Reagan Europe trip: danger to alliance -- or opportunity?
Somehow Vietnam war jargon seems the most appropriate. America's drive to ''win the hearts and minds'' of West Germans - and West Germany's obverse drive to win American hearts and minds -- is going into top gear between now and President Reagan's June visit.
In the view of some responsible West German officials and journalists, the visit presents two possible scenarios: The first is catastrophe; the second - which they devoutly hope for -- is averting catastrophe.
West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who initiated the Reagan visit, would add a third, rosier scenario: success in reconfirming the US-West German alliance. And the conservative opposition here would add a quite contrary fourth scenario: success in persuading Reagan that his only friends in West Germany are the conservatives and that Social Democratic Chancellor Schmidt should therefore be helped out of office by an American cold shoulder.
All in all, it adds up to a high-risk situation for Reagan, for Schmidt, and for the entire NATO alliance.
In brief, the disaster scenario runs like this: Reagan provides just the focus that the anti-establishment left here needs to unite its motley factions. The elements of what until now has been largely anti-Reaganism get cemented into real and enduring anti-Americanism. Massive, possibly violent, demonstrations against Reagan in West Berlin -- the West Berlin of the heroic allied airlift and the notorious East German wall! -- shock the American TV public. An American groundswell against the German ingrates leads to quick congressional approval of Alaskan Sen. Ted Stevens' proposal to pull US troops out of Europe. The Soviet Union wins blackmail powers over a weakened West Europe without ever firing a shot.
Concern about such a nightmare is rooted in the image that Reagan has acquired among the younger generation in West Germany and indeed throughout northern Europe. In the view of many young teachers, journalists, and other professionals, and university and school students, Reagan is a demonic figure with shoot-from-the-hip reactions.
He is seen as a bellicose cold warrior intent on adding more nuclear arms to the world's insane overkill, a friend of Latin American ''butchers,'' a wealthy man who is heartless about the plight of 10 million unemployed Americans. His campaign rhetoric about seeking American nuclear superiority and his consideration of nuclear missile exchanges are taken seriously -- and feared.
A few examples suffice to illustrate this phenomenon. A Freiburg grammar school class is completely hostile to Reagan when a German reporter from Washington comes to talk to it. A West Berlin youth magazine publishes a scatological cartoon of Reagan likening his attitude toward communists to that of Hitler toward Jews.
A young Dutchman on a train politely tells an American journalist, ''I think Reagan is the most dangerous man in the world.'' An older Dutch journalist who regards the thriving Dutch antinuclear (and anti-American) movement itself as dangerous, says of Reagan, ironically, ''He's a big help to the peace movement, no doubt about it.''
So helpful to European leftists is the negative youth image of Reagan that some West German activists are overjoyed by the President's planned visit and are working overtime preparing demonstrations against him.
One university student summed up the anticipation of some of her leftist acquaintances by saying they regard West Berlin as the perfect place ''to kill the godfather Kennedy'' -- a reference to smashing the pro-American image established there by President Kennedy when he made his famous post-Berlin Wall pledge, ''Ich bin ein Berliner.''These acquaintances, the student suggested, intend their protests to say to Reagan: You are not a Berliner; you are not a European; you are not one of us; you don't belong here.
Not all the antinuclear activists feel this spite, by any means. But the Reagan visit is seen as the perfect ploy for those who do want to fan the current chic mistrust of Reagan among students and young graduates into an enduring mistrust of the US.
This is all the more true, since the Christian moderates who guided Bonn's huge peace demonstration last October have bowed out of participation in the June demonstrations precisely because they didn't want the protests to turn into an anti-American exhibition. That has left the field to anti-American nuclear groups eager to accuse the American superpower and excuse the Soviet superpower.
So one-sided were the slogans adopted at the April organizing meeting for the June demonstration in Bonn that even the very tolerant environmentalist Green Party called a press conference to object publicly to communist manipulation of the meeting.
This manipulation was evidenced, the Greens charged, in: the assembly's refusal to support or even mention the spontaneous peace movement in East Germany that has now been banned by the East German authorities; its willingness to condone violence at the Bonn demonstration; and its slogans condemning ''the Reagan administration's attempt to gain worldwide hegemony'' and US involvement in Central America and southern Africa, while only echoing Soviet phraseology on Afghanistan and Poland.
All this ensures that the June demonstrations will be anti-American in tone. But it does not ensure that the organizers will be able to rally their various factions to turn out as many demonstrators as last October's 250,000.
Nor does it ensure that they will be able to turn the instincts of the 45 percent of under 32-year-olds who prefer neutrality over alliance with the US as against 40 percent who prefer the US alliance (Allensbach public opinion poll, May, 1981), to real policy advantage.
Nor does it ensure that they will be able to forge the anti-American cause into the one burning issue that will unite disparate environmentalist, anti-nuclear-power, squatters, anti-military ceremony, and other protesters.
In large part the success of anti-American demonstrators in spreading their views may depend on what ammunition Reagan gives them while he is here. Vintage Reagan anti-communist rhetoric would help them the most in affixing the warmonger image to the US President. A display of the famous Reagan geniality in conjunction with this would reinforce the stereotype of Reagan complacency about the nuclear fate of mankind.
On the impact of the Reagan visit on the other side of the Atlantic, some West German officials worry that even under the best of circumstances American TV news viewers may be more impressed by Molotov cocktails than by Schmidt-Reagan handshakes.
They are especially concerned about the chance that any American grass-roots revulsion against West Germany would give to those Reagan administration hard-liners who mistrust the Germans, resent Bonn's constant pressure for a more peaceable Reagan image, and view the Reagan visit as a kind of final examination of West Germany's loyalty to Reagan and therefore to America.
Under the second possible scenario for Reagan's German visit -- one that a number of American and West German diplomats hope for -- Reagan would succeed in disarming his young West German opponents by confounding their stereotype of him. This might be done, for example, by a Reagan speech in the Bundestag picking up some of the themes of his Nov. 18 peace speech -- perhaps in outlining a comprehensive view of cooperation as well as conflict in East-West relations.
This could reassure older Germans -- who are strongly pro-American but at the same time profoundly fear nuclear war - that the Americans are responsible in their exercise of their unique superpower position. Such a Reagan performance might even, diplomats hope, persuade some of the less ideological members of the West German peace movement that the US is in fact humane and can be responsive to the nuclear angst of the 1980s.
Even this second scenario of simply averting disaster seems to be too gloomy to some American diplomats, and apparently to Schmidt and Genscher themselves. It was Genscher, American and German sources say, who insisted that Reagan visit West Berlin, seemingly without considering it a gamble against the protests of the strong counterculture there. And Schmidt regards his relationship with Reagan as a good one, able to withstand the vicissitudes of minority public opinion.
In large part, American diplomats and some top Bonn officials base their hopes for the third scenario -- a genuine reaffirmation of the US-West German alliance -- on a reassertion of the overwhelming pro-American feeling of West Germany's silent majority. Poll after poll shows this support. And there is considerable unhappiness here over the fact that this very stable attitude of older West Germans is so little reported in the US.
In the latest example, Newsweek published a poll in its international edition in March showing that 73 percent of West Germans have a favorable opinion of the US, as against only 55 percent in France and 46 percent in Britain. The poll was omitted from Newsweek's US edition, however.
The fourth scenario -- convincing Reagan that the pro-American conservatives are his only hope here -- is being promoted by a conservative pro-Reagan demonstration in Bonn the week before the President arrives. The opposition conservatives aim to get 100,000 out on the streets in favor of America, of new NATO nuclear missiles, and of tough rhetoric toward the Soviet Union.
Some West German diplomats worry that the fourth scenario might in fact come true - and destroy West Germany's hitherto bipartisan foreign policy by spreading the anti-Reagan feeling of Young Socialists throughout a Social Democratic Party embittered by any Reagan role in its losing the chancellory.