Yes, the Reagan foreign policy revolution is still on, but not at a pace or intensity to satisfy those who expected and wanted more. Give it a chance: the president has found the going tougher than he expected, and has learned much about sustaining the momentum of deep change in our foreign and national security policies.
What did we actually expect from a Reagan presidency, and what did he actually promise? If by "revolution" we mean sudden and violent change, a sweeping away of the legacy of the past, then we have expected the impossible and found we did not listen carefully to what Reagan said in his campaign for the office.
What he did promise, and what we have begun to see, is fundamental change in the quality and direction of U.S. foreign policies. This disturbs many people, and leads some to interpret the results thus far as a failure of policy. This influential newspaper--and especially those who are paid to pontificate regularly in it--has been especially disappointed at Ronald Reagan's stubborn refusal to accept the agenda and the intellectual hegemony of the Establishment it represents. The complaint seems to be that the president turns a blind eye to reality, that he is ideologically driven ( from the "right"), that he is unschooled in the complexities of world politics and that he remains aloof from what are considered the appropriate and always available sources of competence in foreign policy: those who have given us the inspired legacy of 20 years of Vietnam and d,etente.
What are we to make of all this? Did Reagan really intend to change our foreign policy in a significant way?
Indeed, he did. Those intentions were plainly stated both in his campaign speeches and in the 1980 Republican Platform. What he declared as foreign policy priorities for a Reagan administration included 1) halting the deterioration of our position in the world; 2) restoring respect for the United States among allies and adversaries; 3) resuscitating the intelligence community and restoring its vital contributions to the policy-making process; 4) declaring a willingness to negotiate with the Soviet Union to achieve balanced, equitable and verifiable arms reduction agreements, but only 5) with the assurance that we would never again become mired in endless negotiations without the insurance policy of a long-term defense program designed to restore what he called the "margin of safety" that had kept the peace for so many years, and which had disappeared as a result of 10 years of failed and unrealistic policies.
These are the main points, and he has made significant progress on each. True, there are signs of slippage, and even his most ardent supporters are annoyed that battles over the budget have tended to dominate and, to some extent, paralyze the policy process not only in the arena of foreign affairs and national security, but also the deeply held beliefs on moral or "social" issues. To a large extent, the crushing impact of exorbitant interest rates has marred the president's ability to implement his vital foreign policy and national security agenda.
There are other reasons, however, for such shortcomings, the most important of which is that genuine Reaganauts are in short supply in positions where they can generate policies designed to implement the Reagan program. To avoid a restoration of the failed policies of the past, any thorough revolution in ideals and principles of government must have an adequate supply of revolutionaries to man the barricades; managers and specialists can do the bidding of revolutionary leaders, but cannot and do not actually lead. Above all, the maximum leader must preserve the ,elan and zeal of his troops; he must communicate with them and inspire them, by word and by example, to implement his program and to work together in a spirit of unity and loyality.
In devising the plan of his presidency, Ronald Reagan clearly did not reckon with the real and counterrevolutionary power of the bureaucracy and the press. The bureaucracy can be led, but to achieve that a president must provide it with the incentive and the motivation to follow. Thus far, Reagan has not succeeded in moving this critical mass, and if he expects it to respond in the next two years, he must begin to communicate with it. Such little things as walking the halls of a few obscure government buildings, chatting with government clerks and secretaries and shaking a few bureaucratic hands would be a sure-fire way to inspire the troops, and even gain new revolutionary recruits: it's not possible to resist Reagan's magic effect on people. In this respect, the president should emulate John F. Kennedy's charm and effective control over his own bureaucracy.
As for the press and other media, which usually whine indignantly when criticized, they have had a powerful impact on the Reagan White House. If nothing else, they have brought about a qualitative leap in the art of leaking and have converted tyros into would-be experts. Off-the-record "backgrounders" by high-level aides have been cleverly used by the media to convey the impression that only stubborn Ronald Reagan stands in the way of peace and prosperity.
For the first year, when the revolution was in high gear in the domestic and economic areas, Reagan was treated by the media with a mixture of awe and grudging respect. In the second year, and as attention began to shift toward foreign policy and defense issues, the inhibiting effect of the media was magnified substantially. To put it plainly, most media people may like Reagan personally, but they definitely do not like his policies or his views. And because Reagan's views do not reflect their own clear biases, they lose no opportunity to pronounce even the smallest tactical shift to be evidence of defeat. When you can't stomach a man's ideas, it's easy to put him down as a simpleton or a troglodyte, and easier still when you have elements of his own staff willing to use and be used by a newspaper or a network ideologically opposed to those ideas.
The strongest element of revolutionary change in the Reagan policy has been the one most needed, and yet it is the most troublesome for him: his view of the Soviet Union and how to deal with the Soviet leadership.
Ronald Reagan may not any longer say that Communists lie and cheat, but he believes that they do--and so does the rest of informed mankind. This does not mean that he refuses to coexist or to deal with them when our interests are at stake, but rather that he is properly wary and distrustful. Should we trust the Soviets? Do the Poles or the Afghans? Does anyone? Reagan is a president who will not be euchred by the Soviets and who will not exploit illusory "progress" for domestic political purposes. Most Americans support him in this welcome realism.
The weakest element of change has been in the realm of policy toward China and the lamentable backsliding on solid support for Taiwan. As a candidate, Reagan laid down basic principles of policy toward China and Taiwan, but these principles came under immediate and sustained attack by the mainland China lobby in the Department of State. The campaign to sway Reagan on this issue and to convince him that the Carter policy was what he really wanted and needed carried the administration to the issuance of the bewildering communiqu,e of Aug. 17, 1982. Even now there is a new and important battle brewing over the issue of Taiwan's membership in the Asian Development Bank, an institution Taiwan helped to establish. When this issue spreads to Capitol Hill, it will embroil the president in an unnecessary and unwanted squabble, and will almost certainly erupt in a storm of congressional protest if the State Department goes along with the Chinese demand that Taiwan be expelled to pave the way for China's entry.
The president knows that we must maintain good relations with the People's Republic of China, but he risks being reversed, or at least thwarted, in his original determination to fulfill his deeply felt commitment to protect the safety of the 18 million genuine friends we have on Taiwan, who have trusted him on this issue of life-and-death importance for them.
Another unnecessary battle was that conducted over the Siberian pipeline. The bureaucracy, and even that led by a Cabinet officer, gave conflicting and confusing signals. In the end, the president was made to appear weaker than he really is on the issue of coping with, much less rewarding, Soviet adventurism and gross interference in Poland and Afghanistan.
Some may argue that Ronald Reagan is more of a crusader than a revolutionary, but crusaders can also bring about lasting change. He is a president who understands that we have vital interests that must be protected and that first principles and convictions matter in our foreign affairs.
He deserves high marks for what he has accomplished, but to keep his revolution alive, he must renew his determination to accomplish what he set out to do in the first place. He promised to make the hard policy choices without regard to the political consequences for himself; if he lives by that precept, ignoring the effect of each decision on the prospects for his reelection (and hence ignoring most of the "political" advice he will get), he will certainly be reelected in 1984. He knows, and so do we, that this revolution, and his commitment to it, must endure until 1988.