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Jim Wright, Nicaragua, and the War Powers Act BY BOB ECKHARDT HOUSE SPEAKER Jim Wright did something shocking last year shocking, that is, in the view of the White House and the State Department. In August the Speaker had worked with the President in preparing a Central America peace plan. But several days after the tentative plan was completed, five Central American presidents met in Guatemala and endorsed a peace proposal offered by Oscar Arias Sanchez, President of Costa Rica. Wright then recognized that it would be “naive and presumptuous” for the United States to try to impose a U.S. plan in lieu of the plan proposed by the Central American countries themselves; he suggested that the U.S. support the plan worked out in Guatemala City. Yet by November it was evident that the Arias plan would die without some form of discussions between Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and someone who could speak with an influential voice in the United States. President Reagan took no part in the process and the Arias plan appeared to be deadlocked. When Ortega came to Washington in November he asked to see the Speaker, who had been interested in Latin America for years and who had traveled extensively in Mexico and Central America, even becoming familiar with the language. The day after Ortega’s arrival he and Cardinal Obando y Bravo, the Nicaraguan Roman Catholic bishop, met with Wright. President Reagan had failed to represent the United States and Speaker Jim Wright took his place. According to the New York Times Magazine \(“The Foreign Policy Tussle,” JanuThis time, the White House was apoplectic. Official ‘ policy was to force the Sandinistas to deal directly with the Contras. Wright, they said, was undermining Administration policy by giving legitimacy to Ortega’s view that the quarrel should be settled between Managua and Washington. Bob Eckhardt served in the Texas Legislature from 1958-1966 and in the U.S. Congress from 1966-1980. In 1973 he took part in the debate on the role of the government branches in declaring war, arguing for a stronger version of what became the War Powers Act. Eckhardt now lives in Washington, D.C. The White House and the State Department had tried to force the Sandinistas to deal directly with the Contras and Ortega had resisted. All sovereign states, particularly small ones in the U.S. sphere of influence, resent force. Wright’s discussions apparently had softened this resistance. At the same time that Wright was calming the voices of dissent, Reagan was launching his loudest rhetorical attack. He said he would not sit still for a Communist-LeninistMarxist takeover of Latin America. The position that the President chose was in diametrical opposition to that of Wright. It seems clear that Reagan did not want negotiations to take place on Wright’s terms. Yet the Speaker’s views seem very like those expressed by Thomas Jefferson during the French Revolution two centuries ago. The Speaker might have said: . . . We certainly cannot deny to other nations that principle whereon our government is founded, that every nation has a right to govern itself internally under whatever forms it pleases and to change these forms at its own will; and externally to transact business with other nations through whatever organ it chooses, whether that be a King, Convention, Assembly, Committee, President, or whatever it be. And ultimately, Ortega did agree to deal directly with the Contras, just as the Administration had unsuccessfully tried to force him to do. Wright did not “undermine” the peace process. He encouraged it. Wright also took up the matter with the Russians, then again pushed the President in the direction of peace in Central America. As Steven V. Roberts reported in the New York Times Magazine: Over the Columbia River salmon and lobster medallions en gelde, the Speaker urged Dobrynin “to make some overtures” toward peace in Nicaragua, such as scaling down Soviet arms shipments to the Sandinistas. As the Speaker recalls the conversation, the Russian assured him that Gorbachev was prepared to make a suggestion to President Reagan. When the Summit ended with no word of a Soviet offer, the Speaker pointedly asked the President about Nicaragua. Reagan replied that Gorbachev had, indeed, raised the possibility of limiting military support for the Sandinistas. The Speaker then told reporters about Gorbachev’s suggestion, insuring it got publicized. Secretary Gorbachev had told Wright that the Soviets would accept greater cooperation with the United States but that it seemed to him the U.S. recognized only one choice for each country capitalism while the U.S.S.R. accepted the right of all countries to choose their own form of government, whether feudal, capitalist, socialist, or tribal. This represents an interesting change of Soviet thinking and practice if the General Secretary intends to apply it. I seem to remember these lines of the Soviet national anthem: “The International Soviet shall be the human race.” And we remember Czechoslovakia. But the point to be made is that Jim Wright is moving into the arena of foreign affairs on a large scale. In his Times magazine article, Roberts also quotes Charles W. Whalen, Jr., a former Congressman from Ohio and author of The House and Foreign Policy: “We haven’t seen any leader, be it the Speaker or any top official in the House, do anything like this in the foreign policy area.” Further, quoting Roberts’ article: `Somebody has to lead,’ says Representative Tony Coelho, the Democratic whip. `If the President were actually leading the Government, _Jim would be in a coalition, helping out. The fact that nobody is leading creates a vacuum of leadership, and Jim . Wright fits into that vacuum.’ ” THERE IS, however, more than a vacuum of leadership. What executive leadership that exists has moved in the wrong direction. The President and his subordinates have turned loose the dogs of war. Since 1981, about 60,000 persons have been killed on both sides of the revolution in El Salvador. The U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua estimates that since 1981, 14,000 Contras have been killed and 5,000 soldiers and noncombatants have been killed by the Contras. Congress has a moral responsibility to stop this killing. _ The Speaker has told me of his deep concern about the enormous death toll in Central America, where tens of thousands of lives have been lost. And of his concern about the Iran-Iraq war where in eight years of war 300,000 Iranians and 100,000 Iraqis have been killed. I fear that the most THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13