Of causes and effects

Did you happen to notice that four days after Congresss refused to let President Carter put a tax of 10 cents a gallon on gasoline the OPEC countries got together and raised the price of oil, again?

Their latest price will not necessarily raise the price of gasoline at the pump in the US by the same amount of 10 cents per gallon. The effect on the retail price depends on a number of variables, such as the actual price paid on any given day by any particular customer. The official OPEC price does not always operate. In fact it seldom does.

But -- and this is the kernel of the matter -- the oil producers will get the whole advantage of the rise in prices at the pump caused by their latest OPEC price rise, whereas the advantage would have gone to the US treasury, to the US taxpayer, and to the US economy had Congress allowed the President to impose the tax of 10 cents on each gallon of gasoline.

The action of the Congress did not prevent a rise in the prce of gasoline at the pump. This strictly demagogic, election-year deed was in fact a generous gift of extra profit to the oil producers. The consumer at the pump inside the United States is going to be hurt more by the OPEC rise in the wholesale price than he would have been hurt by the President's proposed tax, because there is no provision in the OPEC rise for any refund to the hardship case. The President's plan would have provided refunds.

Also, and even more important, there is the probability that imposition of the 10-cents-a-gallon tax would ahve brought down the OPEC price level. The President's tax would have reduced US consumption of gasoline at a time when there is already a surplus of oil on the world markets. Oil tankers are moving slowly to US ports. After arrival they often lie idle for days and even weeks before being able to unload. The price was beginning to sag at the moment Congress in its massive stupidity killed off the device which probably would have started that decline in OPEC prices which is overdue.

Then consider the sequence of events in the Persian Gulf area. First there was trouble in Afghanistan. A Soviet puppet regime was proving to be equally unpopular both with the Afghan people and at the Kremlin. The soviets began massing troops along their frontier with Afghanistan. By August, 1979, their forces were poised and ready to go. The deployment was observed by US reconnaissance satellites. There was no doubt about what they were ready to do when it suited their purposes.

But they did not move in August. They waited until Christmas Eve -- five months later. And what had happened during those five months?

The United States got itself into such deep, and deepening, trouble with the new revolutionary government in Iran over the hostages that the US government and its people were never able to give full time and attention to the act of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan when it came.

Perhaps the Soviets would have moved into Afghanistan when they did even if the US had by that time maneuvered itself into a position of good and friendly relations with the Islamic revolution in Iran. But the chances are to the contrary.

Suppose that when the Shah left Iran the government of the United States had been evevery possible effort toward a friendly and easy relationship with the revolutionaries. suppose that it had deliberately given first priority to taht effort, instead of being concerned almost obsessively with the human welfare of the deposed Shah.

If sucha policy had been pursued from the moment of the Shah's departure there would never have been the taking and holding of the hostages. There would have been no crisis in US relations with Iran. But there would have been an opportunity for the two governments to deal cooperatively with each other over whatever the Soviets might have done, or not done, in Afghanistan.

The chances are that under such circumstances the Soviets would never have invaded Afghanistan at all because they would have then risked what is not now possible, a unified front against their action by the whole of the Islamic world backed by the US.

As things actually worked out the Soviet invasions was "covered" and protected by the crisis in US-Iran relations. That condition played into Soviet hands.

In other words, in world affairs one event can clear the way for another. Congress cleared the way for the OPEC price rise just as neatly as concern for the Shah cleared the way for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It is the sort of thing that a Bismarck or a Talleyrand or a Palmerston though about more frequently than do some people in today's Washington.

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