It was foreign policy week for Michael Dukakis: three major speeches and a tank ride. The ride was not well received. The consensus was that the Duke looked like Snoopy. The speeches were given a better reception - mixed, to be sure, but still unduly generous.
In Chicago, Dukakis finally unveiled his Soviet policy. Yes, he will build on Reagan's successes. But he will "challenge" the Russians to do more. Such as: join with us to conquer AIDS, reduces nukes, "advance the cause of peace," eliminate their advantage in tanks and artillery, evacuate Eastern Europe, "admit the tragedy at Katyn" (Tragedy? It was mass murder), prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and missiles, "reject terrorism," and permit freedom of religion and free emigration. This is only a sample, but you get the idea.How swell it would be if Gorbachev accepted. Unfortunately, he won't. The notion of "challenge" is not just naive. It is based on a misunderstanding of recent history. Reagan's successes, which Dukakis is quick to applaud, happened not because he challenged the Russians to be nice but because he forced them to give in.
Reagan didn't just challenge the Russians to remove their SS-20s from Europe. He deployed Pershing and cruise missiles that could hit Soviet soil. After mulling that over, the Soviets decided to accept Reagan's challenge and remove all intermediate-range systems, SS-20s included.
Reagan didn't challenge the Soviets to get out of Afghanistan. He flooded the mujahadeen with arms. The Soviets subsequently accepted the challenge to disinvade Afghanistan.
In one area - Nicaragua - Reagan was ultimately denied the tools for challenging the Soviets. It is no accident that Nicaragua is also the one place where Gorbachev has remained contrary. He shows no signs of accepting the "challenge" to get out of Central America.
Not that he has not been asked. After Congress cut off aid to the contras in February, Costa Rican President Arias sent a letter to Gorbachev asking that he now stop sending arms to his clients in Central America. Gorbachev's answer was contemptuous. He did not even deign to reply directly. In an unsigned note delivered by the Soviet ambassador, he denied that he was supplying the Salvadoran guerrillas and said he would consider stopping aid to the Sandinistas when the United States cut off aid to all the governments of Central America!
Dukakis' Nicaragua policy is to promise to ask again, nicely: "I will challenge Mr. Gorbachev . . . to heed the pleas of President Arias and cease the shipment of arms to the government of Nicaragua." Heed the pleas, indeed.
Dukakis ended each of his three major foreign-policy speeches with a recitation of John Kennedy's inaugural pledge to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend (and) oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty" - the most expansive, open-ended statement ever of America's commitments abroad, the beginning of Kennedy's road into Vietnam. Is Dukakis serious? Nobody believes that any more. Democrats don't, whether they are Kennedy or Henry Jackson or Jesse Jackson Democrats. Liberals don't. Conservatives don't.
Not even the most ideologically anti-Soviet foreign policy argues for Kennedy's "global containment." The hardest of hard-liners argue for "selective containment," under which the United States picks and chooses where to oppose Soviet expansionism rather than blindly bears the burden and accepts Soviet terms of engagement everywhere.
Dukakis has spent a year on the campaign trail talking about America's relative decline. He has criticized such American exercises "to assure the success of liberty" as the invasion of Grenada, the bombing of Libya and the naval deployment in the Persian Gulf. He insists that before America act it consult the Western allies in committee. Yet now, seven weeks before the election, he solemnly repeats the most radical statement of American interventionism ever made. And he has the chutzpah to complain that the other guy is campaigning cynically.
Cynicism is not the worst of it. On Sept. 8, during a single press conference, Dukakis made the following two statements about "Star Wars." Dukakis: "If I made the judgment and if the Congress made the judgment that it (Star Wars) was essential to our national security, then obviously we'd proceed with it." So you might deploy? Dukakis: "Well, obviously we're not going to test and deploy if it's a violation of the treaty."
The problem with these answers is not just that they are confused. And not simply that they are mutually contradictory. (A subsequent Dukakis position paper states, correctly, that deployment is a violation of the ABM treaty, so how could he deploy?) Anyone can be confused and self-contradictory. But it takes a man of unusual smugness and self-righteousness to append the word "obviously" to both halves of his contradictions.
Fourth, and most important, let's have no euphoria, no discussion about hostages, and no moralizing. Iran is no less odious a place today than it was the day before Iraq started poisoning the Kurds. It is only more useful.