While the United States was bogged down hopelessly in Iran, the Soviet military machine moved dramatically into neighboring Afghanistan. The Red Army is now within a three-day's drive from the crucial oil reserves and transport lanes of the Middle East. ISRAELI Prime Minister Menachem Begin called it "a turning point in the world's history." Egyptian President Anwar Sadat warned, "The battle around the area's oil stores has begun." London's Daily Telegraph called it a "power-political earthquake that threatens to change the map of the Middle East and southern Asia."
All were referring to the full-scale Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. This mountainous, moonscaped nation, historically a buffer state between Russia and southwest Asia, is the strategic gateway to the oil-rich Middle East.
A neutral Afghanistan — called by some the "cockpit of Asia" — is no more. Significantly, Soviet fighter-bombers are now stationed less than 350 miles from the strategic Strait of Hormuz — the funnel through which passes half of the Free World's oil imports.
Slowly, but surely, a communist "ring of steel" is being tightened around the Middle East. Where — and when — will the Soviets strike next? Will they ever be met by superior force? Has America — has Europe — finally awakened to the danger?
Moscow Reacts with Force Nothing could possibly contrast the fortunes of the United States and the Soviet Union more than the events unfolding in the Middle East.
In an attempt to secure the release of its embassy personnel held hostage in Iran, Washington has chosen a policy of "restraint." Foreswearing military action, President Jimmy Carter has instead leaned on the weak reeds of the United Nations, the World Court, and "world public opinion." Nothing has worked.
The Soviet Union on the other hand, decided to act fast to preserve its flagging interests in neighboring Afghanistan. Nearly two years ago a coup brought an autonomous yet pro-Moscow leadership to power in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital. Successive leaders, however, were unable to bring to heel unruly Moslem tribesmen who were drawing inspiration from Moslem resurgence in Iran.
The situation got so bad that by the end of 1979 Moscow felt compelled to move in forcefully to take direct command of events.
The Soviets showed they were willing to endure the muted scorn of the world to protect and advance their own interests. This occurred while President Carter called upon Americans to bombard Tehran — with Christmas cards!
The world is taking notice of the vast difference in the way the two superpowers react to danger. Says one Asian diplomat, "Asians may fear or dislike the Russians, but a lot of us respect a nation that is not reluctant to use its power."
By projecting its power, the Soviets are at last near an age-old dream: the acquisition of warm-water ports on the Indian Ocean. (See article on page 35 for the historical background behind the crisis in Afghanistan.) Only faction-ridden Iran and truncated Pakistan (half its former self) lie in the way. Any further moves, however, may take a while.
The Soviets will have to digest Afghanistan first, no small matter. After doing so, and before proceeding onward, Moscow may launch a new "peace offensive" in an attempt to lull the Free World. Detente, after all, began four years after Russia's forceful venture in Czechoslovakia in 1968. The Kremlin may once again orchestrate the "Russian Tango" three steps forward and two steps back. But the thrust is, nevertheless, relentlessly forward.
Near Future Favors Moscow The Soviet leadership knows that time and events are on its side.
American weakness in Iran pushed forward the Soviet timetable for Afghanistan. A Soviet bloc journalist admitted: "If the United States had acted with more force in the Iranian situation, the Soviets would never have moved into Afghanistan. The question they asked was, 'Why should we not go ahead?' There was no good answer."
The Soviets also know that Pakistan represents another dilemma for the United States and the West. Its strongman leader, President Mohammed Zia-ul-haq, executed his popular predecessor, Ali Bhutto. Unpopular with his people, Mohammed Zia may not last long.
Pakistan's rulers will undoubtedly consider whatever aid is offered them by President Carter. Nevertheless they know Washington's sudden interest in them is not heartfelt. It is only a reaction to the Afghanistan crisis. (Previous U.S. military aid had been cut off because of Pakistan's attempt to build atomic weapons.)
The most ironical twist of all is that the Afghanistan invasion and the subsequent attempt to shore up Pakistan have occurred at the very time that Indira Gandhi has been returned to power in India. Mrs. Gandhi downplays Soviet intentions in southwestern Asia — but professes alarm at a strengthened Pakistan, India's chief foe.
As if to prepare for the eventual dismemberment of both Iran and Pakistan, the new Afghan regime lost no time in propagandizing support for separatist movements among the Baluchi people. The Baluchi homeland stretches from southeastern Iran into Pakistan. A separate "Baluchistan" under Soviet control would be the key to Moscow's obtaining an Indian Ocean port of its own.
The Prize: Much-needed Oil A takeover of Iran, or portions of that country, would be a grave development indeed for the Free World. "The price in political, economic and military terms," reports Time magazine, "would be enormous. It would place [the Soviets] in a position of being able to turn off the oil tap for Western consumers almost at will when the oil shortage starts to really bite later in the 1980s. It would also put them in a position of having immediate access to the Gulfs rich petroleum reserves when, in the next few years, the U.S.S.R.'s domestic output of oil is expected to start falling short of its internal needs."
The Soviet Union is, currently self-sufficient in oil and a significant supplier of petroleum to both Eastern and Western Europe. But not for long; several recent studies estimate that the Soviets will become a net-importer of oil by the mid-1980s. "The Soviet oil crisis," reports the Australian news magazine Bulletin, "will coincide with their period of strategic superiority." In other words, by mid-decade — the so-called "window of peril" period confronting the Western world — Moscow will be able to exert maximum 'pressure' on the Middle East.
Ironically, President Carter decided, as partial punishment for their Afghanistan incursion, to halt the sale to the Soviets of sophisticated American oil drilling equipment and technology. Moscow had counted upon this technology — the world's most advanced — to develop its difficult Siberian oil fields. This decision could therefore boomerang. Without access to such technol9gy Moscow will have even more reason to penetrate the Mid-east oil depots.
"And over this oil," notes U.S. columnist Michael Novak, "many wars, revolutions and disruptions are certain to be fought during the 1980s and 1990s.... This oil is life. Some must have it or die. Willingness to die for it is not likely to be as scarce as the oil itself."
Greatest Fear: Saudi Overthrow The Soviet power play sent shock waves throughout the oil sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf. Many of the wealthy but otherwise powerless Gulf states are frightened. Moscow is advancing their way, and the United States appears, to them, to be too indecisive, too undependable. They can't lean upon Washington for support.
Meanwhile, Soviet agents have been working to destabilize the Gulf region. It is now believed by Western intelligence experts that the Soviets were directly involved in the recent insurrection at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the holiest shrine of all Islam located inside Saudi Arabia.
A senior Saudi Arabian official reported to the New York Times, that the takeover at the Grand Mosque was accomplished by 500 disciplined, heavily armed guerrillas.
Contradicting initial reports, the official down played the role of fanatics interested only in religious issues. Fanatics formed part of the force, he said, but they had been co-opted by well-trained guerrilla leaders who had a far different motive.
"I think it was sponsored by international organizations, probably Russians, to undermine the stability of Saudi Arabia," said the official, who was directly involved in the government's handling of the incident.
West European intelligence sources further confirm that some of the rebels were trained in South Yemen, a troublesome Soviet client state on Saudi Arabia's southern perimeter. Guerrillas from around the world are educated in that former British protectorate in the art of political terrorism.
The noted Soviet affairs columnist for London's Daily Telegraph, Robert Moss, commenting on the aborted assault, said "It is safe to assume that the Mecca rising will not be the last move in the Soviet power play for control of the oil-rich Gulf area."
Indeed, there have been recent reports of additional Cuban arid Soviet military "advisers" being flown into South Yemen from nearby Marxist Ethiopia. The Saudi government has filed an urgent plea with Washington to investigate the buildup in the former British protectorate — which now has an "unbreakable" 20-year friendship treaty with Moscow.
The South Yemen buildup could also presage a new assault on Oman to the East. With the collapse of Iran, the sultan of tiny Oman now finds himself to be the guardian of the Strait of Hormuz — through which a Free World oil tanker passes every 20 minutes of the day!
The "Carter Doctrine" President Carter professed initial shock at the Afghanistan power play. He said that, as a result, his assessment of Soviet intentions had "changed most drastically" — a startling admission for a U.S. president, the acknowledged leader of the Free World.
The President claims that, after three years in office, he finally sees the light of Soviet intentions. But one wonders. On June 15, Mr. Carter said he believes that the Soviets must feel "chastened and surprised" by strong world condemnation of the Afghanistan invasion. This reaction, he felt, may restrain them from such aggression elsewhere.
The President also claimed on another occasion that the Soviet invasion violated "accepted rules of behavior, " to which columnist George F. Will replied: "The Soviets are playing by the 'accepted rules' ... raw force is the rule because raw force works."
Even by another definition, Mr. Will added, the Soviets are playing by the rules — their rules; "Rules they have proclaimed from rooftops. For 62 years Leninism has been the Soviet Union's civil religion, teaching the inevitability of lethal conflict with 'bourgeois' societies in a struggle for the world. Yet for 62 years liberal societies have earnestly wondered what the Soviets 'really' intend...."
In enumerating what some have dubbed the "Carter Doctrine" the President says that "we must now deal with the hard facts, with the world as it is." He has jettisoned the first three years of his foreign policy, a program based upon shedding America's "inordinate fear of communism," and pursuing the loftier goal of "human rights."
The nation's military posture - allowed during the 1970s honeymoon with detente to slip badly behind the Soviets — will get new infusions of spending. Yet, somewhat contradictorily, the President proclaims that until now "we have not been weak."
Many observers feel that a real turnabout won't be easy. "We didn't get into this position overnight, says former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, "and we can't get out of it with a few quick fixes."
Other experts point out that there is little substance behind the rhetoric of the "Carter Doctrine." Specific commitments are vague. Instead of seeking permanent ground bases in the Middle East (an offer from Egypt was rejected) Washington speaks only of "military facilities" — mostly naval - and an ambiguous "framework" of "cooperative security."
The Soviets are not fooled. They are well aware of current U.S. weakness in armaments, strategy — and willpower. Reports the U.S. News and World Report:
"Kremlin rulers view as more bark than bite Carter's threat to use force in the Persian Gulf, if need be... The only way Carter's 'hands off Mideast oil' warning is seen getting through to Soviet bosses: He must deploy American forces — ground, air, naval — within striking distance of the crisis area...
"The Kremlin still respects American power. But — what counts is U.S. performance. And when Russia looks back over the last five years, it sees inaction in the face of Moscow-sponsored Cuban intervention in Angola and Ethiopia, inaction when Soviet-backed Vietnamese forces invade Cambodia, inaction when Carter spotted Russian combat troops in Cuba."
The Cuba inaction last October, experts believe, convinced the Soviets they could safely move into Afghanistan. And Washington's initial hesitation to use military power in the early days of the hostage situation in Iran also played into Moscow's hands. Should the United States decide to act with force now, the Soviets could enter Iran on the pretext of protecting the country from an American invasion!
Russia has power. America has power, too — but is afraid to use it! The pride of its power has been taken away (Leviticus 26:19). Or, as, columnist James J. Kilpatrick put it: "It is useless to provide ourselves with arms if we lack the will to use them."
Who Will Counter Soviet Thrust? Soviet leaders — and they can be believed — have stated repeatedly, even during the decade of the '70s, that detente in no way impedes the worldwide "class struggle" nor hampers their support for "national liberation " movements around the world.
Mr. Brezhnev explicitly outlined the purpose of detente to Eastern European Communist Party leaders at an East Bloc summit in Prague in 1973. His speech did not receive much attention at the time.
"Trust us, comrades," Mr. Brezhnev was quoted as saying. "For by 1985, as a consequence of what we are now achieving with detente, we will have achieved most of our objectives in Western Europe. We will have consolidated our position. We will have improved our economy. And a decisive shift in the correlation of forces will be such that, come 1985. we will be able to exert our will wherever we need to."
It should be plain to all that if anyone is going to firmly resist the Soviet inroads into the Middle East and other strategic areas of the world such as southern Africa, it is not likely to be the United States. Says the noted world expert on Soviet strategy, Brian Cozier:
"It is a lamentable fact that the Soviet Union takes a global view of strategy and that the U.S. does not — or no longer does.... The Russians know very well what they want.... The Soviets fight World War III permanently and by whatever means are appropriate."
America has gone to sleep, strategically, and other areas of the Free World are not much more alert to the long-term danger at the present time.
Yet, as the pages of The Plain Truth have continually warned, Europe will arise from its slumber, to unitedly protect its endangered interests. Europe only awaits strong galvanizing leadership. Editorialized the Daily Telegraph: