IT WILL BE some time before all the separate accounts of the Alexander Haig story come out and shake down into a generally credited authoritative version of his departure. The world being the dizzying place that it is, however, the pressure is already on in Washington and in a great many other capitals to see -- and to shape -- what new policies or emphases will emerge if, as expected, George Shultz is confirmed as the new secretary of state.
Mr. Shultz's qualities and views have not been exposed in the same pitless glare that has bathed Mr. Haig in the last 18 months. Still, it seems fair to say in broad terms that they are men of the same stripe: members of a foreign policy "establishment" with long experience and a wide acquaintanceship abroad, globalists in their by-now standard acceptance of expanded American responsibility for world order, conservatives in the sense of stressing the uses of American power, and realists in their acceptance that the possibilities of American policy, while considerable, are not unlimited.
Leaving aside the all-important matter of personal chemistry, the interesting difference would seem to arise mostly from their backgrounds, Mr. Haig's being military or military/political and Mr. Shultz's economic -- as an economist, government manager and, most recently, international businessman. How might policy play out from here?
1. It's only natural that attention should be drawn first to the issue, the Soviet gas pipeline, that played such a central role in undoing Secretary Haig. The president wanted to block or at least delay or add to the cost of the pipeline in order a) specifically to punish Moscow for its policy in Poland and b) more generally to take advantage of the Soviet Union's evident economic distress and force it to "bear the brunt of its economic shortcomings." Mr. Haig felt such a course would harm American relations with its European allies, who do not share either the United States' slight dependence on industrial trade with the Soviet bloc or Mr. Reagan's commitment to making an issue out of it.
We happen to believe that, on the merits, Mr. Haig had the better of the argument. Administration hard-liners are quite right in showing up the illusions behind the detente theory of the 1970s that East-West trade would tend to mellow the Kremlin at home and abroad. Little in the record, however, indicates that an American tourniquet on trade will bend Moscow to American purposes, in Poland or elsewhere. The Soviets have too many other options, from belt-tightening to alternative sources. Trade does have an economic and political value, to Moscow no less than to its Western trading partners. But the West has not yet learned how to make trade work either as a carrot or a stick.
That being so, no conscientious secretary of state could fail to ask why the United States would want to put itself at odds with its allies on the pipeline -- even, especially, while it continues to sell the Soviet Union billions of dollars worth of grain. Mr. Haig's posing of that question had much to do with his losing his job. On past form, it would be startling if Mr. Shultz were not also to ask it -- although, to be sure, in his own tone of voice. The pipeline, moreover, is no one-shot issue. It goes to the heart of alliance and East-West relationships, which policy must confront without end.
2. As it happens, a new chapter in the East-West relationship is about to begin with the opening Tuesday of the START talks with the Soviet Union. In preparation for this resumption of the Soviet-American strategic dialogue, Mr. Haig used his influence to shape proposals and a negotiating strategy that would not simply express the president's strategic objectives but also tempt Soviet acceptance of them. His departure leaves the administration without any strong figure to offset those at the Pentagon and arms control agency who tend to see arms control less as a mutual opportunity than as a one-sided risk.
Mr. Shultz has not been one of the players in the strategic debate. Just how soon he will be in a position to compensate in this crucial field for the loss of Secretary Haig is perhaps the most worrisome question hanging over the transition.
3. The change at State comes at a time of great crisis in the Middle East. Mr. Haig had felt it was essential to do what was necessary to gain Israel's confidence, the better to coax it into the difficult concessions it would be called on to make in dealing with the Palestinians. Israel's invasion of Lebanon, however, sharpened the doubts some others in the administration had about this approach. Mr. Haig saw the invasion as a possible prelude to a region-wide American-directed breakthrough; for that reason he was willing -- wrongly, in our opinion -- to make little of the human costs of the Israeli attack. Others, appalled by those costs, thought the Israelis were exploiting American solicitude for ends that undercut the United States in that region. These differences came to a focus in the question of what terms the United States should support to end the Israeli siege of Beirut.
The battle of Beirut may be over by the time Mr. Shultz takes his new post. But he will have to deal with its aftermath. His business associations in the Arab world and his past remarks critical of an unqualified American embrace of Israel will make him suspect in some quarters. Israel's actions in Lebanon, however, may have made Americans more receptive to adding to the United States' traditional warm concern for Israel's well-being a more sensitive appreciation of its interests in the Arab world. Already some are saying that the administration, with a new secretary of state, should offer reassurances to Israel. It would be good to have some reassurances from Israel, too.
George Shultz is joining an administration at mid-term, which argues for continuity of policy, but he is also joining an administration in disarray, which argues for the possibility of change. He was up at Camp David yesterday with the president, getting a start on his new responsibilities at the State Department. There can be no one in Washington who does not wish him well.