HOW LONG, ask yourself, would an Elliott Abrams remain in the time of Secretary of State George C. Marshall?
The father of the Marshall Plan, which was inaugurated 40 years ago, was a public servant of unassailable integrity. He would have had the assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs out the door before he was off the stand.
But our present secretary of state, George Shultz, issued a statement of support on the second day of Abrams' testimony before the Select Committees on the Iran-Contra scandal. His spokesman said: "He thinks Secretary Abrams is doing a sensational job. He has full and total confidence in him."
A day earlier, Abrams had arrogantly acknowledged that he lied to Congress last year about the solicitation of a $10 million donation from the Sultan of Brunei.
Does the secretary of state endorse lying?
He better tell us.
Abrams' alibi was that he was not "authorized" by the secretary to tell the truth. That is to say, he had to conceal the money from the committee because the sultan had insisted on confidentiality and Abrams had to put the sultan's concerns above those of the U.S. Congress.
Shultz's views on this should be sought. Who comes first? The sultan or us?
It is quite impossible to imagine George Marshall going out with a tin cup and begging for money from a filthy-rich little autocracy to further a policy that has no support at home.
Shultz softened up the Bruneians. Abrams was the bag man. He flew to London under the alias "Mr. Kenilworth" and during a walk in the park with the Sultan's man, sealed the deal. It could be scummier, but it is hard to see how.
Few men came into the Reagan administration with more of a reputation than Shultz. His gravity, his experience, his calmly expressed views sparked hopes of a rational, orderly, honorable foreign policy.
From the hearings, most directly from Abrams, we have learned about Shultz' slack, defensive stewardship. Last November, when the tip of the Iran arms iceberg was revealed, he made sure everyone knew that he had opposed the deal. And what had he done about his opposition? Well, for one thing, with a hypocrisy that could pass for mendacity, he continued his diatribes against terrorism. For another, he carefully never inquired about what was going on.
The White House complained about his disloyalty, and there was talk of his resignation. Shultz smartly reined himself in. He represented himself as privileged to be serving the remarkable foreign policy of Ronald Reagan.
He acted like an impoverished bureaucrat who dared not speak his mind for fear it would cost him his job -- and the roof over his head.
When he was called before the House Foreign Affairs Committee last December to tell what he knew, he bristled on having to take the oath. It was reminiscent of his stand against lie detectors.
Now, thanks to Abrams, State Department officials testifying on the Hill probably will be asked to take the oath -- either that or promise that the secretary has "authorized" the telling of the truth.
The question that comes out of the hearings is: of what state is Shultz secretary? He walked away from our policy on Iran, which is in the Middle East. What about Central America, another large chunk of the globe? On Nicaragua, Ollie North was secretary of state (and defense, the Treasury and the CIA as well).
Shultz once told Abrams to "monitor Ollie". But Shultz never monitored Abrams. Again, Shultz sought ignorance. What Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.) said to Abrams, the assistant secretary could equally well say to his nominal boss: "You are the only man I ever saw that takes more pride in not knowing anything than anybody I ever saw."
House Republicans whine a great deal about the lack of a bipartisan foreign policy. They should study the Marshall Plan to see why it is unattainable on Nicaragua. The Marshall Plan was a noble and totally pragmatic decision to lift a prostrate Europe and set it on its feet. Object: to save the free world. It had the complete support of the American people and no serious opposition in Congress. Organizations of all stripes lined up to testify in its favor.
It was instantly apparent to everyone who could read and write that the Marshall Plan represented the best in America and also its supreme self-interest. It was administered, except in rare instances, by honest public servants.
The contra policy -- which is both stupid and mean and is based on the preposterous proposition that if we falter in support of it, the Sandinistas will invade Harlingen, Tex. -- has meant the delivery of our national interests into the hands of profiteers, careerists, soldiers of fortune and people like Albert Hakim. It is done with secrecy, slime and deception. It is opposed by
67 percent of the people. Shultz is all for it. If he weren't, he could lose his job.
Mary McGrory is a Washington Post columnist.