Reagan buoyed by good news from space shuttle and Polish crowds
Everything seems to be going Ronald Reagan's way. The American President is enjoying his best run of good news (from his point of view) since he entered the White House two and a half years ago.
The reverse side of the picture is that his opposite number in the Kremlin, Yuri Andropov, has anxieties, problems, and embarrassments of equal weight. For Moscow the biggest embarrassment during ''Ronald Reagan Week'' was Pope John Paul II telling wildly cheering Poles just how oppressive and unjust is the government Moscow has imposed on them.
Mr. Reagan's run of welcome news began late on Friday night, June 17, when an MX missile soared off from Vandenberg Air Base in California in the first test of the new American weapon. Brig. Gen. Aloysius B. Casey, who was in command of the launch, pronounced it ''flawless.'' He said the missile landed its six simulated warheads on target near Kwajalein Island 4,000 miles away.
On the following morning the American space shuttle Challenger had an equally ''flawless'' takeoff from Cape Canaveral, Fla., and has been performing since then as planned. Its five crew members, including America's first woman astronaut, Sally K. Ride, carried out the daily schedule of maneuvers with apparent ease and, up to our press time, without failures.
Three days later, on Tuesday, June 21, the Department of Commerce in Washington estimated the US economic growth rate during the second quarter of the year at 6.6 percent, without a noticeable rise in inflation. This was only an estimate. Since the first-quarter figure was only 2.6 percent, the rate for the next two quarters would need to be at a significantly higher level for the second quarter rate to apply to the full year. And none can yet know whether such recovery can be sustained without a return of inflation.
But news of the revival of the economy while the five astronauts rolled routinely around the earth and television daily showed hundreds of thousands of Poles cheering the Pope made up a pattern that could only bring joy to the Reagan White House.
Soviet space technology is well behind that of space shuttle Challenger. The Russians are developing a modest shuttle program but their cosmonauts currently still get down by parachute. Not only does MX actually work, as scheduled: the Western allies are now more supportive of the American military buildup. In Europe work is already going on at the bases which before the end of the year will mount both the new land-based cruise vehicles and the Pershing II missiles. Neither the peace movement in Western Europe nor Soviet propaganda has succeeded in blocking those projects.
With Margaret Thatcher reinstalled in 10 Downing Street and Helmut Kohl safely in the saddle in West Germany, the Western alliance is in a resolute frame of mind. The allies are reconciled to the Reagan approach, now that he has dropped the idea of an economic offensive aimed at trying to unseat the Soviet regime.
Reagan foreign policy seems to have steadied now on coolness toward Moscow, but willingness to negotiate over limits on weapons - if by chance the Soviets are interested. Strength, coolness, and an improving US economy make up a combination that appeals to the allies. Speculation about a breakup or a weakening of the NATO alliance ended with the Williamsburg conference.
In Moscow Mr. Andropov wears a new hat. He is now President of the Soviet Union as well as party chief. But he has so far made little progress against the entrenched bureaucracy. The Soviet economy continues to run inefficiently at a slow pace. He has no space shuttle to advertise technological progress. He must apparently try to extricate his country from its Afghan venture. And he may find himself going to the bargaining table with President Reagan with reduced bargaining power.
The condition of his alliances is in sorry contrast to that of Mr. Reagan's. The Polish people showed where their hearts lie by their overwhelming expressions of affection for the Pope. He is the national hero of the Polish people and the man they would follow if they could get away from the embrace of Moscow and toward reunion with the Western community.
Moscow did not dare prevent the visit. It gets out of it only another demonstration of Moscow's failure to make its system and its alliance popular among the peoples of Eastern Europe.
The papal visit might just possibly be of some help to the Polish people. In effect, the Pope was using the sign language of diplomacy. He has proved that he has the loyalty of the Polish people. They look to him for alleviation of the terms of their captivity. He could lead them into cooperation with the government in Poland - if the terms were right.
The government in Warsaw badly needs the cooperation of the people. Economic recovery is impossible without such cooperation. The Pope could deliver that cooperation. He has, in effect, spelled out his conditions. He wants restoration of political rights to the people, which means, in Poland, organizations of their own choosing. It need not necessarily be a revival of Solidarity. There must be some equivalent. And there must be a reopening of relations with the West.
This poses a dilemma for Moscow. If it allows the regime in Warsaw to come to agreement with the Pope, then Poland would move to some degree away from Moscow toward the West. But if Moscow forbids the deal, Poland will continue to be an economic disaster and an advertisement of the failure of the Soviet system.
The Pope has real bargaining power because he, and perhaps he alone, could persuade the Polish people to enter into effective economic cooperation with the regime.
Mr. Reagan has no similar problem. None of his allies or overseas friends or associates are trying to break away from the association. His most serious foreign policy problem is patching up relations with China, which have been difficult since the day he took office, due to his fondness for Taiwan.
This past week Mr. Reagan allowed the lifting of restrictions on the sale of ''dual purpose'' technical items to China. This means that China will now be able to buy computers that could be used both for business and for military purposes. And Secretary of State George Shultz is off on a trip to the Far East, including China, even while Vice-President George Bush heads for Europe to carry forward the work of improving alliance relations there.