President Carter has had the wit to see - and the guts to admit - that he miscalculated the impact of his humanrights campaign on the chances for another strategic arms limitation treaty with Russia. "There has been a surprising adverse reaction in the Soviet Union to our stand on human rights," he told a group of editors last week. "Apparently that has provided a greater obstacle to . . . common goals, like in SALT, than I had anticipated."
Now the President needs to admit, at least to himself, how much his handling of human rights and arms control has made a hash of domestic support for any dealing with the Communist world. Only then can he begin to restore a good connection with the Soviet Union - presumably at an early summit meeting with Secretary General Brezhnev.
In dealing with the Communist world, the original Carter strategy was to disarm superpatriotics by quick, early progress on normilization of relations with Vietnam and Cuba. A Panama Canal treaty was also supposed to weaken the chauvinists. Then there would come an arms accord with Russia.
But the stress on human rights has forfied an ever-present national superiority complex. In Congress, the superpatriots have used the newly burnished moral standard as a weapon against countries they don't like. Thus the human-rights theme figured large in the debate that led the House, last week, to vote - by 295 to 115 - against any foreign aid for Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Uganda.
Whatever the eventual fate of that amendment, it shows the current national temper. It indicates that Vietnam, Cuba and Panama will be rough going - not palatable appetizers for a big deal with Russia.
This is especially the case since administration treatment of Moscow has deepened hostitility toward easier Big Two relations. At first glance, to be sure, the human-rights emphasis seems to strengthen the President's hand in foreign plicy. By standing on "American principle" he shows the doubters that he is not prepared to yield the crown jewels for just any old arms deal with Russia.
But the human-rights stress - and the harsh reaction it elicited - also deepened American suspicion of Moscow. That suspicion is coming more and more into play as the lines of the probable next arms deal emerge. The deal will have to center on weapons developments that cannot easily be verified - notably the range of cruise missiles and the exact disposition of Russia's Backfire bomber.
Henry Jackson (D-Wash.), the Senate's point man on arms control, has recently been saying that approval of any accord will depend less on trust in President Carter than on the kind of verification agreements the administration can get from Moscow. So when it comes to Soviet ratification of the next arms accord, the darker suspicion of Russia will count more than the higher confidence in Carter.
The more so as Carter has handed big blocs in the Senate excuses for not supporting it. He bgan the arms negotiations by drawing up for presentation in Moscow last March a comprehensive proposal for deep cuts. He said it was "radically different" from the packages prepared by the previous administration. Even though the comprehensive proposal was virtually withdrawn when rejected by Moscow, Carter keeps saying that his stance is "radically different." That is practically an invitation to Republicans, including former President Ford and Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker, to oppose whatever accord Carter is able to get.
The rapid dropping of the comprehensive proposal after the Russian nyet, moreover, has shown Carter in full retreat. Democrats suspicious of the Russians are already wondering out loud whether the President didn't give up too early on his original package. They can legitimately question whether Moscow now has the impression it can extract concessions from Carter simply by threatening to walk away.
My own impression, on a recent trip to Moscow, was that many Russians did indeed have that impression - and that means that an arms-control accord negotiated now would not generate mommentum for important new agreements, but rather would lead to further tests of strength.
What all this says to me is that the Carter administration has unnecessarily got Soviet-American relations off to a false start. The best thing now would be to wipe the slate clean and begin anew. For that purpose, a non-business, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] -acquainted summit meeting between Carter and Brezhnev would be ideal.