"As adults we are not fools. And as adults we are not hysterical."
The words were almost lost, as Harold Queen walked briskly past the waiting television crews outside the hospital. He and his wife, Jeanne, had just been told that their recently released hostage son, Richard, is suffering from multiple sclerosis. They were saying that they understood what that meant -- that the disease is sometimes fatal, often prolonged, of mysterious origins, unpredictable in its course and without a known cure.
But they were saying also that they were not going to give way to panic, or leap to conclusions, or be plunged into despair. They were offering, in short, a badly needed model of patience and fortitude as the hostage crisis drags through its ninth month. Its own causes and cure, you will have noted, have much in common with MS. But its treatment in the developing campaign debate and in the comments of the Carter administration critics has almost nothing in common with the quiet courage of the Queens.
"If we had leadership worthy of the name," Barry Goldwater roared from the Republican convention platform the other night, "no country in this world would have ever taken hostages from us." The Carter administration, Henry Kissinger thundered from the same podium, has "vacillated between threats and conciliation on the hostages. . . . We are making the world safe for anti-American radicalism."
Perhaps so -- though it's small conform to the hostages' relatives. Perhaps, also, the release of Richard Queen proves that -- see! -- Ayatollah Khomeini is firmly in command. He may even have a streak of compassion in him, the argument goes. In any event, this proves he can be dealt with in rational terms. And that, is said, effectively destroys the self-serving administration alibi that Iran is torn by a continuing power struggle -- that there is no element, no responsible force with which the United States can deal effectively.
Again, perhaps so. But the administration's painful policy of patience, nonetheless, is powerfully reinforced by the intelligence reports and the judgment of down-the-line professionals far removed from any concern for the president's political fortunes. Here, in brief, is how they see it:
The release of Queen, they unhappily conclude, says almost nothing about the prospects for the remaining 52 hostages. Iranian Red Cross doctors have been explaining the hostages as often as once a week, almost certainly for precisely the reason that Queen was released: while the various forces at work on the Iranian political scene are at odds on how to deal with the hostage problem, almost nobody involved wants a hostage to take seriously ill, or die, while in their hands.
Not even the radical militants want that, Indeed, some analysts are convinced the anxiety of the hostages' captors on this score adds an extra dimension of complexity to the hostage problem.Even if the political leaders could be brought to an agreement for the hostages' release, they suspect, the militants might literally be scared to do it.
"They would think they'd be signing their own death warrant even if they returned the hostages unharmed," says one intelligence officer. "They're probably convinced that the CIA would track them down and kill them in reprisal."
The guessing here is that doctors reported they had a problem they couldn't handle in Iran -- that Queen's illness could become an embarrassment, or worse, and that he should be returned. The militants agreed.And because this in no way prejudiced the basic hostage issue, Khomeini also agreed, which is a far cry from a calculated gesture of conciliation or even a firm command.
What, then, is Khomeini's role? The analysts see him as a power-balancer governing by going with the flow. And the flow is turbulent. President Bani-Sadr is thought to be more than ready to get rid of the hostage issue. But he is also thought to be on the way out. t
On the ascendancy, say the experts, are the "clerical fascists," the radicals among the clergy whose interest is less in Khomeini's holy Islamic crusade than it is in recovering the power (to collect taxes) and the land that was taken from them by the shah. In the wings are prominent exiled leaders spoiling, and planning, for a coup d'etat.
In the factional infighting, the hostages, almost by accident, have become a critical pawn. To be soft on the hostage issue is to be dangerously vulnerable, politically. "The hostages will only cease to be an instrument in the power struggle," says one authority, "when the struggle is unambiguously resolved."
That is not a cheerful diagnosis. But neither was Richard Queen's.