Since World War II 15 countries have for a time been part of the Soviet power system and then broken away from it. The high point for Soviet world influence was in 1958 when both China and Indonesia were part of that system. There was second high point around 1970 when Egypt, India, and Iraq were in the Soviet orbit.
Since Egypt pulled out in 1972, India in 1977, and Iraq in 1978 the world range of Soviet influence has been at a minimum. At present that influence is less than at any time since the end of World War II. Moscow has not enjoyed any real "winning streak" since it lost China in 1960.
One of the more interesting things about the rise and fall of Soviet influence in various parts of the world is that the United States played an effective role in only one of the important cases of a country getting itself out of the Soviet embrace. The others who escaped did it mostly on their own, often in spite of US policies which hobbled and delayed them.
Indonesia was the one important case where the escape had US support. The CIA was active in both planning and executing the events of September, 1965, when a communist coup was launched and converted into a communist disaster. The Communist Party of Indonesia was literally massacred. Estimates of the number killed range between 80,000 and 300,000. Indonesia has been in a state of semihostility with Moscow ever since.
China and India are the most populous countries on Earth, Indonesia comes just after the Soviet Union and the United States in population. If Moscow had been able to hang on to the loyalties of China, India, and Indonesia and if Moscow could count them today as members of its power system then Moscow today would be at an all-time peak of power and influence. But all three were lost. In the cases of China and India they were lost by Moscow, not pulled away by Washington.
The Chinese break was delayed by US hostility and was long concealed by the US involvement in Vietnam. The Chinese did not feel free to expose the extent of their differences with Moscow until President Nixon went to China in 1972. After that the Chinese were secure enough to become the leading advocates of a world coalition to "contain" the Soviets.
The United States "tilted" to Pakistan during its 1971 war with India. A US naval task force sailed into the Bay of Bengal, but withdrew when the Indian army inflicted a quick and decisive defeat on the Pakistani forces in eastern Pakistan which then became the new state of Bangladesh. India had prepared for that war by signing a 20-year "friendship and cooperation" treaty with Moscow in August and by placing orders for large quantities of arms. In effect, Moscow "covered" India while India broke up Pakistan. During the next five years India took $1.3 billion in arms from the Soviets.
Later, Soviet support for Vietnam expansion in India's backyard, and Soviet intrusion into Afghanistan helped India to return to a policy of neutrality between Moscow and Washington.
The first important Soviet loss was Yugoslavia in 1948. At the moment of the break the British rushed a shipload of motor fuel to keep that country's highway transport going. The US did nothing, on the assumption that the Soviets would quickly reassert their control.
Egypt became another, and a particularly humiliating, loss to Moscow. President Sadat broke away because he was fed up with the Soviet's arrogance. They had pushed him around too much. Mr. Sadat's switch over to the US side was a dazzling strategic windfall for Washington. Its effect was to push the Soviet fleet almost out of the Mediterranean by depriving it of the use of Alexandria. But it happened, without help from Washington.
In other words, Moscow is its own worst enemy. Its clumsy mishandling of one country after another has driven out of the Soviet orbit enough countries and peoples to dominate the world decisively. It lost China because it refused even to talk about territories taken from China by the Czars. Incidentally, it alienated Japan by refusing to surrender small islands just north of Japan which Stalin had grabbed at the end of World War II.
In all important cases except Indonesia Moscow's loss was due either to changes in the power pattern which made the Soviet relationship a disadvantage, or because the Soviet hand was too heavy. Usually, the United States was a surprised onlooker.
When we are talking about breaking up the Soviet empire Washington has a poor record. Moscow's own heavy and arrogant hand has done more for Washington than Washington's own often misguided efforts.
Let us hope that sending unrequested guns and advisers to El Salvador will not add one more item to the lis t of mistakes.