THE PRESIDENT WAS SENT to his room several times this week. He didn't like it at all. No one, of any age, ever does.
Several groups of consequence informed him that he must abandon his neurosis about nuclear inferiority, that he must not try to wage secret wars, and that he must abandon buildup and bluster for serious conversation with his adversaries.
As people are wont to do when reproved publicly, he did some foot-stamping and sulking. He is muttering, as he drags himself up the stairs , "They can't do this to me," or "They didn't hurt me a bit."
The House Select Committee on Intelligence, from which he expected more understanding, dealt him a cruel blow last Tuesday. They took away the car-keys from his favorite Central-American jalopy, the CIA cloak-and-dagger special he has been driving towards the government in Nicaragua.
In a little gathering with six White House reporters, he showed just how outraged he was. He committed an indiscretion of the first magnitude. He all but admitted that we were trying to do what he has denied was our intent all along, namely the overthrow of the Sandanista government. He has, on other occasions, insisted we were, by recruiting and arming old Somoza National Guardsmen and other dissident groups, merely attempting to harrass the Marxists in Managua into "democratic reforms" and to interdict the flow of arms to El Salvador.
But when he called the guerrillas "freedom fighters," suggested they were as "legitimate" as the Sandanista government, which comes "out of the barrel of a gun," he was justifying the stated goal of the "freedom fighters," who let the cat out of the bag every night on television by freely admitting they want to topple the Sandanistas.
He also tried to say that the Select Committee, by advocating funds totaling $80 million dollars for three surrounding countries, was merely doing openly what he was doing secretly. But that doesn't wash, either. Under the new law, Honduras can stop arms traffic, but it can't send troops into Nicaragua, which is what the fight is all about.
The same day that the House was being so difficult, the National Conference of Catholic bishops did him in. They issued a revised, re-toughened and final version of their famous pastoral letter on nuclear war, which took vehement opposition to his "peace through strength" philosophy. He had reason to believe they had been cowed into acquiescence, since the drafting committee, in their third draft, softened their original demand for a halt in the arms buildup to a timid "curb" and practically admitted they had done it in response to "White House criticism."
In Chicago, the churchmen overwhelmingly voted to go back to "halt." Reagan said lamely at his press conference that he thought "too much attention was being paid to the one word 'curb' or 'halt' when you think of the 45,000 words" in the document.
One of the reasons, of course, is that the administration had exultantly last month called attention to it. Many churchmen rediscovered their spine when the State Department, which hailed the "substantially improved" third draft, specifically praised the committee for no longer advocating a nuclear freeze.
And that brings us to the third rebuff of the week, the passage of the hated and "dangerous" nuclear freeze in the House of Representatives. After weeks of stalling, the Republicans threw in the towel, unexpectedly, last Wednesday night. With six hours left to haggle, they declared a victory -- on the basis of one amendment which limited the time in which the freeze would be in effect if reductions were not achieved.
All along, the Republican loyalists had hoped to grind the Democrats into submission on the central point of endorsing the Reagan arms-control approach, by equating "freeze" with "reductions." But in repeated efforts, they were beaten back, and in the end they did not dare submit their substitute, which called for reduction first, and freeze later.
But the antifreezers destroyed their claim of triumph by voting against final passage of what they insisted to the press was a melted measure. Hard-liner Rep. Jack Kemp (R--N.Y.) said that,even as amended, the bill would "perpetuate the current imbalance . . . undercut negotiations . . . and (would be) the antithesis of our true objective, arms reduction."
It was a poor week for the President. Everything he holds dear in foreign policy was rejected. People were shouting at him that he should despook our Central American policy, seek peace through negotiations rather than "peace through strength." He has a lot to think about as he sits alone in his room.