A lesson for amateurs

If you, dear reader, have an idea of wanting someday to run American foreign policy please take heed from the following story of how easy it is to start out in one direction and find yourself walking all over - yourself.

We start with a natural desire on the part of the President of the United States to punish the Soviets for having, presumably, been responsible for the suppression of the free trade union movement in Poland.

An immediate method seemed to be at hand for putting pressure on the Soviets. They were engaged in building a pipeline to carry natural gas from Siberia all the way to Western Europe. When completed that pipeline will earn them a lot of good convertible money which they could then spend for importing modern Western technology into the Soviet Union.

In theory, they would be damaged by cutting off delivery of the compressors, pumps, pipe-laying machinery, and other features of the project which are being provided by the future Western receivers of the gas. To block the pipeline might even cause them to think again about the wisdom of imposing a military dictatorship on the Polish people.

So, in order to help the Poles, President Reagan declared that no American company, and no subsidiary or licensee overseas of any American company, should deliver any more equipment to the Soviet Union for work on the pipeline.

But Mr. Reagan failed to obtain the consent of the European allies in advance of his announcement. When he did try to impose his wishes on American subsidiaries overseas the allies bristled, and took formal and official steps to defy the ban. They even ordered the companies on their territory to ignore that Reagan order and deliver those things which they had undertaken to deliver under contract.

And so we come to the thorniest issue which has yet plagued the story of the NATO alliance.

What does this mean in Moscow?

It means that the Soviets now have an incentive to continue to be beastly to the Poles instead of an incentive to ease up the pressure on the Poles.

Back in early August there were those inside the White House who indulged in a pious hope. The Soviets would encourage the Polish dictatorship to ease up on the Polish people in order to rescue Moscow from disapproval in the outside world. They watched the news from both Moscow and Warsaw in the hope of seeing an easing of martial law and a release of Mr. Lech Walesa which in turn would allow them to lift the ban on the pipeline and get the NATO alliance back on balance.

But instead of releasing Mr. Walesa, the Polish dictators even refused to allow the Pope to visit his native country for the most important event of the year in Poland for any Roman Catholic, the annual pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa.

To understand why this happened put yourself in the place of the members of the Politburo in Moscow and try to think it through from their point of view.

Yes, they are getting a bad press in much of the world for what they are doing, or having done for them, in Poland. But what happens if they tell General Jaruzelski in Warsaw to let Mr. Walesa go free and work out a friendly arrangement with the Solidarity movement?

Immediately, President Reagan is off the pipeline hook. He will announce that his pipeline project has had the desired effect of putting pressure on Moscow and forcing them to do what Washington wanted done. Then he will call off the ban on the pipeline and the US and its NATO allies can have a love feast and get back together again in perfect harmony.

Well, would you then do any such thing if you were voting in the Politburo? Certainly not. The one thing any member of the ruling council in Moscow wants above all else in the outside world is a breakup of the NATO alliance. As long as the alliance holds together Moscow must deal with Western Europe and the US together.

But if the alliance broke up Moscow could play one off against the other - and improve beyond recognition its power position in the world.

The pipeline affair has become a decided net advantage to the Kremlin. It is an apple of discord inside the NATO alliance. It is doing Moscow no harm. An action in power politics intended to pressure the Soviets into easing up on the Poles has turned into a reason for Moscow doing just the opposite. ''Counterproductive'' is a phrase the Soviets use to describe this sort of thing.

Shooting yourself in your own foot is a more common Western idiom.

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