All the old Reagan strengths were apparent on this visit to Europe. He was homely, he smiled readily with none of that Nixon feeling that it hurt his face to do so. His wife looked elegant, a bit pushy (unlike him) but actively disliked only by those who will never get used to the notion that American republicans no longer curtsey to the queen. Reagan spoke his lines, as usual, with grace, quoted Churchill twice too often (it no longer washes, speechwriters please note) but said, in a last-minute insertion, the right things to Parliament about Britain's cause in the Falkland Islands. He did well enough.
What else is there to say about the British leg of Ronald Reagan's first presidential foray to Europe? The fact is: not much. For Reagan is still a bit of a disappointment. He is not-- not yet at least--the jogging disaster that Carter was, and nobody anyway ever thought he would be a genius. This visit, besides, followed one by the pope and, for all Europeans, it was overshadowed as an event by news from the South Atlantic and Lebanon.
Look beneath the surface of this visit to Europe's four largest states, however, and all the old Reagan weaknesses were as apparent as his strengths.
He was terribly late to draw the teeth of the anti-nuclear movement so evident in West Germany. His reactions to the Falklands affair and to Israel's long buildup for invasion of Lebanon have, likewise, been terribly tardy. He acts, and ordinary folk notice it in their cunning way, with the indecision of a man who wants to be loved more than he wants to be respected. That amiable smile hints at hesitation. His habit of going to bed early would be admirable--indeed long overdue in the American presidency--if only it was accompanied by any feeling whatever that his top people agreed with each other what to do while he slumbered.
They do not, of course. The latest Haig-Kirkpatrick fiasco at the United Nations was a vivid illustration, not of a divided administration (Europeans are used to that), but of a lack of presidential command. Over the conduct of economic policy in America there is clearly White House control. Like what Reagan is doing for America's economy or not (and most Europeans don't), there is little question that it is the president himself who is doing it. That is not so for American foreign policy. Reagan is led, not leading. When I recounted to a pro-American friend of mine what had just gone on at the U.N. when Kirkpatrick asked to change America's vote, he remarked: "it makes you dread having to rely on America when the chips are really down."
Underlying Reagan's foreign policy oddities there is, of course, the growing ambivalence of America's own attitudes to abroad. Like Reagan, post-Vietnam America has itself fallen into the trap of wanting to be liked more than respected-- and liked by everybody, bar the communist world, rather than choosing to be liked by some. Making choices is a hard business. It is made harder when six people doing the choosing disagree over the choice: and the man supposed to knock their heads together is taking a nap, or dressing for dinner with the queen.