Haig's new look at the Russian bear

There is no mistaking the basic sentiments of Secretary of State Alexander Haig. He is persuaded of the threat of Soviet aggressiveness and determined to build up Western defenses to meet it. But there appears to be a new wrinkle in the US public posture. Mr. Haig for the first time is balancing his tough talk with allusions to the weaknesses of the Soviet Union. The balance was needed and is a good sign.

After all the stress on Soviet military might, Secretary Haig now suggests that Moscow shows evidence of "spiritual exhaustion" and faces "an extremely gloomy future." His theme, struck in an address at Syracuse University, is also echoed by CIA director William Casey, who at the weekend commented that the Soviet economy is growing increasingly weaker and that Moscow's alliances are beginning to unravel. Together, this paints a markedly different image of the West's adversary than has been projected by the Reagan administration in recent months.

Mr. Haig is correct to add that this growing weakness does not necessarily make the Soviet Union more benign but may even make it more dangerous. That is why the Western nations must keep up their defenses. True, of course. But many Americans will be relieved that the Reagan administration is not clinging to a one-sided, exaggerated view of the Soviet Union -- which can be dangerous. Certainly a sound foreign policy must be based on an objective, dispassionate assessment of an adversary, not on ideological emotion.

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It is possible that the administration is beginning to respond to Western public concern that US foreign policy has grown too negative in tone. Indeed it is not what the United States is "against" which will win hearts and minds around the world but what it is "for." A positive, constructive thrust is needed. Mr. Haig's departure in Syracuse from the usual scare speech may foreshadow a move in the right direction.

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