NO DOUBT IT WAS a coincidence that, within hours yesterday, a respected American diplomat, Adolph Dubs, was killed in Afghanistan, and the American embassy with 100 people was temporarily captured in Iran. Ambassador Dubs died in an attempt by the Afghan police to retrieve him by force from anti-government Shiite Moslems who had kidnapped him. The fault there lay with the police, who ignored American requests to try to negotiate his release. The American embassy in Tehran was taken over by "Communists," who were then removed by the new regime. The problem there lay in the difficulty the Ayatollah Khomeini is having in disciplining and disarming the thousands of Iranian revolutionaries who helped him achieve power.
Coincidental as these incidents seem, however, they underline a disorder common in the world. In politically restive places like current-day Afghanistan and Iran, the local government is not offering the protection that states expect of each other for their nationals, especially diplomats. For the recent death of our colleague Joe Alex Morris Jr. of the Los Angeles Times, the host government cannot be blamed; a truly distinguished veteran foreign correspondent, he was killed in Iran while covering the revolution. But governments do have a responsibility for official personnel, and the United States must insist that they discharge it. That means establishing control and order, and avoiding incendiary propaganda against foreigners, too.
There is a further aspect to yesterday's incidents. Inevitably, they draw attention to the president's own responsibilities. The Afghan incident raises the question of what prior understandings concerning the taking of hostages the United States has or ought to have with othr governments. The incident in Iran, where politics and logistics preclude the traditional solution of sending in the Marines, is more serious. Presumably, almost all of the non-official persons among the 7,000 Americans still in the country are there by their own choice; they should be under no illusions about the risks they are taking and they should get help, if they need it, to depart. The offical contingent ought to be reduced to the minimum level consistent with their mission and their safety.
The administration cannot afford to seem casual or indecisive in this matter. Its good name is at stake, and something that in this context is more important: the welfare of all Americans in uncertain circumstances overseas.