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The 'reeducation' of Ronald Reagan

By Joseph C. Harsch / November 7, 1980



We come now to the reeducation of Ronald Reagan. Just as his predecessor did four years ago, Mr. Reagan approaches the presidency with views of the world off to one side of standard American and alliance foreign policy, but with one difference.

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The Jimmy Carter of four years ago started from the left. He had to learn the hard way that one does not suddenly summon the Soviets to broad and drastic reductions in the numbers of their biggest weapons, or persuade Arabs and Israelis to loving reconciliation on the banks of the River Jordan, or protect America's access to the oil of the Middle East by first preaching civil rights and then embracing the shaken Shah of Iran as dearest friend. Mr. Carter had to move from soft illusion to hard realism.

Mr. Reagan starts from the other side of center. His words bristle with defiance and guns. He is going to "make America respected again" by building more guns for a world in which Soviet guns cannot force Afghanistan to compliance nor prevent Polish workers from denying Moscow's teachings, and in which American guns cannot free the hostages in Iran, nor insulate the oil of the Gulf from the flare-up of ancient hostility between Persians and Arabs.

Foreign policy in Ronald Reagan's campaign rhetoric was as far to the right of standard US foreign policy as it evolved during the Nixon-Ford-Kissinger years as Carter rhetoric of four years ago was to the left. Over these last four years Mr. Carter has found himself being forced by events and logic back substantially to those policies of his predecessors. He ended up over this past year having made adjustments, but in effect being as an executor of inherited policies.

Mr. Carter's Panama Canal treaty and formalization of relations with Peking were both planned in the Nixon-Ford-Kissinger years. His effort to conclude a SALT II treaty was an attempt to complete years of Kissinger diplomacy with the Soviets.

Mr. Carter made one important adjustment to the policies of his predecessors. In the early Nixon years it was assumed that southern Africa would remain under white domination for the foreseeable future. Mr. Nixon therefore sided, in effect, with the white supremacists of South Africa, of Rhodesia, and of the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique.

US Africa policy began to shift toward black rule in southern Africa under President Ford but took the new line decisively for the first time under Mr. Carter while Andrew Young was his ambassador at the UN. The application of the new attitude toward Rhodesia helped to smooth the transition there from white to black supremacy. The sudden and destructive transition in Angola and Mozambique was avoided. Rhodesia became Zimbabwe with little economic damage and with less disruption than might have been expected.Relations with oil-rich Nigeria moved from bad to reasonably good.

Will the education of Ronald Reagan in foreign policy realism be as slow as that of Mr. Carter, or quicker?

The answer may well depend on whether Mr. Reagan finds a place among his advisers for Henry Kissinger. Dr. Kissinger was the co-architect with Richard Nixon in building what is now standard US foreign policy. If he is readmitted to the councils of the White House and the State Department, his voice will be on the side of continuity.