President Reagan kept a campaign commitment and wooed domestic political interests by lifting the grain embargo against the Soviet Union. Now what can be done to keep this action from undercutting the stance of the United States and its allies against Soviet aggression?
In the first place, there is something to be said for an administration view that might be put this way: "If the Russians don't know what we think of them by now, continuing the grain embargo wouldn't make much difference." As Mr. Reagan and Secretary of State Haig warned, the USSR and other nations would be ill-advised to infer any weakening of American resolve.
However, Secretary Haig had been among the many foreign-policy voices against lifting the embargo at this time. As the administration's principal single foreign policy step so far, it seems to contradict its concern for consistency in word and deed. Keeping a campaign promise might be seen as consistency in itself. But to the world it must appear that Washington continues to speak loudly while dropping even the little stick it had been carrying for 15 months. Certainly Moscow had done nothing toward international resolution of the Afghanistan situation created by the Soviet invasion that led to the embargo.
In one sense, the "effectiveness" of the embargo was not the issue: rather, the question was whether the superpower standing for freedom could in conscience continue to do business as usual with the superpower that had so flagrantly and bloodily violated another country's sovereignty. Yet the embargo was concretely adding its bit to the difficulties of Soviet aggression by complicating the domestic allocation of resources. For the long term, as economist Alan Abouchar concludes in today's Opinion and Commentary pages, "the Soviets can afford their foreign adventurism only with help of the far more productive US agricultural sector to make up for their own agricultural shortcomings."
Was the embargo gesture worth the estimated increase of at least $2.2 billion in federal farm aid caused by it? Was it worth the losses claimed by individual farmers? How do these fit into a picture of US farm exports continuing to boom to the extent that questions have arisen about the threat of exhuasting American cropland in the interest of doing business abroad? (During the period of the embargo, grain exports reached an all-time high in the last fiscal year, and this is projected to be surpassed in the curent one --
The administration will have to consider such questions in developing future policy on agriculture's role in foreign and economic issues. Meanwhile, there remains the matter of how Washington is to be convincing in the effort to deter Soviet aggression.
OF first importance is the maintenance of a strong America. Morally, politically, and socially strong -- to ensure against the weakening of national fiber that invites aggressors. Military and economically strong -- to ensure the means to support wise international strategies of deterrence. Added to these American resources there must be the thoughful diplomacy to bring industrial allies and the developing world together in the common cause of peace.
Some current strategic thinking is discussed elsewhere on this page. Tonight President Reagan is schedulted to address Congress on behalf of his program for American economic strength. In short, there are many strands to be built on or improved to keep anyone from supposing that the abandonment of the grain embargo means Americ ans are unwilling to stand firm as well as talk tough.