The Soviet Army's move into Afghanistan a year ago has proved a mixed blessing for the Kremlin, producing both pluses and minuses. Among the pluses:
* An overall counterthrust against the Soviet-perceived aim of its foes (China and the US, in that order) to encircle it. The thrust has two prongs:
1. A substantial Soviet physical presence is now for the first time not only at the Khyber Pass, the gateway from Central to South Asia coveted through the centuries by czars and commissars alike, but also in a salient within the great swath of Muslim ferment and crisis stretching from the Atlantic coast of North Africa to the Himalayas.
2. Soviet ground and air forces have now advanced over the great divide of the Hindu Kush to within less than 500 miles from the Persian Gulf and the West's oil-traffic bottleneck at the crucial Strait of Hormuz.
* Proof that the Soviet Union has the will to act decisively and commit its military forces to protect what it sees as its vital interests, even if it means defying much of world opinion. (Rightly or wrongly, the image of the US overseas is just the opposite -- an image not helped by the botching of the US attempt last April to rescue the hostages in Iran.)
* Success in exposing the growing strain between the US and its European allies who, in the apt phraseology of Prof. William E. Griffith of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, want to keep Europe an "island of detente" and ensure that any resumption of the cold war between Washington and Moscow is confined to the third world. To some analysts, this is the thin end of the wedge for the "Finlandizing" of Western Europe, assumed by many to be a long-term Soviet aim.
Among the minuses (and often offsetting the pluses):
* In response to the invasion, a tightening in effect by China and the US of the very encirclement that Moscow wants to avoid or thwart. It is also two-pronged:
1. Closer US association with China, short of a military alliance but involving the supply of American military-related technology to the Chinese armed forces.
2. US moves to improve its military readiness and capability in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean areas -- and thus closer to Soviet Central Asia. To Diego Garcia, the US is adding at least the availability of facilities in Egypt, Oman, somalia, and Kenya.
* The burial of hope that the US Senate would ratify the SALT II treaty, signed by President Carter and President Brezhnev in Vienna six months before the invasion of Afghanistan.
* Loss of US grain, because of the US embargo, to soften the impact on the Soviet consumer of this year's reported poor harvest -- likely to pinch even if grain is available from Argentina and other suppliers who rebuffed the US by not joining in the embargo.
* Entrapment of Soviet forces in a virtually endless guerrilla war in Afghanistan, resembling the US involvement for so many years in Vietnam. Like the US in Vietnam, the USSR can hold cities and main lines of communication and can carry out its own version of of search-and-destroy mission by lethal gunship helicopters and yet remain far short of "pacifying" the entire countryside. Like the US, once committed, it cannot easily withdraw -- although, unlike the US, the USSR can probably maintain its commitment indefinitely without rebellion of home public opinion against it, partly because the war is not being shown nightly on Soviet television.
* Alienation (beyond apparent initial Soviet calculation) of public and government opinion in much of the third world, particularly in Muslim lands.
* As 1980 was drawing to a close, possible inhibition on Soviet military intervention in Poland -- in the sense of making that intervention, if it comes, later rather than earlier.