GOP grumblings

The Soviet Union attacks President Carter for "distortion" of its foreign policy. The Republican Party chairman attacks Mr. Carter for "deception" about America's own policy. The President might be pardoned for saying, "I must be doing something right."

Alas, for all the ludicrousness of such charges, it is no joking matter. The Soviets, of course, were simply behaving like Soviets. We expect better of the Republicans. Instead of falling in line behind GOP chairman Bill Brock's broadside, they ought to offer constructive alternatives to Carter policies that they believe deserve criticism.

Mr. Brock accused Mr. Carter of failing to come up with a policy to "discourage repetition elsewhere of the barbaric actions in Iran." It is fair enough in a free country to hold and publicize such a view, however unproven. But what should that policy be? Republicans in Congress have often presented detailed if unsung alternatives to administration proposals. So far the current political attacks on the President have been accompanied by precious little in the way of positive suggestions. Though Mr. Carter scuttled the debate of Democratic presidential candidates in Iowa, the Republican candidates there on Saturday ought to take the opportunity to bring up problem-solving ideas.

Chairman Brock reportedly said on one occasion that "the policy of patience" is "a policy of weakness." Yet patience has been a sign of strength in an Iranian situation where human lives could be the price of impatience.

It was in a formal statement that Mr. Brock went so far as to assert that "it is increasingly evident that Mr. Carter's policy of patience is a policy of deception." He said the purpose seemed to be to make the American people "believe" the US has an appropriate Mideast policy and to "conceal" from them the extent to which Mr. Carter and the Democratic Congress have "diminished our security and credibility."

Grave as the situation is in Iran -- and now in Afghanistan -- it cannot bring a moratorium on debate in the United States. Even during wartime, American presidents have not expected to be immune from criticism. After two months of the hostage-holding in Tehran, many Americans are losing patience, and it is not remarkable that politicians should speak for -- and to -- that impatience. No adversary should be tempted to calculate that basic US unity is undermined by political give-and-take, especially in an election year. Indeed, a fundamental strand in American strength is the freedom to venture the opinion that the emperor has no clothes -- and the possibility of reaching improved ideas and policies through the exercise of free opinion.

Yet there are degrees of responsibility in that exercise. And the highest degree is required now. Our guess is that politicians of whatever party who reveal themselves as cynically politicking rather than seeking solutions will suffer in the long run.

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