ONE of the more distressing things about the Iran-contra affair has been the White House reaction to the testimony of Secretary of State George Shultz before the joint committees. Members of the White House staff called the Shultz testimony ``self-serving.'' One complained that the secretary had been ``more interested in making George Shultz look like George Marshall than making Ronald Reagan look like Harry Truman.'' Another said, ``It's classic George Shultz; a great critic, but no action. If he is so good, then why couldn't he stop it?''
All of that proves one sad thing. It proves that the people who surround Ronald Reagan at the White House have missed the point of what has happened.
The Reagan administration has suffered a paralyzing political accident. The accident arose out of persisting in a foreign policy operation against the advice of those people in government who are best qualified by experience and knowledge to advise the President on foreign policy. They were ``cut out of the loop.'' They were deliberately not informed. The operation was run by amateurs in foreign policy from inside the White House staff, which is itself neither authorized nor equipped to run a foreign policy operation.
The Iran-contra fiasco is precisely what is almost bound to happen when eager and ignorant novices try to run foreign policy.
For three days George Shultz told of his role. He told it with such palpable honesty and accuracy that when he was finished his audience cheered. I have been watching and reporting on Washington since the days of Herbert Hoover. I have watched many a Cabinet officer tell his story to committees of the Congress. I have never seen the members of the Congress more respectful of the man and his integrity.
Whatever they may think at the White House, the fact is that George Shultz has the respect and confidence of the Congress from right to left, Democrats and Republicans alike. Those who criticize his role both during the Iran-contra fiasco and in the hearings belittle themselves by so doing.
The reaction one is entitled to hope for, and even expect, from the White House would be ``Wow, how we blundered. Thanks to George Shultz we can see where we went wrong. At least we know what not to do another time.''
The main thing not to do another time is run a clandestine operation in defiance of the expressed will of the Congress and against the advice of those in the Cabinet best equipped to give good advice.
George Shultz was ``cut out'' of the information loop precisely because, with sound reasons, he disapproved of the operation. He did his best to head it off. His advice was unwanted by the President. The President went ahead on his own using people not qualified by experience in foreign policy.
One of the many disturbing disclosures is that he was being given doctored and distorted information. The first duty of the Central Intelligence Agency is to produce information for the president. To be valuable, it must be totally objective. But the President was being fed from the CIA what he wanted to hear, not what the known facts justified.
Distorted information from the CIA fed the President's desire to rescue the hostages. The execution of the operation was handed over to eager novices in foreign policy. The result was an accident waiting to happen. It happened. The Iranians blew the deal after they had milked it for what they had needed.
It is an indecency for anyone at the White House to put the blame on George Shultz because he failed to stop them from what they were determined to do.
Meanwhile, there is this consolation: With Judge William Webster running the CIA there will be no more distorted information going to the White House. With Frank Carlucci in the foreign policy advising slot there will be no more cutting the State Department and Mr. Shultz ``out of the loop.'' And with Howard Baker as White House chief of staff there will be no more running of foreign policy operations in direct defiance of the Congress.