Weinberger: Fighting Soviets Abroad, Haig at Home

Martin Schram
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 18, 1982

The Reagan presidency is a week old and, in the large office in E-Ring, 3rd Floor of the Pentagon, a secretary interrupts Caspar Weinberger with the urgent message that Alexander Haig is calling. From his car phone.

Haig is in one of his high-compression modes.

"You're accusing me of trying to rape the department!" Haig shouts into the phone. Days earlier, the new secretary of state had launched his celebrated Inauguration Day preemptive strike--that memo to the White House in which he sought to redesign all national security decision-making apparatus to make himself preeminent in all areas. Weinberger has just countered with his own White House memo of protective reaction.

A man of lower key, Weinberger listens to Haig's telephonic wrath and demurs that he is making no such accusation. "Don't tell me that," Haig replies. "I have a copy of your memo right here. You're accusing me of trying to rape your department!"

So went the opening exchange in Haig vs. Weinberger, a long-running battle that would blend the best of Lincoln vs. Douglas, Graziano vs. Zale and W.C. Fields vs. Charlie McCarthy. For the record, Weinberger had made no bureaucratic allusions in his memo to rape, but he did incur Haig's ire by making a few uninvited insertions--assorted limits and caveats that he had added to Haig's initial listing of the duties of the secretaries of state and defense. All of the suggested restrictions fell only in the secretary of state's column.

Weinberger has always defined the scope of his office broadly and bristles, those close to him say, at mention of the man who sought to best him in that initial bureaucratic jostling. "Cap is not Machiavellian, not malicious," a senior defense official explained. "I think Cap saw it as a guy trying to push him around. And he thought that he, if anyone, should have been the preeminent guy. Because he's the one who knew Reagan."

In time they would battle over policy and turf, as Weinberger by necessity made up in persistent staying power and longtime California friendships what he lacked in international expertise. He pressed his positions within the Reagan high command with rigidity and determination and wound up having his way on what he felt mattered most.

He won his fight for huge defense spending increases despite objections from many within the Reagan hierarchy. He had his way on such issues as assembling and stockpiling of neutron warheads and his desire for an early vote on sale of sophisticated Airborne Warning and Control System radar planes to Saudi Arabia, despite Haig's strong objections.

Weinberger sees the defense secretary's sphere as a global mix of military and foreign policy. He is perhaps the most traveled defense secretary, surely the most widely traveled in peacetime. He had hoped to be President Reagan's secretary of state; he settled for defense. In his first 14 months in office, he traveled to 26 countries; in a comparable period, his predecessor, Harold Brown, visited 11 countries.

But Weinberger's doctrine has not been nearly as diverse as his itinerary. At virtually every stop, he has preached a steady gospel of anti-Sovietism--more accurately, counter-Sovietism. He established his pattern early.

BRUSSELS--The NATO defense planning committee is in session, and Caspar Weinberger begins his opening statement by passing a small plate of copper circuitry among his ministerial colleagues. His audio-visual prop has been taken from a Soviet submarine detection buoy; its 18 circuit chips, Weinberger says, are made of components identical to those that originate in the West.

"This product is a combination of legitimate sales and espionage," Weinberger says, launching into a warning that will become his frequent NATO refrain about the dangers of doing technological business with the Soviets. Severe economic problems are forcing the Soviets to choose between growth in military or nonmilitary sectors, he says.

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© 1982 The Washington Post Company