CHAPTER 18:  Foreign Policy in an Age of Dissonance, 1974-1981

“Carter has been much maligned over the years for his handling of U.S. foreign policy.  Conservative publicists have made him, along with 1972 presidential candidate George McGovern, into living symbols of the Democratic Party’s alleged weakness on national security issues, an image that has dogged the party at election time for more than thirty years.” (Herring, 860)


Zbigniew Brzezinski (1928 – 2017)

“A Columbia University professor and prolific writer on international relations, Zbig, as he was known, brought to the position a resume much like Kissinger’s, although he lacked his predecessor’s nimble mind, trademark wit, and ability to charm the media.  Born in Poland, the son of a diplomat, he boasted, so the joke went, of being ‘the first Pole in 300 years in a position to really stick it to the Russians.’  His butch haircut in an age of floppy hairstyles and sharp features gave physical evidence of the aggressive posture toward the Kremlin he would relentlessly push.  Prickly and arrogant, he scorned [Cyrus] Vance’s ‘gentlemanly approach to the world.’  He advocated ‘architecture’ in foreign policy, by which he meant clarity and certitude , as opposed to Kissinger’s ‘acrobatics.’” (Herring, chap. 18, p. 832)


Andrew Young (1932-)

“Carter’s ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, and First Lady Rosalynn Carter deserve special mention.  A youthful and prominent civil rights leader and follower of the late Martin Luther King Jr., Young was among the first African Americans to hold a top-level diplomatic position, an appointment of great symbolic importance for people of color at home and abroad.  Like many other African American leaders, he linked the struggle for freedom in the United States with the fight against colonialism abroad, especially in Africa, and he was one of the first U.S. diplomats to disentangle southern African issues from the Cold War.  Often far out in front of Carter and the diplomatic establishment, outspoken and at times quite undiplomatic in demeanor, Young sometimes got his boss in trouble with his candor.  His unconventional behavior ultimately forced his resignation.  While in office, however, he helped to improve U.S. relations with the Third World and to engineer a major shift in policies toward Africa.” (Herring, chap. 18, p. 833)

KEY TERMS:  Helsinki Accords (1975) // Iran Hostage Crisis (1979-80)

Helsinki Accords (1975)

“The Helsinki summit of July 30-August 1, 1975, is a classic example of a pivotal event whose short- and long-term consequences were strikingly different, even contradictory.  Although it would eventually play a crucial role in ending the Cold War, its immediate effects were to further weaken detente and damage Ford at home.  One of the largest such meetings ever, the conference included representatives from thirty-five nations and ratified the results of almost three years of intensive negotiations.  Through the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), the Soviet Union sought recognition of its position in Eastern Europe.  The Western Europeans hoped to advance the relative stability that had grown out of detente.  With the United States, they also pushed for human rights and a freer flow of ideas, people, and information.  Out of this melange of often conflicting aspirations emerged by 1975 three sets of agreements, in diplomatic parlance, ‘baskets.’  A security basket included agreements to uphold basic human rights and ‘refrain from assaulting’ the European boundaries established after World War II, a tacit concession to the Soviet position that stopped short of recognition.  An economic basket provided for breaking down inter-European barriers by tourism, expanded trade, and scientific and technical exchange.  A ‘Humanitarian and Other Fields’ basket called for the freer flow of information, ideas, and people through travel, better access to media information, and reunification of families separated by the Cold War.  A ‘Final Act’ provided for monitoring observance of the agreements.  The Soviet Union, Western Europeans, and the United States were unhappy with some of the provisions but accepted the entire package to secure those items they considered most important.” –George Herring, From Colony to Superpower, p. 826-27

Discussion Questions

  • Describe what Herring means above when he calls the short- and long-term consequences of the Helsinki accords as being “contradictory.”
  • How did Helsinki inaugurate a new era of human rights-focused diplomacy and how did such an emphasis further undermine detente?

Iran Hostage Crisis (1979-80)

“The [Iranian] revolution abruptly changed from a serious problem for the United States to an all-out crisis on November 4, 1979, when young radicals stormed the U.S. embassy –the ‘Den of Spies’– and took hostage the sixty-six Americans still residing there.  The immediate provocation was Carter’s decision to allow the shah into the United States, but the hostage takers also feared a CIA plot to restore him to power, suspicions encouraged by Jackson’s statement and the Algiers meeting.  Some former hostage-takers now admit, moreover, their real purpose was to push the Bazargan government in more radical directions.  They had no idea the takeover would lead to a prolonged crisis; some now concede it to have been a mistake.  Khomeni at first opposed the takeover, but when he recognized its popularity he exploited it to get rid of Bazargan and solidify his own power.”  –George Herring, From Colony to Superpower, p. 850

Discussion Questions

  • How did historic US ties to the Shah of Iran limit its ability to negotiate a solution to the Iranian hostage crisis?
  • Assess President Carter’s failed efforts to end the crisis with Iran in the context of other elements of his foreign policy legacy.

“This is the best bad idea we have, sir, by far.”

–“Argo,” (2012)