Carter hurt politically by grain ban?

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

The moratorium on taking pot shots at the President's foreign policy is over. Mr. Carter is getting it from all sides on his wheat cutoffs to the Soviets. And the rumblings of discontent about his handling of the crisis in Iran are growing.

The big imponderable now is how Mr. Carter's withholding of grain will affect the outcome of the Jan 21 Iowa precinct caucuses.

Nationally, this Carter grain move, along with several other penalties he imposed on the Soviets for their invasion of Afghanistan, drew an initial wait-and-see reaction. But the break in bipartisanship now is clear:

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* The President's Democratic rivals -- US Sen Edward M. Kennedy and California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. -- have called Mr. Carter's foreign policy "weak."

"A weak policy can't be redeemed by suddenly becoming tough on farmers," said Mr. Kennedy.

Mr. Brown called Mr. Carter "naive." He said the President was trying to make political gains out of both the Iran and Afghanistan crises.

* Five Republican presidential candidates -- John B. Connaly, Robert dole, Howard H. Baker Jr., George Bush, and Philip M. Crane -- used the Des Moines debating platform to attack the President's foreign policy, particularly his cutoff of grain to the Soviets.

However, Republican candidate John B. Anderson charged his five opponents in the debate Saturday night with playing politics with the grain issue. He implied that the only reason GOP hawks wouldn't hail the Carter move was because they thought by doing so they would lose votes in Iowa.

Mr. Anderson supported the Carter move and characterized it as an act of political courage.

Sunday, appearing on NBC-TV's Meet the Press, Senator Charles H. percy (R) of Illinois also said he backed the President's responses to the Soviets.

But democratic candidate Kennedy, who has been denied a chance to debate Mr. Carter in Iowa by the Iran and Afghanistan crises, echoed the views expressed by most of the Republican candidates when he charged that the President's grain decision would be too little to damage the Soviets and too much for Iowans to swallow.

However, some Iowa leaders are expressing resentment at implications that Iowans will respond on the basis of self-interest. They point out that Iowans are a patriotic as anyone else, and that if they conclude that cutting off grain shipments is good for the United States they will still support the move.

Further, Iowans are taking some comfort in the President's effort to reduce damage from the shipment loss. Mr. Carter says he is "minimizing any adverse effect" by coupling the cutoff with large government purchases of the grain that was heading toward the Soviet Union.

It is estimated in Iowa that the grain shipment cutoff will cost the state's farmers about $100 million.

But what probably damages the President the most with Iowa voters is the pledge he made to them in 1976 that, as President, he would "end [grain] embargoes once and for all."

Reports from Iowa indicate that the Carter-Kennedy contest is close, but that the President's surge upward in the pools in recent weeks markedly improved his prospects.

Now, however, the grain decision raises a question mark over the President's ability to maintain this momentum.

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