In interviewing President Carter for the accompanying article, Don Oberdorfer asked the president for his assessment of the Soviet Union's activities and intentions in the world. This was Carter's response :
THERE IS no doubt in my mind that the Soviets want peace. They don't want to see millions of their people killed again in a war. I think 20 million Russians were killed in the Second World War. The Soviets have a major military capability which exceeds their relative strength in the economic or political world, or the ideological influence. Their military influence is much greater.
My guess is, my belief is, that the military-industrial complex in the Soviet Union has a much greater role to play in foreign policy than is the case in our own country.
The Soviets take advantage, I believe, of opportunities throughout the world to enhance their own influence ina country or among people in a region whenever the opportunity arises, at our expense sometimes, sometimes when we don't suffer in the competitive interrelationship. I have to say that we do the same. We are much more reticent or reluctant to try to use surrogates, like the Vietnamese recently in Cambodia, or the Cubans in Africa, than are the Soviets. This is not a part of our policy, and certainly we don't intend to assume that it is.
We are much less inclined to involve ourselves in the internal affairs of another country when there is a political disturbance. I think we are much more inclined toward the maintenance of stability or the culmination of change in an evolutionary way, rather than a revolutionary way.
We are much more sure of our allies. We live in harmony with our neighbors. All these factors -- and I could go on and on -- distinguish us from the Soviets as far as philosophy or inclination or outlook is concerned. And so I see a need for us to join with the Soviets in maintaining world peace, arms limitations, communications and enhancement of trade, on the one hand, and the building of additional friendship between our people and theirs -- which has not been the case in recent years -- but the maintenance in our nation of a proper freedom to criticize the Soviets when they violate peaceful interrelationships in any part of the world or encourage any disharmonies in any parts of the world. And also, we have got to maintain the inclination and ability to compete with the Soviets in a peaceful nature and to compete successfully.
To another question, about recent meeting in which the president warned administration officials to stop public questioning of his foreign policy decisions, Carter said :
WHAT PRECIPITATED the meetings the other day were some inaccurate reports concerning Iran. This past Christmas-New Year holiday, Secretary Vance came up to Camp David, just the two of us, and we had two days together, and we went through a long list of every possible foreign affairs question that we have to address together. One of the things that we evolved in writing was specific instructions to NSC, to Defense, to State, and particularly to our embassy in Iran, of how to handle the rapidly deteriorating circumstances with the shah's government, and listed specifically a list of priorities that we wanted to adopt -- if this did not succeed, this is the next step we ought to try to pursue, and so forth -- recognizing that our influence there was of necessity limited.
As the changes have taken place in Iran, sometimes unpredictable, quite often almost invariably uncontrollable, where our influence was minimal to start with, I have had to make modifications to our tactics, our public statements. And the identity of the people in Iran has obviously changed in the military leadership and political leadership, but our basic policy, as written down by Vance and me, together, during the holidays, has never changed.
There are people who think we should have taken a tougher position than we did to prevent any change taking place in Iran. There are people who think we should have been more willing to accept change rapidly in Iran as far as our own influence might be concerned. And the lack of adherence to the policy that I prescribed under the most difficult circumstances is what concerned me at that time. So I had my own White House staff members in, Dr. Brzezinski's key leaders in, and Vance's key leaders in, in separate meetings, and told them that once I made a decision, it had to be followed.