That summit conference in Venice was supposed to have been about economics, but it turned out more by happenstance than anything else to be the time and place where the Western allies worked out a new way of shaping their mutual foreign policies.
There is now a definable body of Western foreign policy which in two important respects is entirely different from the policy which the Carter administration in Washington was attempting to pursue.
Previous to Venice the Carter administration was trying to rescue the hostages in Iran and force the Soviets out of Afghanistan by economic and cultural coercion and by the flexing of military muscle.
Since the gathering at Venice the use of coercion as a means of achieving these two purposes has been dropped in fact although not yet in official theory. The dropping was imposed by the West European allies who have disapproved of the coercive method. They did not think it would work in either case, and they would not joing it except by tokenism. They made some gestures of cooperation. They never put real force behind the gestures.
And now, in the wake of Venice, it is perfectly obvious that Washington has fallen into line behind the European allies in a new approach to both the Iran and Afghan problems.
It is still, of course, a joint purpose to obtain the rescue of the hostages and the liberation of Afghanistan from Soviet military occupation. But the methods toward those purposes are different.
Toward Iran, the technique is primarily to stand aside while political evolution changes the existing internal situation in Iran and hope that changes in the internal balance of power will make possible the release. No one expects that to happen suddently or tomorrow. But the new operating theory is that the less attention and the less external pressure the soooner the possible end to the long captivity of the hostages.
This is the policy the European allies have favored from the beginning. The failure of coercion has finally forced Washington to accept their thinking on this matter. They have in fact reshaped alliance policy to their liking.
The same applies to policy toward the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The European allies never believed for a moment that a campaign of economic sanctions plus at Western buildup of military strength in the Persion Gulf area could force the Soviets to pull their troops out of Afghanistan. The believed that a forward and coercive policy would have the opposite effect on Moscow and cause it to increase rather than reduce its military commitments in the area.
So economic sanctions have already been abandoned in fact, although they are still being applied in theory. In practical terms nothing is left of the coercive policy except the Olympic games boycott, which has been a partial success.
In place of attempted coercion there will now be a long-term negotiation built on the assumption that a gradual Soviet withdrawal is possible. This does not mean by prospect of a total liberation for Afghanistan. The chances are that a puppet regime in Kabul will be sustained almost indefinitely by the Soviets.
But it might well be that through tacit rather than formal negotiation the Soviets would be satisfied with control of the capital city and the major highways, and leave the countryside and the mountains to the tribesmen. This could mean a gradual reduction in the numbers of Soviet tropps inside the country, with total withdrawal conceivable far down the road.
This is not a Carter administration policy. It is an alliance policy imposed by the European members of the alliance. They have taken control of alliance policy in those two areas. Washington has found itself going along rather than being in open disagreement with the allies.
One question remains open. What is to be done about policy toward Israel? Here there is as yet no agreement. The European allies are officially in favor now of pushing for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. Washington pays lip service to withdrawal but opposes any use of coercion against Israel. Reconciliation between Washington and the European capitals on this subject would be difficult at anytime. It certainly cannot be achieved, or even seriously attempted, unitl after the US elections in November.