President Carter's choice of Sen. Edmund S. Muskie (D) of Maine --state ensures that the State Department will continue to wield considerable clout in foreign policy decisions.
The message which the surprise appointment seems to send both to a concerned US Congress and to American allies overseas in the wake of Secretry Cyrus Vance's resignation is that American foreign policy is not about to swing suddenly to a more militant, confrontational approach. Senator Muskie is a man with a reputation for restraint in military spending. And he has spoken out in the past against any disposition toward alarmism or precipitate US intervention in the affairs of other nations.
Many in Congress and among US allies have feared that Mr. Vance's resignation meant the loss of a steadying influence on American foreign policy. This was accompanied by a feeling that President Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, now on the ascendary, is too impulsive to be the dominant influence on that policy. But the appointment of Senator Muskie, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is likely to go far toward assuaging such fears.
Senator Muskie has a reputation for being tough and stubborn -- as well as emotional. But observers who know him are certain that in any confrontation with Mr. Brzezinski he would hold his own.
The senior senator from Maine would hold the added political advantage for President Carter of enjoying considerable clout on Capitol Hill. The Carter administration has had rough going with Congress on many issues. Mr. Muskie might also bring added help to the administration from a section of the country where support has never been strong for the President -- the Northeast.
Tom Dine, a scholar and legislative expert who worked for several years with Senator Muskie on the budget and defense policy, describes the senator as "just left of center" in his foreign policy views.
"He's awfully smart and he can be awfully combative," said Mr. Dine of Mr. Muskie. "He always thinks a problem through to the last nut and bolt. He's got tremendous staying power. . . . And he's the kind of guy you would like to have on your side of the table when you're negotiating."
There was some speculation that the choice of Senator Muskie was favored by outgoing Secretary of State Vance. Mr. Vance was reported to have called the Senator on the day on which he announced his resignation, April 28.
State Department officials said that National Security Adviser Brzezinski would have favored acting secretary of state, Warren Christopher, for the job of secretary because he worked well with Mr. Christopher.
On the negative side, several foreign policy experts pointed to Senator Muskie's emotionalism and short temper as a potential disadvantage.