Looking at Reagan from London, Paris, and Bonn
We come now to the time when those who manage the foreign policies of the major nations of the world begin to think urgently about their future relations with the next president of the United States.
They know less about Ronald Reagan of California than they usually do about incoming presidents. He has lived most of his professional life in California, which is not on the main traffic lanes of world diplomacy.And before he went into politics out there he was an entertainer in Hollywood, a place little frequented by real ambassadors. Embassies in Washington all wish they had sought an acquaintance with Mr. Reagan before he became prominent.
What they do know about the man and his prospective policies is making all of them curious and cautious. The Soviets have already made their first move by being genial to a visiting band of Americans that included a prominent Republican, former Gov. William Scranton of Pennsylvania. They assured him they will be delighted to discuss arms limitations with the new administration, even though Mr. Reagan has denounced SALT II.
Mr. Reagan's own proper refusal to talk with foreign officials until he is, in fact, the president (to do otherwise would be to intrude into the constitutional preserve of the president himself) is proving frustrating, particularly to close friends and allies. They can't get to him now. They can come to look and talk with their deputies in Washington, but that is of relatively little help.
Israel's Menachem Begin was here the other day, looking and listening. He made his ceremonial call on President Carter. But Mr. Reagan did not talk with Mr. Begin, leaving Mr. Begin to wonder whether Mr. Reagan will be as generous to Israel in office as he has sounded on the hustings.
This week it is the turn of West Germany's Chancellor Helmut Schmidt to come to Washington and glean what he can in the way of advance knowledge. Will he go away wondering whether perhaps his relations with Washington will be no easier without Mr. Carter around than they were with Mr. Carter around? Herr Schmidt was no admirer of the outgoing President. But to what extent were their differences due to Mr. Carter's views as distinct from conditions inherent in the relations between Washington and the allies' capitals of western Europe?
British, French, West German, and other West European capitals are all studying that question and have already come up with tentative answers. Among them there is agreement that matters may be more, rather than less, difficult, particularly over Middle East policy -- primarily because Mr. Reagan has always sounded so much more pro-Israel than Mr. Carter was deemed to be by the Israelis and their American friends and supporters.
In particular, Mr. Reagan has never wavered from his basic premise about the Middle East -- that Israel is a military asset to the United States. This is precisely the opposite of the view prevailing in London, Paris, and Bonn, where Israel is deemed to be a military and a political liability unless and until it makes peace with its Arab neighbors. To the policymakers of Western Europe the first priority task of Western diplomacy should be to push Israel toward reconciliation with the Arabs. Mr. Reagan would have to change his attitude drastically to be able to go along with the allies on this subject.
Then our friends and allies come to the question of arms, and where to put them. They have been under steady pressure from Washington for two years to increase their military budgets, the better to balance off rising Soviet military power. Germans and British are going through a phase of severe economic difficulty. They don't like being hustled in a direction that may increase their economic problem.The Germans particularly resent being asked to spend more on guns when the US refuses to revert to conscription. Germans say that trained manpower is more important than more money for guns.
And all of them cling to "detente."
The Reagan record suggests that the next president will push even harder than Mr. Carter has been pushing for more defense spending by the European allies. The prospective Republican leader in the Senate, Howard Baker, released a report last week (Nov. 13) sharply criticizing the Western allies for both dragging their heels on weaponry and for being "extremely ambivalent" about East-West relations and about strengthening Western military positions in the Middle East.
Will Mr. Reagan want to pursue the buildup in the Middle East started by Mr. Carter? If so, he will find the Western allies reluctant to go far with him. They all incline to think that Washington overreacted on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. To them Europe is vital, Afghanistan is a long way away. They dislike, even resent, having American weapons and men drawn away from the NATO front in Europe for service in the Indian Ocean and the Middle East. They resist even more any pressure on them to cut off trade connections with the Soviet. "Detente" has become a bad word in Washington, but it is still highly valued in London, Paris, and Bonn -- particularly in Bonn.
Thus there are three areas where Washington and the Western allies are already in vigorous disagreement -- Middle East policy, weaponry, and East-West relations. If one is to judge future Reagan policy by the remarks of the campaign, that difference over these three policies is likely to grow wider when the new president settles down to running his foriegn policy. All through the campaign he struck a harder position on these matters than Mr. Carter was already practicing. Insofar as he actually tries to out-Carter Carter -- he will find himself in wider disagreement with London, Paris, and Bonn.