Lucking out is what the country has to be chiefly grateful for this Thanksgiving. Both abroad and at home the United States faces vexing problems for which there are no ready answers.
A sour public mood impairs what chance government has to deal constructively with the national troubles. That the country has not been made to pay a heavy penalty-so far, at least-is due more to our stars than to ourselves.
A particulary nice example comes from the best thing now going for the United States in the world-the good prospects for an Egyptian-Israeli peace. President Carter can take some credit for the Camp David summit.
But what made the summit possible was Anwar Sadat's visit to Jerusalem a year ago. The role played by the United States in that event was that of a boomerang thrower. By talking up a comprehensive peace agreement, dependent upon the Russians and their far-out Arab proteges, the Carter administration panicked Sadat into moving ahead with Israel on his own.
Relations with the Soviet Union present a similar example of inadvertency. The Russians are outpacing this country in their defense buildup, and they have had ripe pickings is Asia, the Persian Gulf and Africa.
Their diplomatic gains on the whole, to be sure, have run behind their military prowess. But no thanks to any American action. On the contrary, the big development is another piece of good fortune-the entry of Communist China on the world scene as an active builder of barriers against Russia in Asia, Africa and parts of Europe.
Then there are the troubles that have shaken Iran, and threaten to unseat the shah and magnify the world's energy problem. Those difficulties put up for grabs a strategic piece of real estate, and the source of about one-fifth of the oil exported every day to Europe, Japan and the United States.
But a loud guffaw is the only appropriate reaction to the warnings of Russia against American meddling. Similarly to the pious claims of the administration that is intends no interference. For the fact is that there is nothing useful the United States can do at this juncture except hope that the shah, and the army on which he depends, can outlast the present time of troubles.
Finally there is, at home, the great stagflation quandary. Rising charges for food, energy, industrial goods, imports and both private and public services have driven inflation up toward the 8 percent per annum rate. A series of major labor negotiations-Teamasters, auto workers, electrical workers-come up beginning in March.
To catch up to rising prices, the workers in those industries are asking for wage and other increases running around 10 percent. But that would set in motion a new wage and price spiral.
To put the squeeze on labor, the Carter administration has initiated a semi-voluntary program of guideposts designed to keep wage rises at 7 percent annually. Corporations are supposed to hold the line against labor, and to win their support the administration has had to burn incense to the gods of business theology.
It is the cutting federal budget sharply, especially in the welfare field. It has endorsed a monetary squeeze by the Federal Reserve Board that has taken prime interest rates to 11 percent.
Unfortunately, the business community still has little confidence in the administration, and less in its anti-inflationary program. So investment remains low and economic growth is slowing down.
There is some prospect that the combination of tight money and budgetary strigency will tip the economy into an economic tailspin that would bring to the surface many submerged urban and racial tensions. The one hope is that the decline in economic activity will slow down the inflationary burst just enough to avoid a recession. But achieving that goal requires, as Arthur Okun of the Brookings Institution put it the other day, "all the breaks."
More confident authority at the center could almost certainly manage these matters more effectively. But public hostility-fostered by Watergate, Vietnam and especially inflation-has put government on the defensive. The administration has had to scrape for resources to match the Soviet buildup, and pay an absurdly high price to win business confidence. Sooner or later the combination of weak government and formidable problems will take a heavy toll. So there is all the more reason now to give thanks that so far we have lucked out.