The new era of good feeling has begun in Washington, partygoers and network correspondents assured each other all week. Soviet troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan. Gorbachev is offering force reductions in Europe. The Iran-Iraq war has ended. A settlement has been achieved for Southern Africa and prospects are good for Cambodia. The Californians have gone somewhere. The Bushes are wonderful people. The new President has appointed a seasoned team of decent men.
Through all this talk runs like a subliminal chorus the theme: The establishment is back.
Some say this `establishment' consists of Rockefeller Republicans in power for the first time since Herbert Hoover or conceivably Dwight Eisenhower. Some say it is, broadly speaking, the Eastern establishment--the banks, the multinational corporations, the Trilateral Commission, the Kissingerians, that sort of thing. To some it seems just the `right people' tied together by family, friends, schools. `Insiders.' Gentlemen.
It may be true that George Bush and his team have more ties to traditional American elites. And it is true that there are among them first-class, seasoned pros deeply knowledgeable about the fields they will oversee. National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, his deputy Robert Gates, Deputy Secretary of State-designate Lawrence Eagleburger and Secretary of Defense-designate John Tower are true specialists in government as well as security issues.
It is also true that the Reagan Administration included numerous such men.
Around the facts of the new Bush team, myths are rapidly developing as misleading as they are unfair to both the Reagan and Bush administrations.
Well-known political analyst and commentator Philip Geyelin wrote recently, for example, about the disorderly procedures of the Iran-Contra fiasco as he applauded the arrival of the new men, saying:
`A review of the wild and woolly workings of the Reagan Presidency for most of its eight years is simply a way of illustrating one change we can count on from the Bush administration. A decent and disciplined old hand like Brent Scowcroft would not . . . unleash Ollie North.' Secretary of State James Baker would not `simply register his dissent to a policy he abhorred, then step aside. . . .'
Experienced public servants on the Bush team, Geyelin argued, will save the Republic from such `wild and woolly' adventures. What they lack in `vision' they will make up for in respect for `process.'
There are three major flaws in the Geyelin complaints against the Reagan administration:
First, they ignore the presence and importance of the many experienced `in and outers' in the Reagan administration, for example, George Shultz and Caspar `Cap' Weinberger. Second, they ignore the fact that Iran-Contra--the only real foreign policy fiasco of Reagan's eight years--was caused by `decent, disciplines public servants' Robert `Bud' McFarlane and Adm. John Poindexter and not by some Reaganites who wandered into Washington. Third, they ignore the very substantial foreign policy successs of the Reagan years.
Fair is fair. It is not fair to take the Iran-Contra mess as the quintessential expression of Ronald Reagan's eight years in foreign policy, or to treat Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, agreement on Southern Africa and arms reductions as simple products of Mikhail Gorbachev's conversion to international cooperation. Neither can they be reasonably treated as unintended consequences of `orderly processes.'
It is myopic to imagine that Ronald Reagan's `vision'--held in such contempt by Geyelin--did not spark these successes.
Geyelin knows as well as anyone that there were many in the upper ranks of the Reagan administration whose social and professional backgrounds resemble those in the Bush team. It is the vision he hopes will be different.
But during the campaign George Bush repeatedly assured Americans he shares the Reagan vision. Assuming that is the case, the return of the `establishment' will prove irrelevant to the substance of American government.