The United States and Western Europe since 1945: From "Empire" by Invitation to Transatlantic Drift

By Geir Lundestad | Go to book overview

7 From Bad to Worse: The United States and Western Europe, 1977-1984

Jimmy Carter took over as President of the United States with the best of intentions. While continuing to improve relations with the Soviet Union and China, he would at the same time upgrade America's ties with its allies in Western Europe. This was not to be. By the end of the seventies Moscow had become so frustrated with Carter that the Soviet leaders actually preferred Ronald Reagan in the 1980 elections. US relations with some Western European countries, particularly West Germany, also reached a nadir.

Ronald Reagan was determined to reestablish the leadership role of the United States with regard to both the Soviets and the Western Europeans. The “evil empire” was to be defeated from a position of strength; the “free world” was to be united under America's firm leadership. Neither was to be. Relations with the Kremlin plummeted. With the partial exception of Margaret Thatcher's Britain, in Western Europe criticism of the United States flourished. The alleged traditional alliance system based on rather exclusive US leadership, which even in the past had not fully represented reality, could not be resurrected. The Reagan administration lacked the necessary insight. Even more important, no longer did the United States hold the kind of predominant position that made this possible.

Yet, even in these very difficult times for Atlantic relations most European leaders continued to issue at least some invitations to the Americans to increase their role militarily and economically, although these invitations were clearly more ambivalent now than before. Public opinion was becoming more skeptical of the United States, but still supported the main dimensions of the American role in Western Europe.


Jimmy Carter: Despite the Best of Intentions . . .

The Carter administration came to power believing in “trilateralism” between the United States, Western Europe, and Japan. Virtually all the leading members of the administration, including the internationally inexperienced former

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