Carter Administration

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Essay, Sep/Oct 1999
Patrick Tyler

Only Nixon could go to China, but even the architect of America's opening to the world's most populous communist power had to leave full normalization of U.S.-Chinese ties to his heirs. Jimmy Carter knew when he took office that he would take the final difficult step. But no one imagined that the China breakthrough would come as a result of all-out civil war between Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, whose competition reached startling depths. At every turn down a very long road, momentous decisions on Taiwan and Cold War strategy jostled with bitter personal rivalries.

Essay, Special 1984
Coral Bell

Analysts of President Reagan's reelection landslide have made much of the point that it was not necessarily a mandate for tougher policies: the voters' endorsement should be seen as primarily an enthusiastic expression of hope for continuance of the state of economic well-being and patriotic euphoria in which Americans, by and large, found themselves in late 1984. Be that as it may, it does seem quite clear by contrast that four years earlier Jimmy Carter lost votes on foreign policy issues. If Washington's relations with the outside world are going well, they may not be a decisive vote-getter, but the sense that they have gone badly can be a decisive vote-loser. Nothing fails like failure.

Essay, Summer 1984
William Bundy

This article is a reflective look at the period from mid-1972 and early 1973 to the present, in terms of the evolution in the world situation and the course of U.S. foreign policy during these years. It has been, I believe, a time of marked deterioration in the overall world outlook, and the performance of the United States, as a nation, in the foreign policy arena has been at best mediocre--with only limited exceptions.

Essay, Fall 1982
Michel Oksenberg

While the past decade of Sino-American relations has been largely constructive, the ten years have not been on a steady incline. Rather, there have been two strong forward spurts, from spring 1971 through May 1973, and from May 1978 through early 1980. The relationship has also endured two periods of some acrimony and erosion: from the fall of 1975 to late 1976 and from mid-1980 to the effort to stabilize the relationship reflected in the communiqué on arms sales to Taiwan that was agreed in August 1982. In addition to the periods of rapid forward movement and retrogression, several periods are best portrayed through metaphors such as "plateaus" or "mixed pictures." Even the best periods were punctuated by moments of doubt and uncertainty, while the phases of deterioration were constrained by a common desire to limit the erosion and to preserve a more positive public facade than the private exchanges warranted.

Essay, Special 1981
John C. Campbell

If either Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan needed any special persuasion to become convinced of the centrality of the Middle East in the total picture of American foreign policy, harsh experience provided it. The former had some notable diplomatic successes in the region, the Camp David accords and the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, but he struggled through the final year of his presidency under the impact of two shattering events--the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However history may judge his efforts to cope with them, there was no avoiding the impression of a humiliated and frustrated America which must have contributed to his electoral defeat in November 1980. President Reagan came into office determined to restore American strength and prestige, but one year later his Administration, shocked by the assassination of President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt, at odds with Israel after a series of disputes culminating in the barbed exchange following Israel's de facto annexation of the Golan Heights, and unable either to put aside the Palestine problem or make any progress toward settling it, was still groping for a political structure on which to build the position of strength deemed necessary to hold off the Russians and protect vital oil supplies.

Essay, Summer 1981
Henry Trofimenko

The overdramatized political and diplomatic reaction of Washington to the military aid which the U.S.S.R. and Cuba have given to Angola and Ethiopia and, in recent times, to the aid which the U.S.S.R. has offered Afghanistan, has been one of the major factors clouding Soviet-American relations in the last few years. Alluding not only to these events but also to the general support and assistance which the Soviet Union and other socialist countries have been giving the Third World movements for national and social liberation, the American press has been claiming for years that while the United States and the Soviet Union seem to have agreed on stabilizing the world situation, the Soviet Union has been destabilizing it by its actions. In point of fact, the charge that the Soviet Union has "broken the rules of détente" in the developing world has been one of the main pretexts used by the Ford and Carter Administrations in domestic debates to try to justify their own abandonment of the policy of détente.

Essay, Spring 1981
Gerard C. Smith and George W. Rathjens

The possibility that additional nations, or even terrorists, might get nuclear weapons has been a cause of deep anxiety ever since the first atomic weapon was exploded in 1945. It has been the subject of one important treaty (the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT) and more recently preventing proliferation was one of the central objectives of the Carter Administration, in an effort that generated intense controversy. Today an assessment of that effort is important because nuclear proliferation continues to be a most dangerous prospect in the coming decades_deserving of as much attention as the Soviet Union and the national security risks arising from dependence on foreign oil, as well as the basic economic problems of high inflation and low productivity.

Essay, Special 1980
Michael Howard

Seldom in recent history has the attention of the world been so closely focused on a single geographical region as it was in 1980. The region was known before the First World War as "the Middle East," to distinguish it from "the Near East," the Levantine countries whose shores were washed by the eastern Mediterranean. It had then loomed large on the maps of British statesmen concerned to protect their Indian dominions and communications in the "Great Game" they were playing against the encroaching power of the Russian Empire. Now that the term "Middle East" has been extended to cover the whole region lying between the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and the mountain tableland of Central Asia, a new name has been devised to cover these counties on which attention has been concentrated during the past 12 months--Southwest Asia: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and the oil-bearing states bordering what now must tactfully be termed simply "the Gulf," all constituting a politically seismic zone of incalculable explosive potential.

Essay, Special 1980
George W. Ball

This year was in all respects a very heavy time," wrote the authors of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 1097, and we can appropriately use the same phrase to describe 1980. To be sure our country was not engaged in war; the Danes did not raid our coast; America was still rich by world standards; and the harvest was adequate. But a doleful chorus of lamentation was heard not only in our land but throughout the non-communist nations. It had a persistent recurring theme. At a time when the Soviet Union was systematically extending its military reach, the United States was falling into apathy and incompetence. No longer did we Americans seem willing and able to assure the security of our friends and allies. No longer did we display the mastery of events that had given confidence in our economic, political and military leadership.

Essay, Special 1980
Robert G. Kaiser

After the events of 1980 the Soviet Union and the United States both must come to terms with new versions of each other. American hopes for a more reasonable, more conservative Soviet Union finally collapsed, replaced by a new eagerness to contest the Soviets for military superiority and global position. The Soviet leaders discovered both the exhilaration and the pain that accompany the dramatic and unexpected use of power; they were also reminded of the recurring dilemmas that beset any nation that manages a restless empire.

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