For his performance in the conduct of economic relations with the Soviet Union over nearly two years, Ronald Reagan has richly earned what followers of professional football might call the Ed Garvey Award.
In the course of the football strike, Garvey, who conducts labor relations for the players, contrived to frustrate his followers, alienate fans, stiffen management and wind up with a settlement materially less valuable than the club owners' original offer. Leaving aside the rights and wrongs, it was a triumph for futility, unfulfilled goals and misplaced self-interest.
The extent to which the Reagan performance in the Great Pipeline Fiasco meets those criteria can only be measured by recalling the administration's objectives. Officials insist the overarching aim was to rationalize East-West trade relations in a way that would enable a cohesive West to influence Soviet behavior, while sharing the burden of doing so at home and in the alliance.
Hence the justification for lifting Jimmy Carter's partial grain embargo was that it bore down unfairly on one segment of the U.S. economy. Hence, also, the attempt in the first year to address the question of a concerted allied strategy. And hence the U.S. promotion of an alliance campaign to punish the Soviets for the crackdown in Poland. The European natural-gas pipeline from Siberia became the U.S. weapon of choice. When the Europeans balked, the administration moved to choke off direct participation by American suppliers of turbines, pipe and pipe-laying equipment. When this had no effect on Soviet policy, Reagan abruptly expanded the sanctions to include contracts with U.S. subsidiaries and licensees based in Europe.
Poland was only part of the rationale. From certain administration quarters came word of a larger objective: stopping the pipeline would deny the Soviet Union billions of dollars of hard currency from natural-gas sales to Europe. This would help bring the already enfeebled Soviet economy to its knees. Secondary arguments had to do with saving Europe from dangerous dependence on Soviet energy supplies.
Nothing worked. It quickly became apparent that the Soviets could complete the pipeline on their own, and close enough to schedule to ensure that foreign-exchange earnings would not suffer. As for Europe's "dependence," it gets only 5 percent of its energy from the Soviets--mostly oil--and that's about what the figure will be when the oil is replaced by natural gas.
Meanwhile, the United States is establishing its own dependency: Carter's grain embargo never did do anything like the direct damage to American farmers that the Reagan administration claimed. But it denied an outlet for huge surpluses that damage farmers by depressing prices. Thus, by encouraging a sky's-the-limit policy on U.S. grain sales, the president, in effect, is creating an auxiliary Soviet price-support system for American grain. How's that for hanging tough?
So, the pipeline is back on track after a debilitating show of allied defiance of American leadership. Soviet repression of Poland is undiminished. The Soviet economy is, if anything, fortified. Ronald Reagan's diehard devotees are distraught.
And in return? Nothing more tangible than a grudging, tentative European agreement to talk about ways in which the allies might work out an all-for-one- and-one-for-all approach to East-West trade.
Measured against the results of this critical test of Ronald Reagan's leadership, Ed Garvey looks good.