The Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday discussed ways of acquiring legislative leverage over the increasingly prominent and powerful post of White House national security adviser, but ran into objections from -- of all places -- the State Department.
At issue was a proposal by Sen. Edward Zorinsky (D-Neb.) to subject the White House foreign policy aide and his deputy to Senate confirmation, and therefore to demands for appearance as witnesses on Capitol Hill.Zorinsky argued that it "no longer makes sense" to exempt the presidential aide from congressional accountability, when he is often more visible and seemingly more influential than the secretary of state.
The present occupant of the White House foreign policy post, Zbigniew Brzezinski, declined to testify about the issue in keeping with the traditional immunity accorded to his position. In his absence, the argument for the status quo was presented by Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher, whose department has often been at cross purposes with Brzezinski and who himself was upstaged by the national security adviser early this year in a highly publicized, highly unsuccessful mission to Pakistan.
Committee Chairman Frank Church (D-Idaho) maintained that "we've created a mini-State Department" in the White House which has given the nation "two proconsuls" in foreign policy and proved to be disabling for the secretary of state. Church pointed out that a survey of 1,569 prominent Americans in last week's U.S. News & World Report picked Brzezinski as the third most influential American -- and considered Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance ninth in national influence.
Speaking for the Carter administration, Christopher testified that Senate accountability for the security adviser "would intrude upon the authority of the president in international affairs and complicate the conduct of our foreign relations."
Under questioning, Christopher maintained that formal recognition of the White House aide as a foreign policymaker would make matters worse and "diminish or demean the secretary of state." Christopher said that if the security adviser were required to testify before Congress, for example, lawmakers could summon him to give his views one day and the secretary of state another day, confusing the public and nations abroad.
In considering what they felt was a growing problem, senators focused on the increasing public prominence of the White House security aid. "He's on the world stage, before the press, before television and constantly referred to as a man who has as much to say about foreign policy as the secretary of state, and by some to have quite a bit more to say," according to Church.