Many voices on Reagan's Central America policy
Anyone who is confused about the Reagan administration's Central America policy probably has a right to be. So are some administration officials. One senior official remarked last week that you need a score card to keep track of the players. He was referring to the recent additions to the administration team of Henry A. Kissinger as Central America commission leader, Richard Stone as roving envoy, and Langhorne A. Motley as the new assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs.
With the so-called secret war against Nicaragua continuing and possibly intensifying, CIA Director William J. Casey is apparently playing a more active role. So is William P. Clark, President Reagan's national-security adviser. It's widely acknowledged that through her trip to the region and her recommendations that more resources be devoted to the problem, United Nations Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick has had a major impact.
But ever since Thomas O. Enders was ousted nearly two months ago as assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, it's been more difficult to tell who's calling the shots in Central America policymaking. In addition, administration pronouncements seem to lack any clear sense of coordination. State Department officials are dismayed by statements coming from Defense Department officials who speak openly about trying to ''intimidate'' Nicaragua.
Leaks to the press from officials who are worried about the direction policymakers seem to be taking make it sound as though Reagan is a warmonger bent on crushing the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua at all costs. In the midst of the babel of voices, few people seem to pay much attention to what Reagan himself actually says.
Is the policy to overthrow the Sandinista regime? Probably not, at least at this stage. But it certainly could become that. As one official explains it, different officials have different agendas, or ''end games.'' Some officials at the CIA, Defense Department, and the White House are said to harbor the hope, if not the explicit aim, of overthrowing the Sandinistas.
What one can safely say at this point is that the President's policy is designed to increase the pressure on the Sandinistas, in the hope that they will cut their support for guerrillas fighting the United States-backed regime in El Salvador. Attempting to put it in the simplest terms, one official says, ''the policy is to push them to the negotiating table, to make them change.'' Another official says, ''The strategy is to prevent the overthrow by Marxist guerrillas of another government in Central America.''
If these explanations are correct, then the administration's decision to organize larger-than-usual military exercises off the coast of and in Central America can be explained as part ''business as usual'' and part psychological warfare. But some observers think that the policy goes further than this. They say the policy is belligerence toward the Sandinistas, and they base their view on a statement from the President himself.
When he was asked on July 21 if he thought there could be a satisfactory settlement if the Sandinistas remained in power in Nicaragua, Reagan said: ''I think it would be extremely difficult, because I think they're being subverted, or they're being directed by outside forces.''
Any policymaker reading that message from the boss might assume that a little escalation of pressure aimed at ''destabilizing'' the Sandinistas would be in order. But some officials caution that not too much should be read into the President's statement about the difficulty of reaching agreement with the Sandinistas. They say that a naval blockade, or quarantine, is a remote possibility indeed. At the same time, they say, a signal must be sent indicating that the US will not simply stand aside should the Soviets and Cubans increase their support for Nicaragua and the Salvadorean guerrillas.
State Department officials are concerned that officials in some other agencies want to precipitate a crisis, bringing a showdown with Nicaragua.
''Some of the macho types really want to rattle the cage, and see what birds fall out,'' said one official.
Langhorne Motley, the new assistant secretary of state, is described by his subordinates as highly intelligent. But no one, no matter how intelligent, is likely to come in at this stage and suddenly assert the kind of control that Thomas Enders had over the policy and its implementation. Meanwhile, though it may appear that the administration knows exactly where it is going in Central America, it may be working things out on more of a day-to-day basis than most people realize.