President Carter rises from a lunch at the White House to take a call from Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. He returns grim -- even shaken. Latest reports say the Soviet buildup of combat troops continues in Kabul, Afghanistan -- plane after plane. They glide in with guns, tanks, soldiers.
It is Tuesday, Dec. 29. The Soviet intervention that began Christmas Day is developing.
America's mood changes suddenly. Moscow's action, Washington's protest send tremors round the world. The mood is like John F. Kennedy's eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with Russia in the Cuban missile crisis.
Snow falls as President Carter delivers a television address Friday, Jan. 4. Next day there are eight-column, three-bank headlines in the New York Times; President Carter and ordered sanctions against Russia: a cutback of grain exports, reduced fishing rights, a ban on exports of US technology.He said military aid to Pakistan would be resumed.
The White House looks like a picture postcard -- banked in snow, with pillow-case fluffs caught in the trees. Over the snow coils a TV cable to a crew rushing bulletins to the nation. The cable looks like a snake.
Americans, hoping for a respite from world-shaking developments in the Christmas-New Year season, are granted no rest from crisis. They gulp radio and TV reports between exchanging gifts and watching the traditional bowl games.
On Dec. 28 Mr. Carter sends the "strongest" message to Leonid I. Brezhnev that he has ever sent.He tells about it in a televised ABC network interview on Dec. 31; Russia's invasion of Afghanistan, he says, "has made a more dramatic change in my own opinion of what the Soviets' ultimate goals are than anything they've done in the previous time I've been in office."
Is it a confession? Is it native? Whatever it is, it is chilling.
Churned in with Afghanistan are the crisis in Iran, the domestic issue of recession- inflation, the unforgiving American election schedule, the question of SALT II (the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty), America's allies, . . . China.
On New Year's Day the Republican national chairman, Bill Brock, charges the President with a "policy of deception" which seeks to unite the nation behind the hostages in order to divert attention from weaknesses in foreign policy. It is the new GOP line, picked up by six candidates for the party's presidential nomination in a "debate" at Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 5. They brand the Carter foreign policy a "failure" and demand stronger sanctions against Russia. Only US Rep. John B. Anderson of Illinois supports the Carter grain sanction. (Iowa grows grain; the Iowa caucus comes Jan. 21.) The audience gives Mr. Anderson's fiery boldness a little burst of applause.
Earlier in the week (Jan. 2) United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim visits Iran but is not received by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Mr. Waldheim recoils from the fanatics who hold American hostages in the US Embassy.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin pushes its invasion of Afghanistan; it dumps one Muslim puppet (he and his family are executed) and installs another.
The quiet White House, seated in snow, is a focus in the global drama. A group gathers before its iron railings, silently looking in. Cars drive by shaking off powdery snow.
Halfway around the world, US Secretary of Defense Harold Brown is seeing China's senior Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping. Mr. Deng traveled across America last year, denouncing (Soviet) "hegemony."
Now, another tripod has been set up on the White House snow. . . .