Overseas issues could stall Reagan juggernaut
President Reagan has had his way with the Congress on economic issues. But when it comes to foreign policy, he faces potentially tough battles on almost every front. The fight over the proposed sale of radar planes to Saudi Arabia may prove to be the toughest of these battles. But it will only be one of several. Reagan administration proposals touching on virtually every region of the world -- from Africa to South Asia and Latin America -- are expected to meet stiff congressional resistance.
On the proposed AWACS radar plane sale, meanwhile, the President's prospects actually look better now than they did a few months ago when the administration first revealed its intention to sell the sophisticated planes to Saudi Arabia. A consensus seems to be developing among many foreign policy experts in Washington that if President Reagan enters the battle personally and makes a strong case that the sale is in the Us interest, it will be approved.
But the Congress has already sent the President several signals indicating that it will not simply roll over and accept everything the administration proposes. Last June's rejection of Ernest W. Lefever, the President's nominee to head the State Department's human rights bureau, was a case in point. The Senate foreign Relations Committee seemed to be saying, in effect, that the Reagan election mandate to realign the US economy and formulate a strong foreign policy did not mean giving up the pursuit of human rights objectives overseas.
Congressional committees and subcommittees have battered administration proposals dealing with aid to Latin American regimes accused of violating human rights. They have rejected proposals to shift overseas aid away from economic help toward military assistance. And a House subcommittee on appropriations rejected administration plans for a $350 million foreign aid contingency fund over which Congress would have had little control.
Other potential foreign policy battles facing the administration on Capitol Hill also involve aid. These include:
* Administration attempts to repeal the Clark amendment restricting US intervention in Angola;
* Attempts to overcome congressionally imposed restrictions on aid to El Salvador;
* Attempts to remove conditions imposed on a resumption of American arms sales to Argentina; and
* Proposals to lift restrictions on aid to Pakistan. (Current Senate amendments restrict aid to Pakistan because of its apparent plans to build nuclear weapons. the administration is proposing a $3.7 billion military and economic aid package for Pakistan).
In each case, just as with the AWACs sale, intervention on the part of the President can make a great difference in how the Congress reacts. James McCormick, a professor of political science at Iowa State University, says that numerous studies show how the President's position can dominate the outcome, particularly when it comes to a popular President. The magnitude of Reagan's popularity is "surprising," McCormick says.
some other political scientists see an inevitable end to the Reagan honeymoon with the public.
"Reaganhs popularity has translated into favorable congressional action on economic issues," says Norman Ornsten, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Intstitute (AEI), a conservative Washington, D.C. "think tank." "But it doesn't translate into compliance on foreign policy issues."
Ornstein predicts that Reagan will havhe as much trouble with conservatives in the Congress as he has with liberals. This is because the President is likely to move toward the political center on foreign policy issues, the scholar says.
"You can't change foreign policy all that quickly," Ornstein said. "International moves are interrelated . . . .If you change relations radically with South Africa, for example, it reflects the whole range of relations with black Africa.
"So a leader is pushed towards gradual change. To the degree that Reagan foreign policy is centrist, the conservatives in the Congress will scream."
On the AWACS sale, Ornstein predicts a REagan victory but adds: "He will lose a lot of chips in doing it. It may tie his hands further. He will have to make tradeoffs."
Richard Fairbanks, Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations, disagrees.He says that the AWACS sale will be decided on its merits.He thinks that President Reagan's prospects look better at the moment on this issue because the president has proven himself to be "a very able politician" and a winner on other issues in the Congress.
AWACS proponents got a major boost Aug. 25 when Sen. Howard Baker, the Republican majority leader, declared his support for the sale. After it reconvenes Setp. 9, the Congress will have fifty days, until Oct. 30, to consider the sale. Unless both Houses disapprove by a majority vote, the sale will go through.
Stephen J. Solarz, an active, articulate democratic Congressman from New York , who gets involved in most of the major forreign policy issues and who is chairman of the House subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, predicts that the administration will win some and lose some in its upcoming battles in the Congress.
Solarz, who is the most traveled member of Congress, thinks that the AWACS and Pakistan aid issues could go either way. But he believes that the Congress will succeed in continuing to impose restrictions on aid to El Salvador. He thinks the administration will fail to get the Clark amendment repealed.