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Foreign Affairs Anthology Series

Essays for the Presidency

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Reagan in Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1982.
Foreign Affairs From The Anthology: Essays for the Presidency
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The First Term: Four More Years: Diplomacy Restored?

Nineteen hundred and eighty-five begins as a year of promise in world affairs. The Soviet Union has returned to the bargaining table with the United States after a year's hiatus. The Middle East is relatively quiet despite the violence in Lebanon. The situation in Central America is unhappy but seemingly stalemated. Nowhere are American forces engaged in combat. No catastrophes hover over President Reagan as he begins his second term.

Nineteen hundred and eighty-four marked a passage of sorts for the Reagan Administration. After three years of stifling rhetoric and inaction, the White House and the State Department returned to more traditional diplomatic forms—moderate words that allow for compromise, and actual engagement with adversaries previously shunned. Of equal importance, President Reagan and Secretary of State Shultz assert that the Administration has restored America's position and power in the world, and that on this basis they are ready to pursue diplomatic ends.

As always, however, the picture is decidedly mixed. On the plus side, Mr. Reagan has generally succeeded in generating positive perceptions of the United States, of a nation on the move while its chief adversary is in decline. For the most part, nations are treating the Reagan Administration with respect and looking to it for leadership.

Uncertain still is how much the Administration has actually improved American military and economic power. Upon closer inspection, America's gains in these categories over the past four years may turn out to be less impressive and enduring than they are commonly portrayed. Likely, they fall far short of the position of strength the Administration may feel it requires in order to compel others to bend toward American desires. And on the negative side, the Administration will find that the world it now wants to engage presents a frozen diplomatic landscape. This is due in part to the lack of Reagan diplomatic accomplishments and in part just to the way the world is, filled with enduring animosities and real conflicts of interest, and with

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