Washington — Only a few weeks ago, some officials were saying that an overly ambitious Secretary of State Alexander Haig might not last in his job past June. Now Mr. Haig seems to have bounced back. President Reagan praised his recent performance in Europe. Haig clearly loves his job and wants to stick with it.
The story going around Washington is that the resilient secretary of state owes his comeback to the fact that he has learned two new words: "President Reagan." He says them often these days.
the story is told jokingly, but it may be true up to a point. Haig is showing himself to be more of a team player than he appeared to be earlier. He makes clear that he is not getting out ahead of President Reagan or his aides in foreign policy. Haig's theme: This is a president who knows where he is going in foreign policy. I may disagree with some of the decisions he has made -- on the timing of the lifting of the grain embargo and proposal for the sale of radar planes to Saudi Arabia -- but the President hsa to take into account a wider range of considerations than I do. Once he makes such a decision, I support him.
Only a few weeks ago, Haig seemed to be moving too hard and too fast to establish his primacy in foreign policy. He offended some of the President's closest aides, and they counterattacked. Through leaks to the press, they made it clear that Haig was getting out of line. Before long, everyone agreed that Haig was in trouble.
Meanwhile, however, everyone has had a chance to stop and think. The White House staff, and the President himself, seemed to realize that the sniping at Haig was creating the impression that the administration's supposedly tough and consistent foreign policy was actually in disarray. From the White House point of view, Haig did well in his recent meetings with the allied nations in Rome. Haig has suffered several defeats in internal debate, but he is taking them graciously. He also has won on a few decisions, most notable among them the administration's determination to go ahead with a "two-track" approach to the Soviets. It entails offering to negotiate arms control with the Soviets while sticking to the plan to install new nuclear weapons in Western Europe.
None of this means that all of Haig's problems with the White House are over.
As one well-placed State Department officials puts it: "I never thought Haig was down as much as people said he was. And I don't think he's up as much as they're starting to say he is now."
But in the way the Washington consensus sometimes works -- through a kind of instant analysis and osmosis -- Haig's reputation had been harmed for a while to the point where it might have affected his ability to operate here and abroad. According to earlier reports, he had threatened to resign more than once. Haig now gives visitors the impression that while he drives himself hard, he is greatly enjoying his job.
Haig is not a man whose strong suit is philosophy or strategic overviews. But he is beginning to develop in his public statements a humber of overarching concepts with which he, and apparently Reagan as well, can feel comfortable. This has emerged in statements the secretary made on Soviet strengths and weaknesses in a May 9 speech at Syracuse University and in an interview to appear May 10 in U.S. News & World Report magazine.
Haig told U.S. News that the Soviet Union "shows clear signs of historic decline," and he repeated that theme at Syracuse. The Soviets, he said, are even more dangerous because of this.
"Historically, there frequently has been a temptation to seek to ameliorate the consequences of internal problems through foreign diversions, especially when you have a military advantage," Haig told U.S. News.
The secretary of state also took the occasion to talk about Reagan: "The President knows precisely what he wants to do and where he wants to go in foreign affairs. I have served at fairly high levels in five administrations and I've never observed the philosophical compatibility that exists this administration. Not only do we know where we want to go, but we have already begun to go there."
That does not sound like a secretary of state who is threatening to resign.