"This man has a nice smile, but he has got iron teeth." Coming from the notoriously dour Andrei Gromyko, it was a revealing endorsement. To combat the image of decrepitude generated by a succession of Red Square funerals, the Kremlin knew it needed someone youthful and vigorous, To compete effectively in the arena of international public opinion, and particularly to vie with Ronald Reagan, it required its own Great Communicator, with a commanding presence on the podium, strong eye contact at the bargaining table, and a nice smile for the camera. That man was Mikhail Gorbachev, 54, the youngest member of the Politburo.
He wasted no time in setting a tone of can-do urgency. Shortly after assuming office, Gorbachev declared a crack-down on alcoholism. As if to underscore the contrast with his aged and often invisible predecessors, he traveled widely, exchanging his fedora for a hard hat to inspect factories and showing off his stylish First Lady Raisa abroad. Gorbachev also moved quickly to consolidate his personal power. His principal rival for the top job, Grigori Romanov, suffered the indignity of sudden retirement. After 28 years as Foreign Minister, Gromyko was kicked upstairs, to the largely ceremonial position of President. And last week Viktor Grishin, a longtime associate of Leonid Brezhnev, was eased out as Moscow party boss.
Scathing in his criticism of inefficiencies in the Soviet economy, Gorbachev made preliminary moves toward streamlining the bloated bureaucracy. But he stopped well short of decentralization and the introduction of free-market mechanisms. Such bold measures would inevitably weaken the party's absolute power, and nothing that Gorbachev has done or said suggests he is willing to run that risk.
Similarly, in dealing with the outside world, Gorbachev seemed bent not on introducing new policies so much as trying to make more palatable the ones he inherited. At his Geneva summit meeting with Reagan, he proved himself an able spokesman for a depressingly familiar set of attitudes, objectives and one-sided demands. The U.S.S.R. might withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, but only if that country remained under Soviet control; the U.S. must ultimately remove all its intermediate-range missiles from Western Europe, even though the Soviets dominate that category; Washington must cancel Star Wars despite a huge Soviet buildup in both offense and defense.
More generally, Gorbachev made clear that whatever his ambitions to improve the Soviet economy and the country's image abroad, he is determined to compete ruthlessly with the U.S. on every front and to keep Soviet military might at a level where the U.S.S.R. feels secure, and therefore where much of the rest of the world feels insecure. As the most powerful newcomer to the world stage, Gorbachev had numerous occasions to flash his nice smile, but those iron teeth were always showing. --By Strobe Talbott