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One Weekend in April, A Long Time Ago . . .

What John Kerry thought about the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

12:00 AM, Sep 9, 2004 • By HUGH HEWITT
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IN THE SPRING of 1985 Ronald Reagan struggled with a Democrat-dominated Congress for authority to ship aid to the Nicaraguan Contras fighting the spreading grip of the Sandinistas on their Central American country. There was quite a lot of heated rhetoric and over-the-top theater. The Sandinistas even staged a donation of ambulances to their side from American survivors of the Lincoln Brigade from the Spanish Civil War.

On the eve of a major Senate vote on the issue of aid, John Kerry and Tom Harkin jetted off to Managua for a weekend of intensive talks with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. The pair departed after holding a press conference to announce a study which listed dozens of supposed lies that the Reagan administration had told Congress and 15 allegations of law breaking (the study was done by the hard-left Institute for Policy Studies). Kerry and Harkin returned with a three page "peace proposal" given to them by Ortega.

Then-secretary of State George Shultz was outraged. "It's presumably not lawful for citizens to appoint themselves as negotiators for the United States," Shultz declared. "Members of Congress have every right to travel to Nicaragua to review the situation, but we cannot have a successful policy when they take trips or write 'Dear Commandante' letters with the aim of negotiating as self-appointed emissaries to the communist regime." Shultz called for the censure of the two senators. Charles Krauthammer, writing at the time, accurately observed that "[a]t their arrival home, only the umbrella was missing." Senator Richard Lugar remarked that "[m]ost Republicans were absolutely enraged with the Kerry-Harkin mission. That was absolutely the last straw." The Los Angeles Times reported anger among moderate Democrats as well, who "complained privately that the Harkin-Kerry trip made their party look pro-Sandinista."

But Kerry got exactly what he wanted from the trip: A front page profile in the Style section of the Washington Post days after his return. Myra MacPherson, the Post reporter, apparently accompanied the dynamic duo, and provides some tremendous quotes:

* "'Look at it,' Kerry said as their plane touched down here Thursday night. 'It reminds me so much of Vietnam. The same lushness, the tree lines.'"

* "'If you look back at the Gulf of Tonkin resolution,' Kerry said, 'if you look back at the troops that were in Cambodia, the history of the body count, and the misinterpretation of the history of Vietnam itself, and look at how we are interpreting the struggle in Central America and examine the CIA involvement, the mining of the harbors, the effort to fund the contras, there is a direct and unavoidable parallel between these two periods of our history.'"

* "'[I]n all our talks,' said Kerry, 'we found no enthusiasm, even among those who are for the contras, for keeping this war going.'"

* "Kerry responded, 'I believe Nicaragua understands beyond any doubt the United States will never tolerate a Soviet or Cuban base here. But we've got to create a climate of trust. Look, let's try it! It's better than killing people. Then if it doesn't work there will be a lot of congressmen and senators who will feel betrayed and won't have much hesitation about making a change. I see an enormous haughtiness in the United States trying to tell them what to do. Our economic squeeze on them is very sad. The whole population is suffering."

* "Kerry standing by says, 'Do we want to see the body bags coming back again.'"

* "Kerry is more optimistic. 'I don't think Congress would let it happen. I think there is a very strong sensitivity just ingrained in people like me, Harkin and Gore by virtue of the Vietnam experience that sounds alarm bells. I think all across the Hill there is a generational feeling, even with those that didn't go. I don't think it's isolationist. I'm not. I think it's pragmatic and cautious about what we can achieve.'

"Kerry shakes his head as he takes one last look at Nicaragua from the air.

"'Say if Costa Rica were defenseless and there were an attack by Nicaragua, there are treaties where we could come to their defense. But starting something is another matter. One of the great lessons of Vietnam, for God's sake, was 20 years of effort there! Ten years training, 10 years with our own; we created the fourth largest army that didn't want to fight. These are just poor people, no money, no food, just like Vietnam, and they are just trying to stay alive.'

"'They just want peace. They don't want their daughter getting blown away on the way to teach! Or their sons disappearing. It's just terrible. I see the same sense of great victimization. The little kids staring wide-eyed and scared. It really hits home the same way as Vietnam. Sending our own troops? I just don't think Congress or the people will allow it.'