A foreign affairs debate may still dominate the 1980 presidential campaign. Two weeks after President Carter told the nation that the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan posed "the most serious threat to world peace since the Second World War," serious critics of his policy have appeared in the Democratic Party.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, trying to revive his flagging presidential campaign, speaking in Washington Jan. 28, criticized the so-called "Carter doctrine" of defending the Persian Gulf zone by force. He also opposed registration and the draft and demanded a debate on foreign policy.
George F. Kennan, adviser of Democratic presidents and former US ambassador to Moscow, in an Article last week deplored the "war atmosphere" in Washington and said he could remember "no instance in modern history" where such conditions had not "led, in the end, to armed conflict."
Now Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota, unsuccessful presidential candidate in 1972, decried at a reporters' breakfast the "hysteria" in the city and reaffirmed the speech of Senator Kennedy with whom, he said, he had been in contact.
Mr. McGovern expressed confidence in President Carter's good faith but deplored "a dangerous and excessive overreaction to what's going on in the world today." He thought the United States should be content with the censure of the Soveit Union in the United Nations for its invasion of Afghanistan and questioned the wisdom and practicality of US threats of sanction and force.
Senator McGovern -- overwhelmingly defeated by Richard Nixon in 1972 -- is discounted by many as a symbol of the left-of-center dove side. Coupled with Senator Kennedy and elder stateman Kennan, however, his views take on greater significance.
He thought the partial US grain embargo might hurt America more than the Russians. He opposes draft registration, would institute oil rationing, is not convinced of a grand design by the Soviets to take over the Persian Gulf, would seek more help from US allies, and would limit US increase of military expenditures to home reserves and the National Guard.
Mr. McGovern says Moscow has been upset by a six-point US hardline policy: failure to get most-favored-nation trade treatment despite a treaty; collapse of SALT II treaty ratification in the Senate; abrupt rejection of Mr. Breznev's offer to reduce Soviet arms in Europe; US support of China; plans to build up US arms (the MX mobile missile), and the decision by NATO countries to install middle-range nuclear missiles.
Former Ambassador Kennan set forth his views in an article in the New York Times Feb. 1. The Kennedy-McGovern-Kennan views on the Afghanistan crisis are the same to a considerable degree and set up the possibility of a major two-way political argument.
"By preoccupation with a Soviet military threat, the reality of which remains to be proved," Ambassador Kennan argued, "we run the risk of forgetting that the greatest real threats to our security in that region remain what they have been all along: our self-created dependence on Arab oil and our involvement in a wholly unstable Israeli-Arab relationship . . . ."
Neither problem, he said, can be corrected "by purely military means" -- nor is the Soviet Union the major factor in either.