Our Middle East Policy has the O pace of a Marx Brothers movie. There is an incredible amount of scurrying around, an awful lot of zany action and a terrific stream of patter -- one-liner after one-liner. The president says one thing, Alexander Haig says something more, everyone gets on planes, flies off in different directions, and before you know it, things get totally out of hand. Say the magic word and Richard Nixon once again speaks for America.
Starting with the Ronald Reagan's Oct. 1 press conference, the mouths have been particularly busy. That was when the president nonchalantly committed us to defend, maintain and (almost) revere the House of Saud: Saudi Arabia "we would not permit to be an Iran," he said.
Thus, in one quick shot from the mouth, was the Carter Doctrine extended. There was no consultation with Congress, no solemn meeting of the National Security Council, not even a speech at a university commencement exercise -- the usual way foreign policy commitments are made. All we got was one quick ungrammatical statement. But that was only the beginning.TT he words have been flowing T ever since. The assassination of President Anwar Sadat of Egypt sent everyone into spasms of logorrhea. Forget for a moment that no one really knows yet who killed Sadat or why and whether the killing was an attempted coup or an isolated incident of the sort we have here with what amounts to depressing regularity. No matter. Sadat's death has been harnessed to our foreign policy aims.
Almost immediately, for instance, the administration crudely used the dead Sadat to sell AWACS. Just how the security of Saudi Arabia is linked to what seems to be an internal Egyptian plot is something that has yet to be explained. Just how the killing of Sadat could have been avoided if the Saudis had AWACS is yet another mystery that also has to be explained. Rather than explain, though, the administration prefers to talk on. The commitments simply roll off the tongue.FF rom Secretary of State F Alexander Haig we get the news that Egypt is America's foremost ally in the Middle East. This must have come as news to the Israelis, not to mention the Egyptians. Not content with that, Haig and others have enunciated a policy of arming the Egyptians, stationing B52s there and conducting training exercises in that country. All this threatens to turn Egypt from a friend into a puppet, further isolating the regime at home and the country from its Arab neighbors.
It was this kind of almost unthinking, reactive rhetoric that pushed us over the edge in Vietnam. First came a set of false assumptions, then came the words and then came the action to back up the words. Looking back, it is clear that almost no one knew where we were going or what, besides light, was at the end of that tunnel. Vietnam seemed to leap almost overnight from an obscure former French colony to something we could not live without.
With Egypt, somewhat the same thing has happened -- only here even the assumptions seem to be lacking. Policy is being made on the run. Egypt has zoomed from being an ally and the recipient of more military aid than any country other than Israel, to being a virtual 51st state. All kinds of distinctions between external threats and internal threats are being blurred. From the rhetoric, you would think that Anwar Sadat had been killed in battle, that Egypt was under attack, and that what the Egyptians needed was B52s, more arms, and just for good measure some terrific army films on the importance of saluting.
But the enemy is not an external force. It is internal. It may be the Moslem Brotherhood or a like-minded fundamentalist religious group, or it may be army officers intent on repudiating the peace with Israel. Whatever it is, B52s are not going to make a difference unless, of course, Haig proposes to bomb the next person who attempts a political assassination.
For the moment, it would be best if America called home its various spokesmen -- Haig and former presidents galore -- and if everyone, including the president, agreed that now may be the best time to say nothing. The pace is too fast. There is too much flying about and not enough thinking. We may not yet be out of breath. But we are certainly out of ideas.