Ronald Reagan has made his decision; now let him enforce it. That paraphrase of Andrew Jackson's famous remark about Chief Justice John Marshall expresses the right reaction to the news that management of foreign policy crises will be denied to Secretary of State Alexander Haig and given to Vice President George Bush.
For the Reagan White House has not developed either the structure or the talents required for managing foreign policy. The Haig State Department has.
The primacy of the president in national security affairs is not in question. The president alone can direct the various agencies that share with State responsibility for the different aspects of foreign policy. As the most visible public official in the country by far, he alone can build the national consensus that has to undergrid any serious foreign policy venture.
Crisis management falls with special force within that ambit of presidential primacy. It typically centers around events that make a disproportionately large impact on the shaping or the shaking of public opinion -- the Cuban missile crisis, for example; or the Mayaguez incident; or the bargaining over Iranian hostages. Several departments -- State, Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency at a minimum -- are usually involved. Operational effectiveness is at a premium, and there must be no doubt about who's running the show.
But no postwar president -- even one as experienced in foreign policy matters as Eisenhower -- has had the time for crisis management. Under Truman, Secretary of State Dean Acheson was the crisis manager. Under Eisenhower, John Foster Dulles played that role.
Thereafter, the responsibility was shifted to the president's special assistant for national security affairs. McGeorge Bundy did it for Kennedy; Walt Rostow for Johnson; Henry Kissinger for Nixon; Brent Scowcroft for Ford; and Zbibniew Brzezinski for Carter.
Kissinger's critics claimed he used the post for self-promotion at the expense of Secretary of State William Rogers. Those charges were intensified in the days of Brzezinski, who outdid Kissinger in seeking attention.
President Reagan, during the campaign, pledged that in his administration there would be no feud between the Secretary of State and the NSC adviser. Like most of his predecessors, he and those around him took the campaign rhetoric at face value. The current NSC adviser, Richard Allen, has been subordinated to the president's policy counselor, Edwin Meese. Allen is himself primarily an advocate, and he has not developed a staff of neutral analysts skilled at organizing options for decision at the top.
Secretary Haig, not surprisingly, took it into his head that he would have the authority that previously had gone to Acheson and Dulles. He spoke openly of being the president's "vicar" in national security affairs. He proposed to the White House a scheme of organization that gave State pride of place in almost all inter-agency business, including crisis management. He drew around him a crew of disciplined, intelligent officials of the broadest experience who were clearly programmed to serve as a mini-NSC staff.
But Haig, an intense man with a confrontational style, pressed his claims in an or-else-I'll-quit spirit. He thereby offended the administrative sensibilities of Meese and White House Chief of Staff James Baker. They first diluted some of the authority he had sought for State in the inter-agency committee. They then put across the idea that Bush be charged with crisis management.
Lack of anything better clearly dictated that choice. Neither the president nor Meese has the experience to manage international security affairs. Allen has been downgraded in keeping with the campaign promises. That leaves the vice president.
As a former CIA director and ambassador to the United Nations and China, Bush clearly has the background for the task. But the duties of the vice president call for him to be in Atlanta tending to a local crisis on one day; to be in Fort Wayne snipping ceremonial ribbons on a second; to preside over the Sente on a third; and then to raise cammpaign funds t party functions. The variety of those claims works against narrow concentration on the detailed operational issues that are the stuff of crisis management.
Past experience supports that general impression. Nelson Rockefeller, though steeped in foreign policy, did poorly during the Mayaguez affair. Fritz Mondale, perhaps the most successful of all recent vice presidents, made his mark by systematically ducking all operational responsibilities.
Bush, in the past, has generally performed better than expected. Maybe he can become a screen for crisis management by the Allen staff. If that succeeds, there will be no complaints from this quarter. But my guess is that authority will gravitate to State anyhow, and that the true outcome of the present scuffle is a legacy of doubt as to who's in charge.