There appear to be no legitimate grounds for Moscow's charges that the daring demarche of President Anwar Sadat sprang from U.S. Egytian collusion, but in a larger sense it is fair to say that Sadat's bold decision to go it alone can be largely traced back to the canny and farsighted diplomacy of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
While the whole world now marvels at the courage of the Egyptian leader in breaking with Arab partners over his mission to Jerusalem, it should be kept in mind that this historic step would probably not have occurred had there not been an earlier and riskier break with the Soviet Union, whose lavish military and economic assistance kept Egypt going for 20 years.
It is no secret that Sadat had long distrusted the Russians and was eager to free himself from dependence on them. Yet he temporized for years until, emboldened by confidence in his "dear frien Henry" and Henry's promise of compensating American support, he finally drew himself up on March 14, 1976, and denounce the Russian-Egyptian Friendship Treaty. Since then, he has been increasingly his own man.
Considering that a good many commentators, including myself, had occasion to criticize Kissinger for U.S. misadventures in Asia, Africa and elsewhere, this might be and appropriate moment to ackowledge that events have proved he knew what he was about in the Middle East.
After the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Kissinger's famous "shuttle diplomacy" inspired widespread skepticism. Nonetheless, out of it came our rapprochement with Egypt after 20 years of alienation. Above all, Kissinger's patient diplomacy with Sadat finally produced in 1975 the separated interim peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, which, like the current friendly dealings between those old enemies, aroused a storm of protest in Russia and Syria and worsened Egypt's relations with them.
Gerald Ford, then President, hailed the adoption of the Kissinger plan as "a great achievement . . . one of the most historic of this decade." In light of what is now happening that doesn't sound quite as grandiloquent as it did two years ago.
My own view at the time was that Sadat had "moved Egypt away from its old moorings beyond the point of no return." Syria charged that the accord "froze" the Egyptian front and added up to "a de facto and contractual pact ending up the state of war." In its fury, Syria turned out to be almost prescient.
In addition to accepting two separated agreements with Isael worked out by political and economic measures that moved Egypt steadily away from the Soviet orbit and toward the West.
When this culminated in the Egyptian leader's abrogating his friendship treaty with Moscow, he pointedly said that in the search for peace "the United States now holds 99 per cent of the cards," a statement he repeated only a few days ago.
Kissinger responded, with Ford's strong approval, by going to Congress to plead for and get both economic aid and military equipment for Egypt. Ford felt that Sadat's independent course had earned an "implicit commitment" from the United States.
Some in Congress, however, were impressed by the skepticism of witnesses like Prof. Uri Ra'anan, of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, who also attracted attention with a widely quoted article in Commentary magazine, which said in part:
"There is convincing evidence, largely ignored by Western observers, that the notion of a 'final' or irreversible shift by Cairo away from the U.S.S.R. and into the arms of the U.S. is, to say the least, highly premature, and that within a reasonable span of time (and irrespective of Western actions) Egypt and the Soviet Union may once again be vibrating in harmony."
Fortunately, Congress was more impressed by the testimony of Kissinger, who said, "It is our belief that President Sadat's policies are genuine," and assessment that has been handsomely borne out in recent days in respect to Russia.
"The Russians have never played a constructive role," the Egytian President said last Wednesday. "They didn't want us to make any settlement in this part of the world, and they don't want this problem to be settled now."
Two years ago, after accepting the Egyptian-Israeli interim peace pact, Sadat said he was making a calculated "gamble on the future," based on the pragmatic view that "Israel is an established fact . . . it is a reality . If some want to bury their heads in sand, I am not one to them . . . The destruction of Israel is mere talk that does not represent the truth." And that's pretty much what he told the Knesset on his visit to Jerusalem a few weeks ago.