An odd thing happened to Cyrus Vance as he left the State Department, supposedly a loser. He won big. He won big, moreover, even though on the main point of his resignation, he was substantially wrong.
Vance resigned, as I understand it, because he thought the rescue mission was risky and would have terrible consequences. In a sense, the mission's failure proved he was right about its being risky. Its success, of course, would have demonstrated that, too.
But terrible consequences have yet to materialize. Whatever effects the raid may have on the safety of the hostages or on the length of their ordeal is going to be difficult to isolate, especially as time goes on. There have been no great flare-ups in Moslem countries or elsewhere in the Third World. The allies, though deceived, have bitten their lip loyally.
Most important, the specter that Vance apparently saw -- a turning to ever-riskier applications of force -- is fading.Events seem to be turning Carter around and, of these events none has done more than the raid to lengthen the odds against an act of escalation. Far from being a taste of military things to come, the raid may turn out to be an inoculation against the further use of force in Iran.
One reason may lie in a desire by President Carter to show that he can stay cool without Vance and that he has not surrendered to election-year panic -- a demonstration Carter is perhaps in a better position to make after having demonstrated that he is capable of military daring.
Then, the allies, sadder and wiser, are now better situated and motivated to insist on a quid pro quo for theirr support. For their cooperation on sanctions, they are demanding that Carter consult with them before undertaking any further military operations. Sanctions, by halting trade, moot the need for a blockade, they observe.
It is inconceivable to me that Carter would once again deceive the allies. It is no less inconceivable that the allies would consent, if consulted, either to another rescue raid or to a more straightforward military action.
Not only the allies are demanding to be consulted. With respect to the rescue raid, nobody on Capitol Hill had much of a heart to press the case (questionable anyway) for consultation under the War Powers Act. But almost everybody would be ready to invoke that mechanis, in the event of further action, since almost everbody understands the greater risks. Consultation, it goes without saying, enforces caution, if not -- as some believe -- paralysis.
In the wake of the raid, I see very little readiness in Congress for military action. Those on Vance's wavelength who were dubious about the use of force before are more determinedly dubious now.
As for the supposed "hawks," Sen. Henry Jackson spoke for them and perhaps also for elements of the military command when he said he "violently" opposed any plans for additional military action because we don't have the military wherewithal in the region to prevail. Carter's single-minded and emotional focus on the hostages, Jackson went on -- and here he might have been speaking for Vance himself -- allows Tehran to whiplash the United States and plays into Soviet hands.
Before the raid, a Washington Post poll found that people supported the use of force to free the hostages by a 2 to 1 margin.But with the post-raid dispersal of the hostages and with the raid's refreshing of skepticism toward military solutions, popular tolerance or demand for a military answer is bound to shrink. The dispersal, by the way, also means that no longer will there be a focal point -- the Tehran embassy -- for American television. That may have a cooling effect of its own.
Finally, witting or not, Carter's decision to abandon his Rose Garden strategy and take to the campaign trial will inevitably require him to take into account other matters, especially economic ones, of voter concern. In this connection, the change at State enforces a useful policy pause that logically will lead into the convening of Iran's new parliament, the body to which Ayatollah Khomeini has delegated the final word on the hostages.
A more subdued policy, one not pushing the president toward the use of force if allied diplomacy and Iranian politics fall, may or may not succeed. It is, however, Vance's policy -- perhaps also Edmund Muskie's. It was not only Vance's protest -- first in private word, then in public deed -- that brought about Carter's apparently falling away from a military-oriented approach. That development is a heck of an irony, however, and it would be even more so if it worked.