Courtesy Reuters

Introduction

This is the season of political debate. While a few foreign policy differences have opened between the two parties—for example, on deployment of a strategic defensive system—the debates so far have revolved around personalities more than policies. They have been surprisingly devoid of serious substance. Even the Senate hearings on the INF treaty, which could have provoked a major controversy, have to be called tame. Sharper divisions will presumably appear once the final candidates are chosen.

Meanwhile, a concern over foreign policy that has captured the public mind is being articulated outside the arena of presidential politics, among scholars, commentators and officials looking back on their former responsibilities. There is one general conclusion: with President Reagan’s departure, his particular approach to foreign affairs has clearly run its course, no matter who succeeds him. "The day of the messianic foreign policy . . . is coming to an end, for a while at least" is the way Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., put it in our Winter issue.

What can be said now of the post-Reagan period? For a start, the next several years will be dominated by the legacy of the huge budget deficits and trade imbalances accumulated during the Reagan presidency. We have become badly overextended.

"Our aims may exceed our resources," Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, concluded in this journal. Professor Samuel Huntington of Harvard elaborated on the theme: America’s foreign policy is no longer in balance, he argued in our America and the World 1987/88 issue; a "gap" has developed between our commitments and our capabilities. Consequently, we have to repair our economic position if we are to restore our strategic balance. The question, in short, is whether, and how, the United States can maintain its security commitments and defend its interests in a time of severely constrained economic resources.

Some observers go further and wonder if the problem is solely one of economics. In his widely noted new book analyzing the historical rise and fall of great powers,

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