TThe 1980 Republican Platform promised: "Unlike the Carter administration, we will not base our policies toward the Soviet Union on naive expectations, unilateral concessions, futile rhetoric and insignificant maneuvers."
But consider that claim in light of the Reagan administration's handling of the Polish crisis:
Naive Expectations. On Dec. 18, the president said, "It would be naive to think this could happen without the full knowledge and support of the Soviet Union. We're not naive." Five days later, his words were stronger: "The tragic events now occurring in Poland . . . have been precipitated by public and secret pressure from the Soviet Union" and "the Soviet Union, through its threats and pressures, deserves a major share of blame for the developments in Poland."
Against the Polish buttonmen, the president took a series of steps, none of great effectiveness under present circumstances, but concrete steps nevertheless. Against the capo di tutti capi in Moscow, he launched a letter urging "the restoration of basic human rights in Poland," and warned that, "if this repression continues, the United States will have no choice but to take further concrete political and economic measures affecting our relationship."
Simultaneously, in background press conferences, "high administration officials" were telling journalists of their concern to avoid "getting too far out in front of the Allies." And the Allies, as we see, are unlikely to adopt any "concrete measures" of their own in the absence of very hard-nosed leadership by the Americans.
The concrete measures available to the president remain what they were under the Carter administration: the suspension of trade and financial transactions with the Soviet Union and the other Warsaw Pact states and first and foremost the halting of the shipment of the 23 million tons of feed grains that the Soviets have contracted to buy since the president lifted the embargo last April.
Unilateral Concessions. During the 1980 election campaign, Carter approved the request of the Polish Communist regime for $670 million worth of Commodity Credit Corporation guarantees without even waiting to see whether the recipient would live up to its pledge in the Gdansk Agreement to register Solidarity as a trade union. Following the dubious worldwide practices of decades of American "diplomacy," we paid in advance.
We ignored the protests of Polish private farmers that, in the past, the Communists had funneled American feed grains predominantly to the inefficient state and collective farms. The private farmers pointed out that this was a major reason why there was no meat in Polish butcher shops during the second half of the 1970s.
In April 1981, following exactly the same pattern, the Reagan administration agreed to sell $71 million worth of surplus dairy products to Poland against repayment in zlotys. It failed, however, to reach any prior agreement on how the zlotys might be used. The administration thus forfeited another opportunity to help the individual farmers in their struggle to obtain seed, fertilizer and farm machinery in the face of Communist reluctance to strengthen the only productive sector of the agricultural economy.
In July, the administration agreed to provide $55 million in new long-term credits so that the Polish Communists could purchase corn--allegedly to feed poultry. To its credit, this time the State Department tried to obtain an assurance that the grain would be made available to private farmers in proportions equivalent to their share in the agricultural economy. When the Communist authorities balked, the administration went ahead and extended the credits anyway.
Not until October, in response to the urging of Cardinal Krol and the Polish American community, did the administration begin to channel its food aid through private relief organizations that could supervise its delivery and distribution in Poland, thus ensuring that it would not be used as a hidden resource by the planners of the martial-law operation.
Far and away the most important unilateral concession was the lifting of the Soviet grain embargo in April, immediately after the Bydgoszcz provocation and the invasion scare that the Soviets mounted to capitalize on it. High administration officials gave background briefings to explain that, since the Soviets had not invaded after all, there was no longer any reason to delay lifting the embargo. Later in the year came the licensing of U.S. equipment and technology to be used in the construction of the Siberian gas pipeline.
Actions speak louder than words, and the vulgar Marxists in the Kremlin could only interpret these unilateral concessions to mean that, as the mere creature of the "capitalistic" farmers and businessmen, the president would be unable to react in any significant way to the attack being planned on the Polish people. That confidence was reflected in the record-high purchases the Soviets have made in American grain markets since April. The quantities involved also cast a strange light upon the contention of opponents of the embargo that it did not hurt the Soviet Union. . . And we must reckon on the probability that substantial amounts of these purchases will go into military depots in the Soviet Union. as reserves to supply troops in Afghanistan and, ultimately perhaps, in Poland, too.
Futile Rhetoric. Both administrations repeatedly warned the Soviets not to invade Poland, thus concentrating their own attentions and that of the rest of the Western world upon the least likely contingency and the one the Soviets would resort to only if all else failed. These repeated warnings lent an otherwise unobtainable credibility to Soviet psychological warfare.
Shortly after the new administration took office, Secretary of State Alexander Haig also warned the Polish Communists not to use force to settle the country's problems. Appallingly, however, during the succeeding 11 months the administration did not develop a contingency plan against this possible outcome. Any effective plan would have required coordination with the Allies, who stuck adamantly to their position that such a forceable settlement would be an "internal affair" of Poland.
Insignificant Maneuvers. In the light of this record, presidential counselor Edwin Meese went much too far the other day when he claimed an "A" for administration policy. At best, the Reagan administration's Polish policy played straight into Soviet and Polish Communist hands. At worst, it encouraged the planners of the martial-law coup to believe they could get away with it.
This is all the more inexcusable since, from the very beginning of the 16-month period of Poland's renewal, experts on the country and its problems urged the U.S. government to take the lead in fashioning a policy of active Western support for economic reform and reconstruction. The Polish American Congress submitted such a program to the State Department as early as Aug. 25, 1980. In succeeding weeks and months, similar proposals were made by a number of individual experts, including professors Zbigniew Fallenbuchl, Paul Marer and Richard Portes. All of these involved a generous rescheduling of Poland's hard currency debt contingent upon the introduction of remedial structural reforms, which would have demanded concessions and compromise from both the Communist leadership and the workers of Solidarity.
Now, those who specialize in being wise after the event say that U.S. leadership in promoting such a program would have been doomed to fail. The Moscow and Warsaw leaderships, they intone, would never have accepted such changes in Poland.
In fact, Jaruzelski is still, today, promising to introduce some of the recommended reforms, as he strivesis to turn himself into a Polish Janos Kadar. That they do not exceed Moscow's tolerance is clear from the example of the Hungarian New Economic Mechanism.
What will be missing from Jaruzelski's "new order" in Poland will be genuinely representative workers', farmers' and student organizations, which are essential if economic reform is to succeed.
In a paper he prepared in the summer of 1981, Marer, a professor at Indiana University, wrote: "The question our policymakers must ponder is this: will the U.S. stand idly by while events in Poland are rushing in a direction likely to be resolved against our interests or will the United States assume a leadership role and influence events toward a favorable outcome?"
On Dec. 13, we got the answer.