Europe, Kremlin worry as US looses voice of restraint
The Soviet Union and Western Europe are agreed on at least one thing: They both disapprove of the resignation of Cyrus Vance as US Secretary of State. The Kremlin now faces what is possibly a double setback. The man it has almost always treated gently in public is out. This, in turn, could conceivably increase the influence in Washington of National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, a man it has Stridently and repeatedly condemned.mSkip to next paragraph
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In Europe, Mr. Vance's resignation was greeted with utter dismay. It was seen as removing the chief voice of moderation among President Carter's policy advisers in a crisis period when this voice is most needed. It increases Europe's fears, as one Western European diplomat phrased it, of Mr. Carter's amateur "cowboy" foreign policy. Elizabeth Pond reports from Paris:
West European chancelleries are alarmed by Dr. Brzezinski's implied threat of further military actions against Iran. They worry that the US is now so obsessed with proving its manhood that it would even sacrifice Washington's own best interests to an act of revenge that could push Iran into Soviet arms and lead to the death of the hostages.
Mr. Vance's resignation, after his solitary opposition to the failed Iran raid, only increases Western Europe's concern.
The ultimate fear following Mr. Vance's resignation -- fear that is probably shared by all Western European foreign ministries without exception -- is that the present hawkish mood in the US could lead to a foolish move that could trigger war. For two weeks West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt has been warning of the danger of slipping inadvertently into war on the pattern of World War I.
Mr. Schmidt gave sufficient priority to the alliance, however, to suppress his misgivngs and strong-arm Western Europe into backing the US this month in what West Germany thought were ill-advised economic sanctions against Iran.
Without Mr. Vance's restraining voice in American policy formation, a different priority is now likely to appear in West German and Western European diplomacy. Fear of an American-triggered war could now increase West European resistance to folowing US leadership -- even at the cost of a serious weakening of the NATO alliance.
In less somber scale, Mr. Vance's resignation is regretted in Europe as removing almost the last of a generation of American diplomats and statesmen who spent their formative years in Europe. This generation understood viscerally America's parent culture in Europe. In return it brought many Europeans to understand and admire America's new and sometimes baffling culture. David Willis's analysis from Moscow:
While it might go too far to argue that the Kremlin saw Mr. Vance as a moderating influence on a "go it alone" President, it does seem valid to see them worried and upset that Dr. Brzezinski's hard-line policies keep gaining Mr. Carter's ear.
Private Soviet reactions at the highest levels, however, are not known. It is possible the departure of a respected figure like Mr. Vance might alarm leonid Brezhnev and his Politburo, since some feel the Politburo saw him as more moderate than Dr. Brzezinski.
Over the short term, however, the Soviets are expected to try to exploit what they see as yet another propaganda coup to the maximum degree.
Initial reactions by the official news agency Tass to reports of the resignation stressed Mr. Vance's disagreement with Dr. Brzezinski on the direction of foreign policy in general. They also stressed US reports Mr. Vance had argued against the Iran raid.
Tass can be expected to develop these themes and point to disarray in Mr. Carter's top ranks. It will pat Mr. Vance on the back as a man who "correctly appraised" the riskiness of the Iran raid. It will launch new attacks on Dr. Brzezinski, detested here as a man with middle-European origins who -- in the moscow view -- has a blind hatred of the Soviet system.
The Kremlin will almost certainly try to use the Vance departure as another argument to NATO allies that they should cease supporting US policies on Iran, Afghanistan, and other issues.
Some here feel the Soviets might now tread more cautiously abroad until they see just how broad Dr. Brzezinski's new influence might be. The Soviets are not thought to want any shooting confrontation with the US on Iran (or anywhere else) so their aggression against the US will continue to be in words and in gradual diplomacy, where they feel they can gain new footholds.
The Kremlin will want to judge US public reaction -- and Congressional reaction -- to the Vance departure and to the Iranian raid in general. The Soviets are following the US election campaign closely. It now looks as though they might decide to sit tight and await the November results before considering any new moves toward the US -- while at the same time, they redouble efforts to divide the US and its NATO allies.