In the prevailing mood of dissatisfaction with all three presidential candidates, the question one most frequently encounters is "What difference would it make?" -- with the implied answer that it would make little or no difference which candidate is elected.
It is my belief that, at least as far as foriegn affairs are concerned, such political indifference is profoundly mistaken.
Though the term has often been misused, the fact remains that the United States ism "the leader fo the free world," and will continue to be just that unless it should choose to abdicate this responsibility. Therefore, the character, the competence, the experience, the convictions, the sophistication, and the chosen advisers of the man who is elected president of the United States are of enormous importance, not only to the US but to all those nations, allied or nonaligned, which rely on the US to maintain a balance of power and climate of sobriety in this unstable and dangerous world.
Since it is obvious that John Anderson, though he may affect the outcome of the election, cannot possibly be elected, this article deals only with the relative qualifications in this respect of the candidates of the two major parties.
First, it should be emphasized that, regardless of personal qualifications, a man who has occupied the White House, or even like Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower , Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford spent a number of years in Washington before moving to the White House, enjoys a significant advantage over a newcomer. In simplest terms, he knows the ropes.
The example of the Carter and other freshman administrations, even several of those just mentioned, reflects the inveterate tendency of newcomers in government to think they represent a brave new world and have, first of all, to get rid of the bunglers and fuddy duddies who are responsibile for "the mess we're in." As a result, the new administration spends its first year or two reinventing the wheel, repeating many of the initial mistakes of its predecessors, and learning the facts of international life the hard way.
Since the US, as far as constructive foreign affairs is concerned, has just squandered a full year on its election campaign, it can ill afford to waste another year or two providing basic training to a new president totally inexperienced in international affairs and a bevy of advisers, many in the same state of blissful ignorance.
Relations with Congrss are another problem. Mr. Carter has painfully learned the intractability of these relations even for a president whose party enjoys a large congressional majority. For a president whose party will be in a minority , the problem would be compounded. It is admirable to talk of a "nonpartisan foreign policy," but unfortunately many of Ronald Reagan's announced policies are as partisan and controversial as one could imagine.
With a president unversed in foreign affairs, the appointment of an experienced secretary of state would seem to be indispensable. Perhaps that is Mr. Reagan's intention, but two persons frequently mentioned for the position, Gen. Alexander Haig and former Secretary of Labor George Schultz, both no doubt able men, have either a predominantly military or a predominantly domestic experience. Of course if, as is conceivable but unlikely, Henry Kissinger should be appointed secretary, the problem of the president's inexperience would be substantially alleviated.
However, the names of 67 advisers on foreign and military policy announced by Reagan some months ago, from whom would presumably be drawn many of his lesser appointments to the State and Defense Departments, were preponderantly those of hardline cold warriors whose views are the reverse of sober and sensible.
There can be no question whatsoever that the greatest danger confronting this country, and all others, is that of nuclear war, a war which despite our unilateral doctrines could almost certainly not be "limited."
The SALT process of arms control and the lowering of tensions which comes from its successful pursuit are the best means yet developed for averting that appalling catastrophe. Yet Mr. Reagan would interrupt this process by dropping SALT II, the fruit of seven years negotiation by three presidents, two of them Republican. True, he says he would pursue SALT III, but that is like a new graduate from elementary school refusing to go to high school but saying he would be happy to go to college. Carter tried that gambit in March 1977 but the Soviets balked. SALT II, deficient though it may be, itself brings us substantial advantages and must necessarily precede SALT III.
Mr. Reagan, having frankly revealed his emotional attachment to Taiwan, even while his running mate was in Peking, was subsequently said he would continue improved relations with China. There is litle reason to believe that he is sufficiently aware of the incompatability between his strongly held sentiments and his reluctant pragmatism. Yet, jsut because of our tense relations with the Soviets, untroubled relations with Cina are of first importance to our security.
Mr. Reagan's offhand floating of provocative policies vis-a-vis Cuba, the Middle East, Iran, and other trouble spots reflects the natural indignation of the average American, but demonstrate little of the temperance and realism that is required of a statesman.
Yes, Mr. Skeptical Voter, it doesm make a difference, as far as foreign affairs is concerned, a very great difference, whether the President or his inexperienced opponent occupies the White House during the next four critical years.