The Kissinger problem
Mr. Reagan has a serious Kissinger problem. It comes in two parts. The first part is that Henry Kissinger is recognized among diplomats the world around as being a singularly able negotiator, one of the best in modern times. His skill and his reputation are such that to fail to use him in shaping foreign policy would be to waste a national asset.
The other side of the problem is that Henry Kissinger is also a former secretary of state and one of the world's most visible and incorrigible egotists.
How does one harness the undoubted abilities of the diplomat Kissinger to the policies and purposes of the incoming administration? Can you image Dr. Kissinger subordinating his ego, his pride, and his energy to the policies and purposes of someone who once served as his deputy?
Henry Kissinger made alexander Haig. He plucked the young colonel from obscurity, made him his deputy when Dr. Kissinger was making foreign policy from inside the White House, and gave him the position from which he became chief of staff to the President during the twilight of the Nixon administration. It would be difficult for Alexander Haig to remember that he is secretary of state when dealing with his former discoverer, protector, and lord and master. It would be more difficult for Dr. Kissinger to serve under his former protege. Some would say, impossible.
There is ample precedent for using a person with Kissinger's talent for special assignments in the foreign policy area. There have been many ambassadors-at-large used for special assignments for which they were equipped by background and associations. Dr. Kissinger would be superb at running a special reconnaissance mission in areas such as the Middle East which he knows well and where he is known by all of the principal local authorities. He would be even better at handling a difficult and tough negotiation.
But Washington has just been through a difficult passage in foreign policy matters because of having more than one center of policymaking and policy authority. The Carter years were marked by confusion and conflict in foreign policy. In theory Cyrus Vance, then Edmund Muskie, made policy at the State Department. But on many an occasion the policy worked out by the professionals at State was torpedoed by Zbigniew Brzezinski from inside the White House, or even sometimes by the President himself.
Under President Carter American interests have suffered from having three often conflicting and rival sources of foreign policy. There was first the President himself, then Professor Brzezinski, then the official Department of State. Foreign offices the world around complained that they could never be sure exactly what was the US position on matters of importance. It could change overnight, or be one thing at State and another at the White House.
Most workers in the foreign policy area agree that the system worked poorly during the Carter years and that a return to coherent foreign policymaking with a single point of origin would be highly desirable. Mr. Reagan has promised that this will happen. His personal foreign policy adviser, Richard Allen, has repeated the assurance and stated that he will leave the policymaking role to Mr. Haig at the State Department. He says he is going to revert to the original role of the White House foreign policy person, that of coordinator.
The idea of having a special person inside the White House to work on foreign policy dates from the Truman administration. Said person was supposed to be anonymous, shun the press and publicity, avoid policymakng himself, but see to it that when the president had to make an important decision he had before him all the pertinent information. The job was set up to make sure that the president was fully prepared for decisionmaking.
The job worked that way during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. It began to loom larger and enter into policymaking with McGeorge Bundy during the Kennedy administration. It ballooned with Walt Rostow during the Johnson administration. It became the dominant policymaking job under Henry Kissinger.
Mr. Reagan wants to get back to the original version with Richard Allen bringing him all pertinent information, but policymaking originating at State Department.
There is one way Dr. Kissinger could be fitted safely into the proposed pattern. If he were given special assignments by the secretary of state, and if we would accept those assignments from the secretary of state, and report exclusively to the secretary of state -- then the system could work. But if he starts free-lancing, and if he insists on reporting to the president or the Congress -- then there would again be confusion and trouble.
It really is for Dr. Kissinger to discover whet her he can be a subordinate.