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Returning home, we find a different picture. The basic lessons were drawn by correspondent Hugh Sidey of Time magazine, a respected commentator on the presidency. Under the heading "Credit Where Credit Is Due," he calls for "a little fairness" to Ronald Reagan: "The end result of the Nicaraguan episode seems to be what the U.S. has vainly sought all over the globe in its support of freedom; few American lives were committed or lost, with a cost of only $300 million in U.S. aid to the contras," and a mere $1.3 million for the economic warfare. "Compare Viet Nam," Sidey continues: "58,000 Americans killed, $150 billion spent, the nation rent in bitterness, a bitter defeat."7
In short, Reagan deserves credit for good management: his cohorts ran a cost-effective operation, expending only trivial sums to cause Nicaragua some $15 billion in damages and 30,000 killed outright, along with unknown numbers of others who died from disease and hunger. Note however that Sidey is a bit unfair to Reagan's predecessors, who did, after all, succeed in murdering millions in Indochina and leaving three countries in total ruin, not a small achievement despite the excessive cost to us.
Time proceeded to laud the methods that were used to bring about the latest of the "happy series of democratic surprises" as "democracy burst forth" in Nicaragua. The method was to "wreck the economy and prosecute a long and deadly proxy war until the exhausted natives overthrow the unwanted government themselves," with a cost to us that is "minimal," leaving the victim "with wrecked bridges, sabotaged power stations, and ruined farms," and thus providing the U.S. candidate with "a winning issue": ending the "impoverishment of the people of Nicaragua." The only issue dividing conservatives and liberals, Time correctly concludes, is "who should claim credit" for this triumph of democracy, in a free and fair election, without coercion.
Time might be assigned to the "conservative" end of the spectrum, so let us turn to the leading journal of mainstream liberalism, the New Republic. Its editorial is entitled "Who Won Nicaragua?" The answer is: "Why, the Nicaraguans, of course" -- not George Bush and U.S. aggression. "Those who supported aid to the contras..., as did this magazine, can find considerable vindication in the outcome," which "made nonsense of both the left-wing myth that anti-Yankeeism is the centerpiece of all Latin America's political identity and the right-wing myth that Leninists can never be induced to change." Adding what remains unsaid, the former "myth" succumbed to the successful use of terror and economic strangulation, and the latter is based on the loyal denial of familiar and well-attested facts about "the Sandinistas, who had won free and fair elections in 1984" (London Observer, March 4, 1990). "Gratifying as the election results are," the editorial continues, "democracy is not yet quite safe in Nicaragua," and "having served as an inspiration for the triumph of democracy in our time, the United States now has an opportunity to see to it that democracy prevails" -- "democracy," New Republic-style: the kind that "prevails" in the Central American domains where the U.S. has had ample opportunity to entrench it, to take the obvious example.8
Perhaps it is unfair to illustrate the liberal alternative by editorials in a journal that gave "Reagan & Co. good marks" for their support for state terror in El Salvador as it peaked in 1981, and then, surveying the carnage three years later, advised Reagan and Co. that we must send military aid to "Latin-style fascists...regardless of how many are murdered," because "there are higher American priorities than Salvadoran human rights." In assessing U.S. political culture let us, then, put aside the more passionate advocates of state terror -- though not without noting that these values, familiar from the Nazi era, in no way diminish the reputation of the journal, or even merit a word of comment in left-liberal circles. Let us turn, rather to less bloodthirsty sectors of what is called the "establishment left" by editor Charles William Maynes of Foreign Policy. He is referring specifically to the New York Times, but doubtless would include also the Washington Post, the major TV news bureaus, the Boston Globe (which perhaps qualifies as "ultra-left"), and his own journal, the more liberal of the two major foreign affairs quarterlies.9
To seek out the establishment left, we might begin with public debates. Public Broadcasting (PBS), generally regarded as dangerously left-wing, ran a debate between Elliott Abrams and Hendrick Hertzberg the day before the election, moderated by the pro-contra columnist Morton Kondracke. Representing the left (and indeed, at the far left of expressible opinion), Hertzberg said that he would support a continuation of the embargo against Nicaragua if the Sandinistas won the election and observer reports were less than totally favorable. He has never advocated that an embargo be imposed upon the U.S. client states nearby, where elections were held in an "atmosphere of terror and despair, of macabre rumor and grisly reality," in the words of the spokesman for the British Parliamentary Human Rights Group, Lord Chitnis, observing the 1984 election in El Salvador. He has also not suggested that the hideous atrocities of these U.S. clients merit such a response. We conclude, then, that by the standards of the establishment left, the crimes of the Sandinistas far exceed those of the death squad states. A comparison of these crimes tells us a great deal about the values upheld at the left extreme of the establishment spectrum.10
Turning to the establishment left press, we begin with the New York Times, where Elaine Sciolino reviewed the U.S. reaction to the elections. The headline reads: "Americans United in Joy, But Divided Over Policy." The policy division turns out to be over who deserves credit for the joyous outcome, so we are left with "Americans United in Joy."11
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7 Time, March 12, 1990. AP, May 1, 1990, reporting the President's accounting to Congress on "what it cost to wage economic war."
8 TNR, March 19, 1990.
9 Maynes, Foreign Policy, Spring 1990. TNR, editorials, May 2, 1981; April 2, 1984. For further details, see Turning the Tide, 117, 167f.
10 Hertzberg, cited in Extra! (FAIR), March/April 1990. Lord Chitnis, "Observing El Salvador: the 1984 elections," Third World Quarterly, October 1984.
11 Sciolino, NYT, Feb. 27, 1990.