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Reagan's first year; Economy: a mix of gains, setbacks; President Reagan at one-year mark: still popular, but growing doubts about his ability to deliver

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There is yet another reality, and that is the limits of the power which either the Soviets or Americans can exert among the increasingly assertive developing nations.

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Reagan's perception of the presidency went from ''expectations to reality,'' he told the editors of the Reader's Digest in a recent review of his first year in office.

Despite this sense of realism, at times during the past year the Reagan foreign policy team was, in the eyes of many observers, amateurish. Loose talk from top officials, including the President himself, about how the US might fight a nuclear war added fuel to the West European neutralist and antinuclear movements.

The administration's initial handling of the AWACS radar plane sale to Saudi Arabia seemed equally amateurish. It took a maximum effort by Reagan himself to secure sale approval by a skeptical US Congress.

Most of the President's dealings with Congress on foreign policy went smoothly, however. The administration succeeded in lifting restrictions on aid and arms sales to traditional allies in South Asia and in Latin America who had been placed off limits by the Carter administration. The administration helped put together a compromise over foreign aid bills that required ''give'' from liberals and conservatives. But it put its own stamp on those bills by managing to place a greater emphasis on military aid than the previous administration had.

When it came to foreign policy crises, however, there was considerable continuity with the past. The President so far has relied for the most part on professional diplomats. When the Lebanon crisis last May threatened to explode into a war involving Syria and Israel, Reagan turned to career Foreign Service officer Philip Habib to help defuse that particular Mideast bomb. The cease-fire that Mr. Habib arranged, though fragile, has lasted for six months - a good deal longer than many observers thought it would. That cease-fire and the creation of an international peace-keeping force for Sinai have been the administration's main Middle East achievements.

The current major administration test is over Poland. Here again, State Department professionals, led by Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., have had much to do both with formulating and implementing policy. What they have produced so far is considerably more moderate than some Republican ideologues would have liked.

Conservative political activists complain, meanwhile, that State Department bureaucrats have not only prevented President Reagan from making a more forceful response to the crisis in Poland but also have led him to ''abandon'' Taiwan by refusing to sell it advanced fighter planes.

Other critics complain that the administration has reacted too much to events rather than anticipating them.

At the same time, the administration's pragmatism is being applauded by many foreign policy specialists in Washington. In the view of some of them, Reagan has moved from the right to the center of foreign policy thinking. Thus, while Reagan may have alienated some former supporters on the right, he may have gained some new supporters from the mainstream.

Looking ahead, the administration faces major challenges on at least four fronts in the coming year. Its tasks are these:

* In Europe, to keep the Western alliance together so that it can exert maximum influence on the Soviet Union and Poland as the Polish crisis continues.

* In the Middle East, to help secure Israel's withdrawal from Sinai and progress on the Palestinian autonomy talks while preventing a new flare-up in Lebanon.

* In Central America, to work through quiet diplomacy and economic and military aid to secure the survival of the hard-pressed civilian-military junta of El Salvador.

* In Namibia (South West Africa), to work through quiet pressures on all sides to reach a settlement that would guarantee a place for minority whites.

A diplomatic ''victory'' in Namibia - now within reach - might make the administration's foreign policy look much more successful later in 1982 than it now does.