The immediate uses to which the assassination of Anwar Sadat are being put suggest that a true memorial to a daring and beloved world statesman may be deferred.
He deserved better than being made a salesman for the AWACS deal. Politics is, of course, the art of taking advantage of circumstances, and Sadat was a brilliant politician. Still, the declaration at the White House by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch--before Sadat's death had been officially confirmed--that he had been shocked into supporting the president on the planes had about it a certain crassness. Hatch could be suspected of covering a change of heart that could easily have been brought about by gratitude for the president's recent decision not to rip up Hatch's Utah for the MX missile.
It is true that Sadat supported the sale of the planes. He was in enough trouble with the Saudis without balking them on their heart's desire in weaponry. But his whole life, since he took it in his hands by going to Jerusalem in 1977, was to further peace in the Middle East and the evidence that the AWACS would bring harmony is less than compelling.
Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. took the opportunity at a news conference the morning after the tragedy to say that delaying the controversial sale "would make a mockery of all that President Sadat stood for."
You could go out in the street and pick any ordinary citizen at random and get a more eloquent version of what Anwar Sadat stood for--and died for.
Haig spent considerable time inveighing against international terrorism--of which he finally admitted the reviewing stand slaughter was not an example. From the best information available, it was the work of Islamic fundamentalists of the kind Sadat rounded up shortly before his death.
Haig also went to much trouble to assure the Egyptians of our faith in their stability and continuity. But the composition of the official delegation to the funeral somewhat contradicted the point. The president will not go. Anyone seeking enlightenment on that score had perhaps only to study the expression on Nancy Reagan's face as she watched her husband give his personal tribute to Sadat outside the White House.
But the exclusion of the vice president, who is lately returned from attendance at the obsequies of Romulo Betancourt, a former president of Venezuela, is harder to explain. Devastated Egyptian officials might just see it as a reflection on their security arrangements. When pressed for a reason, Haig mumbled that he thought "recent events in this country and in the world make a contribution to the president's decision on this."
Three ex-presidents will be in the funeral party. One of them, Jimmy Carter, whose only brush with greatness was provided by Sadat at Camp David, spoke of the lion-hearted Egyptian in terms that seemed excessively subjective for the occasion.
"I have never had a better, closer personal friend," he said.
Millions of people who never met Sadat felt they had a friend in him. His courage made him admirable; his charm made him delightful. He was extraordinarily brave--brave enough to choose butter over guns for his people, to go to Jerusalem, to defy his Arab brothers and to take in his outcast friend, the shah of Iran.
Best of all, he forbore to tell us how brave he was. He carried off his accomplishments with flair and humor. The world, much of it in tears, watched the arrival of his plane in Jerusalem and his incredible progress down the receiving line. His burnished, expressive face, his long Egyptian eyes were alive with excitement, he recognized generals who had bested him in war, leaders who had excoriated him in print. He greeted them in his rich voice, chortling and exclaiming as each old enemy clasped his hand. It was one of the most reviving moments of recent history.
It's always tricky and presumptuous to speak for the dead. Maybe, as Haig indicated, Sadat cared deeply about our president's ability to "conduct a coherent foreign policy" as it would be reflected in the AWACS sale. But if any of those mourning the passing of a genuine horizon-filler seriously seek to continue what he had in mind, a look at the toast he gave at the White House dinner during his August visit would suffice.
Sadat knew that a solution of the Palestinian question was the clue to Mideast peace. He spoke of "simultaneous recognition between the Israelis and the Palestinians."
The Palestinian view of the autonomy provisions of the Camp David accords, is that, in the words of a spokesman, "they give us the right to collect our own garbage."
Sadat told President Reagan that he could help the process "by holding a dialogue with the Palestinians through their representatives. It would be an act of statesmanship and vision."
But when Menachem Begin came to town in September, he said that the Palestinian question did not come up in his talks with Reagan.
"Statesmanship and vision" at the White House goes only as far as drumming up the AWACS sale in the name of Anwar Sadat. Too bad, when he gave such a supreme example of how it is done.