This, of course is harvest time for the Soviets; harvesting the opportunities that were opened up for them by the US attempt to rescue its hostages in Iran. The men from Mowcow were busy as beavers using it in the United nations, using it with the Islamic countries using it directly with Iran, using it among the waverers of world communism. It came in so conveniently for them, just when their own behavior in afghanistan had been causing them considerable damage.
Had there been no US military mission making dramatic headlines all over the world by landing in the Iranian desert (and then having to depart with mission unaccomplishe) -- attention might still have been focused on the fact that a Soviet military expedition is having heavy going crushing out native resistance in Afghanistan.
Soviet forces there seem to be running into such resistance that they are believed to be bringing in heavier weapons, gas, and long-range missiles. Some reports indicate that the pacification of Afghanistan will require a substantial increase in th number of troops committed to the operation.
One lesson the Soviets apparently are having to learn is that locanl guerrillas can operate just as efective on the barren slopes of Afghan mountains as in the jungles of Vietnam. There are no trees for cover but a Western intelligence source remarked that all an Afghan has to do to disappear is to sit down. From the air he then looks like just another dun-colored rock.
But there was little space in news columns or time on news reports during the closing days of April for mention of the plain fact that Moscow is having quite as much trouble working out a succesful relationship with Afghanistan as Washington is in working out a new relationship with Iran.
This is a pity because if recent events are seen in perspective, the essential fact is that both of the great superpowers, the USA and the USSR, are having about equal trouble getting what they want out of smaller countries. The real meaning of current events is that superpowers are less super than in the heyday of their dominance over world affairs. They no longer dominate.
However, there was that US sortie into Iran, which dominated all news for a week from the moment the story broke on April 25.It was followed by the resignation of US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, to be followed by the appointment of Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine. Both resignation and succession were news stories demanding front page attention and adding to a public appearance of turmoil in Washington.
And through the days of this news story ran the thread of dismay and anxiety in allied capitals. Common Market foreign ministers and prime ministers meeting in Luxembourg did officially agree to support their embattled ally, and confirmed an earlier decision to move ahead toward sanctions against Iran. But they also let it be known that they were anything but happy over the rescue effort, over its failure, and over hints Washington kept feeding out of possible further military measures to be taken against Iran.
All of it was, of course, the most wonderful Grade A grist for the Soviet propaganda mill. President Carter has slowed down the flow of US grain to Soviet ports, but who needs grain when he can get this kind of propaganda grist?
It smothered the facts of what Moscow is doing in Afghanistan. It diveted the attention of Islamic countries from what Moscow is doing to one Islamic country and focused attention on what the US had done, and might still do, to another Islamic country. It offered the Iranians any Soviet support or service they might be inclined to seek, or would need if Washington were to blockade its seaports and shut off its trade with the outside world through the gulf and the Indian Ocean. It revived an effective Soviet propaganda position at the UN. It wiped out, at least for a while, the proganda advantage the US had gained from the Soviet invasion of afghanistan.
Will there be furher US military action against Iran?
The White House keeps asserting that its options are open and that it is entitled legally to do whatever it chooses in order to secure the release of the hostages. Since the holding of the hostages is illegal under international law, and is so recognized even by Moscow, the White House is correct about its entitlement. But one may be sure that the rejoicing would be unrestrained in the Kremlin were mr. Carter to take any such further steps.
And the dismay would mount among the allies, who agreed to go along on economic sanctions against Iran on the assumption that in return President Carter would refrain from military sanctions.
But the likelihood of such further military action is probably reduced, perhaps even ruled out entirely, by the departure of Mr. Vance from the State Department and his replacement by Senator Muskie.
Mr. Vance had opposed any military action against Iran. He resigned because he was overruled. The Senate was startled and disturbed by the use of military force in the rescue attempt. Senator Muskie comes from Capitol Hill with what amounts in practical political terms to a commission to see to it that no such thing happens again.
And Senator Muskie possesses what Mr. Vance did not, a political position in his own right from which he can stand up to any other White House adviser and even the President himself. A senator who has been the party's vice-presidential candidate, who was nearly its presidential candidate four years later, and who enjoys the respect and confidence of almost everyone on Capitol Hill will enjoy a degree of power and influence in White House councils that no New York lawyer, no matter how able and experienced, can possess.
Meanwhile Moscow has a propaganda advantage over the United States that it is , of course, exploiting vigorously and with too much effect for the comfort of the Western alliance.