Inconsistencies in Washington

A difference between declaratory foreign policy and operating foreign policy is not new in history. It can often be detected in the behavior of any great power, but seldom has the contrast been more starlingly clear than it was a Washington on April 24.

That was the day when Secretary of State Alexander Haig repeated the litany of Reagan administration opinions of the Soviet Union and its behavior. That was also the day when President Reagan cancelled the embargo on shipments of US grain to the Soviet Union, and did it without any effort to obtain compensation from Moscow.

The Haig speech was declaratory Reagan policy as articulated during the recent presidential campaign and repeated on every plausible occasion since. We are familiar with it by this time. Moscow is the source of most world ills. Moscow is constantly stirring up trouble. Moscow lies and cheats. Moscow is behind terrorism the world around. Moscow seeks to dominate the world.

In specific Haig words on April 24, Moscow is "the greatest source of international insecurity today." "Moscow continues to support terrorism and war by proxy." "Soviet policy seeks to exploit aspirations for change in order to create conflict justifying the use of force and even invasion."

That is declaratory policy. Cancellation of the grain embargo is opertional policy. they were not the same on April 24.

Nor were they the same three days earlier on policy toward the Middle East. There is an equally well-known litany of Reagan administration statements about Israel. In public statements during the campaign, and since, Israel is America's closest and best friend and ally in the Middle East and a military asset. But on April 21 the White House announced that the United States will do something which Israel opposes bitterly.

It was sell to Saudi Arabia, a Muslim and Arab country, the equipment necessary for the world's most sophisticated airborne warning and control system. That system includes high-flying electronic reconnaissance planes capable not only of "seeing" Israeli air traffic from Arab air space, but also of directing an air battle of up to 400 planes. Israel does not like having people watching its planes.

Devotion to Israel is declaratory policy. Selling the AWACS to Saudi Arabia is operational policy. The two were not the same on April 21, or the next when Israel and all its friends protested both officially and unofficially. Or on the next day when the President and his spokesmen insisted that selling the planes to the Saudis would not be a danger to Israel.

Reagan foreign policy is evolving from campaign rhetoric. This is not surprising, but quickly on two such important subjects is interesting. It gives foreign offices around the world a lot of new thinking to do. Is it possible that there is going to be as wide a gap between declaratory and operational policies during the Reagan administration as there was, for example, during the Eisenhower administration?

Those who remember those days will also remember such phrases as "rolling back the iron curtain" and "brinkmanship." Both descend from the time when John Foster Dulles was talking a hard line against the Soviets while quietly, in the background, President Eisenhower, was working for a mitigation of the "cold war" and reaching for a dialogue which might clear the way for "coexistence."

During the 1952 campaign, (Eisenhower vs. Adlai Stevenson) the Republicans accused the Democrats who had taken the US into the Korean war of being "soft on communism." But the same Republicans got the US out of the Korean war and laid the foundations for what, during Nixon-Kissinger days, became known as "detente."

It was this contrast which caused wily old Vyacheslav Molotov to observe at a Soviet communist party conference that "Democrats talk peace but make war while Republicans talk war but make peace."

Contrast between operational and declaratory policy is perhaps more frequent and more noticeable in the US than in most other countries because in the US domestic politics so heavily influence foreign policy. White House staffers admitted in private conversation with reporters that the reason for lifting the grain embargo was political, to discharge a promise made to the farmers during the campaign. One spokesman tried to argue that since the administration had already proved it "toughness" it could safely lift the embargo. But so far the only proof of toughness is in declaratory policy.

Foreign offices in all capitals have their homework. They must try to figure out how much more, and where, Reagan operational policy will disgress from declaratory po licy.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Inconsistencies in Washington
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today