- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 15, 2002

The "Blame America First" viewpoint surely has an even smaller constituency at home today than it had before September 11. Nevertheless, in some of the deeper mineshafts of foreign policy elitism, this odd outlook lives on.

So it is with the great woolly mammoth of the Democratic left's foreign policy, Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut. Encased in ancient ideological ice, he remains clenched in the conflict of a Cold War that ended more than a decade ago.

Moscow has ended its affair with Fidel Castro, announcing last October it would shut down the last Russian intelligence outpost in Cuba. But for Mr. Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Western Hemisphere panel, the romance with Latin American Leftism and the passion of anti-anti-communism appear to be unquenchable.

The current case in point is Mr. Dodd's refusal to allow a hearing and vote on President Bush's nominee for assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, Otto Reich. Acting in the national interest, Mr. Bush gave Mr. Reich a recess appointment on Jan. 11, allowing him to serve without Senate confirmation until the end of this year.

I worked closely with Mr. Reich during the Reagan administration, where he was one of the brightest and most effective strategists in our struggle against the Brezhnev Doctrine. Mr. Reich ably led the U.S. Agency for International Development's Latin American bureau and then led communications efforts for our efforts to halt the advance of Soviet and Castroite influence over Central America and the Caribbean.

His distinguished service continued in the Reagan and first Bush administrations with his posting as U.S. ambassador to Venezuela and as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

Had it not been for Mr. Reich's efforts, the United States today might confront terrorist, anti-democratic, anti-American states in Nicaragua, El Salvador and elsewhere in our region. He was a key young player on the Reagan team's campaign to roll back communist domination, to promote global free expression, free markets and democracy, and, as Ronald Reagan promised, to "make America great again." Today, Mr. Reich is superbly qualified to serve as President Bush's top diplomat for Latin America.

Mr. Reich is living proof of the United States' mission as a last, best hope for mankind. His father was an Austrian Jew and his mother a Cuban Catholic. As the Nazi Holocaust began, Mr. Reich's father fled Austria and Europe for the safer shores of Cuba. His father's parents, meanwhile, were murdered by the Nazis. Mr. Reich was born and raised in Cuba, but when Fidel Castro established a Soviet satellite dictatorship there, he and his parents came to the United States as refugees.

The United States' need for leadership and direction in Latin American relations is urgent. While attention today is on Afghanistan, over the long run our neighborhood in the hemisphere is of greater strategic importance than Central Asia. International terrorists including Irish Republican Army murderers, Islamic extremists from the Middle East, and homegrown Latin American guerrillas, all operate extensively in South America, with encouragement and support from Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba. The pace of terrorist killings in Colombia, appalling before September 11, now is even worse.

Political and economic stability are at risk throughout Latin America. The president of Venezuela, the largest oil exporter outside of the Middle East, is enamored of Mr. Castro, Libya's Muammar Qaddafi and Saddam. Political corruption, international terrorists, Marxist guerrillas, and drug traffickers are a plague against civil society and personal safety in Ecuador and Peru as well as in Colombia. Argentina's government and financial system have just experienced a meltdown.

A majority of senators including a number of Democrats understand the stakes in Latin America and are prepared to vote to confirm Mr. Reich's confirmation. But not Mr. Dodd. Still living in the last days of disco, he carries a torch for the Sandinistas and the Salvadoran Marxists of yore. As the great Venezuelan journalist Carlos Rangel observed, the myth of the benevolent guerrilla, like the legend of the noble savage, dies hard.

Mr. Bush made the right move by giving Mr. Reich a recess appointment. Now it's time for Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle to override Mr. Dodd's petty obstructionism and allow a hearing and floor vote on his confirmation.

Frank Ruddy, a Washington attorney, served as a U.S. ambassador and as assistant director of the U.S. Agency for International Development under President Reagan.

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