The American public is willing to experiment with winding down the cold war. But this "new thinking" in America differs in at least one important respect from Mikhail Gorbachev’s "new thinking" about Soviet-American relations. Gorbachev seems to want to make changes swiftly. Americans insist upon proceeding cautiously, testing Soviet good faith at each step. The average American wants to explore new possibilities but cannot easily brush aside forty years of hostility and mistrust. The attitudes of the American public have been tempered by disappointment with the détente of the 1970s. The public feels that the Soviets took advantage of the United States, and does not want to be "tricked" again.
Without sensitive management of the superpower relationship from both sides, a disjunction could open up between these differing tempos that could create difficulties for years to come. No new American administration, Republican or Democratic, will want to nor can afford to move more rapidly than the American public. But public attitudes are shifting too. Despite ambivalences, a striking pattern of change in public attitudes is radically altering the boundaries within which U.S.-Soviet policies can be shaped in the next few years.
The current attitude of Americans toward the Soviet Union is different from anything we have seen in forty years. It is not the troubled mood of recent years, of worry about nuclear war. It is not the mood of the beginning of this decade, when Americans assertively endorsed a strong military buildup. It is not the mood of the early 1970s, when Americans were overly optimistic about the possibilities of détente. Nor is it the cold war mood of the 1950s and early 1960s. The majority of Americans are now interested in neither a further military buildup nor instant friendship.
The current mood can be characterized as a wary readiness. It is readiness of a special kind: distinctly hopeful yet cautious. The public is hopeful that far-reaching change—perhaps even historic, fundamental change—in
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