Reagan struggles to unify his team -- and the allies; Reagan: There's no power struggle
Washington — Two perceptions of President Reagan's handling of foreign policy are emerging here: * One, from critics, is that Secretary of State Alexander Haig's publicly expressed opposition to Mr. Reagan's selection of Vice-President George Bush to head the administration's crisis-management committee is a sign of real trouble ahead for the president.
The view foresees a rift of Brzezinski-Vance proportions, with the White House -- this time with Mr. Bush instead of former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski playing the lead role -- headed toward a serious clash with the State Department -- this time in the person of Secretary Haig rather than former secretary Cyrus Vance.
Some observers are even asking whether Haig's expression of strong dissent many not signal that Reagan simply is not in control of his foreign policy team and the direction it is going.
* On the other hand, the Reagan administration is asserting that Haig is "back on board" and "happily so," fully accepting the choice of Bush to chair this committee, and that the only differences among the President's foreign policy advisers relate to "procedure and not to basic principles."
At a breakfast with reporters here March 25, presidential press secretary James Brady explained Haig's expression of displeasure over news stories of the likely Bush appointment -- the secretary told a congressional committee that he had read these predictions with a "lack of enthusiasm" -- as merely the outburst of a spirited, "high-stepping horse."
Mr. Brady said the President liked to have "high-stepping horses" around him and that a number of high-level presidential appointees could be characterized in this way -- that is, as strong personalities who would on occasion speak their minds.
But Brady insisted that after a telephone conversation with the President March 23, General Haig agreed amicably to the selection of Bush to chair meetings in the White House Situation room in time of crisis -- a job handled by Brzezinski under President Carter.
Reagan read a prepared statement to newsmen March 25, saying in part: "the Secretary of State is my primary adviser on foreign affairs, and in that capacity he is the chief formulator and spokesman for foreign policy for this administration. There is not, nor has there ever been, any question about this."
[Reagan said Haig had not threatened to resign over the issue, as one report had stated.]
Brady also emphasized that the vice-president's job would be even broader than was Brzezinki's -- that if there were a domestic crisis Bush would chair the group of Cabinet officials who would make recommendations at that time.
The press secretary pointed to the Vice-President's strong credentials for taking on these broad responsibilities: former US ambassador to the United Nations, former US liaison with the People's Republic of China, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and former US representative from Texas.
There is some talk among presidential observers here that Haig had become "too big for his britches" and was therefore "being cut down to size" by the President. Brady denied this.
He was asked if there were powerful advisers of the President who thought Reagan migh give up too much in the way of foreign policy decisionmaking if Haig were given the crisis-management leading role.
Brady would not confirm this, But he did say that both Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and CIA director William Casey did confer with the President before the selection of Bush was made.
(Richard V. Allen, Reagan's national security adviser, had earlier been consigned to a lesser role than that held by Brzezinski to see to it that no conflict with Haig emerged. Thus, Allen was not even considered by the President for the crisis-management position.)
Haig obviously felt it was logical that he chair the committee.But it is understood that both Secretary Weinberger and Mr. Casey also were deemed logical choices by the President for this position.
Weinberger and Casey, it is understood, indicated they would have no trouble accepting the vice-president in the crisis-management leadership slot, leading some observers to ask whether they were the ones who suggested him.