The Shultz-Clark affair

Recent reports out of Washington have been full of the theory that William P. Clark at the White House has taken over management of foreign affairs from George Shultz at the State Department.

The reports which I have read (I may have missed more perceptive ones) seem to miss the real point of the matter.

There is no personal feud between Mr. Clark, who is a close personal friend of the President as well as being his special assistant for national security affairs, and Mr. Shultz, also a longtime personal friend of the President who is the secretary of state.

Nor has there been any conscious grab for control over foreign affairs by Mr. Clark for personal reasons.

But there has been a normal, and inevitable, takeover by the White House of those foreign policy matters which can affect domestic politics in a rapidly approaching national election year.

The fact that Mr. Clark is now a central figure in policy planning for both Central America and the Middle East tells us that these two areas are deemed to be of major concern by those planning the strategy of the 1984 national elections.

It tells us that the Hispanic vote and the campaign contributions of the pro-Israel lobby are important, so important that the White House itself wants direct control over policies which may influence those two possibly crucial factors in 1984.

This is nothing new in American political history. It is normal and arises out of the fact that in the US foreign affairs get much more involved in domestic politics than happens in most other countries.

The people of the United States come from many different origins. Those from Poland, for example, take a lively interest in any foreign policy touching the interests of the Polish people. Polish feeling about Russia and the Russians influences American policy toward the Soviet Union.

A typical example of how the special concerns of politically influential groups bear on policy occurred shortly after World War II when the Jewish community in Palestine was getting ready to set up the state of Israel. Would the US recognize that state?

The State Department recommended against such recognition on the argument that recognition would violate promises repeatedly made to the leaders of the Arab communities and would damage future US relations with the Arab countries in particular and with the entire Muslim community in general. The then-Secretary of State George Marshall felt so strongly on the subject that he is reported to have told President Truman that if the President recognized Israel, he would vote against Truman in the next presidential election.

The US ambassadors to the Arab countries came to Washington and waited on the President hoping to persuade him to withhold recognition of Israel. The President received them, but refused to listen to their views. He told them to go back to their posts. All he said to them on the subject was: ''Gentlemen, I have no Arab constituents.''

The State Department is composed of career profession-als whose lifetime job is to learn about foreign countries and to calculate what US policies toward those countries would best serve long-term interests of the United States. It is not their job to consider the domestic political implications of any given policy. Their thinking and their recommendations should be in a political vacuum. The White House is where the political considerations come to bear on foreign policy.

There is an election coming up next year. In that election the Hispanic vote may be unusually important. President Reagan has obviously written off the black vote, and he is doing poorly among women. Nothing he has been able to do or say has yet closed the ''gender gap.'' His approval rating with women in the Gallup polls continues to run about nine points behind his approval with men. No other modern president has run so far behind with women. Nixon lagged by three points. Eisenhower had a plus-two with women.

Perhaps by a hard-line policy on Central America Mr. Reagan can recoup among Hispanics what he is likely to lose among blacks and women and by handling Middle East policy with sympathy for whatever Israel wants he may attract to Republicans much of the campaign money controlled by pro-Israel organizations.

Political prudence, not a grab for power, explains why Mr. Clark at the White House is now in direct charge of both Central American and Middle East policy. Those two subjects are much too sensitive politically to be left to foreign policy professionals.

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