IRREVOCABLE OR NOT?
From the moment President Carter announced it exactly a month earlier, the timing of his Feb. 20 Olympic boycott deadline has caused bafflement. Did Carter settle on so early a date for fear that pro-boycott sentiment might otherwise dissipate? To allow sufficient time to put together an alternative Games? Because the date fell at a time when the world's attention would be riveted on the Winter Olympics? Whatever the explanation, the Feb. 20 deadline passed last week with 70,000 or more Soviet troops still in Afghanistan. Because Carter's demand that Soviet forces be withdrawn was conspicuously unmet, Administration officials said a U.S. boycott of the Summer Games in Moscow was now irrevocable.
There was continued uncertainty, though, about how much support Carter had abroad. Presidential Counsel Lloyd Cutler, the chief Olympic strategist, said last week that 23 other countries had publicly announced a boycott, 13 had given private assurances of support and 19 others were "leaning" that way. But even some of the 23 supposedly solid countries appear to be shaky. For example, Canada's position has been blurred by Pierre Trudeau's election win over Prime Minister Joe Clark, a boycott supporter. Trudeau's attitude is wait and see. Britain's Margaret Thatcher, who has voiced support of a boycott, has left herself an "out" by saying the decision will be made by the British Olympic Committee. As for the assertion of private support, while it's not quite the same as Joe McCarthy's bandying about of exact numbers of supposed Communists in the State Department, one does wonder when the identities of the countries on Cutler's secret list are to be made public.
Some foreign officials maintained, as did boycott foes in the U.S., that Carter had overreacted to the invasion of Afghanistan. They argued that Afghanistan was in the U.S.S.R.'s sphere of influence even before the invasion and that, contrary to White House intimations, there was no firm evidence the Kremlin was plotting a push to the Persian Gulf. But none of this altered the fact that Soviet troops were occupying a country whose populace wanted them out, a reality underscored by last week's demonstrations in a number of Afghan cities. The Soviet leaders responsible for imposing their will on the people of Afghanistan are the same ones who, by all indications, hope to use the Moscow Games to glorify themselves. If the Soviet troops haven't withdrawn by the time the Summer Games open on July 19, it is impossible to imagine the U.S. competing.
The White House's boycott strategy, however, has not always inspired confidence. A case in point was Secretary of State Vance's heavy-handed speech to the International Olympic Committee in Lake Placid. IOC officials have also been shaking their heads over a cable urging a boycott which they say Carter sent to South Africa—a country that has been out of the Olympics for 16 years. Meanwhile, West German officials are miffed that Washington misled them about the deadline virtually until it was announced, a bit of deviousness out of keeping with the moral stance Carter has assumed on the boycott issue.
Announcing a deadline may itself have been a mistake, depending on what the Administration hoped to achieve. From the start the President may have felt he had less hope of ending the occupation than of chastising the Soviets for having undertaken it. If that was the reasoning, the deadline makes sense. But Carter presumably would respond favorably to a Soviet pullout whenever it occurred, and it therefore is to be hoped that Feb. 20 or no, he has not completely foreclosed his Olympic options. After all, IOC officials have conceded that if enough countries decided to boycott, they would seriously consider canceling the Moscow Olympics. Given the importance Soviet leaders attach to staging those Games, that prospect might yet help impel them to find a face-saving way to withdraw from Afghanistan, whereupon the U.S. could—and should—participate in the Olympics. If the troops did not withdraw, the punishment of a boycott could still be inflicted on the Kremlin. Whatever the end result, by remaining flexible on its supposedly irrevocable decision, Washington might hope to enlist the unwavering foreign support its boycott campaign urgently needs.
On the theory that a feminine presence can calm the jangled nerves of male duffers, golf caddies in Japan are, by tradition, women. Owing to a tight labor market and rising wages, Japan's female bag-toters may now be a vanishing species. The Japanese have come up with an enterprising alternative to both human caddies and the kind of carts used in the West: monorail systems that wend through courses, carrying golf clubs but not golfers. Such systems have already been introduced at more than 100 Japanese courses.
A typical setup consists of 60 cars, each of which can carry up to four bags of clubs. The cars ride on an I-beam rail that skirts the rough and passes behind each green. The cars are usually visible to golfers, but the rail is almost always out of their view. Most of the systems are battery powered, although a few operate on electric current in the rail. In some cases, cars are operated by onboard push buttons, but remote-control systems are growing in popularity; a tiny control panel fits in the breast pocket and has a signal range of 150 meters.
The monorails have received a mixed reaction. Some golfers grumble about the necessity of walking to and from a car before practically every shot. Also, except at certain switching points, cars can't pass each other, making it impossible for one foursome to "play through" without going to the trouble of moving bags from one car to another. But the monorails are more economical for customers as well as for course owners—the fee is about $4 vs. $8 for a caddie—and as with self-propelled carts, some grateful golfers find that forgoing human caddies spares them embarrassment. When they're playing poorly they don't particularly enjoy having witnesses around, male or female.