Courtesy Reuters

The Reagan Crisis: Dreaming Impossible Dreams

For a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back—that’s an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you’re finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory.

—Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

Never mind the inexactitude of the analogy, or the fact that a character of the performing arts may seem to be an odd point of departure for an examination of U.S. foreign policy and the crisis of confidence and competence that began to engulf the Reagan presidency in the fall of 1986, threatening to leave it dead in the water for the next two years. Ronald Reagan, after all, has his own odd point of departure; he is a unique president, the first to make the passage to politics and the presidency from a career in the performing arts.

It is arguable whether, for Mr. Reagan, the world ever ceases to be a stage. Perhaps it doesn’t, and perhaps that is the point; Mr. Reagan’s approach to foreign policy over the years, and his performance in the first six years of his presidency in particular, have defied conventional or orthodox tests and standards applied by foreign policy practitioners, historians and academics. Experts in domestic politics and the American psyche may be the more reliable guides. The criteria for statecraft do not apply when what is being practiced more often than not is stagecraft, when dreaming impossible dreams is seen as something that "comes with the territory."

It is in this sense that Arthur Miller’s salesman, Willy Loman, becomes an appropriate metaphor for Mr. Reagan’s extraordinary mastery of the American

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