Washington — If most Jimmy Carter's rivals for the presidency were in the White House now, the American response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan probably would lack the two most controversial reprisals -- the grain embargo and the threat of an Olympic boycott. But otherwise it would be pretty much the same.
So suggests a Monitor survey of the nine major Republican and Democratic presidential candidates.
Each move is supported by only one of these challengers. Rep. John B. Anderson (R) of Illinois approves the cancellation of the sale of the Soviet Union of 17 million tons of wheat and corn.Sen. Robert Dole (R) of Kansas backs of boycott of the 1980 summer Olympic Games in Moscow.
None of the rest of the President's sanctions win unqualified cheers from those vying for his job, but they do get grudging support -- or at least no opposition.
Few concrete policy alternatives are proposed, and most of these tend to be variations of initiatives the White House already is pursuing.
One explanation offered by several of the candidates: The President's failure to develop strategies in advance to avert the crisis, or minimize its impact, now leaves few available policy options.
On Afghanistan, substance contradicts tone. The rhetoric of the candidates is often bitingly critical of the President's actions, but their specific proposals are undramatically different from Mr. Carter's.
There is a chorus of calls for tougher action, characterizing the Carter response in terms such as "inaction and weakness" (Republican Rep. Philip M. Crane of Illinois) and "too kind and too gentle" (Republican John B. Connally).
There are complaints that the reprisals are improvised reactions traceable to no coherent, comprehensive policy. Republican Ronald Reagan, through an aide, calls the Carter approach "cosmetic."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts says the administration is "lurching from crisis to crisis."
Democratic Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. of California labels Mr. Carter "a crisis President."
Yet what the various presidential hopefuls say they would do about Afghanistan strikingly resembles what the President has done. And the chief points of difference -- on grain and the Olympics -- tend to soften, rather than harden, American retaliation.
The near-unanimous opposition to witholding American grain from the Soviets is commonly justified on grounds of an unacceptable burden imposed on US farmers and taxpayer. "It would hurt us more than them," claims an aide of Republican George Bush.
Arch-conservative Congressman Crane even sees the grain embargo as fattening Soviet military might: "Every ruble spent on grain is one less to be spent on arms."
The lone supported of the Carter grain embargo, Congressman Anderson, backs it "reluctantly" after concluding it would effectively lower the quality of the Russian diet without producing stravation.
Now that the embargo has become American policy, two opponents suggest ways of cushioning its impact at home and maximizing its unsefulness abroad. Senator Dole urges trying to sell more grain to the mainland Chinese. Senator Kennedy proposes diverting generous portions of the embargoed grain to famine relief and Food for Peace assistance.
The Olympics issue is perhaps even more politically touchy. While only Senator Dole comes out flatly for American withdrawal from the Moscow games -- a stance tougher than that taken by the Carter administration -- several candidates cannot even be coaxed into taking a position.
The administration has confined itself to urging that the Olympics be moved out of moscow and raising the threat of a US boycott. Two other challengers, former governors Reagan and Connally, also recommended a site change but draw the line at a boycott.
Several candidates are content to lament that the United States finds it necessary to resort to the Olympics as a possible reprisal.
"I'm distressed that we even have to talk about the Olympics as a foreign policy tool," Mr. Anderson is quoted by an aide as saying. That feeling is shared by Senate Republican leader Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee and by Governor Brown.
All the presidential contenders support, or at least do not oppose, Mr. Carter's halt in export to the Soviet Union of high-technology equipment and resumption of military aid to Afghanistan's neighbor Pakistan.
In backing stepped-up American military aid in southwest Asia, the candidates suggest a few new twists for US foreign policy.
Former Governor Connally reiterates his proposal for forming a sort of Middle Eastern NATO -- a regional security alliance embracing moderate Arab states, Israel, Japan, and some Western European nations.
Mr. Reagan adds Saudi Arabia to the list of countries in the region (Oman, Somalia, and Kenya) mentioned for possible future US air or naval bases.