Moving ahead

IT is time to put the Iran-contra debacle behind us. The congressional hearings are running out of steam.

The drama of possible presidential involvement in outright illegality is ebbing.

Properly, the various investigations must wend their laborious ways. We have seen Lt. Col. Oliver North giving his blinkered and single-minded view of how the nation's foreign policy should be conducted. We have seen Rear Adm. John Poindexter telling comfortably of how he himself assumed awesome presidential responsibilities for decisionmaking. The prosecutors must decide whether there has been obstruction of justice, lying to Congress, conspiracy, or all of these. The courts must decide whether anybody is to go to prison. But if they do, it will likely be a long time before that happens.

We have seen Secretary of State George Shultz displaying that same integrity and good sense about our system that has characterized his tenure in government.

We have seen Attorney General Edwin Meese delicately dancing before Congress's probing questions.

We have not seen, and will not see, former CIA chief William Casey telling all about what he did and knew, which may well be the most significant chapter of all in this sad and tawdry tale.

But the press has not been able to chronicle the fall of Ronald Reagan. We are not going to see a president impeached. There are important things for this President still to achieve, not the least of them a historic nuclear arms reduction pact with the Soviet Union.

In agreeing to sell arms to Iran the President made a terrible error of judgment, which will stand upon his record. In diverting profits to the Nicaraguan contras over the express disapproval of Congress, his aides took a decision that served the President and the country ill.

But it is time to move forward. The contesting duchies and fiefdoms of which Mr. Shultz complained are probably going to remain in the foreign policy mechanism. But some improvements have been made and more are pending.

For example, the National Security Council staff has been purged and redirected, and it would be astonishing if such abuses as took place under the former team would soon recur under the present leadership.

The reporting process to Congress is probably going to be improved.

Thoughtful people are working to rebuild the overall foreign policy partnership between Congress and the White House.

Some review is also needed of where to draw the line between legitimate congressional oversight and micro-management by Congress of foreign policy.

In its lurching, ponderous way, the American constitutional system has once again proved durable and effective. It was frustration with that system that caused some men in the White House to take the law into their own hands. But the system has prevailed once again and tamed the arrogance that overtakes some when they walk through the portals of the White House.

The need now is for sensible public perception of where America stands. Yes, there are those among our government officials who have proved disappointing. Yes, the Gary Hart affair has shown us that politicians sometimes disappoint, too. Yes, there are stockbrokers who break the law. Yes, there are television preachers who abuse the public confidence.

But the entire country is not off the rails. There are lots of decent men and women in office, and in leading positions in their professions. There are lots of good works being done in various communities. Genuine patriotism and respect for the law abounds.

So the system in this remarkable American society is working. The rascals are being rooted out, the follies exposed.

Skepticism is permissible. Reform is welcome. But there is no need for cynicism. It is time to move ahead.

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