We have all known for several years that George Orwell was wrong. The year 1984 is not going to see a world of human robots manipulated by the all-powerful state. Today's rising of the industrial proletariat in Poland is only one example proving that "Big Brother" is losing out, not gaining.
But if George Orwell was wrong, was Soviet dissident historian Andrei Amalrik correct in predicting that 1984 would bring the collapse of the Soviet empire?
Today we are not only wihtin four years of that long-targeted moment in history, but Americans are getting ready to inaugurate a new President whose statutory four-year term of office includes 1984. What will the world be like during that fourth year of the next american presidency?
The incoming Presidnet will have much to do with shaping the answer. Judging by the events of the past week it seems probable that he will have more on his plate on the day he takes office than do most new presidents.
First, there are the hostages and the Gulf war. It seems from the latest reports that the hostages have been handed over by the student militants to the official government of Iran. This means that the government of Ayatollah Khomeini is better able to negotiate, if indirectly, with Washington over the terms of the release. It could deliver the hostages. But the Ayatollah's dislike of President Carter is a well-documented feature of the scene. Does he so deeply resent Mr. Carter that he will hang on to the hostages until after the inauguration? Or will he let them go, hoping he can get a better deal from Mr. Carter than he might from Mr. Reagan?
The Ayatollah could put his relations with the new Reagan administration in Washington on a good footing, and do the new President a favor, by easing his terms immeadiately after inauguration day. The happy return of the hostages with family reunions, bands, and receptions at the White House would be splendid opening spectacle for a new president.But if the Ayatollah proves his usual unbending self, Mr. Reagan will face some difficult choices over the hostages early in his term. And that, in turn, complicates any resolution of the Iran-Iraq war at the head of the Gulf.
Handling the Eastern Europe situation will be even more difficult and dangerous, but it could work to Mr. Reagan's advantage. The danger is that Moscow will move its own troops into Poland and use them to reestablish effective control over its line of supply to its forces on the NATO front. But even the possibility of this, whether or not it actually happens, wills timulate mroe inclination toward unity among the Western allies. A better working alliance would improve Mr. Reagan's hand in world affairs and strengthen his policies toward Moscow.
The Middle East will, of course, be the most delicate and dangerous of all Mr. Reagan's problems when he takes over. At this writing the Syrians seem to have had second thoughts about invading Jordan. But the whole Middle East area seems to grow less stable by the day.
If Syria's President, Hafez Assad, does invade Jordan, he will have the benefit of his new friendship treaty with Moscow. The United States has long provided economic support and weapons to Jordan.A shooting war between Syria and Jordan would engage the prestige of the two superpowers. Neither could afford to have its client. The last time Syria threatened Jordan a decade ago, the Israelis moved their armored forces into position to support King Hussein's Jordanians while the US Sixth Fleet moved up to be able to provide air cover if necessary for both the Israelis and the Jordanians. The Syrians backed away from that battle.
But suppose that Mr. Reagan does find himself taking office when there are two wars in the Middle East? Oil is still flowing from the Gulf to the West, but for how much longer if the fighting, now limited to Iran and Iraq, spreads and engages several others? Moscow will inevitably be seeking to exploit the situation to its advantage. Washington must do what it can to protect Western access tot he oil. The danger of confrontation between the US and USSR is always present in any Middle East situation.
Mr. Reagan will probably have to take over the last round of negotiations for release of the hostages. He will certainly have to struggle with the problem of how to help the people of Poland and perhaps other of Moscow's Eastern European captives and possibly even the Yugoslavs. He will have to manage that without getting into military action which his allies in Western Europe would not support and which would only make matters worse for those directly concerned. He will have to keep the oil of Arabia flowing westward using only such means as the allies would support. And he will have to try to stabilize the US economy at home.
If between now and 1984 the new President can manage all these problems without doing anything that might goad the Soviets into some desperate and fatal step -- then at least the external circumstances would allow us to find out whether Andrei Amalrik was a better prophet than George Orwell. No president since Abraham Lincoln has moved toward his inaugurtion day with so many difficult world problems on his prospective plate.