The Democrats organized an unruly parade of clashing viewpoints yesterday on the issues of detente, disarmament and Soviet dissenters - matters that have stirred broad division within the party.
Doves, hawks, the political celebrities of yesteryear and some Carter administration newcomers debated the questions of U.S.-Soviet relations that are certain to dominate the politics of foreign policy in the new administration.
It was a day of intellectual cacophony in which you could find a recognized expert to support propositions that:
(a) The Russians are fast outstripping the United States in offensive nuclear power (formerly Deputy Defense Secretary Paul H. Nitze, former Chief of Naval Operations Elmo R. Zumwalt).
(b) The United States is still well ahead of the Russians in strategic strength and shows no sign of losing its lead former Central Intelligence Agency Deputy Director Herbert Scoville jr., Rep. Les Apsin).
(c) The policy of detente must be sharply modified because it has favored the Russians (Professor Richard E. Pipes, director of the Harvard Russian Research Center).
(d) The United States must pursue the present course of detente because it is the only alternative to nuclear holocaust. (former Sen. J. William Fulbright, Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith).
The session was organized by the National Democratic Forum, which aspires "to stay ahead of President Carter's agenda so that Democrats will have an opportunity to sepak out before a particular program is formulated into law." Carter addressed it in one of his first important public appearances in November, 1975.
The few Carter administration insiders to appear yesterday confined themselves, on the whole, to cautious utterance. "I decided the best way to stay out of trouble was to quote the President and speak briefly," quipped Leslie Gelb, director of the State Department's Bueau of Political-Military Affairs who in the late 1960s, was the coordinator for the document known as the Pentagon Papers.
Duke University political science-professor and Soviet affairs specialist Jerry Hough sparked one of the liveliest engagements of the day when he said he would no more judge Soviet soceity by the complaints of Soviet dissenters than he would judge American society during the 1960s by the statements of Jerry Rubin and Angela Davis.
"I'd like to register may protest to that statement, exclaimed Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine.
But more fuel was added to the controversy by Morton Halperin, former National Security Council deputy to Henry A. Kissinger, now director for the privately funded project on National Security and Civil Liberties.
"My views," Halperin said, "is that civil rights should not be a major focus of U.S.-Soviet relations." Such a policy, he said, would only intensify repression against dissenters in the Soviet Union.
"We mustn't pander to repression," countered Patt Derian, President Carter's State Department coordinator for human rights and humanitarian affairs. "Silence is pandering."
At that point a black in the audience who identified himself as Louis Perkins of Mississippi asked for recognition. "I wonder what a photograph of this panel would show about human rights in this country," he said.
The panel members looked at each other with puzzlement. Finally Derian murmured: "He means this is an all-white panel."
The question of whether the Russians have an effective civil defense program provoked another sharp just between Aspin, Zumwalt, Scoville and Nitze.
Zumwalt charged that in a nuclear war, 100 to 160 million Americans would be killed compared with 10 million Russians because of Soviet civil defense and evacuation measures.
"Total, utter nonsense," retorted Aspin. "If the Russians tried to evacuate during eight out of the 12 months, most of them would freeze to death."
"Wrong," responded Nitze.
"Most of those evacuated would be hit by fallout," piped in Scoville.
Galbraith, who keynoted the meeting, said opposition to detente is fueled by "two great fears" - fear of commuism and fear of being thought soft on communism. "The second fear . . . is, of course, the unique affliction of liberals.It is because they are exempt from this fear that conservatives, in recent times, have made more progress in lowering tensions than our own political co-religionists."
The word detente, which has been absent from political discourse in Washington since President Ford registered his disapproval of it, enjoyed a major revival during yesterday's National Democratic Forum.
Fulbright, speaking with the acerbic Arkansas drawl that was his political trademark, observed that detente "by its very nature is difficult for Americans . . . It requires us, for the sake of world peace, to live with uncertainty and ambiguity."