In this space last week I started talking about conditions which popularly now are being blamed on President Carter but which are in fairness not his fault. I ran out of space on the domestic side of the matter. Herewith, a foreign policy comment.
US foreign policy is widely perceived tody to be in a state of confusion. This confusion is often presumed to be Mr. Carter's fault. In part of course it is. It seems to me to be a fair comment that operating policy on the Iran crisis has suffered from inability to decide on a straight course of action, and stick to it. It seems to me also to be a fair comment that the Carter administration has yet to demonstrate an awareness of the importance of the alliances with Western Europe and with Japan and to give highest prioity to nourishing those alliances.
But in fairness it must also be noted that Mr. Carter took office at a time when the ability of the United States to meet and to handle its problems in world affairs had been reduced by decisions taken in earlier administrations and by developments which had matured before Mr. Carter even started running for the White House.
The most important earlier decision was the one made by President Nixon and his foreign policy specialist. Henry Kissinger, to allow the Soviet Union to catch up with the US in overall military power.
Previous to the decision known as the "Nixon Doctrine" it had been US policy to maintain military superiority over the Soviet Union. The old policy was frequently called a "two-and-a-half war strategy," meaning the capability of fighting the Soviets in Europe, China in the Far East, and Cuba in home territory. It meant keeping enough of a lead over the Soviets to be able to handle a possible combined Sino-Soviet military offensive.
The "Nixon Doctrine" changed the basic strategy to "one-and-a-half wars," meaning the Soviets in Europe plus Cuba in home territory.
Under the "Nixon Doctrine" the US slowed dowsn its weapons procurement and deployment programs to a lower level than the Soviets were maintaining. As a result Moscow's arsenal expanded while the US arsenal remained constant. By the time Mr. Carter entered the White House the Soviets were ahead in some categories and closing the gap in most.
There is no possible way of measuring actual effective military power other than on the battlefield. No man can say with certainly that the Soviets are now equal to or ahead of the US in overall military power. But they have certainly come up the US level in many areas. The essential fact is that they are now a global military power with global reach overseas previously they were a regional power, strong at home but with limited global reach.
This change in the military balance has affected foreign policy in many ways. It has changed the weight of the allies within the alliance. Previously, the NATO alliance was really a collection of small countries clustered under the US military umbrella. Washington provided the bulk of their security. Their own power was negligible. And previously, they were economic dependents on the US.
Today the allies provide a rising share of the burden of protecting the alliance. And they have also become econimically independent. Indeed, they are now serious competitors in world markets, and inside the US market itself. They have been modernizing their industries while US industry tended to caost along on its preeminence during the World War II and early postwar era.
Mr. Carter is not responsible for the fact that he does not command dominant world military power. It had ceased to be dominant before he took office. And he is not responsible for the fact that US industry has ceased to dominate world markets. The US had slid into an adverse trade balance before he took office. He is the man who happened to inherit the presidency at a time when these two major changes in the world were made suddenly and painfully apparent by the combination of the Iran and Afghanistan crises. He was expected to handle them as either an Eisenhower or a Kennedy migh have handled them. But he did not have the resources those two presidents did have.
President Eisenhower could land US troops in Lebanon and command immediate local stability. President Kennedy could tell the Soviets to take their missiles out of Cuba, and out those missiles came.
It is fair to criticize Mr. Carter for day-to-day management of US foreign policy, which has hardly been brilliant. But it is only fair to bear in mind when so doing that his foreign policy problems are more difficult than those his predecessors faced from the day of victory in World War II down to these times. His resources for meeting them are reduced substantially.