On the surface, the Reagan administration seemed to be the clear victor last year in the perennial struggles between White House and Congress to control and direct foreign policy.
It won the big battle over airborne warning and control system aircraft and equipment (AWACS) to Saudi Arabia, got a foreign aid money bill for the first time in three years and induced Congress to lift prohibitions on aid to Pakistan, Chile and Argentina.
But, as it surveys the 1981 battlegrounds, the administration is not very enthusiastic. Despite the individual pluses, it sees a lot of minuses for the long run, and says it believes that the results demonstrated that Congress is determined to continue to play a big--some would say "meddlesome"--role in foreign affairs.
Congress hung restrictions on aid to almost every controversial country where issues of human rights or nuclear proliferation are important. It flatly insisted on barring aid to Angola. The administration lost flexibility in doling out military assistance, and even the AWACS fight is now regarded as a dubious victory.
Some had looked on 1981 as the year when Congress would be forced to back out of its role of deep involvement in foreign affairs, and in some respects it did.
"But if anything, it showed that the Hill is becoming even more important," said an administration official who was engaged in the fray. "Don't think that the pendulum is swinging back. Congress got even deeper into the process."
Congress carved out a major role for itself in the 1970s, largely as a result of frustration over the war in Vietnam. In a series of acts and amendments to appropriations bills, it placed limits on the president's freedom to act. It prohibited aid to some countries, demanded supervision of intelligence activities and prevented the dispatch of troops if Congress objected fast enough.
A reaction was apparent last year as Republicans attempted to free their new president from such limitations so he could aid and arm a number of countries considered vital and friendly.
Sen. John G. Tower (R-Tex.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, added up 150 instances of congressional intervention and complained in a Foreign Affairs magazine article that "The balance between Congress and the president has swung dangerously to the legislative side with unfavorable consequences for American foreign policy."
Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, expressed similar views in Foreign Policy magazine.
The administration's initial target was to gain freedom to renew foreign assistance to such countries as Chile, Pakistan and Argentina, which had been placed out of bounds because of objectionable human rights practices or nuclear weapon policies.
It was successful, in that the absolute prohibitions were removed, but the final congressional product left the president bound to report to Congress on a large number of issues in order to continue aiding those countries.
He must certify, for example, that Chile and Argentina are making improvements in their human rights activities and that Chile is cooperating in prosecuting killers of a former ambassador slain in Washington.
The administration also won the right to aid Pakistan again, but part of the price was an unusually confining restriction on giving aid generally to countries trying to get into the international nuclear club, as Pakistan is. The law prohibits aid to a country that detonates a nuclear device or receives or ships one.
The president could waive that restriction for 30 days by formally certifying the aid to be in the national interest. But aid would then cease unless Congress acted affirmatively to continue it.
The administration won a widely publicized victory in preventing Congress from blocking its sale of AWACS to the Saudis, but administration officials now question the price they paid. One said the political expense of winning that battle is a warning that cannot be ignored in the future.
Each request for military sales, he said, will have to be weighed against the political costs. It will make the administration reluctant to seek weapons sales that will require such enormous lobbying effort in the Capitol.
The administration failed completely in one of its high-priority campaigns: renewing assistance to factions in Angola. In the final days of negotiations on the foreign aid bill, the State Department was forced to abandon aid to Angola to win its qualified victories on Chile and Argentina.
Reviewing the year, Democratic opponents in the Senate were satisfied with the overall results, and said that they showed there is no real danger of Congress surrendering its role in foreign affairs.
"In general, the Senate and House prefer to cooperate with the president on foreign policy, but the Constitution gives us a legitimate role to play," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). "Congress will never be a rubber stamp for policies with which it profoundly disagrees."
Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), the Democratic whip, cited the rejection of the administration's Angola proposal and the new restrictions placed on aid to El Salvador.
"Congress has not given a blank check, and it has set some standards," Cranston said.