The celebration (yes, that word is used) of the United Nations' 40th birthday has caused much traveling to and fro. So has the presummit minuet. One wishes world leaders, especially our leader, could be more like Macon Leary.
Leary, a character in Anne Tyler's wonderful new novel, "The Accidental Tourist," hates traveling and writes guidebooks for people who feel as he does. The books tell people who would rather be at home where to find a Taco Bell in Mexico City, a Rome restaurant that serves Chef Boy-ar-dee ravioli, a Madrid hotel with Beautyrest mattresses. "Generally food in Britain is not as jarring as in other countries."
Consider the confusion sown by recent and anticipated travel:
Because the president is to travel to Geneva, he traveled to the Uted Nations to say, sensibly, there are summit issues other than arms control. But this attempt to lower expectations was vitiated by the proclamation of a utopian expectation: U.S.-Soviet "differences" can be "resolved" through "dialogue." Because the Geneva trip now drives all policy, the administration succumbs to the sentimentality of democracy.
A few days before announcing yet another Soviet violation of SALT limits on offensive weapons (deployment of the SS25, a new mobile ballistic missile), the administration made an announcement. Under the pressure of pre-Geneva maneuvering, it said that it would bind itself with an unnecessarily restrictive reading of the treaty concerning defenses against ballistic missiles. Why this irrational decision to embrace what the administration says is a misreading of a treaty the Soviet Union is flagrantly violating? Were the president not trying to tune the atmosphere for the trip to Geneva, he would not have said this: The correct reading of the ABM treaty allows development and testing of space-based defenses against ballistic missiles, but we shall abide by an incorrect reading that forbids even development of an integrated system. If Reagan thinks this is an innocuous concession to nervous allies and domestic opponents, he understands neither the sociology of a large scientific undertaking nor the politics of an expensive military procurement.
The Strategic Defense Initiative will require many scientists to devote their prime years to it. If the administration's commitment seems tenuous, they will find other devotions. Furthermore, Congress always is reluctant to diminish discretionary-spending opportunities by committing vast sums to weapons systems. Congress confronts, simultaneously, a future barren of discretionary spending and full of SDI, the most expensive public project in history.
Reagan says SDI is morally urgent -- but less urgent than pacifying critics who make a fetish of a misreading of the ABM treaty. Congress will not fund an SDI system that is subordinated to the ABM treaty in any way that prevents all except inconclusive tests of subcomponents. So the wounding, perhaps mortal wounding, of SDI is one result of the maneuvering for the Geneva trip.
Nancy Reagan traveled to the United Nations to give a lunch for the wives of world leaders, for the purpose of discussing drug abuse. Her guests included the wife of Nicaragua's dictator, who said she hoped our nations would improve relations. Mrs. Reagan, polite to a fault, did not ask the dictator's wife to autograph a photograph -- the one showing Sandinista soldiers loading a plane with drugs bound for America.
Nicaragua's first couple taped "The Donahue Show," where the host asked, plaintively: Many of us abhor the Reagan administration's hostilities toward your regime. Why do you embarrass us by suppressing civil liberties?
Nicaragua has finally gone too far. It has annoyed Donahue by making Reagan look correct.
In a 10-minute session with a representative of Solidarity, Poland's outlawed trade union, Reagan, who has raised optimism to a philosophy and has severed philosophy from evidence, said he has "high hopes" for happiness in Poland, happiness from "dialogue." An administration climatologist explained the mushiness of Reagan's remarks in terms of the "East- West climate." That is, the problem is travel -- the trip to Geneva. The president who believes in dialogue between communists and their victims should read the forthcoming Reader's Digest account of the murder of Father Jerzy Popieluszko by the regime:
"His eyes and forehead had been beaten till black. His jaw, nose, mouth and skull were smashed, his fingers and toes dark red and brown from repeated clubbing. Part of his scalp and large strips of skin on his legs had been torn off. . . . His muscles had been pounded again and again until limp. . . . The teeth were found completely smashed. In place of his eloquent tongue, there was only mush."
A tongue like that makes dialogue difficult. But an early arrival at the U.N.'s birthday bash, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, asphyxiator of Poland, was given a dinner by the Council on Foreign Relations. Well, a traveler must eat. And at the council, the general found neither the food nor the talk jarring.