Carlucci takes charge. New NSC head runs tight ship, open shop with `tremendous change in atmosphere'
Washington — Call it glasnost American-style. Frank Carlucci, the new national-security adviser to the President, is hardly taking his cue from Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who is attracting worldwide attention with his policy of ``openness.'' But in the wake of the Iran-contra scandal, Mr. Carlucci has established his own brand of openness and professionalism at the National Security Council (NSC).
After only five weeks in office, it is too early to say whether Mr. Carlucci will emerge as a dynamic, influential voice in high White House councils. But his organizational changes and operating style are drawing favorable comment from White House aides and State Department officials.
``There has been a tremendous change in the atmosphere,'' says one official on the NSC staff. ``Frank does have a fairly relaxed, informal atmosphere. His offices and those of his deputy are open - one doesn't have to make appointments six months in advance.''
Under the previous regimes, the official says, there was an extreme sensitivity to security, with secretaries acting like a ``palace guard.'' Now, he adds, there's a ``come-on-in'' attitude, and more NSC people are taken in to see the President.
``There's a much more professional relationship with the State Department,'' says a senior department official. ``I'm aware now of an interchange of information and people.''
The new NSC director has moved quickly and decisively to alter the operational style that has brought such opprobrium to the White House and the NSC organization. Even before the Tower Commission, which is investigating the Iran affair and NSC operations, has brought in its recommendations (due Feb. 26), Carlucci has made these changes and moves:
Abolished the NSC's office of political-military affairs, from which Lt. Col. Oliver North ran his clandestine operations in Iran and Nicaragua. Carlucci has made clear that no more covert operations will be run out of the NSC organization.
Other structural changes include establishment of a multilateral affairs office to deal with foreign aid, public diplomacy, and arms transfers and setting up of a general counsel's office designed ``to make sure the place stays squeaky clean,'' as one US official puts it.
Upgraded the NSC staff, removing almost all top officials and bringing in people with more experience, knowledge, and professionalism, including Foreign Service officers. Overall, the professional staff has been cut by about 15 percent.
Ordered studies on a whole range of issues involving Africa, the Middle East, and other areas with a view to building consensus among the various agencies of government. In the past, infighting and the lack of coordination among State, Defense, and other departments have often resulted in ambiguities and conflicting signals in American foreign policy.
``The NSC seems to be playing the sort of role it ought to be playing as promoter of an agreed-upon approach by all government agencies, and doing it across the board,'' another State Department official says. ``Every region of the world has been touched. That's what we should be doing if we want to restore a degree of discipline and coherence, even if means simply affirming existing policy.''
Policywise, there have not yet been significant developments. But some policies are under active review and may see changes. Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige and other administration officials, for instance, favor lifting restrictions on the export of certain technologies to the Soviet Union because American companies are losing business.
Whether Carlucci, who has wide experience in the diplomatic and intelligence fields, can overcome the fierce infighting that has beset policymaking remains to be seen. Organizational changes will not automatically eliminate the internal ideological conflicts. But in terms of invigorating arms control and other policies, much now seems to ride on Carlucci and the role he will ultimately play.
The uncertainties revolve around the future of other key players, above all White House chief of staff Donald Regan and Secretary of State George Shultz. Speculation persists that one or both may step down.
Mr. Shultz appears to have regained control as the prime architect of foreign policy, but he continues to face difficulties in connection with the Iran-contra affair. Early on he distanced himself from the President's policy of selling arms to Iran and incurred the wrath of close Reagan associates and reportedly of the President himself.
Shultz's failure to investigate the Iran arms sale policy, which he opposed but knew something about, has also undermined his credibility and effectiveness in the eyes of some administration officials. Unless internal strains are overcome, these officials say, it cannot be ruled out that he will eventually resign.
Meanwhile, Mr. Reagan's political friends and allies continue to snipe at Mr. Regan as a continuing liability.
Amid the persisting turmoil, Carlucci, who is the President's fifth national-security adviser, is given high marks for getting off to a solid start and boosting morale and efficiency at the council. From the outset he established his right to independent access to the President, and his working relations with chief of staff Regan are said to be good.
``I see no conflicts or friction,'' a White House aide says. ``The greatest change is that the decision process has become much more orderly, more mature in the sense that everything is carefully staffed out for the President, and when meeting time comes you have the answers to all the questions, without which no decision can be made.''