The Conduct of American Foreign Policy: Ronald Reagan's Watershed Year?

Courtesy Reuters

On June 25, 1982, halfway through the second year of President Reagan's term, the most effective Treasury Secretary of the 1970s (and now a regular golf partner of the present one) was brought in from the fairways to succeed Alexander Haig as Secretary of State. Seen from Europe, that event has the makings of being a watershed in this presidential term.

Until the President's switch of secretaries, the river of American foreign policy had seemed, often, to be divided into rivulets-and flowing uphill at that. The arrival of Mr. George Shultz, however, was to give an impression-which only the coming year or two will fully test-of some cohesion. It clearly contributed by December to the settlement of the pipeline dispute between America and its four largest European allies (if not yet of the East-West trade issues underlying it); and in the Middle East to the start of a possible peace process (if not yet of anything resembling peace). Judgment on the military and political relationship with Russia-the decisive element in any assessment of Mr. Reagan's foreign policy-has to remain in abeyance; but even here there were some signs by the end of 1982 of a less heady, less inconsistent attitude inside the Administration toward what needed to be done.

On the economic front, the change at State also happened to precede by only weeks the first public awareness of Mexico's financial catastrophe, which in turn has the makings, along with the troubles of Argentina, Brazil, Romania, Poland and others, of being the true decision point for the future of the world's economy. Since these twin events-a new man, a new crisis-there have been progressive signs that real and fully coordinated foreign policymaking might, almost for the first time since the Nixon-Ford years, take place in Washington.

At other times, under some other presidents, the story to be told after two years of office would be about how this particular Administration, after its first year of settling in, had started to give its particular answers

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