One of Ronald Reagan's chief supporters abroad, London's weekly Economist, has made a point worth taking to heart by all concerned with confirming the American President-elect's cabinet appointments:
"The system of Senate confirmation not only helps to shore up Americans' faith in those who govern them but also shields presidents from some possible future embarrassments."
The Economist wrote these words in arguing for an airing of the "drawbacks to set against General Haig's undoubted qualifications for the job of secretary of state." But, in the confirmation hearings that begin on Friday, none of the nominees should be given the perfunctory treatment that has too often prevailed in the past. A 1977 study by the public- interest group Common Cause found that , in the words of its research director, "the Senate hastily considered President Carter's most important nominees without the benefit of clear standards, full records, or tough scrutiny."
These benefits must not be withheld from any Reagan candidate in 1981. (Who would have thought that Jimmy Carter's choice for the unglamorous post of budget director, Bert Lance, would turn out to have liabilities left unexposed by the confirmation process?) But it happens that questions have been raised particularly about Mr. Reagan's nominees for the three top "foreign" spots -- William Casey as intelligence director with new cabinet rank, Richard Allen as national security adviser, General Haig as secretary of state. To avoid adding any personal vulnerabilities to US national security problems, these questions ought to be cleared up sooner rather than later.
Since the national security adviser is not subject to Senate confirmation, Mr. Reagan would do well to provide some indication of addressing and laying to rest the specific questions about Mr. Allen. As outlined in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, these involve possible conflict of interest related to his previous government service. After the election Mr. Reagan announced "our people" have found "no evidence of wrongdoing" and "no conflict of interest." To which the Wall Street Journal reporter on the assignment said that "there has been no real challenge to the facts as presented in the Wall Street Journal." To keep Mr. Allen from operating under a handicap at the White House such unresolved allegations should be dispelled.
In the most conspicuous confirmation case, that of General Haig, the Senate will be doing neither the public nor Mr. Reagan a favor by failing to provide a convincing sense that all relevant information has been collected and considered. Thus the full Senate Foreign Relations Committee ought to act swiftly in support of the Democratic minority's request for such information from federal agencies. And the agencies ought not to hang back in providing the information.
In this connection it was good to see the present national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, deny that he was not cooperating with Democratic senators who had requested documents and other information on General Haig going back to the Vietnam and Water- gate years of his controversial service to Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon. He said he would certainly supply documents if specifically identified and determined to be properly available to the senators.
But Mr. Brzezinski's reported direct reply to the request seemed to stress the obstacles to cooperation rather than an effort to ease the overcoming of them. It will be important for both the senators and the executive branch to follow through on ensuring that everything needed is available and examined.
It was unnecessarily diversionary for Mr. Brzezinski immediately to raise specters of a "witch hunt," whether by the senators, as he first seemed to imply -- or by the press, as his news spokesman said he meant. The danger of a witch hunt, indeed, may be the greater if people take high office without the benefit of a full airing of whatever drawbacks as well as strengths there ma y be.