Look back at Clark

No one should conclude that Judge William P. Clark's exit from the White House indicates that he is even slightly in bad graces with the President. In a new administration after 1984, if it materializes, Mr. Clark will likely become Reagan's chief of staff.

Clark is particularly good at being the chief administrator, the chief coordinator, and the chief trouble-shooter under a chief executive. That's how he performed when he sat at Governor Reagan's right hand in Sacramento. And that's what he might be doing now in the White House, except for one thing: Reagan had already acquired what he considers to be a cracking-good chief of staff in Jim Baker.

But there's no doubt that Mr. Baker will be doing something else in 1984. Either he'll be back in Texas making lots of money as a lawyer and getting ready for a run at the governorship, or he'll be in a new Reagan cabinet.

There's been a lot of ink used in stories that have indicated Clark was forced out of his job as head of the National Security Council. They are untrue. The shorthand explanation of Clark's going is simply that he asked out, more than once, and he specifically asked for James Watt's job when Mr. Watt's departure became evident.

From Clark's point of view his full administrative talents were not being tapped. He was becoming weary over what he viewed as undue criticism from some of his White House colleagues on how he was doing his job. One friend of Clark's described him as ''feeling crimped.''

Clark, on succeeding Richard Allen, had turned the ''Big Three'' assistants under Reagan to the ''Big Four.'' Ed Meese, from the outset, worked well with Clark. They were old friends and Reagan associates from California days.

But the other two of this highly influential foursome, Jim Baker and Mike Deaver, soon found it difficult to perform comfortably with Clark around. As another top Reagan aide puts it: ''Clark was building his own enclave, putting together his own power center. He would work around Deaver (deputy chief of staff) and set up his own scheduling operation. He would work directly with the President without reference to the system that Deaver and Baker had worked out.''

Was there then a mighty struggle that ensued within these four wielders of presidentially reflected power? It has been written that way. No. What really happened was an increasing amount of what Mr. Deaver and Baker considered to be administration ''mess-ups.''

They just didn't feel they knew what Clark was doing and that Clark was indeed being his own chief of staff. And they complained to the President about this. But there was no great emotional showdown, as it has been depicted in some quarters.

Also, the differences between Clark and Secretary of State George Shultz have been exaggerated. True, Clark, a hard-liner, was more belligerent in his approach to dealing with the Soviets or what he regarded as Soviet-caused global problems than was Mr. Shultz.

But for the most part this conflict, too, did not rise much above that of two advisers stating their differences. Both these men are cool. That's their style. There were no shouting matches between them.

Clark knew that he was being criticized for the way he was running his shop. And he felt he needed the kind of freedom he was demanding if he were to get his job done right. So it was to move into a more comfortable administrative context , ''where he will have the whole ball of wax,'' as one of his associates expresses it, that Clark jumped at the Cabinet post.

So he left because he was simply being deprived of the elbowroom he felt he needed to function comfortably. The President didn't push him - even though Reagan had listened, patiently, to the complaints about Clark from his colleagues.

You can be sure of this: Reagan will still be on the phone to Clark, discussing a whole range of subjects, including, at times, foreign policy. They'll remain close. And - write it down - Clark will be back at Reagan's side, if the voters keep Reagan in the White House.

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