President Reagan won his office in part because he convinced the electorate that the Soviets had hoodwinked all Administrations of the last decade. He proposed to reverse the unfavorable trend of U.S.-Soviet power relations and, quite simply, to "stand up to the Russians." For the last two years, the Reagan Administration has been trying to translate into policy the basic ideas its members brought into office. To an unprecedented degree, these basic ideas have remained unchanged despite pressures that inevitably drive every President facing the realities of domestic and international politics toward the pragmatic center. Despite various adjustments and adaptations, both the domestic and foreign policies of the Reagan Administration, like the Reagan campaign, continue to display the characteristics of an ideological crusade.
In foreign policy President Reagan has subordinated almost all decisions to the East-West conflict as the central axis of American international concerns. Yet after almost two years in office, his conduct toward the Soviet Union is guided less by a comprehensive and consistent long-range policy than by a general ideological orientation tied to several concrete and controversial elements of policy. The result of this approach, at least in the near term, has been a sharp worsening of U.S.-Soviet relations to a level of serious new confrontation and mutual suspicion.
If the patently deteriorating relations between the two superpowers are not to continue their drift toward a new cold war, their premises and priorities must be subjected to a clear and thorough-going reconsideration. Such a reexamination is particularly timely not only because the death of Leonid Brezhnev presents new uncertainties about the direction of Soviet foreign policy, but, even more important, because circumstances today generate pressures both internally and externally for the two nations to alter their present course.
As a contribution, then, to the general discussion that engages the political community in both the United States and the Soviet Union, this article will pursue four themes: how the Soviets perceive American policy toward the
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