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Moscow's Afghan venture

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Uniformed Soviet troops now have military control of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Also, a hand-picked Soviet agent heads a new regime there. But it is doubtful that this move will bring to Moscow a long-term gain. The chances are, to the contrary, that this will drag the Soviets deeper into the "no win" situation. There are interesting similarities to the situation Lyndon Johnson plunged the United States into in Vietnam in March, 1965.

There are two important things to note about this affair.

(1) It is the first time since World War II that uniformed Soviet troops in substantial formations have gone into combat in any country outside the Warsaw Pact area.

(2) This unprecedented and overt intrusion of Soviet troops is in a Muslim country in the Middle East, a part of the world which has been sliding into an increasing sense of friction with the United States.

These two features combine to transform the context of the US relationship with the countries of the Middle East. Suddenly, overnight, it is the Soviet Union which has in fact intervened with military force in a Middle East country. A widespread fear that the US might do this has been overlaid by the fact that the Soviets have done it.

The immediate consequence is to bring Iran and the US onto the same side at the Security Council of the UN. Both are disturbed by the Soviet action. Both have protested against it.

This does not mean that the US and Iran will at once be able to sit back and talk quietly and sensibly about their double problems of the hostages and the Shah. But it does change the context. Until the Soviets pounced on Kabul the US and Iran were slipping deeper into a condition of threat and counterthreat. Now, if either is willing and able to offer the slightest twig off an olive tree , the other would find it easier to respond. At least, they could talk about the new and mutual danger of further Soviet penetration into the Middle East.

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