EVERYTHING is always connected to everything else in the big, movable, high-policy, international extravaganzas, and there rarely arises a single event about which one can fairly say that it made the difference. Certainly it would be too early, not to say quite foolish, to conclude that as a result of Vice President George Bush's trip to Europe, the snarl of foreign policy issues centering on the question of Euromissile negotiations and/or deployment has finally been untangled and is now on the way to a reasonable resolution.
But if that cannot be said, something else can: from all accounts, the vice president did a terrific job. He arrived in a Europe gripped by a perception that the Reagan administration was not in full control of itself and was taking Europe someplace uncertain that it did not wish to go. To governments and publics in seven countries he apparently managed to convey an improved sense of administration constancy and balance. He listened carefully and he elaborated Washington's approach to the missile question in a way that allowed open-minded Europeans to consider that the administration is not missile-happy, not bent on confrontation, not wedded to one inflexible Euromissile formula, but that it is determined to assert American leadership and to deserve the confidence of the allies.
It was stated at various times during Mr. Bush's trip that his purpose was public relations or propaganda, something distinguishable from diplomatic or strategic substance. But it is important how Europeans feel about American policy. It affects their peace of mind--no trivial consideration. And it also affects the likelihood of success, first in inducing the Soviets to remove the intimidating SS20s they have aimed at Europe and, second, getting the Europeans to support the new missile deployments to which they have committed themselves in the absence of success at the Geneva talks.
Mr. Bush could see in Europe that the allies, ever faithful and ever difficult, wish the maximum American protection at the least political cost. Being permanently dependent on the United States for their basic security, they cannot stop either relying on us or questioning our reliability--and sometimes more than our reliability. There is no way to end this tension, which is permanent, but there are ways to ease it: by steady leadership and genuine consultation. This is the note Mr. Bush struck. He returns to Washington well placed to advise the president, in his role as reporter and self-styled "recommender," of what is the particular Euromissile formula best suited to defend Europe and to strengthen the alliance in this volatile year.
But Mr. Bush is not the administration's only George who has been on the road. Secretary of State Shultz has just returned from a parallel trip to East Asia. Mr. Shultz did not have the same mission of steadying an allied public rendered jittery by the administration's earlier policies. He had the no less important mission of steadying a similarly perturbed strategic partner, the Chinese People's Republic.
Peking is perturbed, of course, because of its suspicions of Ronald Reagan's favor for Taiwan. Mr. Shultz's method evidently was to offer what reassurances he could on that issue, and to move beyond it into the whole complex of issues and considerations in which Washington and Peking are bound. His trip was one of those diplomatic exercises that live principally in the realm of attitude and nuance and whose results become evident only over time. The secretary listened doggedly and no doubt will have to do so again. One hopes the Chinese were listening, too.