JIMMY CARTER came to the presidency full of hope offering the Soviet Union and those dependent on it a partnership in restraint. Was he native? Not clever enough? Ill-starred? It almost doesn't matter in any case, the Kremlin and events and his own missteps, in a combination not easy to sort out did not allow him the success he sought. Certainly they did not allow him the success he needed to persuade a solid majority of his fellow Americans that he was taking them where they wanted to go. A realization of all this shone through Mr. Carter's confession the other day, while presenting his plans for defense budget increase over the next five years, that "we now must deal with the hard fact -- with the world as it is."
With that assessment, we suspect, a great many Americans will agree. The Senate had demanded the five-year defense preview as part of its bargaining with the administration over SALT II; the treaty has the feeling has grown that the United States was stinting on preparations to meet Soviet pressures and Third World turbulence. Mr. Carter's response, in his defense preview, struck us as close to the mark. His numbers will not satisfy those spenders who tend to ask for big increases without spelling out just what weapons and what contingencies they have in mind. But he pledged a broad-gauged continuing effort that would at once buy greater capabilities and provide the room in which to make sure they are the right ones. A steady commitment beats a crash program any day.
What has just happened on the NATO missile front illustrates the larger point. Some years ago the United States removed from Western Europe those of its land-based nuclear missiles that could reach the Soviet Union.Did the Soviets show similar restraint? No. Once they acquired the particular land-based missiles judged most useful to train on Western Europe from their own territory, they proceeded to deploy them. This week NATO, in a necessary and long-mulled decision in which the administration carefully led the way, agreed to deploy new missiles starting in 1983 and, meanwhile, to invite the Kremlin to negotiate Euromissile limits. The Kremlin has warned, and some people in Europe and elsewhere fear, that the NATO plan may prejudice such a negotiation. But actual Soviet deployment is prejudicing NATO's security. NATO is dealing "with the hard fact -- with the world as it is."