Rose-tinted spectacles at the White House
The thing that worries me most these days is a gnawing suspicion that the White House actually believes what it is saying about world affairs. This is disturbing because it would indicate that in 10 months in Washington the administration has learned little about the great big world that lives outside the frontiers of the United States. It was one thing for them to come to Washington from California in innocence of the real world around. But to be as ignorant 10 months later can lead to a lot of avoidable trouble.
The most glaring example of self-delusion I have yet seen is a view of world affairs presented in this newspaper Oct. 23 by White House chief adviser to the President, Edwin Meese. According to Mr. Meese: ''If you look around the world you will see that we are in a better position in virtually every capital of the world than we were 10 months ago.''
The only capital I can think of where Mr. Reagan's foreign policies are popular is Moscow. The Soviets have much to thank him for. He cancelled the grain embargo which not only reopened American granaries to them, but also put an end to any talk of punishing them for their invasion of Afghanistan. It ended the Afghan affair for them.
They are probably even more grateful for Mr. Reagan's emphasis on building more weapons, and for talk about deploying them in Europe, and especially for saying he could conceive of nuclear weapons being used on a European battlefield , but not elsewhere. All of that was perfect ammunition for Moscow's patient efforts to break up the NATO alliance. NATO was damaged by some of Mr. Carter's lapses in foreign policy, but the recent damage is so great that there is serious doubt whether the alliance can survive.
Is there any capital other than Moscow which is happy about Reagan policies? Havana, perhaps. The anti-Castro rhetoric from Washington has refurbished Dr. Castro as a world figure. His image had been languishing. Now he is back in the limelight - and probably getting bigger subsidies from Moscow.
In New Delhi the Indians are unhappy about Mr. Reagan because he wants to arm Pakistan. In Peking the Chinese are unhappy because he seems determined to give new and better weapons to Taiwan. In the capitals of the Arab countries they consider Mr. Reagan to be too dominated by Israel to be able to be helpful to them. In black Africa they feel that Mr. Reagan has slipped back into condoning white supremacy in South Africa.
The world Mr. Meese is viewing is not the world which is seen at the State Department in Washington, just around the corner from the White House. It is not the world recognized by diplomats of either East or West, North or South, communist or free countries.
Mr. Meese thinks that the administration ''has made major strides in advancing opportunities for peace in the Middle East.'' Among the diplomats the talk is of the growing danger of a breakdown of the Camp David process and a drift toward another Arab-Israeli war.
Mr. Meese says, ''We have advanced human rights through quiet diplomacy.'' Where? Have you heard of such a place?
Mr. Meese says, ''We have improved the unity and solidity of the NATO alliance.'' The day after his statement was printed anti-American demonstrations spread across Western Europe. The one in London was the biggest ever known there.
Mr. Meese says, ''We have been dealing realistically with the Soviets and have actually brought them into arms limitation negotiations.'' Is cancelling the grain embargo while calling the Soviets insulting names ''realistic''? I do not know any diplomat who would call it such.
As for having ''brought them'' to arms control negotiations, the Soviets have favored such negotiations all along. The Reagan administration was pushed by the NATO allies into talks about European theater weapons. They continue to push for resumption of SALT talks which the White House resists. There has been no US initiative toward arms control talks since Mr. Reagan entered the White House.
Where diplomats and foreign policy experts gather the usual view of the world can be summarized as follows:
Unless Washington takes a positive and active hand in world affairs the West European allies will drift away from Washington into neutralism; Israel will repudiate Camp David and head toward another war with the Arabs; India will slide deeper into the Soviet embrace, and China, distrustful of Washington, will reopen talks with Moscow.
Experts see these unfortunate trends as avoidable, but only if Washington consistently pursues a policy of supporting the alliance and positively seeks to improve relations with China, India, the Arab countries, and black Africa.