28 MARCH 1981, Page 7

Low life in high places

Nicholas von Hoffman

Washington For the first time in a decade life in Washington has zip. Not since the early Seventies, when the recurrent upswellings of the anti-w demonstrators made the Place exciting, has this been such an interesting city to be in. It is odd that it Should happen in the administration of The Aged One But his arrival has brought on the energy and excitement normally assoolated With combative youth. This may be owing to the energetic ferocity of Reagan's hardnght base, whom he has not abandoned and Who do, for better or worse, electrify every Public issue and policy. Everybody's going around here saying, 'Well, at least it's fun to read the papers again.' Particularly amusing have been the accounts of the sprea-d of Parkinson's Disease among Republican members of Congress. So named after Paula Parkinson, a lobbyist who, according to the generally believed gossip, appears to have done her best work with her legs spread, with a Republican legislator on top of her and her husband making video-tape recordings of these lustful thrashings. It has been suggested the film be marketed under the title 'Deep Thrust.' What has brought the broadest smiles to the faces of the malicious has been the revelation that one of the actors in this X-rated epic is a prominent Republican Congressman who is also an ordained Minister, out of whose mouth have come no end of adjurations for precisely the kind of i uplift and probity the gentleman s apparently unable to practice himself. But these, at least, are heterosexual highjinks. The Washington Star have finished a sevenpart series on homosexuality in high places that is scheduled to be published at the beginning of April. There is a lot more of it than one might have supposed. Some is quite open. For example, Senator Alan Cranston has an acknowledged homosexual on his staff who Is, therefore, immune to blackmail and extortion, but the Republicans, with their fundamentalist fulminations, don't permit their people to come out of the closet. The Star series is expected to say that there are homosexuals in the 'White House in positions of considerable importance. Given their vulnerability to blackmail, one has to wonder about the security problems which secret homosexuality causes. But there are other diversions. The scorn at European aversion to getting wiped out In a nuclear war, as expressed by the national security adviser, Richard Allen, is b ut the latest in the ever lengthening series of Wild poppings-off by men in high places. Warning against 'the outright pacifist sentiments which are surfacing abroad,' Allen attacked the British Labour Party for advocating 'the renunciation of nuclear weapons' and also said that 'We detect now some in Europe who believe that the arms control negotiations can somehow substitute for, rather than complement, the modernisation efforts in our weapons systems.' A few days before that, Richard Pipes, one of those bellicose Harvard professors on the National Security Council, told' Reuters that the Russians will have to abandon communism or there would be no choice but war. That statement was retracted by the White House, as was the Secretary of Defence Caspar Weinberger's statement a few weeks ago about deploying the neturon bomb in Europe.

These incidents add to the impression of an angry unsteadiness in a foreign policy that has no other content than antiSovietism: (Chinese communism, for reasons not readily comprehensible, is regarded as more benign, which is strange coming from this group which supported Taiwan for so long and lambasted the Red Chinese so loudly.) And nowhere is the erratic and supercharged nature of the Administration's judgments so nicely illustrated as in its statements on El Salvador.

After weeks of making that small spot the supreme test of the western world's will to resist the Red aggressors, John Bushnell, the Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American affairs, asserted that the press was blowing events there out of proportion: 'Our impression is that this story is running about five times as big as it really is.' No sooner was that remark on the wires than President Reagan's press secretary, James Brady, hit the microphones to say that no, the President didn't think the coverage of El Salvador was overblown. Then came the Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, telling a House Committee that Central America is the object of 'a four-phased operation,' which began with 'the seizure of Nicaragua . . . next is El Salvador to be followed up by Honduras and Guatemala.' Needless to say, 48 hours didn't pass before the qualifying backing and filing began in which it was said, no, the official view was not that Nicaragua was a communist state, at least not yet. Public attention is shifted around even more rapidly since Haig and his advisers move from continent to continent in the ceaseless work of combating Russian infiltration. While some of us were still trying to divine the import of the last remarks on Central America, the general was off and talking about a huge, new gift of arms to Pakistan in return for their promise not to make atom bombs, or something of the sort. That was just getting sorted out when our attention was yanked over to Africa, with the Administration suggesting it wanted authority from Congress, which it currently doesn't have, to tell the CIA to help Unita, the anti-Marxist guerillas, to overthrow the Angolan government.

When the Russians and/or the Cubans play such games, it is called terrorism and it makes Alexander Haig so angry he has to turn down the control on his pacemaker a notch or two.

We are also being inundated with terrorism on television and in print. For the nonce, the leading explicator is one Claire Stirling, excerpts of whose book on this sanguinary subject have appeared in the New York Times, the New Republic, and who knows where else. Like articles on the Mafia and' spying, terrorism is a subject which allows for a good deal of creative journalism. It is one of the frontiers where fact and fiction meet and mix in an exciting, entertaining but not always accurate form.

Some terrorists are quite welcome in Washington, however. Certainly the carpet was rolled out for General Roberto Viola, the frightening man who is to be the next president of Argentina, that happy land of civil liberties and mysterious disappearances. When questioned about the welcome for this uniformed terrorist, William Dyess, the State Department's publicity man, drew a distinction that will make him immortal as a moral theologian. The policy of the United States, he explained, is to frown on human rights violations committed by 'totalitarian' states such as the Soviet Union because they are done in secret. On the other hand, similar crimes committed by 'authoritarian' governments like Argentina's are all right because they murder their citizens out in the open. Ergo, as soon as the Russians start selling guided tours to the Gulag Archipelago, we will resume grain shipments.