George Bush's name was inadvertently dropped from a sentence in a column by Philip Geyelin on yesterday's page. The sentence should have read: "Emphasizing that Bush would be in charge of domestic as well as foreign crises removed some of the sting for Haig."
By what stretch of anything other than his own compulsive instinct for filling power vacuums did Secretary of State Alexander Haig make that memorable announcement minutes after Monday's assassination attempt that he was "in control here" at the White House?
The degree of President Reagan's incapacitation was still unknown. Vice President Bush, next in succession, was flying back to town, airborne, but by no means out of touch, in one of the world's most sophisticated communications centers. Even if both men had been incapable of functioning, nothing in the laws or the Constitution would have so swiftly conferred control of the government upon Haig. The order of succession passes first to the speaker of the House and then to the president pro tem of the Senate before reaching the secretary of state.
Happily, the confusion was fleeting. But the incident only serves to sharpen the question that had given rise, only the previous week, to a crisis of sorts in the new Reagan administration over the management of crises. The question comes down now, as it did then, to Haig's own sense of the reach of his power as secretary of state.
From the administration's first day, before he had even been confirmed by the Senate, Haig made clear his own intention that his powers over foreign policy making were to be nearly supreme. He was the prime mover in the struggle that led last week to the president's decision to put Bush in charge of the new crisis management team.
For Haig this was a needless, self-inflicted rebuff. Nobody with his White House experience, and record of fierce loyalty to Richard Nixon, could have been unaware of an elementary fact of Washington political life: that the White House is filled, traditionally, with staff members with a keen and continuing concern for the president's political welfare and of the indivisibility of foreign policy and domestic policy, and politics; and that these presidential intimates come equipped with the most sensitive antenna for the first sign of challenge to their man's (or their) authority or political welfare.
This town's favorite parlor game being what it is -- Who's Up-Down-In-Or-Out -- a smart maneuverer would, then, not have gratuitously invited the instant judgment that George Bush was Up and In and that Al Haig was Down and Out. Accordingly, a second judgment followed from the first -- that Al Haig is not very smart.
Now that the new crisis management machinery has been put to a first test of a sort in Monday's shootings, yet a third conclusion seems inescapable. We have not heard the last of the power struggle between the White House and Alexander Haig -- and won't, for as long as Haig remains in office.
That's a promise you could have probably counted on the Washington press to keep, in any case. But it is made more certain not only by the nature of Al Haig but by the terms of the new crisis management procedures. Given the way things worked in those brief, agonizing moments on Monday, a case can be made that the terms are, if anything, perhaps to imprecise.
Designating the vice president as chairman in charge of managing extreme crises, after all, was quite in keeping with the constitutional packing order, to which Haig could hardly object.
Emphasizing that Haig would be in charge of managing domestic as well as foreign crises removed some of the sting for Haig. So did the president's redesignation of Haig as his "primary adviser on foreign affairs" and chief formulator and spokesman for foreign policy for this administration.
The official announcement refers to "emergency situations" and said the "type of incident" the Bush "team" would deal with "ranges from an isolated terrorist attack to an attack upon the United States by a hostile power." That's either a lot of territory, or very little -- an Iranian hostage crisis or a Pearl Harbor obviously fit, but they don't come along every day.
The president, presumably, will make the decision on what constitutes a "crisis" worthy of activating the Bush team. (He was fully capable of doing so on Monday.) Bush himself will have no crisis management staff; he will draw aides say, on the staff of the National Security Council.
And on the ordinary use of the new machinery, the president, in the end, will be guided by the strongest arguments from those he most trusts -- those, more often than not, whose thinking is closest to his, and those who are best informed. Unless the appearance of power is Haig's primary concern, it's hard to see on what grounds a secretary of state can complain about having to compete on those terms for influence in the making of foreign policy.