What is America's vision?
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The drift in these and other areas of foreign policy is traceable in large part to domestic politics. Alexander Haig not only keeps one eye on such congressional superhawks as Senator Jesse Helms. Within the White House and Cabinet bureaucracy itself he is constantly having to fight a rearguard action against rivals who are even more militant than he and, though having little experience in foreign affairs, seek to determine how the State Department shall be run and what US policy shall be. Mr. Reagan's new national security adviser, William Clark, is trying to end the feuding and bring order to the management of foreign policy. It remains to be seen how his efforts work out.Skip to next paragraph
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To those who believe in continuity of American foreign policy, the partisanship of the Reagan administration is especially worrisome. Instead of a coming together of Republicans and Democrats for the purpose of reaching a consensus on a well-defined, intelligent policy that can be sustained over a period of years, debate rages within the Republican bureaucracy between those who are prepared to let the US go it alone in the world -- the so-called unilateralists -- and those who, no less fervent in their anti-Sovietism, nonetheless want to preserve the Western alliance and work together with other nations (as does Secretary Haig). The fact that Mr. Reagan, concentrating on the economy, has not involved himself forcefully in foreign affairs has tended to add to the general muddle.
Though the picture may be somber, there are some hopeful developments. The US has returned to the important Law of the Sea negotiations, for instance. It is talking again about restarting the strategic nuclear arms talks. It has initiated a program to foster economic development in the Carribean Basin. And, while it has made Central America a dubious battleground in its confrontation with the Soviet Union, it now appears willing to follow the advice of the Europeans and the Latin American nations and negotiate peace in the region. Public opinion no doubt has much to do with these signs of flexibility.
But much of the world still does not have the sense of an American purpose beyond that of bolstering US defenses to counter what is perceived to be an overriding Soviet threat. There is little articulation of how America's strength -- moral, economic, political, military -- can be used positively to make the world a better place. To end degrading poverty. To meet the aspirations of humanity for social justice and equality of opportunity. To nourish ties with friends and reduce conflicts with adversaries. To help influence authoritarian governments, left and right, in the direction of freedom and democracy. To foster global unity rather than division. To curb the awesome arms race and promote true peace.
What, in short, is America's vision?