Sen. Bob Dole, speaking by satellite from Paris, was on his first visit to that city where distractions abound and dissipations tempt, so perhaps he should be forgiven for speaking sentences that gave listeners the sensation of sinking into fudge. Appearing on ABC's "This Week," Dole was fresh from a mission to Moscow with U.S. businessmen eager for commerce with the Soviet Union.
When dealing with Moscow, Western businessmen have clothed their commercial instincts in a geopolitical theory. The theory is that trade will weave a "web of interdependence" leading to more civilized Soviet behavior. (This is a version of the old theory that fat communists will be torpid communists -- like elderly gentlemen after lunching heavily at the Conservative Club.) Furthermore, the theory was that trade would quicken Moscow's interest in consumer goods, and in improving the Soviet standard of living rather than the military.
But the increase in trade in the 1970s coincided with increased Sov- iet aggressiveness and defense spending.
Nevertheless, asked why the United States should be eager for Soviet trade, Dole answered:
"I understand the profit motive that some of the companies had; the U.S. Trade Council, the U.S.S.R. Trade and Economic Council met. They are very sophisticated businessmen. . . . They believe . . . that if we can improve our trading relationship with the Soviets, it might lead to other areas of improvement. . . ."
Might? Statesmanship is a balancing of probabilities, not a hunt for soothing possibilities. Again, Dole:
"(It) would seem to me that if we can increase our relationship in this area, it might lead to some easing of pressures in other places."
Again, "might"? Oysters "might" write sonnets tomorrow -- "might" in the sense that it is not a logical impossibility, it is only an improbability.
Dole was followed on ABC by one of those very sophisticated businessmen, Don Kendall, head of Pepsico (Pepsi and other stuff), which does a lot of business with Moscow. Kendall offered an economic theory of history so sweeping it might make a Marxist blush. He said:
"I think that if we had continued on the course that we were on with the Soviets originally, back in the '70s, and hadn't had the Jackson-Vanik (amendment, which linked trade to emigration of Soviet Jews), that we'd be living in an entirely different atmosphere today."
Well, yes, perhaps. After all, we can unilaterally change the atmosphere any time we decide not to care about Vietnam, Cambodia, Yemen, yellow rain, Angola, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, the Soviet arms buildup--all the things that characterized Soviet behavior in the '70s.
People often think that whatever they do is the hinge of history. Many poets think poetry is, many journalists think journalism is, many businessmen think business is. But Kendall's doctrine about the potential history-shaping effect of trade implies a peculiar theory of Soviet motivation. What missile now deployed would not be deployed, what Cuban soldier now in Africa would be at home, what nation now being molested would have gone unmolested -- Afghanistan? Poland? -- if trade had flourished? Is the theory that disappointment about trade caused the Kremlin to pout and have a tantrum?
Asked what might make him abandon his theory about the efficacy of "communication" (read commerce) with Moscow, Kendall said he would "never" abandon it because "the alternatives are God-awful. I don't want to see the world blown up. I think that regardless of how long it takes, we have to try to find a way to communicate with the Soviets, and I happen to think trade is a very good way to do that."
That is an increasingly popular rhetorical tactic: "Freeze this, ratify that, expand trade, vote for him . . . or else be blown up." But such an apocalyptic posing of choices is not an argument about U.S.-Soviet relations; it is a means of drowning out argument.
We are communicating constantly with the Soviets: in Washington, Moscow, Geneva, Vienna, Madrid. Faith in the inevitable efficacy of "communication" suggests that the conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union is some sort of misunderstanding, rather than a clear understanding of differences that cannot be split. Such faith in "communication" suggests that history contains no irreconcilables, no tragedy. It suggests that relations between nations -- any nations -- are analogous to relations between rational individuals and, hence, can turn on "gestures" communicating "good will."
Soviet behavior has been killing frost in the garden of such dreams. At least it would have been killing were those dreams open to evidence.