IN THEORY, the president may be right, but in reality he is wrong: other nations make American foreign policy every day of the week, just as we, by our actions, make theirs. If you will forgive the barbaric verb form, it takes two to foreign-policy and always has. Does anyone think the wishes of the People's Republic of China, the government of Taiwan, the South Africans, the Japanese or -- to take a not-so-random case -- the Saudi Arabians have not, in some very important respects "made" American foreign policy? And do not those we regard as adversaries make their share of American foreign policy as well? Who is it, after all, whose appetite for turmoil and political aggrandizement in the Persian Gulf region has most frightened us and the Saudis, leading pretty directly to the Saudi request and the American agreement to provide the kingdom with AWACS in the first place?
The fact is that Mr. Reagan inherited a contradictory set of policy obligations in this regard. The previous administration had told the Israelis at one point that there would be no sale such as the AWACS sale to the Saudis, and had subsequently led the Saudis to believe there would be one, a position that the Reagan administration adopted and pursued. It is a cynical fact of international politics that such colliding promises can often be temporized away. But what distinguishes this situation is that neither the Israelis nor the Saudis seem willing to participate in such a fuzzing-over of the dispute. Though the two nations have a much greater common interest in the region than either will publicly admit, they have both insisted on interpreting the president's decision as an either/or choice between them. So the Reagan administration, ideally with the help of Congress, is left on its own to figure out how to meet its commitments to two nations that are of vital importance to this country.
The odds at the moment seem to be strongly against the administration's succeeding. No one is giving it a lot of help, and this is especially true on the Hill. We are ourselves mindful of that strain of congressional anxiety fueled by the memory of recent defaults when it came to exercising even miniimal oversight of executive branch actions overseas, defaults for which much was to be paid. But we think that on the merits and in the current political context, Mr. Reagan's insistence on going through with this sale deserves to be supported and supported strongly.
The context we have in mind is that provided by the past half-dozen years when this country seemed confused and unclear about fulfilling its commitments, hesitant and in some measure unreliable as a partner or protector. Much needs to be recouped here, and this does not necessarily imply military recklessness, but rather a kind of purpose and constancy that somehow got muffled and misplaced in the aftermath of Vietnam. There can be no more important countries to which this quality of commitment needs to be demonstrated than the two now at loggerheads, the Saudis and the Israelis.
The AWACS debate is, finally, in a very curious place. On the large question, whether to sell the planes and to convey the various strategic and political assurances that go with the sale, there is an evident consensus of which a Senate majority is very much a part. This is so even though none of the parties to the flap has paused to acknowledge it. The sale is hung up only on a very small and ultimately trivial question, involving not much more than the form, the explicitness, of some of the terms. It is as though a great river barge had rounded the bend and then been caught on a little snag. The debate has gone on too long. The relevant people -- Americans, including congressmen, and Saudis -- ought to go off quietly into a small room, figuratively if not literally, come to discreet and rapid agreement, and get on to more important things.