The overwhelming public support accorded the decision to suspend the oil imports from Iran provides new evidence of this country's unquenchable willto believe in Jimmy Carter. For the decision was clearly a one-shot crowd-pleaser. $ it was not accompanied by the stern measures that would have forced conservation in this country. Nor was it set within a general strategy for dealing with the heart of the problem -- the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini.
Inside the administration the idea of curtailing oil imports from Iran had been under discussion since the embassy was seized. The idea was published in this column and perhaps elsewhere before the president acted, but not because of any special journalistic acumen. What happened in this case, as in most cases, is that someone leaked the project out of a desperate feeling that it would not otherwise get the attention of the president.
But those who orginally put forward the idea had it in mind that President Carter would tack onto the suspension actions that enjoined conservation of oil in this country. More specifically, their view was that the president should, by authority he already possesses, curtail the total oil imports to country by the amount imported from Iran. Thus instead of bringing in 8.3 million barrels per day, the United States would undertake to bring in that amount minus the 700,000 barrels previously brought in from Iran. That is to say, it would henceforth take in only 7.6 million barrels per day.
By the means the president would enforce conservation on the American public at a moment when responsibility could fairly and clearly be fixed upon Iran. This country would thus be in stronger position to deal with any curtailment of production by the Iranians.
It would also be better placed to ask allied nations for offsets against oil previously sent here.
But in the final hours before the decision was announced, those who favored reduction of imports in general were beaten back by the president's political advisers. The White House, far from trying to enforce conservation in meaningful ways, is still ducking that responsibility.
In the original proposal, moreover, the cessation of oil imports was only one of many measures. The idea was to have regular program of things the United States could do in ordered sequence to pull its fingers from the wringer and step up pressure on Tehran.
Registration of Iranian students was one step. Sequestration of assets was a second. A third was limitation of the movements of Iranian diplomats in Washington. A fourth, a resolute statement that this country would not negotiate on anything with the ayatollah until the takeover of the embassy was ended.
To be sure, the decision to suspend oil imports represents a minor win for those who feel the administration has for a long time failed to pay sufficiently serious attention to Iran. The more so since the play of events has now forced the president to begin the registration of Iranian students and the sequestration of Iranian assets.
But the central fact is that the Carter administration has not yet evolved a strategy for dealing with Khomeini. It has not recognized that something terribly important has happened -- something that changes the whole outlook in the Middle East, practically ends the chances for early ratification of the arms control treaty with Russia, forces up the price of oil and knocks into a cocked hat the policy for holding down inflation through a minor recession.
On the contrary, the administration is still playing it by ear, still hoping for a break, still imagining that somehow it can pretend, as it has been pretending all along in Iranian affairs, that this country has no enemies, only friends with legitimate grievances; that the crunch will end and life will go back to the way it was.
That won't happen. Even if the shah quits this country, there will abide the question of how to deal with Iran and the surrounding zone of insecurity that now comprises the vortex of world politics. But the evidence so far is that the American people, despite the abundant record to the contrary, cling to the conviction that somehow Carter can pull the sword from the stone.
So the saddest fact of the present circumstance is that, like Mr. Pickwick in Dickens, most Americans still share the president's naive faith that something will turn up.