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Historical distortion

THE contrast between Ronald Reagan's domestic and foreign policies has long puzzled me. I think I have found a clue to the explanation. But first, let us examine the phenomenon.

Whether you are a beneficiary or a victim of his domestic policies, they make logical sense. If you believe in laissez faire economics, that the least government interference the better, and in the virtues of unregulated private enterprise, then you will logically cut back on taxes on the rich and successful and cut back also on the welfare which the taxes sustained.

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Whatever else you may think of those domestic policies, they have been rational and logical.

But when you examine 41/2 years of Reagan foreign policy, you find little logical relationship between theory and action. His theory is clear enough. He has always assumed in his rhetoric that Moscow is the source of ``all evil'' in the world, which is of course an absurd basis for rational foreign policy.

There are eminent and respectable economic authorities for Mr. Reagan's economic policy, including Adam Smith. There is no comparable authority for a foreign policy based on the premise that all the world's problems originate in Moscow and could, by implication, be resolved if only we could manage to get rid of the regime that rules over the Soviet Union.

What is more serious is that the logic which connects theory and action in Reagan domestic policy seems to be absent in foreign policy.

Take his current campaign against Nicaragua, for example. William F. Buckley Jr., one of his earliest and staunchest conservative supporters, wrote last week (Washington Post, May 8) that its net effect will be to drive Nicaragua deeper into the Soviet embrace and build more sympathy for the Sandinistas.

Last week President Ortega Saavedra of Nicaragua received a more friendly welcome in Madrid than Mr. Reagan enjoyed the previous week.

If Russia is the source of all evil, then Mr. Reagan would logically be cultivating his allies, and welcoming all recruits to the West. But in his third year in office he damaged the Western alliance by his unsuccessful effort to halt the pipeline from Siberia to Western Europe. And it took him three years to realize that having China on our side was preferable to pushing it back into the arms of Russia. Why?

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There was an obscure item in the news last week. In Spain, during the President's visit there, the Spanish newspaper El Pa'is resurrected from last October a quotation from a Reagan speech in which Mr. Reagan referred to the Spanish Civil War and to the Americans who had fought in it on the Loyalist side in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

The quotation from that speech read as follows: ``I would say that the individuals who went over there were, in the opinions of most Americans, fighting on the wrong side.''

No one with any clear knowledge either of the Spanish Civil War, or of the World War II experience, could have said that.

The overthrow of the Spanish government was a preliminary to World War II. It turned a friend on France's southern flank into an enemy. It cleared the way for the fall of France. It won submarine and air bases for Hitler during the war.

Mr. Reagan's words clearly imply that in 1938 ``most Americans'' wanted Hitler to win in Spain, which is not true, and that the same Americans should have been fighting on Franco's side, which is an odd view for an American president to hold, or express.

To think that the Franco victory in Spain was a desirable event in 1938 is to ignore the fact that in World War II the Nazi-Fascist challenge to Western civilization was worse than the communist challenge -- so much so that the United States of that era made communist Russia its ally.

Mr. Reagan has a blind spot about World War II. It led him to Bitburg, to an absurd statement about the Spanish Civil War, and into foreign policies that he is unable to pursue consistently or logically.

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