One small step for a pragmatic US policy

Some adjustment in Reagan administration foreign policies, but no major change, is expectable from this week's changes in personnel at the White House. Foreign offices overseas should expect more professional pragmatism, slightly less ideology, in the mix that comes out of the White House, if only because the new national security adviser there, Robert C. McFarlane, is not a political figure belonging to a political grouping with its own special foreign policy views.

Instead, he is a career professional in foreign affairs whose training and experience are those of a subordinate and anonymous civil servant, and whose expertise is at the disposal of the policies of his political masters.

The McFarlane selection puts the job of White House national-security adviser back into its original context. When the position was set up, back in the Truman presidency, the individual at the key position was supposed to be anonymous, to suppress personal views, and to concentrate on the single task of making sure that the President made foreign policy decisions with full knowledge of all the different views in the government. The job was to channel information and views from the departments to the President, not to load the views from any one source.

The alternative to Mr. McFarlane would have been Jeane Kirkpatrick, the present United States ambassador at the United Nations, who is the precise opposite of Mr. McFarlane. She is an individual of strong personal views, which she builds to the limit of her considerable ability into the foreign policies of the government.

Had Mrs. Kirkpatrick been chosen for the job, one would have expected US foreign policy to be more militaristic in Central America, more pro-Israel in the Middle East, and more stridently anticommunist and anti-Soviet than it already is.

Had she been chosen, it would have been difficult, probably impossible, for Mr. Reagan to achieve what he said he wanted when he announced his selection of Mr. McFarlane - ''an effective bipartisan foreign policy.''

Mrs. Kirkpatrick was originally a Democrat and, at latest check, still considered herself to be one. But her foreign policy views are those of the Republican far right.

State Department, i.e., professional, views on foreign policy will presumably get better visibility at White House policy conferences under Mr. McFarlane than they would have under Mrs. Kirkpatrick, and than they did under his predecessor, William P. Clark.

The above does not exclude Mrs. Kirkpatrick's views from the policymaking process. It does mean that on a day-to-day basis the views of the State Department, coming through Secretary of State George Shultz, will get a fuller airing at the White House than they were sometimes getting under Mr. Clark, who did have personal views of his own.

One example was the decision to deploy major US land, air, and sea forces in Central America during the current season. The State Department was not in favor of such an overt display of US military power. The Pentagon is believed to have had reservations. It was apparently Mr. Clark's fondness for the idea that won a favorable decision.

Mr. McFarlane is classified as a ''hard-liner'' by White House aides, but he was also praised by the President for his ''experience,'' and he served in the White House under both Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft during the Nixon-Ford years. Both Messrs. Kissinger and Scowcroft are classified as pragmatists.

The above does not necessarily mean that Mr. Shultz will do substantially more of the main foreign policy making. Mr. Shultz does not seem to have strong views or press them strongly.

But it does mean that when he wishes to present his views, they will get to the President alongside any conflicting views coming from Mrs. Kirkpatrick or the Pentagon.

The past week has also brought a review of Middle East policy at the White House and the first rounds in the ''peace demonstrations'' which are aimed at trying to prevent or delay the deployment of new US intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe.

The demonstrations were still going on as we went to press, but in West Germany and Britain they were less well attended and less photogenic for television cameras than has usually been the case.

It seemed to be a justifiable preliminary conclusion that this year's round of demonstrations is not going to deflect any of the West European governments from existing plans for deployment of the new weapons.

The White House review of the Middle East was also still under way at our press time.

It can be said that when the group met, with Mr. McFarlane for the first time present as national security adviser, all knew that existing policy was stalemated.

Washington has been trying to build a new and independent Lebanon on the Gemayel-led government in Lebanon. The Gemayel faction has been rejected by Druze and Shiite Muslim communities. A new start must be made toward rebuilding Lebanon, or else much of Lebanon may remain in Syrian and Israeli hands.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.