The Age of Arms Control
Probably the most significant and longest-term consequence of the Johnson-McNamara strategy was the transformation it inspired in the consciousness of the nation's political elites. By 1969, the fundamental consensus that had sustained American foreign policy for twenty years of Cold War had effectively been shattered. Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, American attitudes toward foreign policy-- toward the Soviet Union and toward the use of American military power--began to revert to a state resembling that prevalent in the months before Winston Churchill's Iron Curtain speech in 1946, or even in some respects resembling that prevalent in the 1930s. A new utopianism could be observed among intellectuals and among the young; elite dialogue about foreign affairs began to be marked by a distinct lack of realism about the nature and uses of military power.
It would be hard to overestimate the political significance of this change. The new attitude toward power and force greatly narrowed the options available to any new administration for coping with the myriad foreign policy problems now crowding in upon the United States. In particular, it circumscribed and at times simply cancelled the president's ability to use force or pressure to counter various challenges posed by the Communist bloc. The prolongation of the Vietnam war, the numerical inequities in the SALT I agreements in 1972, the myriad defeats for Western interests in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East in the mid- to late 1970s--all could be attributed in some measure to this new elite attitude and the limits it imposed on American foreign policy.