In the foreign policy-making pecking order at the Reagan White House, Thomas C. Reed is a senior figure, generally ranked third, behind the national security adviser (William Clark) and his deputy (Robert McFarlane). A former secretary of the Air Force, he is a special assistant to the president.
But that is not why, when Tom Reed speaks publicly about the Reagan foreign policy, people listen. The reason is that nobody on Ronald Reagan's national security staff speaks publicly about foreign policy without the most careful clearance in advance.
So when a fellow in Reed's position makes the same speech twice, almost word for word, first in September and again to another group a week or so ago, you have to figure not only that Reed likes it but that somebody way up there likes it, too. You have to give it the weight of Holy Writ -- a valid guide to the quality of presidential and administration thinking on the great security issues of our time.
And that is an unsettling thought.
The problem is not that there is anything necessarily wrongheaded about the administration's view of the world and of the proper role of the United States in world affairs. Reed recites familiar stuff: the value of allies abroad and self-esteem at home; Soviet military superiority and the urgent need for the United States to catch up; crippling Soviet internal weaknesses and the opportunity for the United States -- with the right mix of diplomatic, economic and defense policies -- to get the Soviets to "turn inward" and become more like us.
The problem lies with the way all this is addressed: the glittering superficiality, the innocence (close to ignorance) of the past. It is as if every banality contained some blinding truth and every proclaimed "new" turn in the Reagan way of approaching foreign policy consisted of something essentially new.
For example, Reed thinks a perception that "the Soviet Union does not wish us well" is new. He regards it as a "departure from the past" that the Reagan administration should perceive the world "in global terms." It's a first, he suggests, for the administration to be working on a "unified strategy" (diplomatic, political, military, economic and "informational") that is "focused on American objectives and interests, not some ill-defined dogma."
Reed thinks -- get this -- that we "should be proud of America, and we should hope to prevail" and that these "concepts . . . are considered novel in Washington" and have been ever since the days of John F. Kennedy. He apparently thinks that he is saying something when he says, "There is nothing wrong with winning." Or: "Our policies must be forward-looking and must offer hope." Or: "We must believe in what we are doing." Or: "We must be steadfast in our efforts."
And he seems to be sublimely unaware of the irony when he says in one breath that "the United States must act in consort with its allies and friends; there is no other choice," and in the next breath takes note of what he describes as a "highly visible trauma" with NATO allies over the Siberian natural gas pipeline to Europe. Somewhere else along the way he says that "a nation's policies should be internally consistent."
Don't get me wrong. Reed identifies serious problems. He laments the loss of this country's economic self-sufficiency. He is a mite churlish about the growing trade competition from industrial nations "whose reconstruction we helped to finance" -- but the competition is real. He is worried about the new threat of worldwide terrorism.
He concedes that a shortage of spare parts and logistical support raises real questions about the combat readiness of U.S. conventional forces. So he would give "readiness" top priority in allocating money for defense. But he has at least three other defense priorities. It is not at all clear to what extent any one of them would be advanced at the expense of another.
Now it would be one thing if this were an out-of-office candidate's campaign speech, or perhaps even a new president's first State of the Union message. But this is proudly presented as a progress report on the management of national security affairs by an administration that was voted into office two years ago.
So it is a bit much for Reed to be saying at this stage that "We must have goals for all parts of the world and a well-thought-through plan for our relationships with the governments and people of these regions." And that "the National Security Council machinery is now producing these plans."
It is all the more disquieting when you recall that back in May, the top national security adviser, William Clark, was hailing the president's personal role in a sweeping policy review that supposedly had already produced a full range of critical decisions on "national security strategy."