WASHINGTON, D.C. -- During the 1980 presidential campaign, Republicans pointed out that Jimmy Carter had "lost Nicaragua" to communism. The 1979 Sandinista "Revolution Without Frontiers" led by Daniel Ortega was just one of many foreign policy disasters during the Carter administration -- and Ronald Reagan assured Americans that such things wouldn't happen on his "watch." Unfortunately, Reagan is gone, and today Nicaragua looks like a case of "back to the future."
On Nov. 5 -- just two days before our own mid-term congressional elections -- the people of Nicaragua will cast ballots for a new president. Friends of democracy in Latin America have been stunned by new polls showing that Ortega -- the ardent Marxist who once ruled Managua with a Soviet-backed iron fist -- is again poised to take control of government, a decade and a half after U.S.-backed freedom fighters succeeded in ousting him from power. If he wins, Ortega will have key regional allies -- men who, by themselves, present no immediate threat to our security but who, together, could create problems aplenty for the United States and its democratic Latin American allies.
Ortega's backers in the region have learned to use the "democratic process" -- elections -- to their advantage. Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, awash in petrodollars and with the encouragement of Cuba's aging Stalinist dictator, Fidel Castro, is committed to spreading an anti-American "Bolivarian Revolution" throughout the southern hemisphere. Chavez protege, Bolivian President Evo Morales, was barely in office two months before he re-wrote the country's constitution -- giving himself authoritarian powers. And in Ecuador, leftist Rafael Correa is now the front-runner in the race for the Oct. 15 presidential elections. If elected, Correa has vowed to ''re-found'' the nation, on the pattern of Bolivia and Venezuela.
Like Adolf Hitler, the anti-American leftists in Latin America are using elections -- not revolutions or military coups -- to take and then solidify power. It's a tactic that seems to have escaped the striped-pants set in our State Department. Until this week's visit to the region by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the State Department's response to the threatening leftward turn to our south -- and a Sandinista return to power -- has been both flat-footed and tone deaf.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.