PRESIDENT Clinton has promised the reluctant candidate John Deutch cabinet rank as head of the Central Intelligence Agency. Otherwise, the deputy secretary of defense would, in effect, be demoted to a post currently ranking with undersecretary. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who nurtures dreams of naming his own cabinet, fears a conflict of interest here. He notes that the only other intelligence chief with cabinet status, William Casey, got the Reagan administration into the Iran-contra scandal.
That is a non sequitur. Casey's involvement had little to do with the ordinary workings of government, and everything to do with Casey's personal influence on President Reagan. Christopher Andrew, in a new book, ''For the President's Eyes Only,'' charts a relationship that varied very much with the president's background and interests.
President Truman, who created the CIA, had a warm relationship with Gen. Bedell Smith, with whom he met every Friday morning. President Eisenhower, an enthusiast about electronic and imagery intelligence, treated CIA chief Allen Dulles virtually as a peer with his brother, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.
President Kennedy soured on Allen Dulles after the Cuban Bay of Pigs fiasco, but then came to appreciate some of the agency's spectacular spy work in the Soviet Union.
President Johnson was generally uninterested in the CIA except for covert operations. The Texas crony he named to head the agency, retired Adm. William Raborn, turned out to be the worst director in its history.
President Nixon, who suspected the CIA of having worked for John Kennedy's victory over him in 1960, had cool relations with Richard Helms, which turned icy when the agency refused to help in a Watergate coverup. President Carter's director, Adm. Stansfield Turner, was not allowed by national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski to see the president alone. President Bush, the only former CIA chief in the White House, had an easy relationship with Robert Gates.
James Woolsey simply found it difficult to engage the attention of the domestically oriented President Clinton. Eventually, Mr. Woolsey virtually gave up and dealt with a national security staff. Mr. Deutch is not likely to find things much different, whether in or out of the Cabinet. Cabinet status is not likely to lead to another Iran-contra scandal. Senator Specter can stop worrying.