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The President's grand strategy

The first phase of President Reagan's tentative ''grand strategy'' is beginning to surface. He is going to Peking - Caspar Weinberger's announcement makes it official.

When one of the President's top aides disclosed to the Monitor a couple of months back that Mr. Reagan was seeking both a summit with Soviet leader Yuri Andropov and a meeting with Chinese leaders in Peking, he provided this Reagan rationale:

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''The President thinks that, like Nixon, he is politically positioned to actively pursue better ties with Moscow and Peking - that he is so well identified as a hard-liner in dealing with the communists that while the nation's hawks won't like such moves, they will trust him not to betray US interests.''

That's how Nixon was able to open the door to communist China and negotiate detente with the Soviets. He had his liberal critics cheering for him while the hard-liners did not protest too much over ventures in global peacemaking.

Reagan's rhetoric has always been strongly anti-communist. But his relationship with the hard-liners has weakened considerably since he became President.

At first, Reagan's belligerent language in talking about the Soviets delighted his hawk-inclined supporters. But more recently Mr. Reagan has softened his words a bit - except during the Korean plane incident - and is showing a flexibility and willingness to find an accommodation in nuclear arms control that has not been at all well received among these tough-nosed critics of the Soviet Union.

These hawks thought Reagan's actions in response to the Soviets' shooting down of the plane were much too soft. They wanted tough sanctions.

But White House insiders tell this reporter that the President was fine-tuning his reaction to the Soviets so that he would not, in punishing the Soviets, take actions that would put an end to arms negotiations. Reagan did not want to throw cold water on prospects for a summit with Andropov next year. His hard-liner constituency is, however, still with him, even though its confidence in the President has been shaken. These Americans have no place else to go. None of the Democratic challengers offer them any hope.

Above all, the President has pushed quite hard for legislation that would provide tax credits for parents with children in private/parochial schools. Reagan obviously believes in this concept strongly.

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Reagan's appointment of Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court gave the conservatives cause for appreciation. And the President's unwillingness to fire James Watt was conditioned, in large part, by Reagan's sensitivity to the possibility of putting a further strain on his relations with his conservative backers.

In a recent interview the President was asked how he would like history to assess him. He hoped historians would say that ''I did the best I could.''

Already, Mr. Reagan feels he has set the nation on a course of less government and toward a bolstering of the economy. He would like nothing better than to have the future remember him as a President who made significant strides in peacemaking. And that's what his still-tentative ''grand strategy'' is all about.

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