Is the new U.S. policy toward Nicaragua that was worked out this week between the White House and Congress really a breakthrough? Does it really represent the start of a new bipartisanship?

That's what some Washington observers are insisting.But it would be more accurate to say the new policy is an attempt to put the best face on the defeat of efforts to pry communism out of this part of Latin America.

The most that can be said for the new policy is that it salvages non-military U.S. aid for the Contra rebels in Nicaragua just before it was about to run out.

Military aid, of course, is still dead. And it is clearly going to remain dead as long as the rebels themselves are making little or no military gains and Democrats control the U.S. Congress. By accepting this part of the new policy, the Bush administration is merely bowing to the inevitable.

Meanwhile, Washington seems unable to acknowledge that the Sandinista government in Nicaragua is still as repressive as ever, still as deeply in the Kremlin's pocket as ever, and still a threat to its neighbors in Latin America.

Likewise, though the Sandinistas have promised to hold free elections early next year, they could easily weasel out of that vow or rig the voting. There are no penalties for any such violations. Yet the new U.S. policy would let leaders of any of the four appropriations committees in Congress cut off all aid to the Contras if the rebels get out of line. How one-sided can Washington get?

The bottom line of the new stance on Nicaragua is that American foreign policy is being made in Capitol Hill rather than in the White House.