President Eisenhower's modern version of the Tale of the Arabian Nights, while mercifully only 19 days long, bears all too unfortunate resemblance to the original. At a time when the West is in vital need of specific policies and concrete leadership, he is playing the role of Scheherazade, spinning fanciful words in the hope that if the West can only keep talking long enough the essential problems will be somehow eroded away in a new spirit of Geneva, or Camp David, or perhaps Kabul. Khrushchev's memory, however, is likely to be better than that of the Sultan Schahriar.
Recognizing that, in James Reston's words, "Eisenhower's trip abroad is not a policy but a performance in lieu of a policy" there is still much that can be gained by the venture. While the President can not hope to match the performance put on in 1956 by the traveling sideshows of B. and K., he can conceivably alter the common image of a faltering and indecisive U.S., which seems to have permeated the East recently. Indeed the mere visit of the President on his Grand Tour through the countries of Asia is to them heartening evidence of American interest in their problems.
The problems in these countries, from Iran through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India, are of widely differing character. It is totally unrealistic to suppose that the brief stop of the President and 100 accompanying reporters is going to produce any dramatic change in the relations of these countries and the U.S., nor even much greater understanding on the part of these underdeveloped and nationalistic countries of the meaning of the "American way of life." What can and hopefully will occur is a greater realization and understanding of the problems these countries face; from their relations with China to the centralistic tendencies of their economies to the overriding fact of their poverty.
While it is apparent what might be accomplished by Ike's Grand Tour through Asia his attempt to pursue the same approach in Europe reveals the failure of his administration to come to gripes with the concrete problems of western alliance. Le grande de Gaulle is unlikely to be swayed by Ike's folksiness. Nor does the "new Eisenhower" seem much more likely than the old Ike to restore unity within the alliance over the timing of a summit conference, the solution to the problem of Germany, or the developing clash between the inner six and the outer seven, for although the willingness to travel may be new the policies are still the same.
It may be true, of course, that time is on the side of the West. After all Scheherzade did save her life by merely talking. But then that was just a fairy tale.