The crisis game

Crisis management,m yes! -- as in the "crisis management team" Vice-President Bush has been appointed to captain. But let's not retire good old crisis avoidance.m It's cheaper in the long run, and a few years ago it had fans across the board in the Washington power centers that have been contending lately. Remembering how crisis avoidance was cheered by such experts as David C. Gompert , who by then had served in the National Security Council as well as the State Department, not to mention the US Navy:

"Crisis avoidance has become a beacon for policy behavior by American and Soviet leaders. Neither side seeks to exploit the other's fear of becoming embroiled in a crisis, since such conduct might evoke an attempt at counterexploitation of one's own undeniable fears by the opponent. No prize of geopolitical competition is alluring enough to justify taking such risks."

So this week it's encouraging to see -- in the same paper reporting on the "crisis management" game -- a small item on the "beginning of a dialogue" between Russia and America. It refers to Ambassador Dobrynin meeting for two hours with secretary Haig. After all the rhetoric, a couple of people quietly putting their heads together must mean that some players and coaches are still interested in avoiding crises as well as managing them. Yea, team!

The National Security Council is meant to play the role of coordinator, gathering together the positions of Cabinet departments involved in any given situation and presenting the President with policy options. However, since national security adviser Richard Allen, head of the NSC, has downplayed his own role (presumably with Mr. Reagan's approval), someone else clearly has to fill the bill when the going gets rough.

Secretary of State Haig has a legitimate concern about not being undermined by a rival foreign policy shop at the White House. US foreign policy suffered under Nixon and Carter because of the power usurped by the national security adviser -- and the president's failure to stop the backbiting between the NSC and the State Department. In the Reagan administration, too, there were signs that Mr. Allen was becoming more assertive (making speeches) and taking over tasks not within his purview (writing to foreign officials, for instance). The consternation caused in foreign chanceries because of contradictory statements heard from Washington naturally adds to Mr. Haig's concern.

Yet Mr. Haig has seemed to display little of the diplomatic skill at home that he is said to possess abroad. He moved early on to preempt the State Department's dominance over the NSC and every other agency of government. And he hardly ingratiated himself with the President or with the Congress by his combative manner and less than tactful remarks this week in challenging the possible Bush appointment. He of all people should know the dangers of trying an end run around the President and the value of silence.

Where now? Mr. Reagan has said explicitly that Secretary Haig is his "primary adviser on foreign affairs." That is as it should be. The only question is precisely when and how Mr. Bush will fit into the scheme of things. The term "crisis management" has to be clarified and the procedures established for setting it in motion. The NSC itself has yet to be staffed and organized and that does not speak well of White House efficiency.Organizationally as well as substantively, therefore, there are many loose ends and the President needs to jack up his troops.

It would be nice if those who went to Washington always had the humbleness of spirit and largeness of character needed for true public service. Unfortunately men's personal ambitions and pride too often obscure their better natures in a climate where human power is valued and seems so attractive. The greatest public servants, however, have been those who, their egos notwithstanding, have put their country first. It is this nobility of goal which we hope will rule the Reagan presidency and those who serve it as they seek to guide the nation along new paths.

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