The Reagan administration has deliberately raised tensions with the Soviet Union. But only partly to influence Moscow. In addition, Secretary of State Alexander Haig sees an atmosphere of pressure as a useful background for improving the American position in many parts of the world -- from China through the Middle East to Western Europe and Caribbean.
Being beastly to the Soviets takes several forms. There are the nasty cracks by President Reagan, for one thing. There is turning away Ambassador Anatoliv Dobrynin from the underground parking garage at the State Department, for a second. There is winding up defense expenditures in a big way, for a third.
Forcing a major crisis with the Russians is not Haig's aim. On the contrary, he wants to keep Moscow guessing about American intentions and, in consequence, showing more circumspection in assailing American positions.
The guessing objective has already been achieved. Before leaving Washington last week, for the 26th Party Congress in Moscow, Dobrynin confided to several colleagues that he was puzzled as to what message he should bring to the Kremlin about American policy. He even fed speculation that he might not stay on for long as ambassador. As to circumspection, the obivious test is Poland.
The expectation here is that Russia will, in time, feel obliged to intervene in Poland. In that connection, the publication by Russia of Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko's Jan. 28 response to a Haig letter of Jan. 24 is considered revealing. The view here is that the Russians published the text with its complaints about U.S. meddling in Poland to build support for a claim that the United States provoked Soviet intervention.
But if the Russians hold off on Poland, then it is considered likely that the Big Two negotiations on such matters as arms and grain purchases will begin in six months or so. Whatever happens with Russia, however, Haig expects a strong U.S. line will pay dividends elsewhere.
Europe -- especially West Germany -- comprises his chief target. In Haig's view, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt is forced by pressures inside his own Social Democratic Party to stand to the left of Washington. When Jimmy Carter pushed hard for detente with Russia, Schmidt had to go him one better. Now West Germany is at the point of sliding away from its Atlantic connection toward its Eastern policy, or Ostpolitik.
The hope here is that a firm U.S. stance toward Moscow will enable Schmidt to dig in hard against his own left wing and reaffirm Atlantic commitments. With Bonn on board, France would be less nervous and less prone to seek insurance in Moscow. Thus there would be a new coherence and the Atlantic connection could be brought into play to deal with problems in the Middle East and even Latin America.
China represents a second target of opportunity for Haig. The secretary believes that economic difficulties and nternal political fueding have weakened the position of Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping and his commitment to cooperation with the United States. By standing against Russia, Haig hopes to reaffirm the ites between this country and China.
As to the Middle East, Haig's aim is to put new emphasis on the Soviet threat to the security of all the countries in that area. Insofar as the Russian danger is driven home, Haig hopes that local tensions, particularly between Israel and the Arabs, will subordinated.
In that spirit, he believes the Saudis could draw closer to President Sadat of Egypt, despite Cairo's participation in Camp David Accords. He thinks the Israelis will see the need to build up Saudi defenses, by, among other things, enhancement of the F15 jet fighters sold to Riyadh by the Carter administration. He expects the Arabs will understand the need for military aid to Israel, and he even hopes that, in time, fear of Moscow might draw Pakistan, Iraq and Iran toward better working relations with the United States.
As to the Caribbean, Haig is reasserting the traditional American stance as a barrier against subversion from the left. He is giving public emphasis to his support for the center-right junta in El Salvador. By complaining of arms shipments to the revolutionaries in El Salvador, he is pointing a warning finger at the left-wing regime that replaced the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua, and at Fidel Castro. Haig calculates that the Russians, strung out in Poland and Afghanistan, are going to back away from the Caribbean. He assumes that Mexico and Venezuela, while staying left of the United States, will cease to be outspokenly supportive of Marxist regimes in the area. He further assumes most Europens approves self-assertion by Washington in what they regard as the American back yard.
Serious risks are not wholly absent from Haig's policy. But on the whole the gamble seems justified. The risks are remote, and the Haig policy has a reasonable chance of arresting the slide in American influence evident in so many quarters the past four years.