Rich Lowry

Human-rights activists say they will wage an assault on the nomination of John Negroponte as national intelligence director based on the former ambassador's service in Latin America in the 1980s. In this nomination fight, Negroponte will be accused, essentially, of being on the right side of history.

    Negroponte was ambassador to Honduras during the Reagan administration, at the forefront of a spectacularly successful fight to introduce and sustain Western political norms in the region. For this, his reputation has been smeared by left-wing nostalgics who can't get over their opposition to the Reagan policy, let alone admit that it worked.

    Carter administration policy in the 1970s was to topple human-rights-abusing allies of the United States, then walk away, not caring if totalitarian left-wing governments rose up in their place. The Reagan policy was to encourage human rights and democracy across the board, by resisting the advance of communism in the Western Hemisphere and encouraging military governments to democratize.

    The specific accusation against Negroponte is that he knew about abuses committed by the Honduran military. Did such abuses occur? Yes. The strategy of his critics is basically to tar him with that fact -- i.e., he was U.S. ambassador, so he must somehow have been responsible for everything that happened there.

    But the context is important. From 1972 to 1982 -- through the Carter years -- Honduras had a military government. Indeed, Ronald Reagan inherited a terrible mess in Central America. Arguably the bloodiest year of anti-communist "death squad" activity in El Salvador -- often blamed on Reagan -- was 1980, when Jimmy Carter was in office, yammering ineffectually about human rights. In Honduras, Reagan was working with what was a new civilian government, elected in 1982. To expect that government to have adopted pure democratic norms immediately was unrealistic.

    Reagan's dual-track policy was to undermine the left-wing Sandinista dictatorship in Nicaragua while encouraging reform elsewhere. The left made every possible excuse for the Sandinistas and argued essentially that their totalitarian rule should simply be accepted. But the Sandinistas were bent on expanding communism throughout the region, so a necessary condition of democratic reform in Central America was driving them from power. Negroponte was a key point man in this project, funneling aid to the anti-Sandinista rebels -- the Contras -- from Honduras. Reagan critics have never forgiven him.

Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
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