Alexander Haig is now officially where he has always wanted to be, that is in charge of U.S. foreign policy.
After months of stormy uncertainties, the volcanic secretary of state has received confirmation that he has arrived--a Good Housekeeping seal of disapproval from his former mentor. Henry A. Kissinger, in two articles in The New York Times of surpassingly stately murkiness, is complaining about the conduct of U.S. foreign policy since the crackdown in Poland.
The former secretary of state, chafing in retirement, has come in from the cold to fret about the "dithering procrastination, sophisticated justifications for impotence. . . and the cascade of arguments for inaction."
From this you might think that the master is dumping on his own policy of detente, which Haig has been faithfully following. But Kissinger assures us that while detente is still good, it's just that without him to supervise, we have not emphasized the "linkage" aspect sufficiently.
Kissinger does not go so far as to say we should stop selling grain to the Soviet Union, which is what Jimmy Carter did, although no one ever took Carter for the lion of anti-Soviet resolve that Ronald Reagan is supposed to be. The continuation of grain sales is the principal alibi given by U.S. allies for not imposing sanctions.
Kissinger thinks that cancellation of negotiations would let the Soviets know how upset we are and bring them to their senses.
"I criticize with reluctance a foreign policy produced in part by so many friends and comrades of difficult battles," he says with a Wagnerian melancholy appropriate for the exercise of doing in his old pal, Haig.
Haig should be delighted, although he is said not to be. Here is proof positive that he has at last consolidated his position in the White House power structure.
The Kissinger critique coincided with a call for Haig's head in Human Events, the right-wing weekly, which labeled him a "pussycat" and "a pure detenteist."
Is Kissinger, whose scent for power is unerring, trying to destabilize the suddenly secure Haig? Or is he, in the thought of one jaded observer, "trying to improve his chances of being made secretary again, by one one-hundredth percent, by courting the right wing?"
Haig, who lost all of his early power struggles with the Reagan staff, is now enjoying a period of detente. The sniping has ceased. The rout of his nemesis, Richard V. Allen, as national security adviser and his replacement by William P. Clark, who learned what little he knows of foreign policy at Haig's knee, has given Haig secure borders.
Anyone looking for further signs of his entrenchment could have found them at the recent meetings of the Conservative Caucus. Haig had been booked to speak, but canceled. His place was taken by the president's foremost counselors, James A. Baker III and Edwin Meese III, the latter of whom nominally supervises foreign affairs. But the audience asked Meese only one question about foreign affairs and that had to do with Jonas Savimbi of Angola.
By their silence, the conservatives seemed to be saying that Haig was the only one in the administration worth talking to about foreign policy.
But if Haig is doing well with Reagan, he is faring miserably in the world. The allies are more balky and divided. France, not a full-fledged member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization but helpful of late, has flatly refused to follow Haig's lead.
France has sent military aid to Nicaragua, whose Sandinista government is a personal affront to Haig. It has also renewed financial aid to Vietnam's Marxist regime, which Haig wishes to isolate. On the East-West front, France did the ultimate, agreeing to annual purchases for 25 years of 280 billion cubic feet of gas from the Soviets' planned pipeline to Western Europe.
Only with Italy has Haig had any kind of success in turning off the gas pipeline. But even the Italians, who have declared "a pause" in their participation, are restive. As one Italian official told our ambassador in Rome, "We would like to buy gas from Switzerland, but Switzerland doesn't have any."
What Haig confronts in Europe is massive Soviet subversion. It is not in the form of "international terrorism," against which he so vividly inveighs.
It is subversion by trade. Western European governments have heeded too well our warnings of unreliable energy supplies from the Persian Gulf and have turned East. They do not want to risk high unemployment and idle factories in order to dramatize their sympathy with the Poles or their solidarity with Ronald Reagan.
Haig is currently registering U.S. "outrage" about Poland with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. But that's the kind of "punishment" the Soviets can absorb.
So while Haig has had his bureaucratic triumphs, he has had nothing but diplomatic defeats. His one accomplishment has been to get NATO agreement that the Soviets were responsible for the repression in Poland, which must have impressed anyone who had suspected the Swedes or the Italians.
But at least, with Kissinger after him, Haig knows he's doing fine at home.