As Richard Kessler's article (Opinion, Nov. 10), "Reagan Must Make Clear: Marcos Goes," illustrates, American foreign policy continues to gravitate toward either of two extremes: activism (with its internationalist/interventionist baggage) and isolationism (with its overtones of autarky). As history shows, both extremes are a prescription for disaster.
Unbridled activism in our foreign policy led us to Vietnam. Well before that, in the interwar period, the United States experimented with isolationism, both economic and political. Among other blunders, we ignored Hitler and his fascist partners--and paid the consequences.
Now Kessler would have us return to the foreign policy activism of yesteryear. An often discredited adventuristic policy, I might add. If we follow Kessler's arguments to their logical conclusion, we will not hesitate to play to the hilt our role as self-appointed guardian of the world's morals. When a world leader--Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines in this case--does not jump to do our bidding or fails to live up to our moral standards, we cavalierly dump him, or worse.
Is it too much to suggest that forcing our morals or our political philosophy on other countries is chauvinistic and arrogant? It is also naked intervention. Surely the record shows us that we are clumsy and inept when we try to outdo Machiavelli. We removed Ngo Dinh Diem, but that didn't help us in Vietnam. And what did we get after we greased the skids under the Shah of Iran? Anastasio Somoza is gone in Nicaragua, with a little help from his friends, but what have we really accomplished for U.S. national interests? And the great reformers in our midst are still clamoring for the head of Augusto Pinochet and Pieter Botha.
To the extent that our foreign policy is a reflection of the domestic scene, it is not hard to imagine what would happen if our behavior toward other nations and their leaders were to be freely conditioned by the various crazies at either end of our political spectrum.
This supranational gendarme (and avowed bastion of democracy) would have to double its military budget before it could effectively undertake to clean the international house of all variously perceived rogues and scoundrels. That we would have a virtually perpetual state of conflict--if not full war--on our hands with a dozen foreign states at any given time goes without saying.
And shoving "new elections" down the throats of foreign leaders is perhaps just as misguided and just as naive as our posture of kingmakers. Most countries on this planet are still light years away from acquiring the political sophistication and maturity necessary to participation in a truly democratic process. Democratic political systems are still the exception rather than the rule. In these countries, power inheres in privileged or otherwise entrenched groups. In any event, such is the world and it is not only folly but hazardous to seek to remake it in our own image.
Yes, there is room for legitimate activism in foreign policy. (We can't afford a purely reactive foreign policy). And there are times when it is absolutely necessary. But it must be applied prudently and in concert with trusted allies. In any event, playing musical chairs with foreign national leaders when the mood serves certain domestic political groups with axes to grind is not the kind of international conduct one should expect of the world's most powerful democracy.