EVER SINCE former soldier Alexander M. Haig Jr. said he wanted to be a "vicar" as a diplomat, Washington has not treated him kindly. As most people saw it, he was a brusque, imperious swell-headed general who would never make a good team member, unless of course, he was the star--and coach. After a few comments about "hit lists" and "authoritarian" versus "totalitarian" regimes, he met with a shower of ridicule and abuse. And in the wake of the Reagan shooting, when he seemed to be wearing his presidential aspirations right there on his sleeve--in place of his military stripes--the rage of Washington began to look more and more like a soon-to-be-out rage.
Now, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that people might have listened to Haig a little more closely. Haig's desire to establish himself as primus inter pares of the Reagan administration's foreign policy transcended ego considerations. Instead he had touched a rotten nerve of this administration's foreign policy: there is a palpable and immediate need for a strong Secretary of State.
Observers of the American presidency have noted that since 1945, presidents have handled foreign policy decision-making in either of two ways. Some presidents--Kennedy, for example--have taken an active interest in foreign policy and become in effect, their own Secretaries of State. The second way presidents have used is allowing their Secretaries of State considerable leeway in managing foreign affairs. The Eisenhower administration, when Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had a virtual green light to carry out this country's international relations, illustrates this method.
The present administration subscribes to neither of these patterns. The president has no discernable interest in foreign affairs and has assigned it a low priority on his administration's agenda. Earlier this year, he downgraded the National Security Council (NSC) from a policy-making body to a deliberative one. These two factors cancel the White House out of assuming the leadership in conducting foreign policy.
Naturally, then, it seems the Secretary of State as the President's chief foreign policy appointee would assume control of foreign policy. This is what Haig has sought to do since his appointment; it is perplexing as to why most people cast him as a villain for doing so--the problems with the administration's foreign policy are the president's fault and not Haig's. Indeed, he is more victim than instigator. A former career military man, Haig is accustomed to taking orders from higher-ups. With no policy guidelines, he must naturally endeavor to initiate them. In doing so he has often been contradicted by other senior advisors or Cabinet officials such as National Security Advisor, Richard V. Allen, or Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger Jr. '38. Part of the reason many Haig policy pronouncements have been so controversial is that he has continually sought to keep from being upstaged by Allen and Weinberger.
PERCEPTIONS ARE so important to diplomacy that it is essential to articulate clearly a national foreign policy. This means that President Reagan must end the intense bureaucratic infighting that currently, mars his foreign policy and endorse Haig's bid to establish himself as America's foreign policy architect. The man's experience and practical knowledge of diplomacy renders him exceedingly well-qualified to take charge of conducting foreign policy. It is a mistake to equate Haig with some of the extremist attitudes this administration has voiced. To the contrary, Haig has been a moderating influence on the administration's rigid ideologues. It was Haig who convinced Reagan to attend the North-South summit held recently, demonstrating U.S. acknowledgement of the concerns of underdeveloped states; Haig who played a useful role in moderating the administration's position towards China, realizing that for all its symbolic value, Taiwan is not a world power.
Haig also commands international respect. After entering the higher level foreign policy apparatus as an aide to former Secretary of State Henry. A Kissinger '50, he served as commander of NATO forces. To those who would have Haig replaced, one might suggest the words of the Austrian statesman, Prince Metternich, who once said, "An intelligent man can make up the lack of everything except experience." At a time when the question of nuclear weapons deployment on European soil threatens the alliance as never before, the respect Haig commands among European leaders may prove invaluable. But this potentially tremendous influence can be substantially diminished if foreign leaders question the American president's trust in his chief envoy.
Unfortunately, the world will not wait while the American president shores up his foreign policy. As events take their toll in the Middle East and other trouble spots around the globe, the U.S. response will be marked by confusion and ambivalence. The Reagan administration will thus have to play catch-up when it finally struggles to its feet.
One of the current Washington rumors has a major shakeup in the foreign policy apparatus in the near future. In a town that has not been receptive to Haig in the past, this news does not bode well. Certainly he could be replaced by another man with comparable qualities. But a change in personnel is rarely desirable and may even set back the administration as it confronts its may foreign policy problems. Instead, if the president is wise and if American is to gain, Alexander Haig will remain Secretary of State.
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