Carter's man in Moscow sees contest of national wills
Describing his 15 months as US ambassador in Moscow as "sometimes terribly disappointing, sometimes terribly lonely, sometimes terribly ominous," Thomas J. Watson steps down Jan. 20 urging Americans to be realistic and resolute as they face the Soviet threat.Skip to next paragraph
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With Soviet troops in Afghanistan and surrounding Poland, what Americans have to fight against, and find a solution to, is a sense of "inevitability, ominous inevitability" that relations are going to get worse, he says.
"I am not without hope," he said in an hour-long interview, the first he has given here in 10 months. "But . . . it's a much tougher riddle than I expected. . . . Too many people begin to talk of things as they wish they were, rather than as they are."
On Poland, he said a Soviet invasion would be "devastating" for the world, but that "unhappily, the Western world has very few tools to work with."
As a prominent former businessman (board chairman of IBM), he warned that doing business in the Soviet Union would never be a "bonanza" for Americans. Business would always be a tool in Washington's armory against Moscow. He also urged Washington to do a better job in defining just how to use business as a weapon. He opposed selective sanctions that forced businessmen to break existing contracts and expressed sympathy for Dresser Industries.
Dresser has delivered a plant here to make 100,000 oil drilling bits a year but has been ordered by the US to cancel a training program that was part of the deal.
Mr. Watson is a tall, gentle, courteous, white-haired man, one of the wealthiest and best-known figures in the US business world. He retired from IBM six years ago.
After the June 1979 summit with Soviet leader Brezhnev in Vienna, President Carter appointed Mr. Watson to Moscow as a symbol of twin US desires: more arms control (Mr. Watson has chaired a general advisory committee) and more trade in an era of detente.
But Afghanistan changed everything. For a man already under fire in Washington and in the press for possessing no previous experience in full-time diplomacy, it was a profound shock. The Polish crisis has heightened it. The strain showed in Mr. Watson's words during the interview -- and he mirrored the way many attitudes have changed back in the United STates in the past year.
"It took me about eight hours after the first Afghan telegrams [last December ] to realized that all of my abilities . . . at least all of my background, had been preempted," he said. "I had a kind of a catch im ny throat around here for a couple or three weeks.
"But I had an awfully good deputy ambassador [Mark Garrison], and between us we recognized what had to be done here in the way of strng reactions, and I think we cooked up most of the policy recommendations that were finally followed back at home. . . ."
When his friend Cyrus Vance resigned as secretary of state in April, Mr. Watson thought of resigning. His worst moments came as he flew to Washington to say goodbye to Mr. Vance. He contemplated returning to the comfort of his home in Greenwich, Conn., his summer estate in Maine, his six children, his private airplane and helicopter.
But another friend, Edmund Muskie, was appointed secretary of state and Mr. Watson was persuaded to stay on. He is glad he did.
"I am terribly glad I have gone through the year," he said. "I had a lot of help from my wife, as you know. Had I quit halfway through, I think it would have been a disappointment for the rest of my life. . . .