President Reagan should give a keynote address on foreign policy soon -- despite articulate and respected opinion to the contrary. Otherwise, a rare opportunity to reforge an enduring coalition for a bipartisan foreign policy may dissipate.
The President had brilliantly shepherded through an initially skeptical Congress his budget to resuscitate the economy and rejuvenate our lagging defenses. Seldom in history has so broad a spectrum of public opinion rallied behind a President's legislative program.
At the Ottawa summit, President Reagan established himself as a credible leader of the free world. He was gracious but firm in explaining the need for the remedies he is administering to the American economy. And despite their own strongly held views and differing priorities, the leaders of the major industrial democracies seemed in the end to welcome a resurgent and self-confident American leadership.
For the American people have indeed put behind them the negativism and self-doubt of the past few years. They are ready to coalesce in favor of a constructive and positive foreign policy. The vast majority of Americans have sound instincts. They recognize that the world is a complex place. What they want is a balanced, sensible, and realistic approach to managing their relations with the rest of the world.
It is argued that in the increasingly complicated world in which we live it may not be possible to set forth an absolutely comprehensive blueprint to meet every contigency. But the alternative -- to avoid an authoritative presidential statement of general principles and goals -- would leave the impression of a foreign policy adrift among contending bureaucratic interests. Both allies and adversaries alike would eventually harbor doubts as to whether the President does indeed have firm command of his foreign policy.
A presidential statement need not be so specific as to lock policy into positions that later must be reversed. Neither must it address every aspect of foreign policy before it has been thoroughly studied or otherwise requires immediate attention. But only the President can give the American people and the world a definitive picture of his administration's basic approach to the core foreign policy issues.
The choice of themes is, of course, up to the President. But to command the broad support essential to sustaining a bipartisan foreign policy, the following would seem central.
* Rebuilding America's defenses must be tempered with prudence as to how defense dollars are spent. The american people have awakened to the need to have a strong defense in order to maintain the kind of stability necessary for a lasting peace. But there is also a general recognition that doing more in defense does not mean uncritically opening wide the budgetary spigot. The Rube Goldberg "racetrack" basing for the MX missile is a case in point. Unless the US spends its money wisely it may not buy better security. Rather it could end up undermining the very economic base necessary for a sustained defense effort.
It should also be made clear to US allies in Europe and Japan that larger US defense budgets do not relieve them of the necessity to make greater contributions to our common defense. To the contrary, the partnership agreements should be updated to provide for a more rational division of labor that would provide everyone with greater security at lower costs.
* Steadfast opposition to Soviet expansionism should be complemented with bold proposals for meaningful arms reductions. So long as the United States was willing to exercise unliteral self-restraint, the Soviets had little incentive to agree to meaningful arms controls -- that is, arms reductionsm that are mutualm and verifiable.m But President Reagan's credentials as an advocate of a strong defense are impeccable. The Soviets -- or anyone else -- must know that President Reagan would never compromise American security for the sake of reaching an agreement. On the other hand, the costs and destructiveness of modern weapons systems, both nuclear and conventional, are so staggering that both sides have literally a vital interest in reducing their size and number.
* Pragmatism in dealing with undemocratic governments must be matched with fidelity to our own political and economic ideals. Few would gainsay that in today's interdependent world, the United States can afford to ignore repressive regimes such as communist China or South Africa. But the hundreds of thousands of immigrants that flock to our shores each year attest to the enduring attraction of the American way of life. An American foreign policy should hoist internationally the same optimistic banner of democracy that has rallied the American people at home. Furthermore, we should not shrink from encouraging the development of market economics and private enterprise. It is no accident that the newly industrializing economies, especially around the rim of the Pacific, have relied on market mechanisms and private enterprise as the main engines of growth.
A presidential speech encompassing these themes would do much to solidify the nascent bipartisan coalition in this country for a forth-right but measured foreign policy.