Worst Foot Forward

The House of Representatives has decorated an ideological Christmas tree in the guise of constructing a foreign-aid bill. It does justice neither to the nation's responsibilities nor to the needs of the world.

Rep. Dante B. Fascell (D-Fla.), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, was the primary architect. In his determination to win House action he opened the legislation to pet projects of each significant voting bloc. The result is embarrassing.

There are some positive elements--above all, the return to an emphasis on development assistance and a reduction of the military-aid component. But this may be the bill's undoing. President Reagan was outraged. His spokesman insisted that this neglect of arms "is not in keeping with the real need and threat we face." That statement was faithful to policies that have, over the last four years, tilted the balance of aid to favor bullets.

Lest they be accused in next year's election of coddling communism, however, Democrats have rushed in this legislation to join almost every anti-Marxist action in sight with a strong likelihood of doing more harm than good. The bill would authorize generous funding of guerrilla forces fighting Marxist regimes in Nicaragua and Cambodia, lift present restrictions on aid to the South African-sponsored guerrillas fighting in Angola, and escalate aid to the Afghans resisting the Soviet invasion.

There is bewildering inconsistency as the legislation darts from incredible intrusions into domestic affairs of some states to laissez-faire handouts. Aid to Mozambique would be frozen, for example, until the number of Soviet Bloc advisers was cut--a proposal that ignores improved relations with the West as well as the desperate economic situation that has been worsened by a guerrilla war sponsored by former colonists. Jordan would be denied arms unless it accepted the congressional definition of Middle East good behavior, but Israel would be rewarded with $6-billion basic support over the next two years-- no strings attached. In the sections dealing with population, authority would be granted the President to enlarge his war on abortion at the expense of the most effective international family-planning organizations.

Some of the extremes may be moderated in conference with the Senate, which has adopted a different bill. Perhaps there will be a presidential veto. But neither veto nor conference seems likely to return the United States this year to the historic role that it had played in the postwar period, guiding a broken world to reconstruction and development. Poverty remains the real enemy. Neglecting that fact only deepens the misery of millions.

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