There is an expression that Ronald Reagan is sure to know from his days as a baseball announcer for radio station WHO in Des Moines: All windup and no delivery. It applies to pitchers who look terrific on the mound until they let go of the ball. It applies, also, to President Reagan's Middle East peace plan.
In September, the president came down from his mountaintop ranch and delivered a noteworthy speech. Eloquently and reasonably, he outlined a Middle East peace plan. It was no creative breakthrough, but a variation of previous plans and, while it had some flaws, as a vehicle to get both Israel and the Arab states to the bargaining table it was not a bad piece of work.
Then, however, came nothing. No new special envoy was appointed, no heads of state summoned to Washington for a grand Camp David-style sitdown, no meeting convened at the United Nations. Instead, the president went back to the ranch and Secretary of State Shultz went on "Face the Nation." There was, in other words, no delivery.
In fact, it was worse than that. When the ball got to Menachem Begin, he knocked it out of the park. He rejected the plan -- doing so in the most strident of terms. He followed this by announcing that Israel would build even more settlements in the West Bank -- something the president specifically had asked him to forbear doing. Almost daily now, Israel tightens its grip on the West Bank, slowly incorporating hunks of it as suburbs of greater Tel Aviv and Jersualem.
As for the Arabs, they haven't been much help either. The Fez, Morocco meeting of the Arab League endorsed what appears to be a warmed-over version of a plan already rejected by Israel, a plan so fuzzy that no one is sure to this day if it even recognizes Israel's right to exist.
The PLO itself has confused matters even more. After staring at the plan the way a kid stares at medicine, the PLO finally rejected it at a recent meeting in Damascus. As usual, the PLO was internally divided. And, as usual, it was at odds with its hard-line Syrian hosts who could not, it appears, care less about the plight of the West Bank Palestinians.
In Lebanon, too, the situation remains stalemated. The government of Amin Gemayel won't talk to the Israelis in Jerusalem and the Israelis won't talk anywhere else. The upshot is that Israel remains stuck in Lebanon and Lebanon remains stuck in the craw of the Arab world.
The administration's response to all this is . . . well, just what is it? It appears to be nothing. Having enunciated a peace plan, the president seems content to leave it at that -- foreign policy by rhetoric. The trouble is that his words have fallen on deaf ears and, as time goes, by the chances of implementing the plan grow dimmer and dimmer.
The president has all but manuevered himself into the Jimmy Carter Memorial Corner. Carter's stature was diminished by announcing initiatives that were doomed, sometimes by his own ineptitude, sometimes by forces no one could control. Now Reagan faces a similar loss of stature -- not only an inability to get the Israelis and the Arabs into line, but even an inability to get the Congress to do what he wants on aid for Israel. Meanwhile, the Soviets wait in the wings with an I-told-you-so smirk on their faces.
Neither the Arabs nor the Israelis will wend their way to the bargaining table because of a speech. They need more than that. They need incentives and maybe punishments, a show of commitment like the appointment of a special emissary, some sense of urgency and a heightened presidential presence. Surely, there has to be a sense that the new policy is more than just a speech.
At the moment, though, that is about all the Middle East peace plan comes down to. The plan has been sold to Americans, but to almost no one else who counts. The special envoys of old, Philip Habib and Morris Draper, shuttle between Beirut and Jerusalem, carrying messages for a president who has characteristically distanced himself from the situation, turning the matter over to others. If the Reagan of old were calling this game from the press box, he would know just what to say: All wind up and no delivery.