Prime Minister Thatcher's visit to President Reagan has brought to the fore two basic concepts for the healing of the nations in today's quick-changing world:
* Looking to people more than governments to solve problems within nations.
* Looking to a combination of strength and conciliation to solve problems between nations.
To take the internal challenges first, Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Reagan were talking about the beleaguered economies of Britain and America. But there is profound hope for all nations, including those just starting on the ladder of development, in statements like these:
"We both place our faith not so much in economic theory but in the resourcefulness and decency of ordinary people," said the prime minister.
"We believe that our solutions lie within the people and not the state," said the President.
Whatever the outcome of the specific measures undertaken by the two leaders, they have made a contribution to their times by this new focus on the potential of citizens to solve their own problems and thus the problems of their countries. Modern governments cannot abandon the roles of public service and protection. But they can test every policy as to whether it frees or stifles their people's "resourcefulness and decency."
Much has been made of the coincidence that Britain and the United States are now both led by conservatives. They are seen to favor roughly similar economic paths of cutting taxes, reducing spending, controlling monetary growth, and increasing production incentives -- adding up to what is being called supply-side economics. Yet differences are also being pointed out in an effort to explain why the Reagan program need not meet the same disappointments as Mrs. Thatcher's. She confronted an entrenched system that, even when governed by the right, remains considerably to the left of the US system. It includes nationalized industries, national health care, and other elements that narrow the path toward releasing market enterprise. Still inflation has come down in the past year, and some see the beginning of a turning of the corner in Britain.
Meanwhile, still near the start of his bold economic effort, Mr. Reagan is trying to hold the line against its being whittled back into piecemeal measures like those of previous administrations. Even though Congress seems reluctant to give him all he wants, his effort --like Mrs. Thatcher's -- will be valuable as a striking reminder to individuals that the bottom line, whatever the government does, is in their hands.
As for the challenges of foreign policy, Mrs. Thatcher's forthright display of solidarity with President Reagan was reportedly combined with the kind of tempering views that can make talks between staunch allies so valuable. In some of these she is believed to be close to another recent visitor, France's Foreign Minister Francois-Poncet, as well as Italy's Foreign Minister Colombo, who was in Washington earlier, and West Germany's Foreign Minister Genscher, who will be visiting soon.
They are all said to be concerned that Washington's well-warranted firmness toward the Soviet Union be accompanied by an openness toward dialogue with Moscow on the arms control so important to Europeans, not to mention the rest of the world. They reportedly feel that failure at least to make a show of such dialogue could increase domestic opposition to the deployment of new nuclear missiles on European soil scheduled for 1983.These are intended to offset Soviet missiles targeted on Europe, but among many Europeans the hope has always been that progress on arms control might reduce or eliminate the need for the missiles.
It is not only a show of dialogue but an actual serious, good-faith exchange on arms control that ought to be resumed as soon as possible along with the bolstering of Western defenses in the face of Soviet buildup. The time is past for speaking softly and carrying a big stick; it's time to speak very strongly for peace and see whether all sides can start carrying smaller sticks.
The Reagan administration already seems to be responding to European feelings. It does not reject Soviet overtures for discussion but promises careful study of them. It can see pursuing preparedness and dialogue at the same time.
Even on the current prime military topic of El Salvador, the Reagan team is broadening the issue beyond resisting the supply of arms through Cuba. Secretary of State Haig is talking of human rights, rejection of excesses by the right as well as the left, and the need for "progress toward pluralization." As French foreign Minister Francois-Poncet told an American audience: "The West stands for freedom and therefore for pluralism . . ..The West must do more than respect this pluralism. It must be prepared to defend it whenever it is threatened. The West is not looking for clients but for partners."
In other words, As Mrs. Thatcher's visit conspicously confirms, a healthy dialogue has begun within the alliance -- a necessary pr eparation for that East-West dialogue which must also occur.