Getting together on Central American peace
Two US journalists have been added to the many unheadlined victims of warfare along the Nicaragua-Honduras border. Their loss is the latest tragic reminder to the United States that its Central American policies must be shaped to encourage peaceful progress in the region rather than endless resort to military expedients. Hopeful signs of this recognition have appeared in recent days. If Washington follows up on them - and all other parties respond in kind - the toll of tomorrow's victims could come to a merciful halt.
Among the hopeful signs:
* President Reagan has authorized his special envoy to Central America, Richard Stone, to start trying to help the rulers and rebels in El Salvador find a mutually acceptable framework for discussion.
* In a meeting with Prime Minister Gonzalez of Spain, Mr. Reagan reportedly set aside the previous day's East-West platform language in behalf of increased military aid to El Salvador; he stressed the need for security to permit Central American change in behalf of the well-being of local people. Mr. Gonzalez had made no secret of his concern about too much military emphasis in Washington's Central American policy - as well as his concern about Cuban military aid for Nicaragua. He called for withdrawal of all foreign military aid to the region, warning that the Nicaraguan conflict could widen to involve the United States.
* Senior generals of the US Army were reported to join ''with unusual unanimity'' in opposition to any US military intervention in Central America without unequivocal backing by Congress and the people. The report came just after former Vice-President Mondale, a Democratic presidential candidate, predicted that present US policies of ''militarizing'' and ''Americanizing'' the Central American conflict would lead to the introduction of US troops. The generals were said to see the Central American situation as not a peculiarly military one but one involving economic, social, political, and military problems.
* A renowned Democratic hawk, Senator Jackson, went beyond saying that current emphasis on military means was the ''wrong course'' to suggesting a long-term approach to regional stability. He joined with Republican Senator Mathias to introduce a resolution calling on the President to set up a bipartisan commission on US policy in Central America. He warned: ''The problem goes beyond the military shield. In fact, it will crumble unless we address the underlying issues.'' Mr. Mathias added: ''The guerrilla war in El Salvador and Nicaragua that dominates our concern about the area today is only the most visible and contemporary expression of ancient and profound economic, social, and political problems.''
Skeptics soon saw the proposed commission in the same light as the bipartisan MX commission - as a way for Democrats to blur lines of political opposition on issues likely to figure in the 1984 elections. Yet the MX commission served not only as a shelter for Congress to go along with a weapon it had opposed but as a nudge toward a public tone of US flexibility in the arms control talks. And a commission on Central America could come up with valuable reinforcement of rational Central American policy, even if it did not agree on the kind of ''Marshall Plan'' for the region mentioned by its legislative sponsors.
Mr. Reagan's Caribbean Basin plan, in its more modest way, is in the Marshall Plan vein. It suggests that, bipartisan commission or not, he can lead toward a proper balance of military, economic, social, and political factors in line with the principal US goals he cited to Prime Minister Gonzalez: peace, democracy, and justice.