It's not certain yet, so the White House doesn't want to noise it around. But the Reagan administration is thinking seriously about having a foreign policy.
You can call it a grand strategy if you prefer, or a "conceptual framework," or a "world view." Whatever. It comes down to an effort to pull together all the loose strands of U.S. concerns and purposes in East-West relations, North-South relations, the Third World, Poland, Central America, the Alliance, the Mideast-- wherever. That's the first, internal step.
The second, external step would be to find a better way to give coherent and comprehensive public expression to what it is the United States thinks it is up to (and up against) in the world. Both steps are now being taken--hesitantly.
After 14 months of throat-clearing and false starts--a definitive presidential "foreign policy" speech shelved, a "State of the World" message withheld --the president himself, I'm told, has set interagency task forces to work. They are struggling to resolve the inside infighting and reconcile the outside contradictions and cross-purposes: arms buildup with arms control; allied harmony with the American anti- Soviet hard line; Persian Gulf security with Palestinian grievances; the international implications of domestic economic policy.
In the jargon of bureaucracy, the process is said to be somewhere between a National Security Study Directive (NSSD) and a National Security Decision Directive (NSDD), the supposed end product. At the very least, argue participants, this will serve to concentrate the mind, to introduce discipline and order, to refine differences.
But the hope is that it will clear the way for the "lengthy treatment of foreign policy" that the president couldn't find space for in January's State of the Union message but promised to "address in detail in the near future."
Exactly what form this might take is not clear. Much will depend on just how much the president and his lieutenants can come to a consensus that will be sufficiently substantive and forceful to rally support, assuage doubts and command respect among all his diverse audiences: the American public, allies, adversaries, the so-called nonaligned.
But one possibility now being pushed in some circles at the State Department and in the White House National Security Council staff (where responsibility lies for the long global view) would be a presidential speech on East-West relations, on the occasion of his European trip in June.
He will be attending a summit of seven Western industrialized nations in Versailles and a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Bonn. But his itinerary is flexible enough to include West Berlin for maximum dramatic and political impact.
There is, of course, a striking precedent. I have in mind not so much John F. Kennedy's fight-talk at the Berlin Wall in June 1963 as his speech later that day at the Free University. It was a variation on a declaration of American foreign policy the day before in Frankfurt, West Germany, which, in turn, derived from his famous American University speech earlier in the month.
That these three speeches marked a profound evolution in Kennedy's world view, after more than two years of rough-and-tumble (the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis), says something in extenuation of Ronald Reagan's unwillingness and/or unreadiness to produce a definitive statement of his own after 14 months in office. It helps explain, as well, a fairly high level of resistance within his palace guard to the whole idea of straining for a foreign policy consensus while the president's domestic political condition is weakening.
Given the deep divergencies, inside the government and in American public opinion (not to mention with allies), anything definitive would have to entail some heavy head-knocking, a measure of flexibility, some controversy-- and compromise. Some would even argue there's no way to hang tough against the Soviets on Central America, say, or arms control, while at the same time calming congressional critics on El Salvador and damping growing anti-nuclear movements at home and abroad--in one speech.
The president has publicly resisted the notion that the test of a foreign policy is having one that can be fitted into a single, all-encompassing address. Secretary of State Alexander Haig recently rejected as "nonsense" the inference that the administration "lacks a coherent strategic design." Haig had no answer when pressed as to "when the president will make a speech telling us" what it is.
But proponents of the idea turn the political argument around. If the president is in trouble on foreign policy, they contend, it is because of the way much of it comes across. The prime-time press conference introductory statements and selective Q's and A's, the short self-serving bursts on talk shows by policy- makers with narrow interests to protect, and the set speeches by Cabinet chiefs or White House aides--all these address only bits and pieces of some larger scheme. If there really is one, the Great Communicator ought to be able to communicate it.