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The Cold War - The Jimmy Carter Years (1976-80)

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In 1976, when faced with a choice between Gerald Ford and James L. Carter, America chose Carter. Ford was demonstrably inept, and Carter was an Annapolis graduate and a former governor of Georgia. People doubted that Carter could be as bad as Ford. Unfortunately, he turned out to be worse than anyone could have imagined.

It is hard to name a single worst Cold War disaster of the Carter administration, but Iran is certainly a contender. Carter cooperated in the overthrow of the modern government of Iran that had been originally supported by Eisenhower. In its place, Iran installed a tyranny of fanatical Moslem ayatollahs. The new government seized the American embassy in violation of diplomatic law, took 66 hostages, and held them for the rest of the Carter administration.

This intolerable situation was probably the worst humiliation of the United States since the burning of the city of Washington in the War of 1812. It could only happen because the hostage takers knew that Carter would not send in an expedition of Marines to liberate the hostages. Indeed, the hostages were released the day Reagan replaced Carter as President because the hostage takers feared the consequences if they did not. As Carter left office, Iran, a former staunch ally of the United States, was an enemy that has since become one of the major rogue nations of the world.

Also during his administration, the Soviet Union invaded and conquered Afghanistan -the most blatant communist action in a generation. Carter did not respond to this aggression as Truman did to the invasion of Korea; he limited his reaction to the U.S. boycott of the Olympics. His policy was the last nail in the coffin of the doctrine of containment.

At a time when the American Left was still insulting and demonizing Vietnam veterans, Carter extended amnesty to all draft dodgers. This disastrous signal clearly indicated that he was on the side of the defeatists and had no intention of winning the Cold War.

Carter also surrendered the Panama Canal. This further retreat of American power symbolized the abandonment of the position that the United States is the protector of the Western hemisphere. To worsen the situation, Panama was on the verge of a civil war at the time.

Carter called the "energy crisis" the equivalent of war, trivializing the concept of war in general and of the Cold War in particular.

It would be impossible to overstate the national demoralization that Carter achieved. Although he called it "malaise," it was actually a loss of confidence that America was capable of military or diplomatic victories. The prospects for freedom in the world were truly bleak.

In these years, however, the seeds sown by the 1962 rallies that packed Madison Square Garden with Young Americans for Freedom and the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade bore fruit. The Republican Party was clearly determined to champion victory over communism in the 1980 election. The Republican President, finally, would not be a timid appeaser like Eisenhower, Nixon, or Ford.

Ronald Reagan was easily nominated and crushed Carter in one of the biggest landslides in American history. The hostages were released a few hours before his inauguration, and a new era began in which America and the West won - rather than lost - the battles of the Cold War.

The Confederate Lawyer is copyright (c) 2010 by Charles Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.

Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the New York State American Legion. He has 40 years of experience in many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles about the law.

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