Happy New Year, everybody has been wishing everybody in sight, which is nice because we know what it means--the long form of "Have a Good Day." But a real, honest-to-God Happy New Year is something else. For that, something on the order of miracles would be required.
First, you would need something close to an explosion of collective acknowledgment of how genuinely unhappy (and unsafe) the prospects are for 1983. And then, of course, there would have to be an equally collective willingness to set aside petty conflicts of interests and animosities to do something about it.
It's a lot to expect--but not too much to ask, when you consider what's cooking.
So what could make 1983 a Happy New Year? Herewith a few prescriptions--and prognoses.
A sustained U.S. economic recovery is the first imperative. This will take a bipartisan effort to reorder defense and domestic priorities by way of chopping back the budget deficit, lowering interest rates, stimulating production, putting people back to work.
Prognosis: Grim. A sharpening, inconclusive struggle is shaping up between a Congress under stronger Democratic influence and an insufficiently accommodating president. American convalescence from deep recession will come at too slow a pace to make a big difference in the world economy.
Wise western statesmen would forthwith proclaim the worldwide economic emergency for what it is and embark on a cooperative and radical reform, on the scale of Bretton Woods. It would aim to build a stronger international financial structure, to rescue the floundering Third World, to reach out to the 800 million in subhuman poverty.
Prognosis: Poor. We are more likely to be treated to a series of "studies" of trade and related economic problems and another windy, indecisive summit of the West's seven industrial democracies in midyear at Williamsburg.
A powerful, consistent lead from the United States would improve the prognosis. But the first two years of Ronald Reagan have not been noted for either the imagination, accommodating spirit or impulse to give that sort of lead.
Old associates of the president insist we could be surprised. It will be too late in 1984, an election year. This is the year the Reagan record will be made. And intimates keep insisting that in his California governorship he demonstrated a capacity for accommodation to realities.
Prognosis: Guarded, which is to say we'll have to wait and see--whether we are talking about economic compromise or the rumored new flexibility with which the president may approach arms control.
We shall have to wait as well, in fairness, to see whether any amount of American good faith negotiating at Geneva on arms controls, in its various forms, is something the new Soviet leadership is able or willing to reciprocate--in good faith.
Where else, in 1983, might a troubled world-watcher find happiness?
A withdrawal of Israeli and other foreign forces from Lebanon, the restoration of a central Lebanese government capable of governing, a real beginning on the Palestine problem, with the Jordanians and the Palestinians playing their part.
A settlement of the Iran-Iraq war on terms that would not unsettle the equilibrium of the area; a genuine lifting of the Soviet iron hand on Poland; the beginnings of a political process to end the carnage in El Salvador and stabilize the Caribbean; progress toward an internationally guaranteed resolution of the Soviet subjugation of Afghanistan; independence for Namibia.
And you can also throw in the crisis that, happily, never happens because of prudent, preventive measures--that avoidance, that is to say, of some unforeseeable mutual miscalculations that will spare us a "Falklands of 1983."
Prognosis: Impossible, but mixed, in any case. Namibia looks promising. Poland doesn't. Slow, painful progress in the Middle East is at least a possibility. The same cannot be as surely said for El Salvador or Afghanistan. In terms of the Big Picture, then, the Happy New Year we have all been wishing each other will be, well, relative--a rough reckoning of how much things get better than they get worse, or stay dismally or dangerously the same.