The secretary of state's speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was literally out of this world.
In 35 minutes of sometimes flowery and often Utopian oratory here Tuesday, there were no Falkland Islands, even though South Georgia had already been retaken; no echo from the Organization of American States, where Latin American diplomats struggled to reconcile their detestation of the arrogant Argentines with their desire for neighborhood solidarity, and no British fretting over our failure to stand with them in their hour of need.
"We must understand the complexities of our time if we are to move with the sureness and sensitivity that befits our historic responsibilities," Alexander M. Haig Jr. said rotundly. "There are opportunities to act, to navigate the sea of troubles to a safer and calmer water."
This, mind you, as the British armada tossed and pitched in the 85-foot seas and howling winds of the South Atlantic. You would have thought the secretary had spent the last three weeks in his study reading philosophy instead of shuttling between London and Buenos Aires and listening to a lot of excited language.
Escaping your troubles by talking about something else is an old dodge, but Haig overdid it. The audience had been alerted to the imminence of "a major speech" by outgoing chamber president Donald Kendall, and the secretary announced that he was about to deliver himself of "an important foreign policy address."
Since Haig said nothing he has not already said about nuclear weapons and the Soviet Union, it is just possible that he was trying to send an important message to Ronald Reagan, with whom he does not communicate easily.
He spoke with great feeling about our allies: "The Atlantic Alliance is the foundation of our security. It is still the basic building block of a more peaceful and prosperous world, and its breakdown would make disaster for the industrial democracies inevitable."
The British found that bizarre. They are still waiting for us to declare whose side we are taking in the Falklands. They gamely say they understand that in order to mediate, we had to be "evenhanded." But now that the guns are firing, they appreciate less what one Briton calls "the deafening silence from the White House."
"An alliance divided in its moral purposes and corroded by distrust of its own motivation cannot long endure," Haig said.
Haig is the leading Europeanist in the administration. It must be awkward for him to be thought wanting in loyalty to London. The White House thinks our vote for the U.N. resolution calling for an Argentine withdrawal is sufficient. It is possible that if Reagan had not been so insistent in declaring initially that "we are friends of both sides," the Argentines might have had second thoughts and spared Haig all that air time and all that excited talk.
Rep. Silvio O. Conte (R-Mass.) is one of several congressmen who thinks that with the breakdown of negotiations, Reagan should speak for Britain. It is interesting that Haig did Conte a favor last week by addressing a group of Conte's constituents. Conte may have been returning the favor in a speech on the House floor where he stated what may be Haig's secret position.
"We must stand full square behind Great Britain . . . draw this conclusion not because England is our closest ally . . . and not because the government of Argentina is a military dictatorship . . . but because the world must know that the U.S. does not condone the use of military aggression to resolve territorial disputes," Conte said.
Another liberal Republican, Jim Leach of Iowa, made similar remarks.
"We have a moral obligation to stand behind Great Britain and, as a first step, to join her European and Commonwealth allies by curtailing Argentine exports to the U.S. We also have an obligation to make clear to our British friends that ironically there is more support for British foreign policy in the Falklands than for our own in Central America," Leach said.
Apparently it is concern for our crumbling Central American policy that ties Reagan's tongue. Argentina was to be the centerpiece of our Caribbean Basin scheme and was to provide mercenaries in El Salvador and elsewhere. The belief that beastly dictators can be made house pets runs deep in the mind of Reagan and his right-wing friends.
Haig was one of the cheerleaders favoring closer ties with the bullies in Buenos Aires. Asked by a congressman what we had in common with Argentina, Haig said, "We both believe in God." Close encounters with the "gang of thugs" in fruitless bargaining sessions has shaken him.
But he can't say that.
He can't, as a matter of fact, say much of anything. He is merely suffered at the White House. And, it seems, if he wants to talk to the president, he must go to the Chamber of Commerce to do it. And then he must speak in such muffled terms that his immediate audience may think he has lost touch with reality.