The effort to fashion U.S.-West German unity in the Polish crisis has produced repeated misstatements and rapidly shifting assessments that may have been intended to help rescue West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt from the image he has developed, fairly or not, of being soft on the Soviets.
For example, on a number of occasions during his just-completed visit to Washington, Schmidt complained publicly and privately that he had not "seen any reflection at all" in the American press of the position in the crisis that he and the Bonn parliament had taken Dec. 18, six days after the massive crackdown began in Poland.
Yesterday, Schmidt got a little help from his friend, Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr.. At a news conference, Haig volunteered that Schmidt "had complained bitterly, and I think with justification," that his "robust" Dec. 18 speech to the parliament "seemed to have dropped on a disappearing cloud . . . in the American press."
In fact, as a reporter noted at the press conference, Schmidt's speech and a subsequent bipartisan resolution of the Bonn parliament on Poland, were both reported in articles from Bonn by The Washington Post and The New York Times, two newspapers that are read by the German embassy in Washington and by Haig.
On Tuesday, Schmidt had also invoked the speech and the resolution to respond to a reporter who had asked why the chancellor had suddenly decided to join President Reagan in charging the Soviet Union with "responsibility" for the Polish crisis.
Until the Tuesday summit with Reagan, Schmidt had steadfastly refused publicly to link Moscow with the crisis.
Schmidt's answer to the reporter implied that he and his parliament had talked tough about Moscow before that December speech but that, again, it had been overlooked in the American press.
In fact, neither the section of Schmidt's December address dealing with Poland nor the parliamentary resolution specifically mentioned the Soviet Union.
Until last week, Schmidt's spokesman, Kurt Becker, continued to assert that "we do not share this view" when asked if Bonn agreed with Washington's assertion that Moscow was the instigator of the Polish crackdown.
It was an assertion that annoyed top U.S. officials, especially because leading figures in France, Italy and England had by then begun to include Moscow in their public expressions of concern.
The parliamentary resolution that was passed overwhelmingly on Dec. 18 was actually proposed by the opposition Christian Democrats who had criticized Schmidt that day for comments the chancellor had made in Communist East Germany, where he was visiting when the Polish crisis began.
In his joint statement with Reagan Tuesday, Schmidt and the president also said they "agreed on their analysis of the Polish situation."
On Dec. 30 in Bonn, spokesman Becker had said: "This government believes the evaluation of the situation, now as before, is incomplete so that it permits neither a final judgment on the condition of the country nor a prediction about further developments."
Before meeting with the president, Schmidt went to Capitol Hill and repeatedly complained to a group of senators that Bonn had not been consulted before the imposition of American economic sanctions against the Soviet Union.
It was another remark that stung the administration because Assistant Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger had spent a week touring European capitals and discussing possible moves shortly before they were announced.
What this pattern of statements suggests is open to speculation.
But a number of officials here see a combination of things: frustration felt by Schmidt about a crisis that is extraordinarily difficult for Bonn to deal with, and a recognition by the chancellor that he made a serious miscalculation about how much leeway exists during a crisis within the Atlantic alliance.
Schmidt's speech in parliament did represent a toughening of his stance on the Polish situation, as was reported. "With all my heart, I am on the side of the workers," he told the federal Bundestag.
And in the early days of the crisis, all western leaders were extremely cautious in public statements. Many basically followed the advice that Schmidt had offered, namely not to take any early actions that could make the crisis worse.
But the Polish crisis had begun badly for Schmidt, catching him in East Germany as the guest of Communist Party chief Erich Honecker, one of those who had called most often for a crackdown in Poland.
There is considerable speculation in this country as to whether the timing was an intentional trap for Schmidt set by Honecker and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in which the chancellor's presence in the East would provide some sense of calm in the West on that first crucial day.
Determined to demonstrate that East-West detente must survive, Schmidt completed the final day of his trip.
He faced a stinging attack by conservative leader Franz Josef Strauss when he got back. But West Germany as a whole has not had the demonstrations, which have been tiny in comparison to those recently held against new U.S. missile basing plans, of some other allies toward the Polish situation.
Portions of the West German press have been sharply critical of Bonn's reticence. "Bonn is making a mockery of itself," said the respected Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper last week.
But there also is considerable domestic and business community support for Schmidt's caution in dealing with Russia.
So the view here seems to be that Schmidt may have hurt himself abroad rather than at home.
Whatever the correct assessment, it is clear to Washington that Schmidt must be brought into line and kept there because a rift between the two key powers on this issue would encourage the Soviets and weaken the alliance.