The Haig whodunit

It would be funny if it were not so sad. The US secretary of state calling a Washington columnist and charging that some White House aide is waging a ''guerrilla campaign'' against him. The President phoning the same columnist to assure him that he stands behind his chief diplomat and denying an ''enemy'' within. The State Department openly confirming this latest outburst of secretarial pique. And all of titillated Washington trying to identify the accused aide in the spirit of a whodunit.

Alexander Haig has not done himself much good by going public with his frustrations. It is no secret that he does not see eye to eye with Richard Allen of the National Security Council or with some other officials within the bureaucracy. It is also known that he is not an insider with the President in the way the latter's close California aides are. But Mr. Haig seemed to be recovering admirably from early personality clashes and doing his job with greater ease and effectiveness. Surely the best stance is to keep tempers and sensitivities under control and in-house squabbling private.

Our concern is what this does to the image of United States foreign policy. The administration is making progress in a number of areas. But many abroad are troubled by a lack of predictability in US diplomacy, and this incident feeds doubts about foreign policy management in Washington.

This is out of character for a President who has a good sense of management, and it is therefore to be hoped he will turn his attention to resolving the difficulties. In an awkward situation like this it is up to him to call his people in and make clear what he expects of them. Mr. Reagan is known to dislike personnel problems and doubtless would prefer not to have to deal with them. But he alone can set matters straight.

More than personality clashes are at issue, however. There needs to be better internal organization of policy making and coordination. The NSC, for instance, appears not to have the competent staff of some prior administrations, and while there has traditionally been a rivalry between the NSC and the State Department it has not always been marked by such open backbiting. The President hoped to avoid these pitfalls by lowering Mr. Allen's visibility. But the impression conveyed now is of an NSC that does not play its assigned role of coordinating foreign policy options for the President. The State Department, in turn, appears not to be pulling together as well as it might or coming up with a broad, coherent foreign policy framework. And other departments, like Defense, are speaking out on diplomatic issues in what sometimes seems at cross purposes with State.

The net result is to create a certain amount of ambiguity and confusion in the conduct of US foreign policy. The problem should not be exaggerated. But there obviously is room for improvement - in the way policy is both made and managed.

Mr. Haig may just be forcing the President to give more thought to this area of leadership.

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