WHATEVER happened to Ronald Reagan? That is the puzzling question in light of his current foreign policy problems.
His success with the American people - dazzling until recently - has been built on his personal good nature and straightforwardness, and on policies that have refurbished the United States image with strength and confidence.
Yet in two major foreign policy confrontations lately - the Reykjavik summit and the arms deal with Iran - we have seen a very uncharacteristic Ronald Reagan.
In Reykjavik, Mr. Reagan seemed to drop his guard and his traditional caution when dealing with the Soviets. He engaged in what seemed like a freewheeling poker game with Mikhail Gorbachev over nuclear arms, tossing in missiles and throw-weights and warheads like chips in an all-night contest.
Fortunately, Reagan stood firm on his Strategic Defense Initiative, the ultimate chip that may make an arms control agreement possible. The United States came away from Reykjavik without losing its shirt, and able to consider quietly just how far it can go down the road to the elimination of nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, in his dealings with Iran, Reagan similarly forsook his position of strength, this time on terrorism. Whether or not he believed he was trading arms for hostages, the perception of most Americans is that he was. They think their President made a major mistake.
What caused Reagan to behave so uncharacteristically, wheeling and dealing with the Soviets he has so long distrusted, and with the Iranians he has so long abhorred?
Is it that itch that afflicts some Presidents in their final months in office to engrave in the history books a glowing record of achievement?
Was Reagan so anxious to get an arms control agreement, and to get US hostages freed, that he abandoned his traditional caution and position of strength in favor of impulsive and shortsighted initiatives?