FROM THE ANTHOLOGY: Essays for the Presidency

The 1988 Election: U.S. Foreign Policy at a Watershed

Bush and Dukakis debate, 1988.

As we approach the 1988 election, we may be at the end of an era in American foreign policy. Since World War II the driving force behind our policy has been anticommunism, accompanied by containment of the Soviet Union with an ever more costly arms outlay. For more than four decades this policy has rested on the assumption of a bipolar world dominated by Washington and Moscow. New realities now demand fundamentally different policies if the United States is to remain an effective power.

This is not to suggest that communism is more acceptable today than it was forty years ago. Indeed, even the major communist states—the Soviet Union and China—are turning away from once accepted practices of communism. Without argument, the United States must maintain a sound national defense. But so clearly is communism neither the wave of the future nor the major challenge to American security that our anticommunist orientation has become irrelevant and obsolete. The two major powers—Washington and Moscow—are alike in this regard: they share an urgent need for new policies and priorities at home and abroad. Both must understand that the criteria of power and influence in the world are changing.

Ronald Reagan may represent the end of the line for the bipartisan cold war policy. The president seems to have taken, at least until recently, the most anachronistic aspects of that policy—an excessive reliance on arms, an obsessive anticommunism and an imperial, unilateral behavior at odds with our constitutional democracy—and carried them to the breaking point. However inadvertently, the Reagan Administration has dramatized the inadequacy of policies no longer relevant to the real world. Mr. Reagan has believed he was presiding over "morning in America"; we are about to experience the "morning after."

Unfortunately, the Reagan presidency has taken its toll also on the intellectual and political acuity of the party in opposition. If the ambivalent foreign policy actions of Congress and early presidential campaign performances are indicative, the Administration’

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