Superpowers redundant

Please note that while Israel won a brilliant and decisive (also ruthless) military victory in the Middle East, and the British did the same in the South Atlantic the United States and the Soviet Union stood somewhat foolishly on the sidelines, making occasional noises but doing nothing weighty enough to influence the outcome.

The same thing can be said of the Iraq-Iran war where the battle was fought without any significant weight from either Moscow or Washington being applied.

True, the Soviets reportedly supplied some intelligence to the Argentinians. They supplied much of the original weaponry which the Iraqis used in their opening attack on Iran. They supplied most of the weapons the Syrians used, again unsuccessfully, against Israel.

Most of Israel's major weapons came from the US (supposedly for use in defensive operations only). The Argentinians had some cast-off American weapons. The Iranians were largely equipped with US weapons but had had some recent resupply from the Soviets.

But none of this weaponry was supplied either by the US or by the USSR for the deliberate purpose of influencing the outcome of this particular set of wars.

Soviet sympathies, so far as they were expressed, were with the PLO and the Syrians against Israel. Moscow was also sympathetic to Argentina against the British. But Moscow was as neutral in its public stand and in its actual behavior as the US in regard to the Iran-Iraq war.

The US in fact helped Israel against the PLO and Syrians by failing to use the leverage which in theory it has over Israel. But it is embarrassed in its dealing with Arab countries for this very reason. It claims to be neutral and to have tried to arrange the earliest possible cease-fire. It gets no real credit with either side for being ineffective.

The US sided overtly with Britain in the Falklands war but halfway through the war. It then marred that in British eyes by the absurd semi-retreat on the veto affair at the United Nations. The help to Britain was insufficiently enthusiastic to win thanks in London but enough to cause a problem of painful postwar readjustment of relations with Buenos Aires. The bystander and the half-hearted supporter win few friends.

Not one of the three current wars was engineered from either Moscow or Washington. No strenuous effort was made in either of the superpower capitals to secure a victory in any one of these three wars. Neither superpower cheers the defeat of the losers in any one of these wars.

What did happen was that in each case a strong leader of a second-level power waged a decisively successful war. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is a strong-willed individual who, whatever his other qualities, has proved himself a skillful and successful war leader. The same goes for Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel and for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

It is difficult to think of any other quality these three war leaders share in common. Try to imagine the three individuals enjoying a conversation of mutual interests around a relaxed luncheon table. It can't be done. But they are alike in the strength and the effectiveness of their nationalisms and in their ability to unite their people in a successful military effort. They are making their marks on the pages of history.

What were Messrs. Brezhnev and Reagan doing the meanwhile? Mr. Brezhnev was being the subject of much speculation about how much he still is, or isn't, influencing the policy decisions of the Soviet Union. Considering that Soviet policy is largely marking time in every area of both internal and external policy the conclusion is probably that Mr. Brezhnev was doing almost nothing.

Mr. Reagan had himself a European tour which will be remembered largely for photographs of a horseback ride he had with a British Queen who seemed not to enjoy the photographing process. She usually does her riding in private. She refused to allow conversations with the photographers. There was no evidence that Mr. Reagan substantially influenced policy in London, at the economic summit in Paris, or at the NATO meeting in Bonn.

This is not to say that Messrs. Brezhnev and Reagan should have done more or less than they actually did about these three wars. What might better have been done is another matter which is not under discussion here. It is to say that the three spectacular events in current history have happened without benefit of the superpowers. Their wishes were largely ignored in all three cases by strong-minded leaders who knew precisely what they wanted to do -- and did it.

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