Picking and Choosing

This essay was originally published in the January 5, 1981 issue of Time Magazine, which can be viewed online here

Reagan nearly completes his Cabinet and selects Allen for NSC

All along, the President-elect had made plain that he wanted to fill his Government with individuals whose portfolios were already stamped with success. Amateurs and the unproven ambitious need not apply, though the proof of prior competence need not be in Government service. That meant, as Reagan knew, a step down for some—and too big a step for a few he wanted. But with the naming of five more Cabinet officers and two principal White House aides last week, Reagan’s top offices were filled except for a handful of posts, including Secretary of Education and Special Trade Representative. The new selections: Jeane Kirkpatrick, professor of government at Georgetown University, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; Denver Lawyer James Watt, an advocate of oil and gas development of wilderness lands, as Secretary of the Interior; Samuel Pierce, a black attorney and labor mediator hi New York, as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; John Block, Illinois director of agriculture, as Secretary of Agriculture; and former South Carolina Governor James Edwards as Secretary of Energy. In addition, Reagan named Richard Allen to head the National Security Council and Martin Anderson Domestic Affairs Adviser on his White House staff.

Together with his previously announced appointments, the group by and large met Reagan’s test of demonstrated ability and constituted an interesting mix of experience and temperament. Several of the appointees are members in good standing of the Establishment, and five even attended that citadel of Eastern elitism, Harvard: Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, Treasury Secretary Donald Regan, Attorney General William French Smith, Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis, Management and Budget Director David Stockman. A few have had Washington experience: Secretary of State Alexander Haig, Weinberger, Kirkpatrick and Watt. Others are outsiders: Secretary of Labor Raymond Donovan, Block and Edwards. The Cabinet is also divided between managers such as Regan and Weinberger and conceptualizers like Kirkpatrick and Stockman, who can be counted on for new, and maybe arresting, ideas.

In his White House post, Anderson is expected to produce policies that will probably do more to contract than expand Government. A member of the conservative Hoover Institution who once served as special presidential assistant in the Nixon White House, Anderson is an expert on welfare. He argues that the system now traps the poor in a cycle of dependency but cannot be radically altered. Instead, he believes that it must be gradually changed through tougher eligibility standards and work requirements.

Of last week’s appointments, the most important is Allen, though he insists that he wants to be the least conspicuous of all. On the day Haig was announced as Secretary of State, Allen declared: “Take a good look at me because I am about to submerge.” He agreed with Reagan that his appointment should not be announced publicly for a week so that it would be unmistakably clear who would run foreign policy: the Secretary of State. Earlier, Allen was one of the advisers who recommended a more subordinate role for the National Security Adviser. “The NSC,” Allen says, “is not charged with formulating or implementing policy. It is charged with coordinating policy.”

That is where Allen’s strength lies. He does not appear to entertain the grand strategic notions of previous National Security Advisers such as Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Says Helmut Sonnenfeldt, who as a close aide to Kissinger worked with Allen on the NSC: “He has never claimed to be a great theorist of foreign policy. He has a quick mind and can grasp issues very rapidly, but he is most skilled on the operational side. He is an expediter—in terms of getting staff work organized and of dealing with personalities.” Allen demonstrated that skill when he patched up quarrels among bickering members of the transition team. His aim is to create a smooth-functioning foreign policy team in the White House that will be more concerned with real enemies abroad than putative ones at home.

Allen, 44, who grew up in Collingswood, N.J., early developed a fascination, though hardly a sympathy, for Communism in its various manifestations. After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Notre Dame, he went to the University of Munich in West Germany to work on a doctoral dissertation. In 1962 he helped found the Georgetown University Center for Strategic and International Studies. When Nixon was elected President, Allen was appointed to the NSC, but he quickly ran afoul of the man in charge: Kissinger. Relegated to lackluster assignments, Allen quit in ten months, and he and Kissinger have been sniping at each other ever since.

On leaving the NSC, Allen became an international business consultant, a career that enabled him to live comfortably in Arlington; Va., with his wife Patricia and their seven children. But he provoked some bitter criticism for using his Government contacts to advance his private interests. One charge is that he passed along inside information to a Japanese businessman with the aim of developing lucrative contracts for himself. He received some $60,000 from fugitive Financier Robert Vesco as a “verbal consultant.” Allen also introduced Vesco’s attorney to William Casey, then Securities and Exchange Commission chairman, at a time when Vesco was under investigation by that agency. Allen claims, not too persuasively, that he was unaware of the probe when he was working for Vesco. Most serious of all was a charge made by an executive of Grumman Corp., who told a Senate investigating committee that Allen once asked him for a $1 million contribution to the Nixon campaign in return for the President’s helping the company land an airplane contract in Japan. Allen denied the allegation to the same committee.

After scrutinizing the records, Reagan’s advisers have cleared Allen of any wrongdoing. Today, with his silver hair, his expression of bemused contentment, Allen exudes assurance, as if he knows exactly where he is headed. He has worked for Reagan’s campaigns since 1976, and though he is not personally close to the President-elect, he has his confidence. As National Security Adviser, Allen expects to brief Reagan on a regular basis, probably daily in the company of Meese and Chief of Staff James Baker. He may travel a bit, but he plans to avoid “spokesmanship.” Says Allen: “If the NSC attempts to manage day-to-day events, it will be a case of here we go again. But that will not be the design of our staff.”

The intention is admirable; all depends on the execution. Can Allen, an ambitious man in his own right, be as self-effacing as he says when he is surrounded by so many temptations to exercise power? His task may be eased by the fact that he does not seem to have any sharp policy differences with Haig, in contrast to Brzezinski’s disagreements with former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. But Allen’s proximity to the President, and the institutional momentum of his strategically placed post, may inevitably push him into the very prominence he wants to avoid. —By Edwin Warner. Reported by Jonathan Beaty/Washington and Douglas Brew with Reagan.

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