The General and Mr. Kissinger

The Egyptian government is currently briefing its own media and foreign correspondents concerning alleged United States pressure on President Sadat to grant "military facilities" which would, in effect, establish an American base on the Red Sea. American overtures in that connection have been made during the last two years, or since it became clear to the Carter administration that US capacity for military operations east of Suez is minimal. This is so given the attitudes of the principal Arab countries in that region toward the US because of its sponsorship of the Camp David policy.

During his recent trip to Egypt, Henry Kissinger let it be inferred that he was speaking for the then US President-elect on that subject, though the incoming administration was careful to explain that the visit of the former secretary of state, and a Mr. Paley of the Columbia Broadcasting System who footed the bill, had no connection with Mr. Reagan's ideas. Mr. Sadat caught on quickly, and so did other leaders in the region: Mr. Kissinger clearly wanted to get into the act. Mr. Sadat stonewalled him on the base issue, and on "the Jordanian option" also, as did both King Hussein of Jordan and Prince Saud al Faisal, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia.

King Hussein would permit no visit by Mr. Kissinger to his country, and, while the Saudis allowed him to enter theirs, they prohibited their news media from mentioning his name or the names of Saudi officials whom he sought to contact. Even the Israelis joined the boycott. For them, as for the Arabs, the Kissinger-Carter "Jordanian option" (an autonomous West Bank federated with Jordan) was a political pork pie -- unappetizing, unedible, and unswallowable.

Taken aback, Mr. Kissinger recanted at the airport in Israel:

"I have gained a clearer understanding than I had before of the role Egypt feels it has a duty to play in the autonomy talks, and that therefore some of the alternative formulations that were being discussed intellectually do not seem to me as self-evident as they appeared previously, so I believe it is important that Egypt plan an important role in the autonomy talks commensurate with its role in the peace process, and that while I continue to favor a Jordanian participation I think it has to be brought into relationship after all with the Egyptian role in these talks so as to avoid complex problems I would have said than I had originally thought."

Kol Israel had a word for this tergiversation. It was, the official Israeli radio announced, an acknowledgement by Mr. Kissinger that he had been "rebuffed" on all sides. When he returned to the United States, Mr. Kissinger had very little to say. The "high officials" to whom he said he would report said nothing. Mr. Paley's organization, which paid for the expedition, said nothing. And Mr. Kissinger's assistants doubted that he would return to the Middle East in the near future.

On the basis of these results, it seems improbable that the Reagan administration will wish to be associated with Mr. Kissinger or will seek his guidance in foreign affairs. The new secretary of state, Alexander Haig, is, above all, a realist who understands the difference between mediators with background and knowledge and those who are products of politics and media hype. Mr. Haig knows that he and his colleagues will be tested before long by our adversaries. He is also aware that as matters stand a long and difficult repair job is required to revive American influence abroad.

Given his own background and training Secretary Haig will probably conclude that he can best meet the challenges that lie ahead by depending on the disciplined foreign service officers now under his immediate command, who are more likely to stay the course than dilettantes and politicians.

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