QUICK, PLEASE, a dose of the salts for Comrade Leonid Brezhnev. The poor fellow seems to be having an attack of the vapors over there in Moscow. He has got his agitprop apparatus huffing and puffing, making out as though the Reagan administration, for the measured and rather mild steps it has taken so far to protest the Soviet-sponsored assault on Polish liberty, is concocting a full-fledged resumption of the Cold War.
It will not be long, no doubt, before the stories start filtering out of Moscow, citing unnamed but official sources, that Mr. Brezhnev, a closet dove, didn't really want to see a pounce on Solidarity but Mr. Reagan embarrassed him in front of his hardliners and so he had to do it. Meanwhile, Mr. Brezhnev is displaying the familiar symptoms of a hawk in distress. These include political apoplexy, gross swelling of the locutionary glands, hot flashes of imperial arrogance and hyperactive flight from reality. Obviously, he badly needs some straight talk.
Point No. 1: Moscow did it. Moscow swept Poland (back) into its orbit after World War II. Moscow then imposed an alien system detested as much for its origins as for its substantive shortcomings. Moscow thus created the national disaster from which Solidarity was attempting to rescue Poland. Moscow finally demanded that Solidarity be put down.
The United States and others have, quite discreetly in fact, cheered the Polish people on. But no part of this crisis, save for the part that comes into play simply because this country exists as a free society, was brought about by the United States. And none of the steps the administration is now taking is calculated to do anything more than induce the Communist authorities to think a little harder about the costs of an unrelieved hard line. In any event, it is not for Moscow to complain about intervention in Poland's affairs.
Point No. 2: The cold war of the 1950s is not back. In that connection we note the Kremlin's careful qualification that things "could" reach the point of no return--they haven't yet. That such an eventuality would be very bad news for the United States goes without saying. But what might it mean for the Soviet Union? It might mean a real loss of critical Western technology, products and credits. It might mean that American farmers would no longer continue as the sole reliable provider of a halfway decent diet, as distinguished from a mean and drab diet, for the entire Soviet population. It might mean the collapse of all arms control efforts and the consequent exposure of the Soviet economy to a wide open arms-building competition with the most powerful economy in the world.
Something more than a propaganda war is at stake here. The Kremlin in a sense savored one aspect of the earlier cold war--the aspect that entailed a tight Soviet crackdown on Eastern Europe. The aspect it regretted then, as now, was the aspect entailing a cost to the Soviet Union. In the new blasts from Moscow can be seen the signs of the Kremlin's traditional interest in having its cake and eating it, too.
Point No. 3: Mr. Brezhnev's spokesmen warn that Ronald Reagan will be entirely responsible for a further erosion in Soviet-American relations. This is a piquant formulation. It permits the Soviets to say their sponsorship of a military occupation of Poland serves peace, while the American protest against the occupation serves war. By this logic it would be wrong for the United States to take offense at, say, a nuclear strike on Washington: to respond would make the United States entirely responsible for a further erosion in Soviet- American relations.
But Mr. Brezhnev knows all of this. It is hard to take Soviet arm-waving seriously. Certainly there is no call to be intimidated into deference, let alone silence, by the sort of bluster coming out of Moscow now. It is the new year, and Mr. Brezhnev might consider a resolution appropriate to the season: let Poland alone.