In going back over the files I notice that on April 3, when the Reagan administration was just getting underway, I was writing about the contrast between its early successes in domestic matters and its uncertain fumbling in foreign affairs.
I find it particularly disturbing that the contrast persists down into this month of October. The Reagan administration is now well into its ninth month. Its domestic successes are not quite as glittering now as they seemed to be in April when Congress was disposed to give Mr. Reagan almost anything he wanted.
Still, inflation is down a little. There has been no economic catasthrophe. The dollar has strengthened on foreign exchanges. The stock market is vigorous. There are plenty of doubters about "Reaganomics," but a majority of Americans, and a lot of foreigners, continue to think that Mr. Reagan's economic program will succeed.
Experts in foreign affairs are not saying the same about foreign policy.
In less than nine months Reagan foreign policy has handed Moscow a propaganda bonanza. When the Reagan team took office the Soviet Union was still the pariah of the world. Its invasion of Afghanistan, its ventures into faraway places such as Angola, and its relentless buildup in military power had made the rest of the world anxious. Moscow was regarded as the greatest danger to the peace.
Today that perception is reversed. Afghanistan has been largely forgotten. Mr. Reagan had a hand in that by cancelling the grain embargo against the Soviets as a penalty. The world is talking about the American arms buildup (even though it is still only on paper) not about the Soviet buildup (still going on).
At the United Nations 93 self-styled nonaligned or "third world" countries have put out a sort of report which, in effect, makes the United States appear to be the pariah of the world. It is obviously biased and distorted. Individual diplomats from a number of countries which went along with the report condemn it. But the fact remains that on the public record 93 countries treat the United States, not the Soviet Union, as the greater danger to the peace.
In the NATO alliance all the governments are still loyal and still officially support the US. But in most of them anti-Americanisms, which scarcely existed nine months ago, is now a distressing and unsetting political force. It is particularly troubling and dangerous to the welfare of the alliance in West Germany. It is vigorous across Northern Europe. It is rampant over on the left side of the British political spectrum.
In describing the way Reagan foreign policy has changed the world's perception of the two superpowers it is difficult to avoid the world disaster. In terms of propaganda and public relations matters could hardly be worse.
Partly it is because the world yearns for peace while Washington bristles with talk of weapons. Partly also it is because of plin ineptness.
The mismanagement of the AWACS affair is a case in point. Anyone with any grasp of world affairs at all would know that to propose selling one of the most sophisticated of weapons to any Arab country would upset Israel and its many supporters in Congress. To launch that project without first negotiating with Israel was to invite trouble in Washington. To launch it and then be faced with a negative vote in the Senate, and then try to talk Saudi Arabia out of it, was to offend the Saudis, and all Arabs.
TPresident Reagan is a great admirer of President Theodore Roosevelt who also preached the doctrine of peace through strength. But "Teddy" always phrased his policy as being to "speak softly and carry a big stick." Mr. Reagan has talked harshly before he even had his big stick in hand, which has scared the allies without impressing the Soviets.
The opening decision to aid the right-wing dictatorship in El Salvador has offended both Mexico and France.
Reagan policy toward South Africa has offended the black countries of Africa.
Reagan gentleness toward Israel has offended all Arabs and much of the Muslim community. The shooting down of the two Libyan planes was perhaps a propaganda success at home, but also offended Arabs and Muslims. The asserted intent to provide what happened in Iran from happening in Saudi Arabia has further offended not only Saudi Arabia and the other Arabs, but other small countries.
To put it bluntly and briefly, the Reagan administration is still behaving in foreign policy as though it is ignorant of the thw world and its peoples, is insensitive to their interests, and lacks any clear sense of direction, policy, and purpose.