The US presidential election campaign of 1980 ends this weekend on a note worthy of attention in foreign offices around the world. The Republican contender, Ronald Reagan, is asking the voters to believe that he is a man of peace, not a warmonger. The defender, James Earl Carter, is asserting to the voters that they best not take any chances on Mr. Reagan's alleged (by Mr. Carter) inclination to be trigger-happy.
On other words, this has been an election campaign during which the politicians and their advisers have studied the American voter and come to the conclusion that he is not in a belligerent or militant mood. On the contrary, said voter is presumed by the politicians to be more amxious about his job at home than about anything which Moscow, communists, or communism may be doing in other parts of the world.
So, to all practical intent the campaign ended last Tuesday night in a big so-called debate in which the highlight was Mr. Reagan asserting, "I don't ever want to see antoher generation of young Americans bleed their lives into sandy beachheads . . . rice paddies . . . or . . . muddy battlefields."
This was Mr. Reagan's final effort to get out from udner a persistent Carter assertion during the final weeks of the campaign that Mr. Reagan's views on world affairs, in particular his opposition to the SALT II treaty on nuclear weapons, are "very dangerous and disturbing."
The campaign started on different note. In the opening weeks Mr. Reagan operated on the assumption that there was still poltical mileage to be had out of the old, often successful Republican strategy of accusing te Democrats of being "soft on communism." So he campaigned agaisnt the SALT II treaty ( allegedly it gave away too much to the Soviets) and against Mr. Carter's military budgets (they were not strong enough to match Soviet military power).
Republicans have used this line against Democrats from 1952 down to this year. But this year it was not working as it had back when John Foster Dulles was accusing the Democrats of having "sold out China to communism." Mr. Dulles promised to "roll back the Iron Curtain."
Well, times change. In 1980 such talk became risky and poor politics. The Democrats hammered away during September on the charge that Mr. Reagan was a warmonger. It began to work by early October. The polls showed Reagan support declining, Carter approval rising. Obviously, Mr. Carter scared a lot of potential voters, women more than men into thinking that Mr. Reagan could too easily get their country into a war, even perhaps a nuclear war. By the day of the debate (Oct. 28) the polls showed Mr. Carter even with Mr. Reagan -- in some polls even ahead.
All of which indicates that American foreign policy for the immediate future, no matter which man or party wins, is likely to seek accommodation rather than confrontation with the Soviet Union, and strength through diplomacy, associations, and alliances rather thans olely through American waponry. It would certainly seem probable that an early move of the new government, whether it be led by Mr. Carter or Mr. Reagan, will be an attempt to revive negotiations with Moscow over limitations on strategic weaponry. If Mr. Carter is the winner it seems likely that the Senate will soon ratify SALT II on the theory that a vote for is more popular with the voters than a vote against.
Does this mean that American public opinion is till in a post-Vietnam mood? Probably not. The emotions aroused during the Vietnam war and its aftermath have probably passed into folk memory by this time. It is no longer a vivid or activ political factor, although Mr. Reagan apparently lost rather than scored points by having referred to it early in the campaign as a "noble cause." That was about the only mention of the subject during the campaign.
Perhaps the msot accurate way of stating the present popular foundation of American foreign policy as disclosed by the campaign is that the American public has accepted as being sound and sensible the idea of containing the Soviet Union through associations with anyone of similar inclination rather than by American weaponry. Thus, Mr. Reagan opened his campaign with a proposal to restore formal relations with Taiwan. But this proved to be highly unpopular. He dropped it and promised instead to broaden the new relations with "the People's Republic of China."
Early in the campaign it was assumed in some quarters that the United States was in a mood to revert to "cold war."
A feature of the old "cold war" in the United States was an assumption that communism was monolithic and that any communist country was an enemy.
That kind of thinking does seem to have gone by the board. The Republic Party was slow to accept the theory of an actual break between the communist Soviet Union and communsit mainland China. Richard Allen, who is presumed to be the successor to Dr. Henry Kissinger at the White House if Mr. Reagan wins the election, was among the last foreign policy specialists to accept the possibility of such a breach.
But now both Mr. allen and candidate Reagan have come round tot he doctrine that mainland China, no matter how communist, has become an asset to US diplomacy.
All of which leads to a reasonable assumption that US foreign policy will continue more or less along now familiar lines regardless of which man wins on Nov. 4.