The Reagan administration has now produced something it calls a "national security strategy," which might be called the Reagan doctrine if it contained a leading idea but which goes better, alas, under the heading of Reagan mishmash.
I heard it presented, by the president's national security adviser, William P. Clark, to a room full of potentially sympathetic national security types. They listened attentively but seemed to find neither explicit policies nor the tips of interesting policy icebergs. Some very savvy and senior people went out mumbling that they'd have to check the text.
It's a pity, and not just because the result casts a bit of a pall over one of the principal points of the exercise: to depict Ronald Regan as the maker and master of his own administration's policies, not merely a bystander to the initiatives and quarrels of his leading aides. Clark reported the president had played "an extraordinarily active" role in the policy review, to editing "all nine interagency draft segments." And "when it was done, the study and the decisions were the president's."
The real pity is that an opportunity was lost, or misused, to get the National Security Council, meaning the system of policy formulation and control directed personally by the president, into strategic planning; that is, into making choices about what threats to meet and how to meet them.
No strategic choices that I could discern are made. Reagan appears to accept the whole globe as the stage for American action and all Soviet and radical challenges as fit for American rebuff. "We cannot fix (all the risks we face) at once," Clark said, but we are working on it.
A fellow journalist, struggling, reported that "in essence, the document established priorities for the use of American power in the event of a global war with the Soviet Union." But establishing priorities is precisely what the study does not do, to judge by the Clark version.
No guidelines are indicated to help the administration decide how to achieve its virtually unlimited strategic objectives with its limited resources. No awareness is shown that these limitations may compel the United States to review some of its far-flung commitments. No mention is made of what is in fact the principal strategic debate within the administration, between Europe-centered, East-West traditionalists and the Navy-oriented projection-of-power-everywhere school.
Only a single uninformative allusion is made--to reject it--of what is often called "global unilateralism," the go-it-alone tendency of parts of this administration. There is no development of Clark's intriguing--and, to me, patronizing and silly--conclusion that "we might one day convince the leadership of the Soviet Union to turn their attention inward, to seek the legitimacy that only comes from the consent of the governed, and thus to address the hopes and dreams of their own people."
The "new" idea most evident in the Clark paper--a vast expansion of security assistance to friendly countries--is presented as though it were a sure and simple bridge across the deep pit between the administration's intentions and capabilities. In fact, even as military aid can ease the set of problems arising from military deficiency, it can exacerbate a second set entailing political dependency. Of this tension Clark did not so much as hint.
To me what was most disturbing about the new "national security strategy" was its unrelievedly military tone. There is not a word about the contributions to American security that might be made by resolving disputes, negotiating with adversaries, conducting diplomacy, tending to economic and social strains or--to shift gears--by waiting, compromising and accepting that it is not given and not necessary for the United States to shape the world alone.
One explanation for this lapse is that the NSC review was based in the first instance on the big policy statements that the Pentagon routinely makes every year. The Weinberger pedal-to-the-metal touch is evident throughout the NSC study; newsmen quickly caught the few lines in which a slightly softer touch seemed indicated.
The study is hardly the final word on how Caspar Weinberger and Alexander Haig stand with the president. But it does seem to be evidence that Reagan lacks still the apparatus and procedure to induce some more respectable measure of consistency into his approaches to the bureaucracy, the public and the world beyond.