Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., in his first two weeks in office, has made long strides toward achieving the position he seeks as chief formulator and administrator of American policy in the Reagan administration. But despite fancy footwork, Haig's bureaucratic maneuvering exposed vulnerabilities as well as strengths.
As foreshadowed by his past experience and pre-inaugural statements, Haig came on fast and strong to carve out the central role in America's diplomatic, military and economic relations with the rest of the world. It was so fast and so stong, however, that storm signals were immediatley raised in the Reagan inner circle, especially among members of the senior White House staff.
The White House declined to endorse directives proposed by the secretary of state in the early hours of the new administration giving him the dominant role in foreign policy making of all sorts. One senior official described the proposed directives bluntly as an attempted "power grab."
Haig's responses were deft:
Without the directives, he went ahead to convene interagency meetings on a host of foregn policy issues in every region of the world. Other agencies sent represenatives, lest they be left out in the action. Their attendance ratified the authority of the State Department to create and preside over the policy groups on an interim basis.
In public pronouncements, especially his news conferences of Jan. 28, Haig continued to assert his primacy over policy. In public as well as in private, Haig traced his authority to a "mandate" offered by Reagan along with the job of secretary of state.
In meetings with his Cabinet counterpart, Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, Haig negotiated a jointly approved version of the directives that previously were rejected in the White House. These negotiations are reported to have been completed at a State Department breakfast of the two Cabinet officers last Reagan's approval.
White House approval of the Haig proposals, now the Haig-Weinberger proposals, is expectecd but it is not certain. Haig's maneuvers to establish a sweeping policy-making writ, plus his quick and forceful counterattack against the foreign aid slashes proposed by budget director David A. Stockman, raised the hackles of some of the Reagan insiders. These sources, by the way predict that the final budgetary totals for the aid program will be closer to Stockman's numbers than to Haig's.
Under the rubric of "Cabinet government," the policy formulation proposals would give the central role to interagency committees, most of which are chaired by the State Department. The policy options created by these groups would flow upward to the Cabinet-level meetings of the National Security Council, including Reagan himself, for discussion and final approval. This is no mere formality, for Reagan has foreign policy ideas of his own.
As Haig informed his senior staff at Foggy bottom, under this system the State Department, rather than the staff of the National Security Council, will have the major role in policy coordination beneath the Cabinet level. And as any bureaucrat knows, those below who draft the assesments and carve out the options usually have more influence on policy than those at the top who make the final decisions.
A Haig-Weinberger policy coalition would be a formidable force in dealing with Edwin Meese III and other White House potentates, to say nothing of Richard V. Allen, the presidential national security adviser. Weinberger is of vital importance because he is not only a fellow Cabinet member but also a trusted Reagn insider, as Haig is not.
Haig's need for unity with Weinberger is among the reasons why the State Department reacted so sharply to refute and denounce The New York Times story last Friday that the secretary of state had advised European allies to "disregard" Weinberger's public statements on the neutron bomb. The State Department went to the unusual length of releasing the and set the record straight .
Haig's sure sense of bureaucratic politics, arising from his extensive experience as Henry A. Kissinger's National Security Council deputy, as White House chief of staff and NATO commander, was among the most striking features of his performance as secretary of state in those early weeks. The new man came on as a confident, knowledgeable and bold, all to an extrodinary degree, in a government which is still, for the most part, groping for a handle on the levers of power. wA major pitfall, as illustrated by the unsuccessful move for immediate approval of the initial policy-making directives, is the possibility that Haig could overplay his hand.
Within the State Department, the early indications are that Haig will rely more on clear and established lines of organization and authority than did Kissinger or Cyrus R. Vance. Each leadership style is, to a great degree, the product of formative exprience. Haig's experience as a military officer tends to make him more comfortable with the tables of organization than didKissinger's experience as a professor and strategic thinker, or Vance's experience as a lawyer accustomed to the case-by-case method.
Haig is depicted by those close at hand as well organized in his first weeks as secretary of state, juggling internal policy making and a large number of unpublicized meetings with diplomats, political figures and Cabinet colleagues.He is a quick reader who insists on clear and concise reports, but major blocks of time are set aside on each day's schedule for solitary reading of the myriad reports and cables that flow across his desk.
He is regarded as more likely than his predecessors to bestow responsibilities on subordinates, and to hold them accountable if their performance does not measure up. He is leery of special bureaucratic positions grafted onto the organizational chart, such as that of ambassadorships at large or other special positions. He had made clear, for example, that the post of special adviser on Soviet affairs, held by Marshall D. Shulman the past four years, will be abolished and the main line of responsibility for poicy returned to the established State Department structure.
With a few exceptions, Haig selected experienced foreign policy operatives as his senior aides, people who know both the bureaucratic and outside world from extensive firsthand knowledge. Among the exceptions is his deputy, William P. Clark, the California judge who is a close friend and former staff chief to Reagan, and who is expected to function as the White House eyes and ears in the State Department, especially on behalf of those in the Reagan inner circle which may be suspicious of Haig's ambitions for the presidency.
Some officials see a contridiction between the rhetorical and ideological view of the world expressed by Reagan and many of his backers, and the more pragmatic view of Haig and his policy operatives. In this persepective, Haig's greatest challenge will be to connect the inner world of the Reagan administration and the turbulent world outside, to square rhetoric with reality to bring objectives in line with capabilities.
Haig's first bold efforts to establish himself as the bridge between the White House and the world suggest that the task is anything but a simple one. w CAPTION:
Picture 1, ALEXANDER M. HAIG JR. . . . early moves raise storm signals; Picture 2, Secretay Haig: Long strides toward position as chief formulator of foreign policy. By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post