The recent American election and the anticipated composition of the new Congress focus once more on the need for bipartisanship in US foreign policy. So , too, should the experience of the last two years.
The Reagan administration came to office against the backdrop of election rhetoric promising radical changes in foreign policy.
As secretary of state ad interim during the transition, now nearly two years ago, I recall representatives from the new administration who did not want to be briefed on any issue by those who had worked under President Carter. They had their own sources of information; they did not trust any other.
In Central America, the policy inhibitions of the past were to be lifted and new blows struck against the surrogates of Castro.
In the Middle East, the Palestine issue was to be set aside and a new ''strategic consensus'' formed to meet the Soviet threat.
Japan was to be more strongly encouraged to increase defense spending.
US policy toward China was no longer to be at the expense of Taiwan.
We would provide Europe with a new, stronger American image.
Certainly, some changes have been wrought, but the pendulum is far nearer the center than the earlier pronouncements of those in the new administration.
In Central America, there is a renewed concern over human rights and the establishment of a political center in El Salvador.
In the Middle East, the hope of a strategic coalition has faded as the administration confronts the complex realities in that region.
New officials are learning not only the complexity of the Japanese political scene, but the reservations that others in Asia have about Japanese rearmament.
The reality of the People's Republic of China is inescapable. With great difficulty an agreement has been worked out with Peking, an agreement that establishes more limitations on relations with Taiwan than existed in the previous administration.
Europe, instead of applauding the pronouncements of US strength, recoils with some concern over what appears to the people of that continent to be an unnecessarily threatening approach to the Soviet Union.
The new administration is learning the hard way.
Central America is not a simple battle-ground in the East-West struggle; it is a collection of sensitive countries with deep social and economic problems, only partially amenable to US advice.
The Middle East is marked by divisions so deep that a common stand against an external enemy becomes virtually impossible.
Japan, despite the acknowledged role of the US in its postwar history, stands as a nation on its own feet. Our leverage is limited.
China has demonstrated that it is a significant factor in world politics that cannot be ignored.
Europe, far nearer to the Soviet Union than we are, is far less ready to risk an increase in tension.
Time has been lost as the new administration has learned what it might have been possible to learn at the beginning. Talk of radical changes in policies and a denigration of what has gone before means not only a loss of momentum; it may also give signals to others that make the creation of feasible policies even more difficult.
The Reagan administration is not the only one that has thus learned on the job. The Carter administration, ideological in the opposite direction, also tried twists and turns that were only partially successful. Each showed the effects of the shattering of the establishment consensus that once provided an effective bridge of expertise between administra-tions.
That past consensus knew, as each new administration discovers, that there is , for our public and for the world at large, a middle area of agreement on which feasible policies are constructed. Ultimately each administration, finding the same set of facts as its predecessor, discovers the limits of change. The uncertainties and risks of the present era make it all the more important that parties and administrations accept these realities at the outset, agreeing on facts, if not policies. This requires a renewed effort to create a bipartisan consensus and to remove extreme ideological swings from the conduct of the nation's foreign policy.
Each administration makes changes in course. This is the nature of our system. In a time of true bipartisanship, those changes will be based on a shared and realistic assessment of a situation. They will be based on a recognition that the pendulum can swing only so far before it is beyond the bounds of the political realities that exist both in this country and beyond America's borders.