Relations between the old Kremlin crowd and the new Carter crew have smoothed out after a rocky start. Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev have been exchanging private letters. Prospects of a summit meeting between the two adversaries by the end of this year have been revived, as obstacles one by one are being removed.
In the policy councils of both governments are being made, as the Democrats move into the seats of power in Washington and old age creeps up in those who occupy the seats in the Politburo.
For decades, Soviet policy has been based upon certain inflexible projections: that capitalist democracy was in decline and was everwhere afflicted with a growing paralysis of will; that Marxist socialism was the wave of the future, with Moscow that Mecca of all revolutionaries: and that the leaders of the West knew theri sun was setting and were resigned to retreat on the slowest and easiest terms they could get.
Indisputably, several important trends have gone against us: the shrindage of an overwhelming military superiority of yesteryear down to mere rough equality: the new strategic capacity of the Russians that enables them the compete for remote areas formerly foreclosed to them; the loss of American prestige and resolve associated with the Vietnam defeat: our shocking dependence upon costly foreign oil and on sea routes now subject to Russian challenge; the inability of most of the West to confront inflation; the dimminution of the foreign-plicy powers of a presidency that is increasingly hog-tied by congressional restrictions; the hardening of the arteries of key U.S. industries such as steel that cannot keep up with international competition.
Yet in one area after another, the march of events has favored the United States. Despite their eary lead in space technology, the Russians lost the race to the moon and all it symbolized. The herald Soviet plan of 1961 to overtake the United States by 1970 in percapita income ended in pathetic failure. In 1977, Russia's per capita gross national product is still on the abysmal level of Greece or Spain.
The cumbersome Soviet bureucracy is so incredibly pervasive that, despite intensive efforts, the Kremlin cannot get the many-headed monster synchronized. One ministry builds a plant in Siberia, but the ministries responsible for surrounding it with the necessary roads and housing are not clued in, and the new plant stands idle in the midst of desolation.
The Soviets have fallen far behind in the newest industrial technology and haven't even equal to such old-fashioned challenges as producing enough consumer goods and food. Instead of burying us, they suffered the humiliation of dependence upon us for vital technologies and periodically, for enough to eat. The only thing Marxist socialism can export competitively is what Mother Nature made and left in the ground for them.
It is also the Communist bloc, not the West, that has been rent asunder by division. Up until the death of Mao Tse-tung and its aftermath, the Kremlin could hope that its fateful break with China was due to the aberration of one man and could be healed when he died. Now the Russians must accept the schism of world communism as a permanent fact of history.
Whether or not Marxist socialism is the wave of the future, the Soviets no longer are riding it. Revolutionaries around the world do not for inspiration to the Kremlin. In the word of a White House analyst: "Today there is probably not one revolutionary in the world who wants to create a Soviet society."
On top of all this, the economic cost of failed adventures around the world has become, to steal a metaphor from the late Nikita Khrushchev, a bone in the Russian throat. Some $16 billion worth of aid to Egypt went down the drain when President Anwar Sadat threw the Russians out and threw in with us.
Billions more have been dribbled away over the years to keep the satelite Cuban economy from collapsing. The Soviets have proved unable to sustain such ventures on a large scale and are now selling or bartering instead of giving away vast quantities of arms and goods to targets of opportunity.
President Carter is not unmindful of Soviet difficulties. In effect, he has issued this challenge to the Soviet Union: "Our resources, technology, strategic position, prestige and moral stature enable us to comete with you succissfully all across the international board. In the one area of armaments, we hope to eliminate competition by arms-control agreements. But if you do not agree, we will outdo you there, too."
The President is prepared to extract the maximum advantage from the Russian reverses. But sources close to Carter say he is not obsessed over SOviet-American relations. For the first time since the 1940s, U.S. policy is not dominated by the spectre of Russia. On the contrary, the Carter administration is bursting with initiative toward the Mideast, China, Japan, Europe, Latin America and the African nations.
The President wasn't idly boasting, stress his advisers, when he said last May: "We are now free of the inordinate fear of communism which one led us to embrace any dictator who joined us in our fear."
There has been a show of confidence lately among White House insiders. An arms-limitation agreement and a Geneva conference on the Mideast tinderbox are now distinct possibilities within the next few months! There has already been a private agreement by the Soviets not to interfere with Anglo-American attempts to avert the crisis that has been building in southern Africa. The Russians have also promised to refrain from a great rivalry with us in the Indian Ocean.
It remains to be seen how much of our recent progress with the Russians is founded not upon resourceful challenge but upon concessions. Little of substance is heard from the White House these days about human rights or "hanging tough" on arms-negotiation principles.
Yet, in this period of stormy passage for the administration, we can find cause for hope, both in the liabilities carried by our adversaries and in the new confidence of a Carter foreign-policy team that puts on a good show of having gotten its act together.