Posture and policy
President Reagan has kept up the momentum of his twofold foreign relations thrust - strong rhetorical focus on the Soviets as the chief doer of global wrongs, combined with moderate US action. In his Voice of America broadcast directly to the Soviet people Saturday, and his more temperate United Nations address Monday, Mr. Reagan again showed this highly energized, competitive verbal posture.
If anything, Mr. Reagan has refined and honed his Soviets-at-fault stance in recent weeks following the KAL Flight 7 incident. Behind the trouble in Central America, the Syrian influence-drive in Lebanon, and the need to emplace Pershing II missiles in Europe lie Soviet designs, the President holds.
The very energy and consistency of Mr. Reagan's foreign relations performance , however, are prompting questions and concern about how long the rhetorical run can last before attention begins to fix on the pragmatic test of his policies, namely results. The concern is voiced among supporters of the administration, not just its opponents.
In the first instance, Republicans do not easily find someone who can step into the role Mr. Reagan has created. Mr. Bush, as vice-president, has been frantically trying to keep up the White House pitch. Mr. Reagan, by effectively using the resources of his office to become a remarkably visible personal communicator, upstaging his policies themselves, has made his running for office again all the more urgent.
If policies, rather than his leadership style, were emphasized more in the Reagan White House, a Republican succession could be more easily managed. As it is, absent Mr. Reagan, the succession, it is feared, would be another bruising affair, as in recent GOP nomination battles.
Even if Mr. Reagan runs again, there could be a limit to how long he can maintain the offensive without showing explicit gains from his hard-line stance.
In Lebanon, the cease-fire announced this weekend, welcome as it is, does not meet the Reagan administration's earlier goal of Lebanese self-determination under the Gemayel government, a Syrian and Israeli pullout, and a strengthened Lebanese Army. With the Syrians and other warring factions invited to the reconciliation parley, is this still ''self-determination'' for the Lebanese? What will the Marines do in a Lebanon under a broader coalition - some of whose members have been shooting at the Marines in recent weeks? What is evident for the Reagan administration, however welcome the cease-fire, is a slippage in goals and policies in the region. The cease-fire may be a first step in the administration's scenario, but its follow-up steps now seem harder than ever to come by.
Americans will accept what can realistically be expected in foreign and domestic policies. But they must see a match between policies and expected results.
In arms negotiations, subject of Mr. Reagan's UN speech, there is evidence the administration is seriously poring over the negotiating materials in Geneva for proposals to submit. Mr. Reagan presented himself at the UN as ''preoccupied with peace.'' ''A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,'' he said. He stuck to his zero-option goal and said the Soviet Union was at fault in rejecting it, the Soviets offering a ''half-zero'' option instead. Reagan offered new initiatives of global limits, US flexibility on current talks limiting aircraft, and willingness to alter the mix of missiles in reduction plans.
Major issues like the inclusion of French and British nuclear arsenals have not yet apparently been taken into account. Deployment of the Pershing missiles this fall has come to be seen as a test of NATO solidarity, less a step to force the Soviets to the negotiating table. What is now the policy test for the Pershing deployment? Avoiding widespread Western European protest this fall? What happened to the rationale, dating back to the Carter administration, that the prospect of deployment might bring the Soviets to bargain for arms reductions?
The posturemaking organization in the Reagan White House has performed with greater consistency than the policymaking organization. This permits holding other forces, chiefly the Soviets, responsible when policies must be compromised. But an election year is coming. The opposition inside and outside the President's party will be looking for concrete results as the standard for comparison, however virtuoso Mr. Reagan's communications style.