The Reagan administration is about to suffer the fate that befell the Carter administration after its first six months. Then, in mid-1977, the various pundits decided that "Carter can't cope." After that, his foreign policy was an uphill struggle until the Middle East peace treaties offered a brief respite. Now, it would seem that President Reagan's foreign policy is about to be dismissed as either nonexistent or incoherent.
But there is indeed a Reagan foreign policy, and it is a reasonably sound one. It includes a judicious blend of continuity -- more so than will be acknowledged -- and new departures. Some important building blocks are already in place.
The foundation stone, of course, is the return of Soviet relations to the core of American policy. This is where it belongs, given the growth of Soviet military power, Moscow's dangerous ambitions and it reckless conduct. Despite some salty language and questionable historical judgments, the administration's dealings with Moscow show a good sense of balance. Contacts between Secretary and Ambassador Dobrynin are proceeding more or less regularly in preparation for negotiations during Foreign Minister Gromyko's annual trek to the United Nations in September. The grain embargo has been lifted, and sales have resumed. The SALT process has not been killed, nor have previous agreements been formally repudiated. Time is not of the essence; adequate and careful preparation for any negotiation is much more important. Linkage has been revived, but with an element of flexibility. The Polish crisis has been handled firmly, without bluster or ;osturing. The administration has opened the line to Moscow but has also left its options reasonably free. It has dispelled any notion of a simple return to the pre-Afghanistan status quo, but has not invited or sought confrontation. Any policy that provokes both "impatience and alarm" in Moscow can't be all bad.
Defense policy must also be counted in any reckoning of the Reagan foreign policy. The Reaganites know that Congressional and public opinion is fickle: in two or three years defense increases will confront a political backlash. So the administration has wisely capitalized on the prevailing pro-defense sentiment, but it has also had the good sense patiently to reexamine some blockbuster decisions on the MX and a new bomber. Brand new doctrines are not being proclaimed, but some serious reexaminations of options in conventional and nuclear strategies have begun.
The initial apprehension in Europe that the new administration would be hellbent for cold-war confrontation is dissipating. A key decision was made in May at the Rome meeting of NATO, where Secretary Haig reaffirmed the original double track of December 1979, to deploy new American nuclear weapons in Europe but also to negotiate with Moscow. The eventual negotiations will be a nightmare, but a display of continuity and unity was an indispensable starting point for a much-needed reexamination of basic security policies in Europe. Moreover, Europe is in turmoil, and trouble is coming. The Communists are in the French government for the first time in 34 years; this is not a minor ripple, but a dangerous precedent. The Christian Democrats in Italy have given up the premiership for the first time in 26 years, perhaps opening the way for another leftward shift. A pacifist movement reminiscent of the 1950s has reappeared with a vengeance in Northern Europe. It was a misguided movement 25 years ago, and even more dangerous now. Poland could blow up and force some painful decisions for the alliance. Now is obviously not the time for superactivism in European policy, but rather a time for careful tending to the bread and butter issues of defense and security and for building a consensus -- which is exactly what the administration has been trying and should continue to try at the Ottawa summit, which, incidentally, should be expanded to include security issues as well as economics.
In the Far East there have been some rough spots with Japan, but the hectoring of Tokyo over defense and trade seems to have been brought under diplomatic control. And the Haig China trip confounded those who predicted a disastrous end to the China policy of the Nixon-Ford-Carter years; indeed, the willingness to sell arms is a logical extension of policy, not a radical break, and the commitment remains flexible. This proved fortuitous, since China is obviously in the throes of another internal political upheaval and foreign policy experimentation. Haig took out some necessary reinsurance.
In the Middle East, the problems are more intractable, and the record is thus a mixed one. On the one hand, the administration has skillfully negotiated two crises. The Habib mission was an inspired stroke and has worked. The broken field running on the Iraqi nuclear crisis was also adept. Throughout, the administration has maintained lines to the moderate Arabs, including rebuilding relations with Morocco. On the other hand, openly collaborating with Iraq at the United Nations was disquieting, if not disgusting, and selling AWACS to Saudi Arabia is badly timed, if not illconceived.
In the Persian Gulf, rebuilding is also under way, beginning with a long overdue commitment of arms to Pakistan. Repairing this breach in a vital strategic area was a necessity. It opens the way for Pakistan's reentry into area politics, without having to look over its shoulder at the Khyber Pass. Meanwhile, the plans for the Carter Rapid Deployment Force have been fleshed out, but extensive new commitments are being carefully avoided.
Even African policy, which Reagan's critics are primed to attack, has been shrewdly balanced. There has been a new respect accorded to South Africa, but this is the key to any real political progress. Quiet diplomacy has a good a chance as U.N. blustering or abstract moralizing. Moreover, a commitment of more than $200 million in aid to Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe scarcely qualifies as right-wing extremism. The test, of course, will be the Namibian settlement, and the administration has wisely reviewed the doomed U.N. approach and raised the question of Cuban forces in Angola, which ought to figure in any genuine settlement.
Central America and the Caribbean remains areas where the record is also mixed. El Salvador was too quickly inflated and then too easily deflated. Whatever the merit of the infamous White Paper, which by definition has to be special pleading, the issues are deadly serious: in Nicaragua, El Salvador and perhaps in Honduras and Guatemala there are dedicated enemies of the United States. That needs no new documentation.
In sum, the Reagan administration does have a foreign policy that hangs together: its connecting tissue is a prudent conservatism; wary of new commitments, a little ragged in style and rhetoric, but careful in practice. Not a bad approach in an increasingly turbulent world.