GEORGE BALL tells a revealing story of how Zbigniew Brzezinski wrested control of Iranian policy from Cyrus Vance. At a critical period during the Iranian revolution, when Vance was traveling to and from the Middle East, Brezezinski took over. What could be more natural -- Zbig was meeting with the president every morning, after all, and you can hardly bring the government to a halt waiting for Cy to catch up with his messages. (Unfortunately, Brezinski's most trusted source was the shah's ambassador, Ardeshir Zahedi, a man as close to the pulse of the Iranians as Anna Chennault is to the Chinese.) Ball has correctly cautioned Ed Muskie to resist becoming a globetrotter -- advice commonly ignored by those who either don't understand how power is acquired in this town, or who forget, at their peril.

The fact is that those who really covet power are more than eager to stay here, chained to their desks, while the other fellow gets the glamorous trips. I discovered this phenomenon at work when I first arrived in Washington to work at the Peace Corps. I found that my new boss, Sargent Shriver, and three of his most important aides had departed on an extended trip around the world, leaving the agency in the hands of a subordinate. Lo and behold, when they returned they found that the subordinate had managed to make himself much more indispensable than they were. Although Shriver continued to speak for the Peace Corps, the agency remained in many respects under the effective control of the assistant who had humbly stayed behind. The catch was that some trips -- the fact-finding as distinguished from the ceremonial -- are necessary, so that when the assistant didn't travel for his first couple of years he made some mistakes because he didn't know what was going on in the field, and relied too much on the Zahedis to tell him.

If you doubt that our leaders take seriously the relationship between government and the arts, attend to this news, President Carter has appointed James E. Barnett to the National Council on the Arts. The art form to which Mr. Barnett has devoted his life is professional wrestling. He is the director of Georgia Championship Wrestling, Cxhampionship Wrestling of Florida and Southeastern Wrestling Corp. Of Knoxville. But, not to be outdone by the White House, Mayor Marion Barry has hired Sarah Vass as special events coordinator for the D.C.Commission on Arts and Humanities. Vass has been a disc jockey at a local radio station and a part-time hostess on a local television show. Mayor Barry found these credentials so compeling that he hired Vass two weeks after ordering a hiring freeze throughout the District government.

Gen. Edward C. Meyer, the Army's chief of staff, has a good idea. To help keep capable people from leaving the service, the government would offer to pay the costs of their children's college education. Meyer suggests that such an offer should be contingent on 15 years service -- and I would add that the payments should continue only as long as service continues (barring death or disability, of course).

This idea could easily be extended to federal service generlly, and should be. Instead of automatically jacking up salaries every year for everyone, regardless of need, the government could keep salary levels more stable, while offering to pay the cost of childen's education. Anxiety about coping with the cost of college is the main reason dedicated people agitate for higher pay and think they must leave the government if they don't get it.

Self-pity is one of the fringe benefits of hard work. "I'm doing the work of three people," we sigh to ourselves. Michael Sovern, former provost of Columbia University, is not content with sighing. After ascending to the university's presidency, he replaced himself with three provosts.

And while we're on the subject of conceptual breakthroughs in academia, let it be noted that George Washington University has established a Department of Human Kinetics and Leisure Studies. (Only joggers need apply?) This may not reprsent the kind of quantum leap that marked the advent of the first Department of Audio-Visual Education, but it does offer students a place to concentrate on the major preoccupation of America -- the creation of use of leisure time.

Has anyone wondered why Col. Charles Beckwith, commander of the Iran raid, said "it wasn't my responsiblity" to destory secret documents in the abandoned helicopters? How can anything not be the responsibility of the commander?

The reason is this: There was no commander on the raid, despite all the publicity crediting that role to Beckwith. A Marine colonel was in charge of the helicopters. An Air Force colonel was in charge of the C130 transport planes. A Navy officer was in charge of the fighter cover. Beckwith was in charge of the commandos. Nobody had overall responsibility on the scene.

So if you liked the Iran raid, you'll love the Rapid Development Force. Remember RDF -- the new mobile military concept designed to make us awesome in the Persian Gulf? Reporter Thomas Toch has been looking into RDF, and what he's found suggests that the death in the desert of eight brave men was no fluke. Sadly, it was the prototype for furture fiasocs, the product of a blundering system that the Pentagon confidently pans to institutionalize with RDF.

To buy off the four little empires within the Pentagon, RDG has been organized like a faculty review committee. The Navy commands RDF's ships. The Air Force commands its planes. The Army provides most of the armor, and the Marines supply most of the troops. The nominal "commander" of the combined force, Gen. Paul Kelly, does not have final authority over how the various elements are to be assembled and used. He must first obtain the consent of officers from each of the services.

For instance, few troops will be permanently assigned to RFD. Units from the four services will be "designated" as RDF "candidates." Before getting geared up for action, Kelly will have to "request" the commanders of the designated troops to assign them to him. Not "order" -- request. Robert Pranger of the pro-military American Enterprise Institute, who has consulted with Kelly on RDF command structure, told Toch: "It will require a lot of bureaucratic negotiation in a time of crisis."

That's not all. RDF is headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa. The base comes under the jurisdiction of the Readiness Command, an existing unit responsible for reinforcing NATO. In addition to not commanding RDF's four elements, Kelly must report to RedCom's commander, who outranks him. Any troops assigned to RDF are technically RedCom troops.

This isn't a force, it's a filing cabinet. I can't imagine such a memorandum-layered hierarchy deciding when to sound Taps, let alone responding smoothly and decisively to an emergency. Yet the Pentagon's fiefdoms are delighted. The Navy gets new ships for "pre-positioning." The Army gets more XM1 tanks. The Air Force gets a new cargo plane. The Marines get new assault vehicles and vertical takeoff fighters. And the civilians at the Pentagon get a fresh supply of paper clips and staples. Everybody gets a new layer of liaison and logistics. Everybody gets something -- except a better defense system.