Ideology loses ground in Reagan's foreign policies
This past week in world affairs has brought forth two more examples of the erosion of the ideological foreign policies which Ronald Reagan brought with him to the White House five years ago. (1) Official Washington refused to accept as valid the acquittal in a special three-man court in the Philippines of involvement of Gen. Fabian Ver and 25 alleged accomplices in the 1983 murder of Benigno Aquino Jr.Skip to next paragraph
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(2) The Reagan administration sent the chief political officer of the United States Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, to attend and observe the funeral of 12 blacks who had been killed by police on Nov. 21 in Mamelodi, a black township near Pretoria.
The Reagan administration started out in 1981 with a posture of unqualified support for President Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and friendly support under the label of ``constructive engagement'' to the all-white government of South Africa.
As of today, the Reagan administration is trying seriously to push Mr. Marcos into a free and fair election which, presumably, would end his 20-year rule, nearly half of which was conducted under martial law. And as of today, it is beginning to put more distance between itself and the apartheid policies of the South African regime.
There is still plenty of ideology in the overall foreign policies of the administration. The supposedly ``clandestine'' support of the ``contra'' rebels in Nicaragua is the most visible example. But when the operating policies of today are compared to the rhetoric of the 1980 campaign, it becomes apparent that President Reagan has traveled a long way from his foreign policy beginnings.
The earliest and most graphic departure from ideology to pragmatism was acceptance of the 1972 reconciliation between the US and mainland China. Richard Nixon did it. Ronald Reagan seemed during his first election campaign to be intending to undo it. He ended up traveling to Peking, in person. Today the reconciliation with Communist China is back in place, and working.
The most ideological of Reagan foreign policies were the attempt in 1983 to persuade the NATO allies to join the US in an economic blockade of the Soviet Union, and the 1984 launching of the contras against the leftist government in Nicaragua.
The first of these took the special form of the attempt to prevent the building of a natural gas pipeline from Siberia to Western Europe. It threatened to split the NATO alliance. It was abandoned along with any idea of a general economic boycott. Today the US, along with all other NATO countries, is doing as much trade as it can usefully with the Soviets.
During 1984, and well into 1985, the government of Nicaragua feared that President Reagan would send US armed forces to the battle. It is not yet known how close Mr. Reagan ever came to doing that. But whatever may have been the inclination in the past, there seems to be no present inclination in that direction.
The contras are still being supplied with enough US ``clandestine'' support, much of it through Israel, to keep them in the field. But the support is not enough to produce the visible prospect of a contra victory.
Right-wing ``neoconservatives'' are relieved these days that President Reagan did not enter into any new agreement at the Geneva summit on arms control, did not use his ``star wars'' project for bargaining purposes, did not agree to abandon his pressure on Nicaragua.
But the mere fact that he did go to a summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was a source of deep regret to the neoconservatives. The policies they want Mr. Reagan to pursue include a full diplomatic and economic boycott, plus an active military campaign against Soviet clients the world around.
The Reagan administration is still a long way from the Carter administration on the subject of human rights. Mr. Carter used human rights performance as his measure of the worthiness of a country for US aid. Mr. Reagan started out using anticommunism as the measure.
But the Reagan administration has since had a role in persuading the military dictatorship in Guatemala to agree to elections and a return to civilian rule, and has helped President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte in El Salvador to curb the ``death squads'' which had so bloodied the record of the right-wing forces in that unhappy country.
There was no mistaking official Washington's displeasure this past week over the acquittal of General Ver and his colleagues. They are generally believed in Washington to have managed the assassination of popular political leader, Benigno Aquino. Reinstatement of General Ver was an act of defiance of Washington.
Perhaps more remarkable was the US joining 10 other anticommunist countries in sending observers to the funeral of the 12 blacks in Mamelodi. Their presence at the funeral ensured police restraint toward the mourners.
There is still distance between Reagan foreign policy and that which had come down to Mr. Reagan from Richard Nixon through Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. But at the present moment it is closer to the mainstream of pre-Reagan policy than it is to the policies favored by the new conservatives of the right wing in American politics.