When presidential anger over anti-American diatribes pouring from clandestine transmitters in Baku to Iran boiled over, Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser, went to the Soviet Embassy for a no-non-sense lunch with Anatoliy Dobrynin.
That Brzezinski's unannounced Nov. 12 complaint to the Russian envoy was clearly needed is beyond debate. It was essential to warn Moscow about its "Voice of Iran" campaign to incite Iranian redicals against the United States -- with its contemptuous reference to "the conspiratorial Brzezinski." s
But Brzezinski's complaint is stamped with the same brand that has distinguished so many of Carter's actions in the Iranian crisis. That is the brand of reaction and response, as contrasted with what seems so clearly needed: a new Carter strategy to deal with a new kind of crisis unprecedented in world history -- the virtual hijacking of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
Indeed, the transition of Carter from the hand-wringing phase that marked the first few days of the crisis (during which be made the spurned offering of Ramsey Clark to the radicals running Iran) to the decisive action on Iranian oil, Iranian students and Iranian assets was not the result of any careful new strategy. It was born instead directly from the torrent of political complaints that poured into Carter's White House demanding that the flag be shown.
"once he felt that heat," a White House insider told us, "he knew he had to get tougher, if not really tough."
The "tougher" Carter amazed officials both inside and outside the White House. For example, when the question first arose of action against the Iranian students -- a natural result of the anti-American demonstrations in the streets of American cities -- Carter quickly overruled cautious legal advisers.
The president was told that precious legal precedents were invloved in dealing too quickly or harshly with the Iranian students. He brushed that aside, insisting that Attorney Gereral Benjamin Civiletti root out all students who had violated the terms of their entry visas and start deportation proceedings.
Likewise, when Carter raised the question of ending U.s. purchases of Iranian oil, some State Department officials sought delay, asking serious questions not about legality, but about the impact on other oil producers. Brushing aside all such caution, Carter told one aide: "I want it done."
Such gestures as these were praised by politicians of both parties. They marked a clear departure from the hand-wringing phase. What the politicans do not know, however, is that Carter is still reacting and responding, escalating his reactions somewhat each day as the hijackers continue to hold their hostages and the tension rises. But if the president has decided to adopt a true strategy, as opposed to the tactics of minor daily escalation, it is the best-kept secret in Washington.
For example, a strong proposal privately submitted to the administration two weeks ago by Sen. Richard Stone of Florida, the chairman of the Mideast subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, seems to have disappeared without notice in the suggestion box at the State Department. Stone's proposal: move the U.S. immediately into a new, closer pattern of cooperation with Arab states around Iran's borders -- including militant Iraq.
Iraq and the smaller Arab emirates that lie across the Persian Gulf from Iran have always feared Iranian power. Stone told State Department officials that despite the unconnected problem of the Arab-Israeli dispute, in which Iraq is an anti-Israel leader, the United States could find a new relationship with the Persian Gulf Arab world built on a common policy toward Iran.
Nor has Carter come to grips with the shrill, dangerous anti-American Soviet campaign being waged by the clandestine "Voice of Iran" radio broadcasts from Baku, near the Soviet border with Iran. Using an ugly invective to incite public opinion against Uncle Sam, these broadcasts are part and parcel of Soviet foreign policy.
On Nov. 12, "voice of Iran" trumpeted that to "induce" the United States to accept Iranian demands, "even potentialities and means more effective than the present measures (that is, occupation of the U.S. Embassy must be used." t
Such crude invitations to violence against the United States would seem to require more than an informal protest, even if made by Brzezinski and even if harmful to Carter's hopes for Senate approval of SALT II.
Yet nothing that looks like a new strategy to deal with new international crimes is visible. It would start with a buildup of the nation's fallen military powers, but the word at high White House levels points in just the opposite direction: business as usual.