In the average American politician's head there is always music playing. Sometimes it is Sousa, sometimes a barbershop quartet. Often it is a stalwart Methodist choir, though the boys -- once they reach Washington -- are loath to admit it. Jimmy Carter brought to our nation's capital a head full of Baptists, Bob Dylan (as he hath proudly admitted) and (Consider his policies! Consider his oratory!) something heretofore undreampt of even by an American politician. Let us catalog it as Tchaikovsky-Rachmaninoff-a-gigantic-train-derailment. At any rate, whatever the sound running through the average pol's head, it is almost always trashy and mere noise.
The foreign policy racket emitting from our president during the glorious first three years of his reign was always of "negotiation," "cooperation," "peace" and "mutual understanding." Now he sings of "toughness," "strength," "aggressive" this and "aggressive" that. I cringe.
Meanly, almost ignobly, he heaves aspersions upon Cyrus Vance, his colleague for three years, after unveiling as secretary of state an environmentalist renowned for possessing a bilious temper. His national security adviser poses bravely aiming a rifle down the Khyber Pass. His personal representative, Clark Clifford, actually sings of "War" -- vis: "They the Soviets must know that if part of their plan is to move toward the Persian Gulf, that means war." I cringe again.
What is more, the president's allies now go so far as to label Sen. Henry Jackson a "paper hawk." Here is irony for you -- and it is instructive irony. Jackson is now under fire for counseling quiet and calm. As he has made bold to say, "The decibel level of the administration's rhethoric must be lowered. Issuing threatening, tough-sounding statements and then backing off is not the way to deal with the Russians. . . . To Moscow, actions speak better than words. Our first priority is to shore up the sagging American military posture and enlist our friends and allies in a renewed effort to fortify the common defense. We are in a protracted struggle. We need to prove that a competent America is embarked on a long-term bipartisan effort to restore the balance of military power."
Is this the statement of a paper hawk? I am not sure, having encountered no paper hawks recently. But it does bring to mind the ancient adage passed on to us by Francois deSalignac: "To be always ready for war, said Mentor, is the surest way to avoid it."
Today Sen. Jackson, who for years has urged military preparedness, is counseling cooler rhetoric even as our president heats things up. Jackson is counseling substantial growth in military appropriations even as our suddenly hawkist president juggles the figures and keeps our military feeble. Choose the statements more likely to avoid war. Is it actually possible that we can endure four more years of Jimmy Carter? Is it believable that the Democrats will let a man of Jackson's great good sense remain in the Senate, while they dutifully labor to keep Jimmy Carter at the head of the ticket?
The foreign policy followed by Carter in his first three years was merely absurd and imprudent. It is now becoming reckless and dangerous. From the Senate, Jackson has watched the farce, and today he encapsulates it arrestingly:
"We have listened as the Soviet combat brigade in Cuba was called unacceptable one week and acceptable a few weeks later. We are told that America will protect the West's oil sources in the Middle East, but in fact we don't have the military capabilties to do so. We have been told that the Afghan situation was the gravest crisis since World War II, yet the administration supports a cut in its own defense budget. . . . We are assured that the international crises that are visibly not under control are suddenly manageable."
I can understand why the administration grows irritable over Sen. Jackson, but I would think I would shy from calling him a paper hawk.
Churchill watched a similar farce. He watched the inept Stanley Baldwin lead Great Britain in the 1930s and he summed up Baldwin's dithering grandly: "Decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent."
Obviously the swirl and noise of the Carter administration is not without parallel. Are the 1980s to end as calamitously as did the 1930s? Let us hope not.
Men like our president make splendid Fourth of July orators, and every small town in America should have one. There, standing heroically on the bandstand, they can shout their lungs out. The bands strike up, the blood rushes to the cheek, and the heroic rhetoric soars to the heavens. No danger is done. But in the White House we need something more. We need people who understand the delicate uses of power. We need less noise. We need Jackson.