Why a diplomat is disappointed in Reagan

By , ent, let's get on with the job.Malcolm Toon has served as US ambasador in Czechoslovakia, Israel, Yugoslavia, and, most recently, the USSR.

If I were asked to rate President Reagan's foreign policy and national security performance on a scale of 1 to 10, I'm afraid I could give him no more than a high 3. This may seem to some an unduly harsh judgment, particularly in view of: first, that the mindless attack on the President's life slowed his performance at the very outset of his term; and, second, that when finally on his feet the President understandably assigned top priority to his economic program.

Admittedly, my judgment is subjective: almost my entire adult work experience has been in foreign affairs; and I voted for Reagan not because of his dedication to supply-side economics - which, in fact, causes me a good deal of unease - but because he seemed to offer a sensible and badly needed alternative to the flabby, fatuous approach of the Carter administration to the threat to world peace and stability posed by the dangerously aggressive policies and behavior of the Soviet Union. I feel the Reagan administration has not lived up to its promises, and certainly my expectations. I would fault the President on the following counts:

(1) We continue to confuse friend and foe alike by speaking on vital foreign policy issues in conflicting voices - one of the worst faults of the Carter administration. The early feud between Weinberger and Haig on the neutron bomb, the differences of Lehman and Haig over arms control negotiation, the alarmist statement by a National Security Council staffer on long-term strategy in dealing with the Soviet Union which was subsequently characterized as a subjective view - are just a few examples of the troublesome dichotomy of official views which has plagued the administration in recent months.

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(2) We continue to place politics above policy. The grain embargo was lifted at a time when there was no evidence of improved Soviet behavior or lessened tension in world hotspots that could justify such a move. And that decision is seen by our friends and allies as a proof of our inconstancy and will make it difficult, if not impossible, to agree on concerted political and economic sanctions against the Soviet Union in the event of future brutal moves by the Soviets - for example, against the Poles.

The President's decision on the MX basing mode seems, at least in part, inspired by domestic political considerations and, while the plan does little, and perhaps nothing, to offset the vulnerability of our land-based missile system, its principal weakness from a foreign policy point of view is that it will, on the one hand, strengthen the cause of those in Europe who are determined to prevent the buildup of our theater nuclear forces as an offset to the Soviet SS-20 and the the improved SS-4s and -5s and, on the other hand, be exploited by the Soviets as support for their claims that we are building a first-strike capability.

(3) We fail to see clearly the complications that lie ahead of policy moves and the disastrous consequences that will inevitably ensue if those moves fail. The AWACS mess is a clear case in point. The most junior of foreign service officers could have foreseen the sharp Israeli reaction - always translatable into congressional concern - to the first-time arming of an Arab state (and one with views antipathetical to Israeli concerns) with a weapons system of higher sophistication than any in the Israeli arsenal. I frankly don't know how or on whom to assess the blame for this lack of prescience; I would say simply that what we probably need, and need desperately, is a Kissinger - that is, someone in authority who can see beyond tomorrow at lunch - somewhere in the administration's entourage.

(4) We have yet to reflect in our policy statements and moves a clear understanding of our principal adversary - the Soviet Union - and therefore the nature of the threat we face and must deal with if we are to avoid a world conflagration. We apparently continue to believe that we can be militarily superior to the Soviet Union; as I said on these pages almost a year ago, this is a commendable, but totally unrealistic national goal - simply because the Soviets, after the Cuban missile crisis, decided they will not tolerate being strategically inferior to any power, particularly the United States, just as we should not permit them to be militarily superior to us.

Secondly, our arms control negotiating strategy remains highly simplistic and naive - i.e., that SALT II was ''fatally flawed,'' that before we resume on the strategic level we must have in place superior weapons systems, and we will then be in a position to ram down the Soviet throat an arrangement vastly in our favor. And, in all frankness, the announced views and the proven background of the appointees to whom we have entrusted the responsibility for negotiating arms control arrangements with the Soviet Union are discouraging to those of us who had thought that the rhetoric that we heard during the 1980 campaign would prove to be just that - rhetoric - rather than the philosophical underpinning for our approach to negotiations.

(5) Finally, the trend in diplomatic appointments by this administration - unlike our experience with negotiating strategy - serves to belie the rhetoric we heard during the campaign. Mr. Reagan made it clear in many speeches, on many occasions, that he would insist that our critical diplomatic posts be manned by highly-qualified professionals. It is scarcely reassuring to those concerned Americans who feel strongly that our national interest demands our best in diplomatic skills to note that in a country highly sensitive to slurs by its northern neighbor, we have as ambassador a Hollywood actor; that in a nation now headed by a proud Socialist, we have a banker whose principal qualification for the job seems to be his friendship for that Socialist's predecessor and arch-enemy; that in a nation long buffeted by totally unqualified ambassadors we have as head of mission the heir to a furniture polish dynasty; that in a country where the problems in our relations are primarily political in nature, we have as ambassador a distinguished, if somewhat venerable, economist; that in a country where a smooth relationship requires diplomatic skills and a knowledge of the language, we have as our chief of mission an able lawyer, equally venerable, but without any linguistic talent.

This practice of rewarding friends of the administration and generous contributors to the party with the stewardship of highly sensitive, critical diplomatic posts can only in the long run work against our national interest. We are the only major nation in the world today that clings to the spoils system in diplomacy, and, at the very least, this habit is an anachronism we can ill afford.

Let me end on a positive note. I continue to believe that the President was right in the campaign - and, so far as I can ascertain, this remains a cardinal tenet of his present philosophy - that we must move quickly and decisively to arrest and reverse the decline in our standing as a world power, so that once again we will be respected by our adversaries and trusted as well as respected by our friends and allies. I feel as strongly that this can best be done by strengthening our military posture and by speaking on the issues with a clear, coherent, and consistent voice. We are making notable progress on the former; we have a long way to go on the latter. Mr. Presid

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