The way former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt sees it, there is little to be praised in Ronald Reagan's record-- but many Europeans would rather see him re-elected than any Democratic opponent.
Chatting amiably on the deck of former president Gerald Ford's new $2.5 million ski-resort home here, Schmidt ticks off Reagan's negatives: deteriorating U.S.-European relations, a mistaken and treacherous course in Central America, and an economics policy whose high-interest rate consequences wreaked havoc in the Third and industrial worlds alike.
Yet, in an interview Schmidt not only predicted Reagan would run again and likely be elected, but suggested, surprisingly, that such a result would on balance be preferable to election of anyone else.
Although Europeans have no specific objections to either Walter Mondale or John Glenn, best-known in Europe among the Democratic contenders, "Europe would have to start from scratch again. One knows what one has, but one doesn't know what one gets."
For former heads of government like Schmidt, who tasted the ultimate in political power, it's hard to take off the Yankee uniform. Schmidt warns with a graceful smile that "people out of office tend to believe" they were better managers than their successors.
Be that as it may, Schmidt, one of four ex-leaders invited here last weekend by Ford to a world affairs conference at nearby Vail, remains an acute observer of the American scene.
Nor has Schmidt lost any of the acerbic talent that earned him the designation "Schmidt the Lip" by German critics. "Politicians, like journalists," he volunteered, "range from criminals to statesmen. I really mean what I said. You have real criminals among them and you have real statesmen. Most of them are in the middle."
Schmidt worries about U.S. budget deficits and high interest rates. "It doesn't make any sense for the richest nation in the world to be borrowing money all over the globe to finance its deficit," says Schmidt between pinches of snuff.
He senses "a naive optimism" in the United States about the extent of its own economic recovery, which he says is mostly consumer-based and, therefore, "may not last." Needed here as in Europe, he says, are job-creating investments. But why should businessmen risk investment capital, he asks sardonically, when they can earn 111/2 percent interest on government bonds?
An even bigger concern is that the close cooperation between the American and various European governments on arms control issues that existed in the Nixon-Ford-Kissinger era "has deteriorated dangerously."
He cites as an example the private conversations in Geneva between American arms negotiator Paul Nitze and the Russians in July 1982 that "came to the knowledge of the European governments only through press leaks" three months later.
Schmidt also thinks that Reagan has his priorities skewed in Latin America. Reagan, he said, ought to be giving much more attention to restoring the "economic and political vitality of the Mexican and Brazilian governments--these two giants --than to El Salvador and Nicaragua." Problems in those two countries are serious, "but that's not the hub of the world."
That Schmidt could accept Reagan for another term--however reluctantly --is a reflection on the great value he and other Europeans place on the continuity of power. The "discontinuity" of American foreign policy in recent years "is deeply disturbing to your allies," Schmidt said. "In the last eight years we have twice experienced a new administration coming into office telling (us) that the hitherto agreed-upon strategies were just wrong, and that something quite new had to be started. . . ."
Under Reagan, "we've been hearing remarks about a 'limited nuclear war.' That makes us nervous. You're overcommitted in the world, and you tell us Germans that because of inadequate manpower, we may have to resort to nuclear weapons after just a couple of days (in a crisis)." His recommendation: America should return to a military draft.
Schmidt would like to see the present-day crop of European leaders take the initiative in promoting superpower peace. With a sense of frustration, he complains that "more and more, the meetings among heads of state in Europe are eaten up in dealing with economic and financial things."
But the grim state of the world economy also is a distraction for the Russians, in Schmidt's view: "To their own great astonishment, the Russians are much more dependent on the world economy and much more affected by the world recession than they had expected--or any of us had expected."