Who's in charge?

Is United States foreign policy to be beset once again by bickering and backbiting within the establishment? Warning signs are emanating from Washington, and it is up to President Reagan to put a stop to the problem before it further embarrasses the US abroad and casts doubt on America's ability ever to speak and act with one voice in the world.

The problem we have in mind is the strains said to be growing between Secretary of State Alexander Haig and others in the administration, notably head of the National Security Council Richard Allen and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. The press seems to thrive on juicy tidbits about interagency rivalries and power struggles. But it is not only the American media calling attention to the personality conflicts. The European allies are doing so too. Recently the Times of London voiced concern about the lack of coordination in US foreign policy making due to the absence of a dominant figure.

To his credit, President Reagan early on seemed bent on avoiding the pitfalls of his predecessors. Richard Allen modestly took a back-seat role as national security adviser and deferred to Mr. Haig as principal foreign policy spokesman. This administration, the signal was, would eliminate the kind of enervating and destructive competition that took place between Kissinger and Rogers in the Nixon presidency -- or between Brzezinski and Vance during the Carter years. Mr. Reagan's style was to be team government and decision making by consensus.

Mr. Haig, unfortunately, has created problems for himself by appearing to be less than a team player. Letting his aides publicly criticize Jeane Kirkpatrick's performance at the United Nations is but the latest of a series of moves which have irritated the White House and diminished the secretary's authority. Now come reports that Mr. Allen is openly sniping at Mr. Haig's performance and may be doing so with the approval of Edwin Meese and other superiors.

The developments are saddening. Such open bureaucratic infighting demeans the administration and promises to frustrate the conduct of a foreign policy which already is surrounded by uncertainty.

How can the US develop that consistent and steady foreign policy everyone talks about when the policymakers themselves are busy fighting a domestic war, constantly looking over their shoulders to protect their political flanks? It's absurd and the only person who can end the absurdity is the President. If Mr. Reagan expects his secretary of state to function with authority and self-confidence, he must not let his aides undermine him. If he in fact is displeased or uncomfortable with Mr. Haig, the kind thing to do would be to iron out the difficulties -- or replace him.

Fail ure to do anything can only harm the national interest.

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