Moscow has lapsed into a quieter and more reflective mood - as though it had stirred up more trouble for itself over its invasion of Afghanistan than it had expected and is not yet sure what to do about it all.
The Kremlin has to count among its losses:
1. An Islam now virtually united on the proposition that Moscow has become the first enemy, Although it is still suspicious of the United States.
2. A China that has been granted most-favored-nation trade status by the US, something Moscow wanted very much and has been denied. China has even seen a US door opened toward the possibility of military equipment sales.
3. A United States in which presidential candidates of both Republican and Democratic parties are committed to higher defense budgets, a stronger US military presence in the Near East, and aid to anyone in that area willing and able to take and use it.
4. A serious question as to whether enough athletes will come to Moscow for the summer Olympics to make the games worth holding.
5. A Western Europe made uneasy and ready to vote higher military budgets, although reluctant to apply economic sanctions.
6. A marked decline in tension between Washington and Tehran over the hostages as preliminary exchanges explore the way toward reconciliation. *TAdded together it all means the Soviet Union has fewer friends around the world, is more isolated, and more nearly encircled than ever before. In Europe, only the French Communist Party, ever the most loyal to Moscow, could find excuses. Even Cuba was privately embarrassed and has offered little defense of its "big brother."
This did not mean that President Carter in Washington will be able to make spectacular headway toward a "consortium" of Middle East and southern Asian countries. The past few days have done as much to expose difficulties in the path of that cause as to show progress in overcoming them. Unless or until India is willing to join in, little of practical value can be done.
But the way is opening for reconciliation between Washington and Tehran - at least when the immediate furor in Iran over the "escape" of six American diplomats dies down. The Iranian presidential elections gave a surprisingly high majority of the vote to Abolhassan BaniSadr, who favors release of the hostages in return for US recognitions of Iran's grievances. Washington has said it is ready to talk about "a solution to the present crisis."
The Islamic countries have long been suspicious of the US because of what they see as a pro-Israel tilt in Washington. President Carter's eagerness to impose sanctions on Iran over the hostage question added to the suspicion. Until the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, many of the countries of Islam tended to regard Washington as their collective enemy.
Now that Washington has set forth on a positive campaign to repair its relations with Islam, much can change. Mr. Carter has deferred the idea of sanctions against Iran pending developments.
At the same time, President Sadat of Egypt has offered the use of his seaports and his military airfields to the US. And Washington has turned a deaf ear to pleas from Israel for large increases in US aid. Thus, the relationship between Washington and Cairo is closer and friendlier right now than that between Washington and Tel Aviv.
If Israel "gets the message" and moves toward self-government for the arabs of the West Bank and Gaza there will undoubtedly be rewards.
That, in turn, would make it easier for Pakistan and Iran to see in President Carter a true friend of Islam. And that, in turn, could open the way toward the "consortium" of Middle Eastern and southern Asian nations that might dissuade Moscow from trying to push on south from Afghanistan.
what will moscow be inclined to do about all this?
Obviously, if Iran sinks into civil war, the temptation for Moscow to intervene could prove irresistible. And Pakistna is not the most stable of countries. But the trend in Iran does seem to be back to stability. And Pakistan, for all its problems, has a substancial Army which, if re-equipped with modern weapons, could probably give a respectable account of itself.
Is Moscow likely to follow up its Afghan adventure with any further advance southward?
More plausible, and in some ways even more dangerous, would be a peace offensive with at least a token withdrawal from afghanistan. some of the more astute Kremlin- watchers think this is what will happen, and fairly quickly, in order to try to damp down the suspicions that have been aroused in so many places.
Obviously, a full withdrawal from Afghanistan is not to be expected. But once Soviet "order" is nailed down, why not pull out the bulk of the uniformed Soviet forces and leave the policing of the "new order" to "volunteers"? That is what the men in the Kremlin might be talking about in the back rooms right now.