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Distorted perspectives

Newsweek magazine, in its issue of Feb. 11, reported on reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan under a headline, "Selling the Doctrine." It noted that President Carter had sent his White House foreign policy adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, to Pakistan. Later in the article it said:

"On the eve of Brzezinski's mission, 35 ISlamic countries gave the Carter Administration an unexpected boost. At a summit in Islamabad, they unanimously condemned Moscow's intervention in Afghanistan and demanded the 'immediate, unconditional and total withdrawal of Soviet troops.'"

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Well, what the 35 Islamic countries did at that meeting in Islamabad was a great, big, important deed which deserved top news treatment in any newspaper or news magazine. It must have rattled and worried the Islamic section of the foreign office in Moscow. It must have caused some quick rethinking in the Politburo.

But one thing it was not. It was not an intentional "boost" for Mr. Carter in Washington or for any project Mr. Carter has in hand. And it was not done because Mr. Brzezinski was due in Islamabad the next day. And it was not done to align the Islamic countries with the United States. And, above all, it was not done out of affection for the US, or out of any desire to help the US against the USSR.

The Islamic countries did what they did solely and exclusively because the Soviet Union had invaded a Muslim country. That fact was in itself enough to arouse the anxiety and disapproval of all other Muslim countries. It did unite them in a most unusual way. Algeria and Libya are anti-USA, so much so that they tend to gravitate into the Soviet power orbit. Usually, they vote for Moscow and against Washington on issues at the UN. But on this issue they joined in demanding Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The PLO regards Washington as its enemy, because Washington arms and supports Israel against the Arabs, most of whom are Muslims. The PLO probably gets most of its weapons from Moscow. But the PLO joined in demanding the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

There is some speculation that the men in the Kremlin are thinking of taking their troops out of Afghanistan in whole or in part as soon as their puppet regime is firmly established. There just might be some substance behind this. I would not be surprised at a partial withdrawal, although certainly not on the day of President Carter's deadline. But if this event does happen, it will not be because Mr. Carter in Washington has demanded it and threatened consequences unless it is done. If the United States were the only country in the world demanding a withdrawal we may be sure it would not happen.

But the United States is not the only country demanding such a withdrawal. Every country in the world which is free to do so has in fact done so. And, even more important, several which usually side with Moscow have refrained from so doing. In addition to Libya, Algeria, and the PLO mentioned above, there is Romania, which is a member of the Warsaw Pact and has refused to speak up for Moscow in this case. North Korea has also kept silent, which is less remarkable since it is located between China and the Soviet Union and hence has a freedom of maneuver not enjoyed by Romania.

The Washington assumption, reflected in the quotation from the Newsweek report, is that, unless the US acts, things will not happen. And the corollary is that, if the US takes the lead and others act in support, then good results can happen.

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Things were like that, for a time. Back in the early days after World War II , the United states was the richest, most productive, and most powerful country in the world, because everyone else was either devastated or exhausted by the war. Only the US emerged unscarred, undamaged, and in fact richer and stronger than ever before. Little could happen in world affairs which did not come from US initiative and US action. Today, things are different.

If the Soviets do take some or all of their troops back out of Afghanistan Mr. Carter in Washington will be a prime beneficiary, although not by soviet intent. But this benefit to Mr. carter will be the result of the Washington distortion. Initiative in this world is no longer centered exclusively in Washington. Moscow watches events in Washington, of course, and adjusts accordingly. But in this case the unanimity among the countries of Islam, the critical reaction in Western Europe (including several communist parties), and the absence of any real support even among Moscow's most dependent clients, must weigh more in the Kremlin than Mr. Carter's words.

It follows from the above that in this new world the United States does not have to do everything by itself. It can play a supportive role in the Gulf area. It does not have to do it all.Indeed, the countries of Islam do not want US troops in their midst any more than they want Soviet troops. The less visible the US presence, the happier Islam will be. The Islamic countries do not need to be taught to recognize or cajoled into protecting their own interests.


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