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ROBERT MacNEIL: Soviet forces using tanks and helicopter gunships were reported battling Muslim guerrillas throughout Afghanistan today, as President Carter considered what action to take.
Good evening. President Carter today recalled the U.S. Ambassador to Moscow for consultations on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The White House said the President had taken other decisions, which would be announced perhaps tomorrow after consulting with other countries. From all corners of the remote mountain nation of Afghanistan reports of major fighting filtered out through diplomats and travelers. The estimated 35,000 to 40,000 Soviet combat troops who poured into Afghanistan last week were said to be mounting heavy attacks on Muslim insurgents and elements of the Afghan army. Meanwhile, the Soviet news media and the new Afghan regime of Babrak Karmal used two themes to justify the Soviet action to the world. They accused the United States and the CIA of training and arming the rebels, and they attempted to reassure the Muslim world that the Soviet intervention would protect their religion. The Carter administration has used unusually strong language to condemn the Soviet action. Tonight: What can the President do to back up his words with action? Jim?
JIM LEHRER: Robin, the President met for most of the afternoon with his key diplomatic and military advisors. The statement afterward by Press Secretary Jody Powell was just over a minute long. Here it is in full.
JODY POWELL, White House Press Secretary: The President has recalled our ambassador to the Soviet Union for consultations. Ambassador Watson will be arriving in Washington to morrow. The Secretary of State reported to the National Security Council on a series of diplomatic exchanges which have taken place over the past several days. Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher reported on his recent conversations with representatives of Allied nations. The President made a number of decisions this afternoon on actions to be taken in response to the Soviet invasion. These decisions involve unilateral actions and actions to be taken in conjunction with other nations. The President`s decision will be made public when appropriate consultations and notification have taken place. The President has directed that this process be completed without delay. Thank you.
LEHRER: The President has been getting a lot of advice on what to do, from his own advisors as well as others. The master list of options as suggested by somebody or other is a long one. It includes: withdrawing the SALT-II arms limitation treaty from Senate consideration, permanently or on a temporary basis; asking the United Nations General Assembly to officially condemn the Soviet action; resuming arms sales to neighboring Pakistan, considered a next possible target of the Soviets: endorsing a boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games at Moscow next summer; supplying arms directly or indirectly to the Moslem rebels who are fighting the Russian troops in Afghanistan; stopping wheat and other food sales to the Soviet Union; and curtailing various cultural and scientific exchange programs between the U.S. and the Russians.
Opinions on which if any of these options would be the proper ones vary, of course, and we want to sample that variance, first with the views of a Republican Senator. He`s Richard Lugar of Indiana, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Select Intelligence Committee. Senator, do you agree, first of all, that the United States should take some kind of retaliatory action against the Soviet Union?
Sen. RICHARD LUGAR: I think we must respond, and I would think that among the options the President ought to accept are clearly arms to Pakistan. It seems to me he was moving in that direction; I hope that he was doing so. I think that he has to consider the potential for assistance to the rebels in Afghanistan. I think it`s ironic that the Soviets have charged the CIA is responsible; it`s doubtful that we`ve had that capability. I think the President must restore it. I think even beyond that...
LEHRER: Excuse me, do you think that supplying of arms to the rebels should be directly from the United States to the rebels or indirectly through a friendly country, or...?
LUGAR: I think it might go either way, and I would leave that to the President`s judgment as to what would be most effective. But I think it needs to occur. Even more importantly, it seems that the President must himself withdraw the SALT treaty, not simply let Senator Byrd or others decide when we should debate it but simply to say that it`s inappropriate at this point in our relationship with the Soviets to have a business-as usual attitude with regard to the SALT treaty, that the SALT treaty is a linked object to Soviet behavior in the rest of the world, and that we have in essence allowed our pace of armaments to decline while theirs acclerated, and we`re now going to change that. If the President wants to move in that direction, I hope he`ll have majority sentiment in the Democratic Party, especially in the House, to do that. But, very clearly, we must now be prepared to have a mobile force to move in the strategic areas the President has outlined, to make certain that our shipbuilding program increases, in essence across the board to indicate that we are now prepared -for a different sort of world and a different sort of relationship. I think that is the appropriate response. Afghanistan, in a way, is beyond our affecting the outcome of that. The Soviets have pulled all the lines, in essence; they`ve taken over, shot the previous premier and in essence we will be told after they`ve finished what they`ve done.
LEHRER: So Afghanistan is a given now. I mean, the Soviets realize that`s it.
LUGAR: Yes. They knew that we could respond, and we really could not. Now, in the future, they must know that the response is possible, even probable. And that credibility can only come through actions the President takes, and with very strong and deliberate speed right now.
LEHRER: What about some of these other things that have been mentioned, like stopping grain sales to the Soviet Union? Would you support that?
LUGAR: Well, I would take the grain sale idea and the Olympic Game boycott and so forth as not trivial items, but very small potatoes at a time that the President really has to talk about our. overall relationship. A great power that must be prepared for the dangerous world in which we live cannot be dealing in the boycotting of games or computer sales that are withdrawn. This is rather trivial in comparison to the sorts of response that are required.
LEHRER: So number one on your list of options would be withdrawing the SALT treaty right now.
LUGAR: Yes, that`s...
LEHRER: Permanently or temporarily, or what?
LUGAR: Well, I would say that he would withdraw this treaty from consideration, because as it is he`s said even if the Senate rejected it he would still proceed with it; and that`s the lingering problem the President has; he`s really got to change course, and I think symbolically he can do so, and much more than symbolically: simply say that our relationship has changed, changed markedly, and we`re now in a different sort of world.
LEHRER: All right, thank you. Now, next, to the opinion of a liberal Democrat, Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator, how do you feel about the general question of whether or not we should take retaliatory measures against the Soviet Union?
Sen. CARL LEVIN: Oh, I think we`d have to respond, and respond effectively; not just symbolically, but effectively. Some things we do are simply symbols, other things could be effective, such as possibly trying to get arms to the Afghans, who are rebelling. That`s certainly something the President should consider.
LEHRER: Directly or indirectly?
LEVIN: Either way. I don`t think we ought to try to limit the President`s options; I think it`d be a terrible mistake. Certainly the economic sanctions should be considered, including the Olympic Game participation.
LEHRER: You don`t see that as a trivial thing, as Senator Lugar does.
LEVIN: I think these are important things; and sometimes symbolic things are only symbolic, other times they help put world pressure on the Soviets, and I think we should do it.
LEHRER: All right, where would you come down on the question of the SALT-II treaty?
LEVIN: If the leadership of the Senate believes that the votes aren`t there because of this environment, they should delay it, and I would support that delay. Frankly, I don`t think SALT is a reward to the Russians.
If the SALT treaty were a reward to the Russians for good behavior, I don`t think we ought to ratify the SALT treaty. I happen to be a proponent of SALT. I happen to think it`s in our self-interest, not a reward to the Russians. If it were just simply a reward we shouldn`t ratify it in any event. But I`d rather delay it than lose it, and I think this environment is such that we might lose it, and I would therefore rather delay it if that`s what the leadership feels.
LEHRER: But you think the leadership ought to do it and not the President. In other words, as a symbolic gesture, as Senator Lugar outlined, where the President would withdraw it from consideration, you wouldn`t be in favor of that.
LEVIN: That is correct, for the reason I gave, and that is that this is not a reward to the Russians; this is in our self-interest, SALT, and the world is going to become more dangerous, and that`s more reason for ratifying SALT.
LEHRER: What about the question of grain sales, stopping our grain sales?
LEVIN:I think we should consider that as well. I would keep all our options open, and I think the President should consider it. Grain is vital to the Soviet Union, they`re getting it at a good price from us, and I think it would hurt them.
LEHRER: There`s been a suggestion that we have to guard against overreacting in this kind of situation. Are you concerned that some of these things, if all taken together, would be an overreaction to what actually happened in Afghanistan, or do you feel it would be justified?
LEVIN:I think the only thing which would be an overreaction is some thing which isn`t effective. That should be our test. If we can do something effectively, if it can work to terminate the aggression, we should consider it.
LEHRER: To work in what way? What should we be trying to accomplish by these actions?
LEVIN: Two things: one, to try to get the Russians out of Afghanistan; and two, to try to let them know that these kinds of actions cannot succeed in the future.
LEHRER: Do you agree with Senator Lugar that the possibility of getting the Russians out of Afghanistan is almost a hopeless case right now they`re there?
LEVIN: I think it`s slim, but it depends as to whether the fervor of the Islamic revolution now focuses on Russia, and if that happens, I think we may get them out of Afghanistan.
LEHRER: Well, picking up the next point, and also Senator Lugar`s point, that what we need to do is serve notice on the Soviet Union -- I think I`m paraphrasing you correctly here, Senator -- to serve notice on the Soviet Union that "You`d better not do this again, because if you do we`re going to respond." There was Hungary and there was Czechoslovakia; I mean, what are we telling the Soviet Union we will do if they do this kind of thing again?
LEVIN: Well, it depends on the circumstances and where in the world it is. Where we can respond militarily to stop it, we should; where it`s impossible to do that, we obviously can`t do it; where we have to use economic sanctions, we should use them; where we have to withdraw wheat, if that has an effect, we should do it.
LEHRER: If you had to make your list of options that are the most desirable, what would you put at the top of your list?
LEVIN: I`d try to find ways of keeping military pressure on the Russians inside Afghanistan, if that were possible, and I`d use economic sanctions against them; I would certainly consider the wheat sanction, I think it`s very important, and both Senator Lugar and I were on the same trip to Russia, and we know how important those wheat sales are to the Russians.
LEHRER: All right; thank you, Senator. Robin?
MacNEIL: People are wondering whether the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan means an end to the relationship that for the last several years has been called d6tente. Some Soviet experts have had a pessimistic view of detente for several years. One of them is Professor Richard Pipes of Harvard University. Professor Pipes headed the task force which wrote the so-called "B Team" report on Soviet intentions, sponsored by the CIA three years ago. He`s with us in the studios of Public Television Station WGBH in Boston.
Professor Pipes, what do you think the Soviet goals are in this intervention in Afghanistan?
RICHARD PIPES: Well, the Russians have been interested in Afghanistan for a very long time. Their first pressures in Afghanistan began in the 1880s; they were stopped by the British. But they kept on pressuring when ever the situation allowed them to do so. Fifty years ago they built a highway from the Soviet border to Kabul which clearly was a military highway and suggests that they even then contemplated the possibility of direct military intervention. But Afghanistan as such is not a very interesting country for them; it has no great resources, it is not a rich country, but it is a superb springboard from which to launch offensives both into the Indian subcontinent and into Iran and the Iranian Gulf. So this is a strategic springboard that is of great interest to them.
MacNEIL: And what do you see as the danger for us and our interests in this action?
PIPES: Well, you can take, I think as one ought to, a long-term view. This is a historic moment. It is the first time since the revolution of 1917 that the Russians have felt bold enough to send their forces to conquer a sovereign country not in the Communist bloc. They have meddled in foreign countries, they used proxies such as the Cubans; but they have never dared to engage in a direct blitzkrieg. So if they get away with it in Afghanistan, there`ll not only be great danger for our whole Mideastern position but we will have encouraged them to engage in actions of this sort in other parts of the world, including, for example, Southeastern Europe or possibly even Western Europe.
MacNEIL: What do you think the U.S. response should be?
PIPES:I think we ought to take, first of all, immediate diplomatic measures to try to isolate the Soviet Union. I would encourage, for example, our administration to call for a meeting with either the Security Council or the Assembly, try to get the largest number of votes to condemn the Soviet Union, in this way to indicate their isolation; and secondly, I think we ought to declare, openly and boldly, that we will support with whatever military means are required -- not with troops but with military equipment -- the rebels who are fighting for their faith and for their liberty in Afghanistan. Not do it surreptitiously but do it openly.
MacNEIL: What is at stake for us and what are the opportunities vis-a-vis the rest of the Muslim world in this situation, do you think?
PIPES: It is a superb opportunity for us to rally Muslim opinion against their real enemies. The Russians, using their own propaganda and employing the PLO, have managed very brilliantly to depict us as an enemy of Islam, whereas they themselves are, both in terms of the attitude to Islamic religion and in terms of what they`re now doing in Afghanisan, I think the true enemies of Islam. But one has to make people aware of this, and we have not done so. I think we could very well rally Muslim opinion against the Soviet Union on this.
MacNEIL: Well, thank you; we`ll come back. Whatever the administration decides to do in Afghanistan, it must cope, obviously, with the realities of politics in that region. One man who`s closely watched developments in that part of the world is Theodore Eliot, dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Dean Eliot served as U.S. Ambassador in Afghanistan from `73 to `78. He`s also with us tonight in Boston.
Dean Eliot, what do you think the U.S. response should be?
THEODORE ELIOT: Well, I think we should take the kind of diplomatic action that Professor Pipes was suggesting in the United Nations. I think we should be spending a great deal of our effort now in trying to rebuild a relationship with Pakistan which has deteriorated sharply in the last couple of years, because the Pakistanis are the key, both in terms of being the next objective on the Soviet list and also in terms of being the country through which any supplies to aid the Afghan rebels must pass.
MacNEIL: Should we swallow our distaste at Pakistan`s supposed development of an atomic bomb, which is what stopped our arms sales, and resume and increase arms sales to them, do you think?
ELIOT: Well, I think our stopping arms sales to Pakistan has not had any effect over what they are doing in terms of developing a nuclear capability. I think it`s been an ineffective policy, and I think at the present time we have to pay attention to our strategic interests in that area and I think resuming arms sales to Pakistan are an essential first step.
MacNEIL: Both the Senators you heard say that the President should assist the Afghan rebels with arms, either directly or indirectly. Do you believe that should be done?
ELIOT: Well, again, I think the first step has to be a relationship with Pakistan wherein the Pakistanis would be willing to, either with us and with others or have us directly through Pakistan, assist the rebels.
I also think we would have to as a prerequisite remove our embassy from Afghanistan, which we might want to do anyway as it no longer appears to be an independent state. Now, the rebels without outside assistance I don`t think have much of a chance against the Red army, particularly as they lack surface-to-air missilry, which would permit them to take care of the air power which is going to be used against them, and they`re going to have napalm and helicopter gunships and everything else thrown at them.
MacNEIL: Well, should we go so far and be so blatant as to simply airdrop supplies in to them?
ELIOT: I don`t think that`s a feasible action from a military standpoint; I`m not a military expert, but I doubt if the Afghan guerrillas who are now in the daytime hiding in mountain valleys and caves and what have you are reachable through airdrops.
MacNEIL: I meant, should we just be quite obvious and give them direct aid, or, as Jim asked the Senator, should it be done indirectly, through a sponsor?
ELIOT: I don`t want to foreclose any option. I think there are like-minded people in the area who would also like to give them aid. I think we should do it directly, or indirectly, again, with the acquiescence of the Government of Pakistan.
MacNEIL: Do you believe, like Professor Pipes, that what we do could have a decisive effect on our future relations with the rest of the Muslim world?
ELIOT: Yes, indeed. I think the whole Muslim world is now watching to see what our reaction will be, and this is particularly true of our friends the Saudis and others in that area who as a result of what`s happened in Iran are already somewhat shaken about our ability to support them in a time of crisis.
MacNEIL: Well, thank you. Jim?
LEHRER: Senator Lugar, back to you first. The consensus seems to be that it`s not too late to maybe help the Afghan rebels fight the Russians. You don`t believe that`s the case, is that right?
LUGAR: I`m very pessimistic about those possibilities. I answered your first question by saying I think we ought to have a try at it, either directly or indirectly, but it appears to me that we just are not prepared. This is the sad part of it. You know, the President, perspectively, would get us prepared, but they`re suffering now the fact that we have not been strategically located in that area. We have carriers are sea at some point, we don`t have bases; we`ve cut off the Pakistanis for a while. We have a lot of catching up to do. And I think it`s unrealistic, as Senator Levin has pointed out, in terms of effective action, to give the American public a sense that somehow we could really get in there and turn this all around, when in fact we`ve been going in precisely the opposite direction for three years and maybe now are having a change of heart.
LEHRER: Senator Levin? How do you feel about that?
LEVIN: Oh, I think there are ways of getting arms to the rebels...
LEHRER: But are arms enough to actually turn it around?
LEVIN: I don`t think anybody knows, but I think that it is worth considering. We ought to give them a shot at their own freedom, and I think it is worth trying to get them some arms, and we are in a position to provide arms either directly or indirectly. Our defenses are not at that position where we`re not.
LEHRER: Let me ask you, Ambassador Elict, Dean Eliot. You`re the one man here who has been on the ground there in Afghanistan. What would it take in terms of U.S. arms, directly or indirectly, to win that war for the rebels? What kind of things are we talking about, and how much of them?
ELIOT: Well, I don`t think in the short term there`s any way the Soviets can be ousted from Afghanistan. The terrain there is very rugged, but it`s also very open and the weather is usually good, so that the Afghan rebels are not going to be able to operate effectively militarily in daytime, at least until they have a lot of surface-to-air missilery. I think the best we can hope for is that the situation will get hot enough for the Soviets as a result of the insurgent activity that they will try and think of solutions other than the outright satellization of Afghanistan.
LEHRER: Professor Pipes, you also are one who doesn`t believe it`s too late, is that right, sir?
PIPES: No, not at all. I think it would be a great mistake to write Afghanistan off and to concentrate on the defense of Pakistan. I think that properly equipped, and particularly with surface-to-air missiles, SAMs, the
Afghans could cause the Russians no end of trouble for years to come.
LEHRER: But how do we get missiles into a country that is occupied and controlled by Russian troops? I mean, that is a major logistical operation, is it not?
PIPES: No, I don`t think so. I don`t think SAMs are terribly bulky, and the frontiers of Afghanistan are quite open. They have very long frontiers with Iran and with Pakistan, and I don`t think that it will be much of a problem. It`s inconceivable to me that the Russians could really seal off all the routes leading to Afghanistan from the outside.
LEHRER: What about Senator Lugar`s point, that it would be a mistake -- to paraphrase the Senator again -- to mislead the American people at this point to think that we could actually turn this thing around, and go ahead and try and then have the thing lose, and then where would we be?
PIPES: I don`t think one ought to handle this as a great crusade to liberate Afghanistan. That would be a mistake. But I think here we have a case of a country that was no threat to the Soviet Union being brutally invaded by modern armies, and we have a moral duty as well as a political duty to help these people. Now, if worse comes to worst and they were crushed, we still, I think, would be better off than if we do nothing.
LEHRER: I see. Senator Lugar?
LUGAR: Well, at the present time we simply don`t know what is going on in Afghanistan. What we can`t seem to get through our heads is the fact that they`ve literally pulled all the wires. The newsmen have been
expelled, we have rumors that thirty or forty or fifty thousand people are there and what they`re doing. I don`t argue with the thought of giving this a try, but I`m saying the important thing about Afghanistan is that it maybe signals a time in which our foreign policy changed. Our foreign policy has been too small, too inadequate. We really need a new response to the Soviets. It`s not one that is accommodated by SALT or even the thoughts of detente, it`s one in which we respond by saying we`re changing course with regard to our armament policy, our mobility policy, our strategic policy. Those are the things that are meaningful to the Soviets, as opposed to catch-up work in Afghanistan, which I think may be ill-fated, but not necessarily so if in the context of a turnaround of American public opinion in which we don`t want to be pushed around. We want the President really to move boldly, and I hope he`s going to do that.
LEHRER: All right. Robin?
MacNEIL: Professor Pipes, do we signal a new relationship by telling the Soviets that detente is dead in fact as well as name, or name as well as fact?
PIPES: Well, we have done that already under President Ford; I think we`ve dropped the word. I`ve never believed detente was anything but a public relations concept, because the Russians, even at the height of detente, have not forsworn their ultimate objectives or even the means of attaining them. They have simply said that in the age of nuclear weapons the Soviet Union and the United States should avoid a direct conflict, but in all other ways the conflict ought to be pursued. Therefore, to me detente was always a Soviet strategy vis-a-vis the United States. It was not a fundamental change in Soviet policy. So what we ought to do is simply recognize this fact, as we should already have done ten years ago, and, as Senator Lugar suggests, reorient our policy. But this in itself does not obviate the necessity of helping the Afghans. There is the big picture, the whole problem of our relations with the Soviet Union, which ought to be based on a completely realistic appreciation of what that country`s up to, and at the same time whenever we can we ought to rally to the support of people who are fighting and defending themselves.
MacNEIL: Back to you in Washington, Senator Levin, do you think we should be reordering our policy towards the Soviet Union, dropping the residue of detente such as exists in our thinking, we should be back to tension and its consequences?
LEVIN: I don`t think there`s much left of detente. I think rather than just concentrating on the big picture we here have an example of where a new picture can be put into action. And if we are able in a long-range way to give help to the rebels in Afghanistan to recapture their own freedom, then we can make Afghanistan the Russian Vietnam. They can become bogged down in a long-term land war against guerrillas, and it can be a terrible price that they`ll have to pay, and it should be. So I think we ought to look at Afghanistan as a way of making this new policy something real and something workable, and I think it`s very possible.
MacNEIL: Could that in fact be possible, Ambassador Eliot? You knowing the ground in Afghanistan, could we make it into a Vietnam for them?
ELIOT: Well, as I tried to say a few moments ago, I think we can certainly help the Afghan insurgents make it hot for them.
MacNEIL: Can I ask each of you briefly: one of the countries bordering Afghanistan, admittedly over very high mountains, is China. The Chinese have condemned this Russian intervention. Professor Pipes, should we be enlisting the aid of the Chinese?
PIPES: To what, to assist the Afghans? Well, I don`t just think that the Chinese have the capability to do so. The Chinese have, I think, a very keen appreciation of what`s happening in Afghanistan, as they do in general, they have a very keen appreciation of what the Russians are doing. I think it`s very difficult to see what the Chinese could do.
MacNEIL: Defense Secretary Brown is about to go to China for a talk on, presumably, enhancing our new relationship with them. Is this an opportunity, Senator Lugar, would you say, to carry that much further?
LUGAR: No, I don`t there is much possibility there. We have great hopes, of course, that it might become a Soviet Vietnam, but in fact the Soviets are next door to Afghanistan. We were thousands of miles away; they are already in control of the country. They`ve assassinated the last premier and installed a new one. In other words, the parallels, the hopefulness, the somehow-we`re-going-to-get-lucky in this situation I think is ill-founded, and this is why I keep getting back to things that we can do to control our own fate as opposed to simply hoping that it all works out well for us.
MacNEIL: Well, thank you. Maybe we`ll hear tomorrow what the President does intend to do. Thank you, Professor Pipes and Dean Eliot, for joining us in Boston this evening; and Senator Lugar, Senator Levin in Washington. Good night, Jim.
LEHRER: Good night, Robin.
MacNEIL: That`s all for tonight. We`ll be back tomorrow night. I`m Robert MacNeil. Good night.
The MacNeil/Lehrer Report
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Afghanistan: U.N./U.S.S.R. Impact
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This episode features a discussion on Afghanistan: U.N./U.S.S.R. Impact. The guests are Richard Lugar, Carl Levin, Richard Pipes, Theodore Eliot. Byline: Robert MacNeil, Jim Lehrer
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