11 JUNE 1977, Page 9

The perils of American policy

Nicholas von Hoffman

Washington In late May and June, American politicians spread out across the country to have the cowls emblematic of an honorary doctorate dropped over their heads and to give speeches to the hundreds of thousands of young persons graduating from college. So it was that Jiminy Carter was found in long robes at the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana, giving what the White House press office defined as a major foreign policy address. It must have been a slow news day for Press Secretary Jody Powell, because the substance of the speech was simply a restatement of what the President has said before. The more adept occupants of the Presidential office keep surprise foreign policy announcements to a minimum and Mr Carter is becoming rather skilful at this art.

Of more significance than his public utterances was a less well publicised agreement between President Carter and Scoop Jackson, one of the Senate's leading 'hawks', to provide the senator with up-todate information on exactly how the strategic arms negotiations are going. Jackson is so powerful that unless he can be mollified no treaty can be passed. Indeed, there are days when it looks as though he was a sort of second acting Secretary of State. But before Carter and Jackson can get around to colliding over arms control, if they ever do, they may have it out over Israel. Jackson, who led the fight to tie the Russian trade agreement to increased Jewish migration from the country, is also one of Israel's principal champions in the Congress. If that sounds inconsequential in the larger scheme of things, let it be remembered that American policy vis-à-vis Israel gets more attention here than NATO, than relations with China, than disarmament. The only nation in the world which may possibly be the object of more American media interest is Britain, and even that is open to doubt. Nothing happens in Tel Aviv which isn't celebrated and amplified here. When the white South Africans butchered 300 black schoolchildren in Soweto it barely made American television; when Israeli commandos rescued the hijacked plane at Entebbe it became the subject of not one but two full-length propaganda films on two different television networks.

Arabs are routinely depicted by political cartoonists with hook noses so ugly that if the same caricature were applied to Hebrew Semites the artist would probably be blacklisted out of a job in American journalism. Criticism of Israel or urging an altered policy in the Middle East will win you a listing by Jewish organisations like the

Anti-Defamation League as anti-semitic. The high cost of saying anything but 'give Israel all it wants in guns and credits' has intimidated many into silence.

Thus when Time and Newsweek put Menachem Begin on their covers it might have seemed that the old over-attention with its pro-Israeli biases was continuing, but not so. Carter has insisted that a Middle East peace settlement will have to include such elements as an Israeli pullback to something like the 1967 borders, and reparations to the Arabs. Carter's repetition of his position has called forth an answering response in the mass media. For the first time it's being suggested that 'Arab intransigence,' as it is always called, may not be the only reason for the perpetual non-peace, near-war obtaining in the region. When Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia showed up in Washington the other day, both he and his country got an almost sympathetic press. Nevertheless, the United States has not yet changed its policies. No pressure has yet been put on the Israelis to make a proper effort to reach an agreement, no review of the shipment of arms to Israel has commenced, nor is there any visible disposition to stop trying to defeat the Arab economic boycott of America's ferocious little ally. Carter himself doesn't know if he can change the policy or if the pro-Israeli lobby is so strong it can still force adherence to a course which will assuredly reintroduce the Russians into the Middle East as well as immeasurably complicate the oil supply problem.

The difficulty with putting the sentimental foreign policy desires of one ethnic group ahead of the national selfinterest is what happens when another ethnic group comes along with conflicting foreign policy demands. Israel is a major, supplier of war material to South Africa against whom we have the Reverend Andrew Young preaching a non-violent jihad of sorts. One of the effects — entertainment aside — of the good clergyman's endeavours to bring light to the dark continent has been to build a black constituency of concern about South African oppression. It lacks the money and the strident propagandising of those American Jews — by no means all of whom are pro-Israel — who've cast their emotional lives in with Israel. But a rather ugly argument between the two may be coming.

President Carter again recently made it clear that Young and he are two foreign policy hearts beating as one. The rest of us merely watched and blinked, sometimes with delight and sometimes with raised right eyebrow, as the New York Times reported

that, at the conclusion of the reverend gentleman's last African sojourn, 'he managed to enrage the Swedes, the Russians, the British, the Borough of Queens (part of New York City) and almost certainly the State Department'.

The State Department didn't like Young's casting doubt on the consequences of the arrival of fifty Cubans in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has no military or any other kind of value to the United States, but the State Department takes official alarm whenever a communist checks into a first-class hotel anywhere in the world. Young even suggested that the Cubans might slow down the killing in that unhappy land, thereby sustaining our faith that one Cuban is worth an American infantry division. To listen to the State Department, a few Cuban soldiers in Africa have accomplished feats greater than Xenophon and the 10,000. These pre-Marshall-plan Greeks conquered Asia Minor but they couldn't occupy it, while it would appear, if you listen to Washington, that most of Equatorial Africa is a Cuban colony.

Young's message to black Africa was either, self-delusory or an example of what happens when you speak but should shut up. The situation in Africa in no way resembles what Young knew in the American South so that the Africans had every reason to be annoyed at being told to do what he and Martin Luther King once did, to fight racial oppressiOn by boycotting. Since promising arms is more than he was instructed to do, you can see why Young tried to sell Africa, black and white, on the notion that free market economics and internal capitalist finance will solve everybody's problem. It's all he had to offer, so he went about suggesting that apartheid will dissolve because 'Already, my banker friends tell me, it is far easier for Nigeria or Kenya to get long-term loans than it is for South Africa,'

On a lighter note the President tested the powers of his office by recalling Major. General John Singlaub, the third in command in Korea. The general had found himself in trouble by publicly disagreeing with the administration's plan to withdraw a combat division from that unromantic peninsula. Aside from saving money, pulling the division out makes it slightly more difficult to involve the US in one of those border brawls that the Koreans delight in. The proposed withdrawal is supposed to take place over a span of years and, since the air force and the navy would remain, you have to wonder why the general told a reporter he thought this minor adjustment in troop development could bring on a war. After meeting his Commander-in-Chief in the Oval Office, the general was given a lateral promotion, as they like to say here. Otherwise that incident has made no discernible difference other than providing editorialists with a chance to trumpet the, importance of the civilian control of the military, a principle that hasn't been seriously in question since George Washington left town.