When tranquil, as he usually is, George Shultz resembles an Easter Island statue. When aroused he is more oyster-like, unquestionably alive but undemonstrative. However, he reportedly was quite exercised in Moscow when Mikhail Gorbachev treated him to a rude and ignorant lecture about the pathologies of American society. That episode probably strengthened the president's tendency -- a tendency as quintessentially American as Ronald Reagan himself -- to regard his Soviet adversary as either a patient or a pupil, someone to be treated or taught.
When statesmen's heads touch Swiss pillows, the heads often acquire the pillow's attribute: soft. But the president's peculiar hopes were acquired in Washington and reflect an alarming continuity grounded in national character.
At the first meeting between a president and a Soviet leader -- Tehran, 1943 -- Roosevelt decided he could apply to Stalin the American therapeutic and didactic impulses. The theory was that his charm, and the wartime alliance with democracies, would wean Stalin from his paranoia and misunderstandings.
Because a prophet's most important qualification is an adequate memory, it was easy to predict that Reagan, whose politically formative years were Roosevelt years, would see the summit as a chance to dispense "reassurance" and information to Gorbachev. Reagan, who in five years has failed to modify Tip O'Neill's views of America, came here convinced, according to a senior aide, that "personal dialogue" would alter Gorbachev's views of America. But those views are products of the ideological prism through which reality is refracted for Leninists. Presidential dialogue will change those views when the sky rains artichokes.
A wit once asked: If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, who has enough to be out of danger? Fair enough. But how much is needed to refute Reagan's notion that the summit could "eliminate some of the paranoia, if we could reduce the hostility, the suspicion that keeps our two countries at odds"?
Paranoia is a condition susceptible to therapy and cure, and hence is a comforting diagnosis of Soviet behavior. Also comforting is the Reagan thought (reported by an aide) that Soviet "mistrust" is rigid in a historically "understandable fear of aggression from outside." However, the Soviet army has been fighting in Afghanistan two years longer than it fought Hitler. It is fighting not because of a paranoid fear of invasion, but because the Soviet system is organized for aggression.
Rumors flitting like barn swallows in and out of Washington windows recently included this one, which I believe: One briefing paper suggested that Reagan begin the summit by telling Gorbachev that our countries have had similar experiences. Our country had to settle the West, his had to conquer Siberia; and indeed, California and Siberia are sort of similar accomplishments. The foreign-policy bureaucracy has lots of ideas, and consistently proves the old point that a man is not necessarily intelligent because he has many ideas, any more than a man is a good general just because he has many soldiers.
Like most presidents, and especially like the one who set out to seduce Stalin 42 years ago, Reagan does not have an inclination toward theory. Rather, he has an experiencing nature. He responds to individuals and individual situations, and assumes other leaders are like him. Furthermore, politicians in democracies prosper through persuasion, and those who prosper most spectacularly acquire Rooseveltian vanity or Reaganite serenity regarding the amount of ice that will be melted by the sunshine of their personalities.
The desire to deal with an adversary in "human terms," with the adversary somehow shorn of his culturally acquired attributes (such as Leninism), is understandable. But it leads to confusing psychology with politics. To believe an adversary is adversarial only because of "unreasonableness" rooted in historical experiences is to recast diplomacy as therapeutic anthropology.
There may be a guileful side to this talk about soothing and instructing the Soviets. A summit that is described in advance as therapeutic in intention can be called a success simply because it occurs. By this semantic fiat, frothy ideas such as cultural exchanges -- Beach Boys for ballerinas -- are not beside the point, they are the central point: more therapy-through-"communication."
Whether the president's rhetorical run-up to the summit has been naively optimistic about modifying Soviet behavior, or cunningly calculated to lower expectations for concrete results here, or a bit of both, clearly the Soviet side is investing a lot in "communication." It has deployed an unprecedented number of briefers and interviewees.
The Soviet Union is (in Orwell's words) a place where yesterday's weather can be changed by decree, and Soviet respect for the power of words is proportional to Soviet disrespect for the integrity of them. The Soviet regime relies on overkill in all things, and for this summit has borrowed the capitalist form of it: When the product is shoddy, double the advertising budget.