In a Demanding World, Ideas Lead

PEACE awarded the Nobel prize to Mikhail Gorbachev. Several years ago this newspaper sponsored a contest called ``Peace 2010.'' Readers wrote essays, published in 1986 as a book called ``How Peace Came to the World,'' describing or imagining scenarios by which major superpower conflict ceased in the year 2010. Nuclear mishap, a tension-triggering war in the Middle East, were among the peace-precipitating events. The idea of the contest was to get people thinking, to affirm that peace is achievable.

Well, peace of a substantial nature has come ahead of the Monitor's schedule. ``In the last few years, dramatic changes have taken place in the relationship between East and West,'' said the Nobel Peace Prize committee in its award statement. ``Confrontation has been replaced by negotiation.''

The economic bankruptcy of the Soviet system became self-manifest. The technology gap between East and West - reflected in the pathetic difficulty of placing a phone call out of the East bloc - was fast widening. Economic failure was encouraging ethnic tension, nationalism in the republics, and separatist drift among the East-bloc countries. The arms race was unaffordable, at least for now. Gorbachev saw how essential it was to hitch up with the more progressive engine of the West. He has proved sturdy enough not to be crushed by the idea.

Similarly, the notion of a united Germany drove Helmut Kohl and other leaders to union faster than negotiation could have achieved. The wall was not negotiated down.

The wall had been under constant intellectual and moral assault. It was an offense to humanity. One need not be naive: The Germans, having gathered themselves together, will no longer have partition to blame their tensions on. The Germans are a complex people. Political union is not the same as social alignment. The Germans already deeply resent the Turks and other non-Germans in their midst. They will have the challenges of reconstructing the lagging East, leadership within the European Community, and reestablishment of their historic role as the gateway between Western and Eastern Europe. Germany's task now is peacably to shift its focal center from Bonn to Berlin. This is a risky idea, but one of great power. It will call for restraint. Some Germans prefer to keep Frankfurt the financial center, Bonn the seat of government, and Berlin the cultural center, rather than concentrate these forces in one capital.

Will the Soviets survive political and economic rebirth?

Will the Germans invest in Western economic expansion?

Will the United States under George Bush and Congress reach a budget accord that will sustain the West's economic growth - or tip the whole mechanism into recession?

This again is a matter of ideas. American politics at the moment is being driven by interests, not by ideas. It is interests - business, trade, environmental, educational, age-group interests - that finance the PACs that finance the races. Money buys TV time and TV time wins elections.

George Bush has done some things well. He has cashed in on relationships around the world he established over decades of getting ready to run for the presidency - not the least his vice presidential relationship with Ronald Reagan.

American political life is driven by two forces. This emerged early in the young democracy during the debate between Alexander Hamiliton and Thomas Jefferson in the 1790s, as Anglo-French rivalry resumed. Hamilton saw the United Sates as a vigorous world actor. A strong central US government could exercise power overseas. Jefferson felt Hamilton's foreign policy endangered the common welfare. This was not so much isolationism - no one was more a man of world civilization than Jefferson - as a matter of priority. Jefferson feared that imperialism in America as in classical Rome would concentrate too much power, waste resources, and endanger republican rule.

Bush's inclinations are external, Hamiltonian, with the leadership class. He has no bridging economic philosophy; neither has Congress: Hence the budget stalemate. It may look like Bush vs. Congress. But it's really Hamilton against Jefferson. Recession may prepare America for another Jeffersonian president.

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