Courtesy Reuters

American Policy: The Luck of the President

Asked what kind of generals he preferred to have leading his armies, Napoleon is said to have replied "lucky ones." Ronald Reagan has been a lucky president, especially in relations with the rest of the world.

During the five years of his stewardship American foreign policy has been largely successful. One test of success for any sovereign state is the level of its power and prestige, its general standing in the international community. America’s standing has improved since 1981. Another important measure of success is the avoidance of war; this, too, Mr. Reagan has managed. The interest of a great power committed to the international status quo, like the United States, is served by averting geopolitical setbacks. On this score as well, Mr. Reagan’s record is a good one. There has been no Vietnam or Iran during the past five years. By these standards, the President has conducted what is perhaps the most successful American foreign policy of the last 25 years.

The success that the United States has enjoyed since 1981 has been due in large part to circumstances having little direct connection with the efforts of the Reagan Administration. It has been the result of forces and trends outside the control of the United States and of measures undertaken by others and occasionally even opposed by Mr. Reagan. He owes his success abroad at least as much to good fortune as to good policies.

II

America’s chief adversary has been disadvantaged in its leadership for most of Mr. Reagan’s term of office. Until Mikhail Gorbachev’s assumption of power in March 1985, the leaders of the Soviet Union were in poor health and unable to exercise decisive leadership for all but a few months of Mr. Reagan’s presidency. At the same time, the Soviet Union has been in the grip of a severe economic downturn, limiting to some degree its taste for contesting American interests abroad. The first half of the 1980s also turned out to be a

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