Reagan Abroad

General Wojciech Jaruzelski
General Wojciech Jaruzelski; drawing by David Levine


If an ideology is a set of beliefs about the state of the world, about how it got to be that way, and about what should be done to change it, the Reagan administration came to power with an ideology of foreign affairs. The lesson most observers have derived from the first year of Reagan’s foreign policy is simple: an ideology is not a strategy, a set of attitudes is not a policy. Moreover, in so far as the view of the world was plain wrong, the divorce between convictions and realities puts policy makers in a dilemma. Either they act on their beliefs, with potentially disastrous effects; or else they merely express and trumpet their beliefs, which may be enough to scare or antagonize others; or else they try to close the gap and to adapt to reality, always a slow and painful, and often an incomplete, process for true believers.

The Reagan ideology was shared by all the factions that had come together under Reagan’s leadership: his old California associates; Republican moderates whose own preferred candidates had bit the dust; Henry Kissinger, whose Canossa had been the Republican convention in July 1980; the neoconservatives who had deserted the Democratic Party. It could be summed up in a decalogue.

One: Carter’s foreign policy fiascoes resulted from incoherence, itself the outcome of conflicting world views; a unity of views must be restored.

Two: In so far as there had been a dominant world view under Carter, it had entailed an almost criminal neglect of American power, a drift into and an acceptance of weakness; the first imperative of the new policy is the restoration of American strength.

Three: The Soviet Union is on the march; its expansionism has entered a new phase, the most dangerous yet for the West, because of both new Soviet military strengths and growing internal Soviet problems; America must contain and confront the adversary.

Four: The Soviet Union is the key factor in most of the world’s disputes, because it either initiates conflict and subversion, or exploits troubles at the expense of the West. The United States must, in coping with regional affairs, give priority to removing or neutralizing the mischief caused by Moscow and its proxies.

Five: It should be the policy of the US to mobilize as many states as possible against the Soviet danger.

Six: Carter’s problems with the allies (as well as with the Russians and with many nonaligned countries) were caused by a lack of will. If decisiveness is restored, if Washington leads again, the allies will stop bickering with us or among themselves and be grateful for clear leadership.

Seven: The next few years will be particularly dangerous because of the “window of vulnerability”—the vulnerability of America’s land-based missiles, and that of military targets in Western Europe to the SS-20 and the Backfire bomber; these imbalances must be eliminated…

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