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The last year of the 1970s confirmed and carried measurably forward the major trends of a decade. Viewed from an American perspective, the principal developments of 1979 registered the continued decline in the nation's international position. The decline was most apparent in the Middle East, the area that apart from Western Europe and Japan represents the center of America's strategic interests.
Good regionalism is good geopolitics; and bad regionalism is bad geopolitics. This integration of the supposed polar opposites in the scholastic debate among foreign policy academics is well illustrated in both directions by the events of 1979.
All happy families are alike," wrote Leo Tolstoy at the beginning of Anna Karenina. "But an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion." A similar melancholy generalization applies to good and bad years in Soviet-American relations: the good ones are often alike in the deceptiveness of what seem to go right, while the bad ones are as varied as the possibilities for something going wrong in a relationship of such fundamental mistrust, misunderstanding and enmity. The future is not inclined to honor promises made in such a relationship, or so the past has shown.
No area of the world had a greater impact on American politics, national security, and economic well-being than did the Middle East in 1979. With the fall of the Pahlavi regime in Iran early in the year, a profound change in the regional balance of power took place. In November, when the deposed Shah was admitted to the United States for medical treatment, militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and at the end of the year were still holding about 50 Americans hostage--with the support of Ayatollah Khomeini, the head of the new Iranian Islamic Republic. And in late December the Soviet Union used its own forces to replace one communist leader in Afghanistan with another more to its liking and subsequently sent over 50,000 troops to secure the new regime and to put down insurgents in the countryside.
Consider the plight of some distinguished oil expert, a modern-day Rip Van Winkle who had been lulled in the summer of 1978 into a long nap by the then widespread predictions for the 1980s--ample oil supplies at constant or even declining real prices. By the beginning of 1980 he would have awakened to a thoroughly disorienting situation. He would have thought that the year was 2000, for 20 years of anticipated change had been telescoped into one. From $12-13 per barrel in late 1978, oil prices had risen to the $30-35 range, a level that many 1978 predictions had not anticipated until the year 2000. And political threats to the world's oil supply that had been discussed as potentially serious five to ten years in the future had become visibly critical in 1979 alone. It was a fateful 18 months.
The troubles of the dollar, intermittently rising close to the crisis point during the year, once again dominated the international economic system. It became evident by the summer that the November 1978 measures of massive international support for the dollar had not worked as planned. Part of the trouble was that the post-1975 U.S. economic expansion proved to be more robust than had been supposed; moreover, the Federal Reserve's deflationary stance seemed to the rest of the world unconvincing. So in the end the American boom had to be publicly and unmistakably decapitated. This was done on October 6, with all the appropriate gestures, by Mr. Paul Volcker, who had taken over the chairmanship of the Federal Reserve System a few weeks earlier.
At the beginning of the 1980s, we rub our eyes and note, not without relief and astonishment, that more of the familiar foreign policy structures have survived the rough and rugged past decade than have crumbled, collapsed or vanished. Among the survivors are the European Community, the transatlantic partnership and, in a smaller and more precarious yet important enough sense of the term, East-West détente. While it is easy to discern clouds gathering over each of these areas, and just as easy to imagine how developments in one may have a negative impact on the others, it would be only realistic to assume that greater West European integration, enduring transatlantic closeness and some measure of détente , fitful as all three of them may be, will remain hallmarks of the next decade as well.
The third year of the Carter Administration saw a quiet but marked change in the tone of American diplomacy toward Africa, with a waning of its "activist" role in the search for negotiated settlements to the racially explosive issues of southern Africa. Administration initiatives in the region continued to run up against the limits of American power to shape events there--an underlying reality which had begun to emerge in the previous year. In addition, the conservative mood sweeping across the United States was beginning to have its own impact on American official thinking about Africa. A congressional shift to the right coupled with President Carter's own growing preoccupation with Soviet expansionism served to revive the globalist approach former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had taken toward the continent. Kissinger himself was by mid-year publicly assailing the Carter Administration for leaning too far toward Africa's "ideological radicals" and thereby impaling the United States on "the horns of a dilemma where our rhetoric is out of step with our capabilities; our stated objectives out of tune with our public opinion."
As the 1980s begin, U.S. interests in Latin America are greater than ever while traditional instruments of American government power in the area are far less effective than they have been in preceding decades. Moreover, the domestic component of U.S. policy toward Latin America is getting very explosive, while at the same time new foreign policy power centers in Latin America are emerging. With the end of the bipolar simplicity of a generation ago, and the diminishing international financial, technological and military power of the United States, the relationship between the United States and Latin America has changed profoundly. The great diversification of global power relations is not only reflected in the emergence of the European Community, OPEC, the Nonaligned Nations Movement, and the conflict and competition among communist countries, but also by the growing participation in world trade of the newly industrialized nations such as South Korea, India, Mexico and Brazil. In this less orderly world of assertive nation-states and the transnational forces and organizations they contend with, there are special problems for U.S.-Latin American relations.
As the most eventful century in the history of mankind moves into its eighth decade, that one-half of the world which we call Asia displays the widest conceivable range of trends. Asian states run the gamut from high levels of economic growth and political tranquility to conditions of economic stagnation or retrogression, and perennial conflict. Even within a single state, a precise balance sheet may be complex and difficult to draw with certainty. The hallmarks of the Asian scene are fragility and fluidity.