Union, turning the continent into yet another battleground between competing U.S. and Soviet factions. If Reagan and Kirkpatrick truly want peace with the Soviets, then limited involvement and mutual non-intervention must be the primary goal of an early U.S.-Soviet agreement.

As a palpable foreshadowing of Reagan's foreign policy, Kirkpatrick said recently that she believes the U.S. should continue to provide military aid to El Salvador, where in the past month seven Americans have been murdered--with the tacit condoning if not outright participation of the rightist government's continued aid for the El Salvador regime in the face of the unrelieved political repression and economic exploitation there is bad enough; with the views of Kirkpatrick put into practice under a Reagan administration, this senseless approach is likely to be duplicated across the globe.