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The American Age: United States Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad

By Walter Lafeber | Go to book overview

19
Back to the Future:
The Carter-Reagan Years (1977-1988)

JIMMY CARTER: THE SEARCH FOR A FOREIGN-POLICY
CONSENSUS

By 1976, Americans had learned firsthand every day how their power had relatively declined since the 1950s. They could do little about having to pay Arab sheiks and other foreign producers four times more for gasoline. U.S. prices doubled between 1968 and 1978, not only driving up the cost of their groceries, but making their goods less competitive in the tough global marketplaces. Thousands of American workers faced unemployment in such old "rust belt" industries as steel and autos. Their nuclear forces continued to be superior to the Soviets, but Brezhnev was closing the gap, and, in any case, gaps meant little when a nuclear exchange could trigger nearly 50,000 warheads. Traditional cold-war alliances with western Europe and Japan were tattered. Many African and Latin American countries moved toward revolution. The strong and respected (if not always liked) presidency of Truman and Eisenhower collapsed into Nixon's forced resignation and Ford's confusion.

To reverse such a flow of history was like trying to change the flow of a great river. Jimmy Carter, who had been educated at the U.S. Naval Academy as an engineer, believed he could do it. After all, few had thought this little-known former governor of Georgia could win

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