A Fool's Game

PRESIDENT CARTER'S State of the Union address calling for a United States military buildup, draft registration and a Persian Gulf Doctrine tragically confuses machismo with determination. Carter is trying to cloak the emptiness and ineptness of his three-year-old foreign policy by relying on the political bromides that have swept generations of politicians into office. His political grandstanding obscures the fact that our present crisis is in many ways the product of our inability to enact a coherent energy policy.

The inadequacy of the United States' energy policy and of Carter's contradictory and often hypocritical foreign policy have locked him into a course of action which is as dangerous as it is predictable. The inconsistencies of the newly promulgated "Carter Doctrine" stem from Carter's misunderstanding of detente.

Carter has consistently confused the reality of detente with its rhetoric. He has failed to understand that for the Soviets detente implied cooperation but not acquiescence to the West. He sent conflicting signals to both our allies and to the Soviet Union by following a consistently hypocritical policy on arms.

In order to protect SALT II, and to present a picture of himself as a strong leader, Carter authorized the development and deployment of the cruise and M-X missiles in such a way as to render the SALT treaty meaningless to the Soviets. Simultaneously, Carter has tried to emphasize his commitment to non-military means of securing U.S. interests.

But Carter's most telling historical failure--his inability to conceive or push through a viable energy policy--has in large part forced his militaristic response. The Persian Gulf is vital to the stability and economic survival of the United States and its allies because of continued dependence on foreign oil. Carter has substituted flag-waving for the economic sacrifices that energy conservation demands.

The Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan is a deplorable act of aggression; the United States does have a responsibility to force the Soviet Union to see that such actions have grave international consequences. But Carter's militaristic response is not the right answer. The president is relying on the same assumptions that have doomed our foreign policy in the past--the belief in a bipolar world, in matching militarism with militarism. He is playing brinkmanship with the Soviets, threatening them with war to check their warlike advance.

Carter's decisions to impose economic sanctions and to express displeasure through diplomatic channels are effective nonmilitary ways to check Soviet actions. An inflated military budget, draft registration, and rapid deployment forces give America the illusion of preparedness and allow the U.S. to be more easily led into war, while in reality not adding anything to America's capacity to defend herself.

Instead of hastening a direct confrontation, Carter should have used this genuine national crisis to attack the roots of the problem. He should have proposed a major energy policy instead of making a throwaway push for synthetic fuels in the last minutes of his speech.

Carter's militarism perpetuates international conflict as a game of superpower chicken, opposing Soviet aggression with U.S. resistance in a steady escalation towards open warfare. Carter's underlying assumption is that the U.S. goal is to confront the Soviet Union directly; in fact that goal should be to block Soviet expansionism. Carter should not resort to self-serving bravado that is as empty as it is dangerous. Instead Carter should seek to place the U.S. at the head of the broad-based international movement now condemning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan by supplying arms in areas directly threatened by Soviet aggression and most importantly by espousing national sovereignty as the basic principle of U.S. policy.