After the cheers, hard questions
Washington — It is understandable that the nation reacted with revulsion to the testimony from the lips of some of the hostages of the vile and abhorrent treatment which was imposed upon them during their 444 days of captivity.
It is a blessing that we have now experienced the uplifting joy of having the freed Americans in ecstatic embrace.
We have experienced something of the pain of their long ordeal and the rapture of their release. They are proud of us. We are proud of them.It has been a long time since we, as a people and as a nation, were so much one.
In light of both the pain and the rapture, now could be a good time to examine carefully some questions which crowd our minds and which deal with both the present and the future.
Did the United States soil its honor by making the agreement with Iran which freed the hostages?
I think not. By rejecting the $24 billion sum first demanded by Tehran, we paid no ransom. The Iranians got back only those funds which they had possessed in this country and which we had frozen shortly after the seizure. The American courts will determine whether and what assets of the late Shah will be recovered by the Iranian government.
Did President Carter do everything he reasonably could to free the Americans? He has his critics, but I did not notice during the long captivity that they were proposing how things could have been handled differently. Wisdom after the event comes rather easily. The hostages did not fault Mr. Carter nor has President Reagan.
Was the United States injured by this experience?
Unquestionably. We were rendered visibly helpless for nearly 15 months by a weak, divided, irrational government. We prudently did not resort to war. But the US undoubtedly lost influence throughout the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. America itself was being held hostage and there should be no minimizing the humiliating image imposed on the US. That, in part, was what the Iranian captors wanted. They played that game to the end, hurling degrading slurs at the US as the embassy staff was boarding the planes for their flight to freedom, shouting that they had "rubbed the nose of the Great Satan in the mud." For a time many may believe that.
Was Iran injured by what it did?
Unquestionably, grievously. It injured itself to an extent which cannot yet be fully measured. It has been crippled in fighting the war against Iraq. It lost crucial spare parts the previous Iranian government had on order in America. It was plunged into a perilous financial crisis caused by losing control of its assets in the US.
The revolutionary forces in Iran are claiming they have won a "great victory." It may be that they have won a "great defeat."
When the terms of the release have been fully executed, what should be the policy of the United States toward Iran in the future?
It will be easy to allow a mood of revulsion and recrimination to make it impossible to build a bridge of constructive relations with Iran.
It will be difficult to pursue a course of recconciliation which will serve our best interests.
I believe that the more difficult policy is the wise policy.
Many things have been altered by the ugly conflict over the hostages and the wounds are deep, but one thing has not changed. What hasn't changed is the map of the Middle East. Iran remains a strategic land mass stretching from the southern border of Russia to the oil fields of the Middle East. Its security and productivity are indispensable to the West -- and will remain indispensable for many years to come.
The stability and independence of Iran constitute an essential buffer between the Soviet Union and its historic ambition to stretch its reach to the warm water ports of the Persian Gulf.Iran's security and viability were important to the US before the seizure and they are important today.
President Reagan will not be rushing forward with a premature or unwelcome embrace. His policy will be one of remoteness and detachment. But his long-range goal is reconciliation whenever a political resolution of the turmoil in Iran produces a government with which he can deal.
His aim is ultimate rapprochem ent, not continuing recrimination.